Mountain bike maintenance is a big deal. If you are going to spend thousands of dollars on a mountain bike, then you need to be willing to devote some TLC before and after your ride to make sure that puppy shines and works well all season long.
I’ve been a bike mechanic for about seven years. I did it all through college and now I still do it because: A.) I love bikes and fixing them and other stuff and B.) Because I need to make ends meet. You could call me an Expert if you want to (Insert narcissist winky face).
I can’t tell you how many countless times people have brought bikes into the shop complaining of creaky bottom brackets, noisy brakes, or mysterious sounds coming from the suspension. All of these issues and more can be mitigated with a little spit-shine and some good old-fashioned mountain bike know-how. The best part is that it isn’t scary or difficult. If you take the time to show your bike some love, it will love you back.
Your Tool Arsenal
General mountain bike maintenance doesn’t call for every tool in the local bike shop but you do need the basics to keep your rig running well.
- Brush kit and Simple Green for cleaning
- Multi-tool or Allen Key set for pre and post ride bolt checks
- Floor and shock pumps to check air pressure in tires and suspension
- Chain lube. PLEASE BUY CHAIN LUBE SO NO ONE HAS TO LISTEN TO YOUR SQUEAKY DRIVETRAIN
- Shop rags for wipe downs – these can be old bath towels or cut up t-shirts. Don’t use your nice dishtowels, they will stain.
- Pedal wrench for quick pedal swaps
These are the necessaries to get the job done and have you riding happily. As you become more familiar with your bike and components you can add to your home mechanic kit. We have all the above and more in our bike shop in Park City. And every dude knows tools are cool and important to have no matter if you use them a lot or not at all.
I like to to start with a pre-ride check. This should be short and to the point. First of all, check your tire pressure. Tires are not perfectly sealed, even if you are running a tubeless setup with sealant. Rubber compounds are porous and will leak air over time. So get your floor pump out and pump your tires to the pressure you prefer. This one step may just save you a pinch-flat or burping.
The next step is to lube your chain. Chain lube comes in a variety of weights. Heavier lube tends to last longer but can pick up more dirt and grime. Lighter lubes don’t last as long but run cleaner. And then there is waxed based, Teflon, and more and more options. Talk to a mechanic at your local bike shop to decide which is best for you depending on your riding style. The point is, chain lube reduces friction within your drivetrain. This reduced friction lets your chain shift faster and cleaner and run quietly. A dry chain sounds like chirping birds. We aren’t riding mountain bikes to listen to birds.
These first steps will get you out on the trail and having a killer time. People will be stoked that you don’t have to break the pace to hand pump your tires or lube your chain because it is making all sorts of annoying noise.
Hint: take a small bottle of chain lube on long rides – more than two hours – to keep your chain running smooth.
Post Ride Cleanup
So your ride is done. You’re back at the garage and your bike has winter salt on it, maybe tons of mud all through the suspension linkage, or is just covered in red and brown dust. Lets clean that dirty bike. Start with the hose. Preferably you will have an adjustable pressure nozzle. It will be tempting to just power hose the dirt or mud off but I must stop you there. Power hosing your bike will push grime into your pivots and bearings and shift cable housing. Inevitably your bike will make all the horrid noises I outlined above quicker if you power wash. Be nice, use the water softly and get in there with your brush kit or rag. Take your time to get it out. Your mountain bike doesn’t have to be clean enough to eat off of but you don’t want wet grime working its way into places it doesn’t belong. Be especially nice around your suspension seals. Use a rag only and make sure those are thoroughly cleaned. Dirt on your seals makes them wear out sooner and can wear on the internals.
Now that your bike is clean, put it away. Buy some $3.00 hooks and hang it in the garage or storage room. Don’t store your bike under the deck or leave it outside in bad weather. Find a safe and dry area for it to hang or stand. There are a ton of manufacturers that make all sorts of bike storage solutions. Do some research and find what works for you and the space you have available.
From time to time you are going to have to go above and beyond. Use your multi-tool or Allen keys to check bolts. I like using the Crank Brothers M17 multi-tool. This bike multi-tool is solid, looks great, and folds up neatly. If you ride a lot, parts can come loose and it is good to be on top of your bike.
Hint: You’re not tightening, you are checking to see if anything is loose. If it is loose, then tighten it. Don’t crank down on every bolt. You could strip the threads or break the bolt head off.
And to finish it off, get to know your bike. Know the names of the components and suspension. Try and remember what pressure you keep your suspension at (You can start by matching your body weight in the rear shock). Learn the name of your brakes so you can easily buy new pads. Sram and Shimano drivetrains work differently, so make sure you know what parts you have if they need to be replaced. Learn to identify when you need new pads and read up on how to swap them out. The mechanic at the bike shop won’t magically know what parts you have and OEM parts change often by model year. So you’ll need to know what you have. And if you don’t know, there is no shame in bringing your bike to the shop to learn.
Learning to fix basic things and learning to fix them correctly will save you a lot of money at the shop as well. Tuning gears and swapping brake pads are great skills to have and there are a lot of online tutorials by manufacturers. Anybody can fix a bike, men and women alike. Don’t be scared to learn something new. You might just be a hero on the trail.
Last but not least, don’t just read this blog. Go to your local bike shop and see if they have a general mountain bike maintenance class for you to attend. Often they are free, sometimes they aren’t. But having a dashing young mechanic teach you face-to-face will greatly benefit your riding experience and wallet in the long run.
Hint: Knowing some general mountain bike maintenance doesn’t mean you can fix everything. If there is something major going on, take it to your shop and get it fixed. Fork and shock rebuilds require a clean environment. There are a ton of tiny parts on bicycles. If you aren’t comfortable fixing something or aren’t sure of the process, don’t do it. Take it to your local bike shop and have it done right.
By Paul Boyle, Marketing Specialist