Top Ten Things Even Good Mountain Bike Mechanics Can Miss

Good mechanics are every bit as valuable as the bikes they’re working on. They know the ins and outs of every bolt they’re torquing and have an understanding of their equipment developed from years of working on it. That said, though, there are some things that even the best mechanics can overlook. Knowing how to fix something is only half the battle. Knowing where to look for the problems is the other—an equally important half.


Suspension rocker bolts are not on the scheduled maintenance list for many mechanics, but they should be. These buggers can come loose and fall out easily. If that happens on a ride, you’re walking home. Be sure to put a torque wrench on them every month or so to be sure they are tight. Most new bikes have the torque ratings laser-etched right on the bolt to make the process easy.


Many beginner mechanics make the mistake of greasing everything when they build a bike. This is a mistake. Certain places need friction to work properly. The steerer tube (the place where your stem clamps to the fork) is a good example. This should be clean and dry when the stem is installed. Grease here could make it easier for your stem to slip, causing a nasty crash.



Many bikes come with very long steerer tubes when they are new. This is to allow riders to custom-dial in their bar height to fit. Some mechanics will neglect to cut the excess steerer tube on top of the stem once the desired fit is found. This leaves a nasty stack of spacers that can hurt in the event of a crash. (We call these “sternum crackers.”) If you’re not planning on changing your stem height, cut the excess and reduce the number of spacers.


Stem bolts should always be torqued equally. However, there are some stems that require the upper or lower bolts to be bottomed out before the other side is tightened. Most stems have etching on them to indicate if they work this way.



To dial in your cockpit, measure the distance between the brake lever and grip, and match it on the other side. You can also use a digital angle finder app on your phone to dial in the angle of the levers and shifter. A symmetrical cockpit feels better and more familiar.


Many mechanics align brake calipers by simply holding the brake and tightening the bolts. This usually works well enough. If you really want to do the job right, though, you should use the little window on the top of the brake caliper to align your brakes. Simply loosen the bolts and then align the caliper so that there is daylight on both sides of the rotor, and then snug the bolts. Be very careful if working on a brake with a spinning wheel. Brake rotors have been known to cause some nasty finger gashes.


You can easily check the alignment of a derailleur by standing behind it and comparing it to the cassette cogs. A bent derailleur or hanger can be spotted when the lower pulley looks like it’s bent in towards the wheel. This can usually be remedied by realigning the hanger. If that doesn’t help, you may need a new derailleur, but at least those “ghost shifts” will be gone.


Some mechanics will use a single rag when working on a bike, but this is a mistake. Grease and grime from the rest of the bike can contaminate sensitive components like the brake rotors and pads. When working on these, it’s far better to use a clean, lint-free rag or a paper towel.



This poor rider has his axle quick release in a place where it could snag a rock, possibly open up and cause a nasty crash.


Axle quick releases should be positioned in the spot where they’re least likely to snag an obstacle. We prefer to run them up and slightly forward like so. If your axle does not tighten properly in this position, it may need to be “clocked.” Check your fork’s owner’s manual for instructions to do this.

10. ZIP IT

The best mechanics love using zip-ties, and when they do, they make sure they are all facing the same direction. They also make sure the ends are clipped clean and flush with the head. While running sloppy zip-ties may not be a safety issue, running them clean and aligned shows you care about your bike. We like to use a pair of flush-cut pliers or a pair of fingernail clippers to take care of the ends.


Every suspension design is different. That means that the old advice to “just put your bodyweight” in the shock is completely wrong. Every bike requires a different pressure to work properly, and that’s determined by the linkage, leverage ratio, shock valving, etc.

However, there is one fool-proof method to setting up suspension properly: put the shock in the “open” mode and then set the sag. For most bikes, this will mean your bike will sit through about 20–30 percent of its travel with your body weight on the bike in the riding position. To get the most out of your bike’s suspension always check with the manufacturer for your bike’s ideal sag setting.

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