It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to mountain biking or someone who has been getting after it for years, bike maintenance is something no rider can escape. Unless, of course, you have a pro mechanic—but that’s a whole different story. Regular bike maintenance will not only keep your equipment running smoothly for years to come, it will also help keep you safe on the trails. So, for this month’s installment of “The Trail Starts Here,” we plan to dive into the world of bike maintenance. Grab your toolbox, crank up the radio and get ready to get your hands dirty.
GIVE A PROPER CLEANING
One way to instantly improve your bike’s performance is to simply clean it. A clean bike is a happy bike, and a happy bike performs at its best. Our preferred method for cleaning our bikes is a bucket of hot soapy water and a soft brush, along with a separate firm brush for drivetrain components. If you’re on a budget, products like Dawn dish soap or Simple Green will do the trick; however, specific bike wash mixtures often do an even better job getting your ride sparkling clean.
Your brakes are another part of your bike you should pay attention to—for obvious reasons. The majority of bikes on the market today have hydraulic brake systems that use either DOT fluid or mineral oil to push pistons and squeeze brake pads around a rotor. Inspect your brake pads every few months to see how much life they have left. Pads should be replaced before the material is less than 1mm thick (roughly the thickness of a dime).
Another important step is bleeding the hydraulic system. This should be done once or twice a year, depending on how much riding you do. Hydraulic brakes need to be bled when either an air bubble has found its way into the system causing a loss in power or the fluid has become old. Each brake manufacturer has its own recommended method for bleeding, so find out the right way to do it for your system.
A worn-out chain can cause your bike to under-perform and can lead to premature wear on your cassette and chainrings. A chain checker, such as Park Tool’s CC-3.2, is an inexpensive tool that allows you to quickly determine if your chain has become stretched or worn out.
Brake rotors can become misaligned, causing them to make noise and ruin your peace of mind out on the trails. A rotor truing tool, such as Wolf Tooth’s bottle opener with rotor truing slot can be used to gently bend a rotor back into alignment. This process should be attempted with great care, as the rotor can easily become worse off if you’re not gentle during the process.
Another often overlooked maintenance tip is checking to see if your tubeless tires still have sealant in them. The last thing you want to do is find out your tires are fresh out of sealant when you get a puncture. Another good reason to check your tire sealant is to see if it has dried up, leaving a bouncy ball inside your tire and causing it to be off balance. There are a few methods for checking sealant without removing your tire, but our go-to method is peeling a small section of the bead off to see for ourselves. This allows us to pour in a little extra sealant if needed.
It’s important to note that your bike, especially a full-suspension bike, has multiple sets of bearings. Although most bearings are sealed from dust and water, they can still go bad over time. If you live in a wet climate or wash your bike with high-pressure water, then the lifespan of your bearings will be shortened. Every so often, take time to inspect the bearings on your bike to make sure they are still moving freely. Key areas to check would be your upper and lower headset bearings, linkage bearings, wheel bearings and the bearings in your bottom bracket. If a bearing feels rough or doesn’t spin freely, it’s best to replace it.
CLEAN AND LUBE DRIVETRAIN PARTS
Now that your bike is clean, it’s time to move down to your drivetrain. One of our favorite products for cleaning our drivetrain is a chain cleaner, such as CM-25 from Park Tool, along with a degreaser such as Clean Up from Maxima. Together, these products remove dirt, grit and dried-up chain lube from our drivetrain components. Next, we like to use a firm brush to get the last bits of grit off our chainring(s) and our cassette. Once the drivetrain has been thoroughly cleaned, it is important to reapply chain lube to prevent rust and to increase the longevity of your chain.
One of the most important maintenance tips is to check the torque on every bolt on your bike. Key places to look are your stem, handlebar and seat post, but that’s not all. Linkage bolts, crankarm bolts, and even your axle bolts can become loose while riding, causing a nasty crash that could have been avoided. There are dozens of torque wrenches on the market that vary in price depending on the features you’re looking for. Regardless of the torque wrench you purchase, you should use it frequently.
Worn-out cables can lead to sloppy or slow shifting. Cable-actuated dropper posts and lockout switches are vulnerable to the same problems. Over time, cables stretch out, which is why your shifters, dropper-post remotes and lockout switches have barrel adjusters to take up the added slack. Check that your barrel adjusters aren’t adjusted all the way out. If that is the case, it’s time to replace your cables. This is a quick and inexpensive fix that will make your bike feel new again.
A worn-out tire is fairly easy to spot, but still, we see riders with bald tires out on the trails all the time. We get it—quality mountain bike tires are expensive, but not replacing them as needed is asking for trouble. Every couple rides, look closely at your tires to see if any of the knobs are cracked, missing or rounded off. Also, check the knob height as an indication of wear. To get the most out of your tires, you can opt for a harder compound that will last longer at the expense of grip. A softer compound offers exceptional grip but will wear out quickly. More often than not, the rear tire will wear quicker than the front. Some riders replace their front tire and move it to the rear to save a buck. While this isn’t recommended due to front- and rear-specific tires, it can be done.
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