How to Perform Basic Mountain Bike Maintenance

Just like a car, bikes need general maintenance too. Components wear out, screws loosen and the drive train dries out. But you don’t have to be a mechanic to learn the basics of bike maintenance. It just takes a few basic tools and some patience.

Get rid of the grit

Mountain bikes are designed to get wet and muddy, but aren’t meant to stay that way. Dirt and grime creeps into bushings and bearings, causing them to wear out faster and not work as efficiently. New components are anything but cheap, but a small brush is. Park tools makes it’s own brand for getting in the nooks and crannies, but for half the price, a good hardware store sells similar brushes. Once the mud dries, attack all the points, applying extra elbow grease to places like the headset, fork, cassette, derailleurs and bottom bracket. Wipe the fork and all seals clean with a rag (even an old t-shirt or towel will do the trick) and make sure the entire bike is completely dry. Once in awhile, some Simple Green is also a good way to keep things clean. Be careful when applying water pressure, however. If aimed directly into seals and bearings, water from a hose can try them out, removing the grease they need to function correctly.

If you do nothing else, take a small, hard bristled brush and run it over the chain. Dirt’s attracted to grease, so it’s always important to keep the chain lubed and clean (at least at the start of each ride). Several companies offer special devices to achieve sparkling links. For a low-cost and just as effective alternative, first wipe the chain down with a rag. Next, apply a chain lubricant. These are available at bike shops and vary in weight and consistency. Some use Teflon and help repel water. Other are made for dry, arid climates, so choose one based on the conditions you ride in. It’s important to only use oil that’s made for bikes. Some household lubricants can do more harm than good so don’t take a chance. After you’ve applied a drop of lubricant to each link, run a rag over it again to remove the dirt. Finally, apply once again, run it over a rag once and you’re done. Perform this maintenance after every other ride, or if the chain feels dry or is collecting excess dirt.

Take a Brake

Before every ride, check your brakes. More and more mountain bikes come with disc brakes, which use a caliper, brake pads and a rotor to perform their incredible stopping power. Make sure to keep the brakes free of dirt (a little brush comes in handy). Make sure the rotor is aligned and remove the brake pads at least once a season for cleaning. They can be scrubbed with some Simple Green and a wire brush. Squealing brakes are often a symptomatic of dirty rotors. Never apply any kind of lubricant to the rotor or brakes. Pull brakes should also be checked for pad wear and cleaned when needed. Make sure they are aligned and the cables are clean and tensioned properly.

A bike is essentially a series of simple hardware holding larger parts together. So take a minute to check the nuts, bolts and screws to make sure they’re still tight and in the proper positions. Check the air in your tires as well as the tread. Most tires will last at least a season. Finally, make any adjustments to the derailleurs so the shifting is accurate and precise.

Be smart on the trail

Maintenance is preventative, but even the best bike mechanics can’t escape the occasional trailside repair. To be prepared, carry a multi-tool in your pack. Most contain everything from hex wrenches and screw drivers to chain breakers and even tire levers. A tool is only as good as the person who uses it, however, so familiarize yourself with the tools before you need to use them. Also, carry a spare tube or two, a few tire levers and a pump to change a flat.

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