If you want to keep your investment rolling like new for longer with as few visits to the mechanic as possible, then it is essential to adhere to a strict mountain bike maintenance schedule. However, not everyone has comprehensive bicycle mechanic skills, and certainly not a beginner MTB rider.
This is something that you will learn by getting your hands dirty and doing some basic maintenance yourself. We have prepared a mountain bike maintenance 101 guide to help beginners learn more about how to take care of their bike before and after each ride and throughout the season.
Routine bicycle maintenance before every ride
Basic mountain bike maintenance starts before you begin your ride, and it can be as thorough as your time affords. If you only have a few short minutes, then you will need to check the four important points: the lube chain, brakes, tire pressure, and the quick-release skewers. If all these parts work well, you are good to go.
If you have more time to spare, you can do an even more in-depth check. Start with checking the brakes by testing for firmness and examining the pad wear. Examine the wheel spin by checking for bent rims or brake rub. For the tires, you will want to make sure that they are inflated to the right pressure and that there are no rips or cracks.
To test the drivetrain, you will need to shift through all the gears, and if necessary, lube the chain. Check the drop by listening for any strange sounds or loose components. Next, you can move on to the dropper post and test it for snappy return and smooth action. Lastly, you’ll want to test the bounce of the suspension sag and check the fork and shock settings.
If you’re a beginner and need more information on how to maintain a mountain bike, we will take a deep dive into the basic points of maintenance that one ought to perform before every ride.
Checking the tire pressure is one of the most important steps in your regular bicycle maintenance since you want to make sure that the tires are set precisely to the value they are rated for. A fast way to do this is to purchase any of the numerous inexpensive digital gauges available on the market.
While checking the pressure, you should take the time to inspect the tire for damage since small cracks and rips can cause a flat tire during a ride.
Next, you will need to move on to the brakes by taking a quick test drive. It is not required to check the pads every time you ride, especially if the breaks on your bike felt solid the last time you checked them. Even so, it is recommended to stick to the habit of inspecting them for wear as frequently as you can.
The quick-release skewers are the rods that run through the wheel axle, and they’re the bike component that keeps the wheel in place. They should have a firm tension that can be felt on your hand. If they open easily, you will need to tighten the bolt cap around half a turn and then close the lever.
If the skewers still don’t feel adequately tight, you can tighten the cap another quarter turn. Conversely, if the skewers are too tight, you will need to reverse the process and loosen them a bit.
There are two things you will want to check on the drivetrain: the gear shifting and the chain. When checking the gear shifting, you should use a repair stand and go through all the gears while rotating the cranks. You should check both the rear and front shifters.
If you don’t have a repair stand, the process may take a bit longer as you will need to ride the bike to shift through all the gears. If, after checking the gear shifting, you notice that the chain gets held up or that it exhibits some hesitation in movement, you will need to tighten or loosen the barrel adjuster and adjust the cable length.
When checking the chain, you will need to make sure that it is properly lubricated. It may take more time, but the ideal method of lubing the chain is to drop one drop of lubricant on each link. You can also save this mountain bike care step for the post-ride cleaning process.
This is one of the easiest MTB maintenance steps since all you need to do is lift the front wheel off the ground and give it a spin. It is easy to tell if something is wrong with it if it brushes up against the brake pads or stops completely due to brake rub. In this case, you will need to get the wheel trued.
This step is only for cyclists who are using a dropper post. If you find yourself in this category, it is advisable to check it before riding to make sure that it goes down smoothly and then rebounds quickly. If it gets stuck even a little in either direction, this means that it needs to be repaired.
Another point to consider before you ride your bike is to look at how deep the fork and rear shock compress when you sit on the saddle. Similarly, the pressure and suspension settings ought to be checked every ride, or at least every other ride.
You can find the appropriate settings and adjustments by either checking the user manual of the component or asking for help from any local shop technician. It is important to get accustomed to the feel of the suspension since only this way, you will be able to tell when changes occur.
Routine bike maintenance after every ride
After finishing a long ride, you’ll probably be so tired that the only thing you’ll want to do is get off the bike and rest. It might be tempting, but if you want to keep your bike working well and save yourself some costly bills in the future, then you will need to take the time for some basic mountain bike maintenance.
- Take the time to inspect your bike
After getting home, the first step is to get off the bike and take a bit of time to inspect it closely. Look for signs of damage in the frame or the handlebars, such as cracks. This step is even more important if you have a carbon mountain bike or if you’ve crashed on your ride. Even the smallest crack can have horrific consequences in the future.
While you’re at it, you should also check the brakes, drivetrain, and all the other items you’ve looked at before your ride. It may seem time-consuming, but it is much better to find out now what parts need servicing and plan accordingly than to have to cancel your next ride because you’ve found a problem with a component right before getting back on the bike.
- Do I have to clean my mountain bike after every ride?
This is a very common question, and the answer depends on where you ride since if you ride mostly in wet or muddy conditions, then you will need to wash your bike more often. However, typically, you won’t need to clean your bike after each ride.
Generally, a gentle wash once a week should be enough to keep the bike clean and ready for testing, lubrication, and inspection. If the bike looks and feels dirty after a ride, then you should clean it, but try to avoid cleaning it too often if possible.
That’s because exposing your bike to water and soap frequently can wear the bottom bracket and hubs faster. Moreover, you shouldn’t use a pressure washer or even a high-powered hose on the bike, particularly around the bottom bracket and hubs, because the lubed parts may be affected.
If your ride was dry, then you can clean the bike without using water. Simply use a rag or a soft brush to remove dirt or dust buildup.
When cleaning your bike, you should also not forget to care for your suspension stanchions. If you manage to keep mud and dust off of the stanchions, you will be able to preserve the performance and reliability of the fork and shocks by keeping dirt and mud out of the suspension oil.
As simple as it may sound, this will extend the service interval, and it is one of the most important bike maintenance basics that is often overlooked.
- Keep the drivetrain lubed
After riding for long hours, the bike drivetrain will need a new lubricant, but first, you will need to wipe off and clean the chain with your degreaser of choice. Before you apply the fresh lube, you should first let the chain dry. For the average rider, it is recommended to deep clean the chain no more than once a month. You can clean it more often if you do a lot of riding.
The reason why many riders prefer lubing the chain after a ride rather than before is that this allows the lube to sink into the chain, and it will make it attract less sand and dust. Another secret to a clean chain is to use a small drop of oil for each link. Using too much will only allow grime to build on the chain or cassette faster and in larger quantities.
Annual mountain bike maintenance
Apart from these short-term regular bike maintenance tips that are essential if you want to keep your bike in working condition for longer, it is also essential to have the bike serviced at least once every year. If you’re curious to learn more about how to service a mountain bike and what you can expect, the next section of our article will seek to answer most of your questions.
Ideally, you’ll want to service the bike in the late winter or spring so that you can get ahead of the biking season. So what is included in a mountain bike tune-up? It all depends on the shop since there is no standardization of what this service needs to entail.
In most cases, a tune-up will consist of servicing the forks and shocks, rebuilding hubs, bleeding the brakes, replacing the bottom bracket, refreshing the tire sealant, and a deep inspection, lube, and clean.
You can save money by following the mountain bike tune-up guide we’ve presented above and doing some of the maintenance yourself. It is hard to tell how much a professional tune-up can cost you since it all depends on the work that needs to be done on your bike.
In this sense, a tune-up is less about fixing a thing and more akin to tuning a musical instrument. Each bike will have its requirements, and a mechanic with enough concrete technical skills will be able to identify them.
On average, a tune-up can cost you between $100 to $400, depending on the complexity of the things that need to be done and the type of bike that you have. Expensive bikes will generally require more expensive maintenance. If you don’t know how to service anything on your bike, you should probably expect to pay on average $250 annually.
If you’re wondering how often you should service your mountain bike and if once a year is enough, truthfully, the answer to this question is a bit more complex. It all depends on how well you maintain the bike, the conditions that you ride in, and the miles you put on it.
This is why doing routine maintenance on your bike is so essential since the more time and care you put into making sure that your MTB is in good working order, the less you will need to spend on the annual tune-up.
If you do no routine maintenance job on your bike, then you will need to service it about every 3-6 months. However, with so many bike maintenance for dummies books and video tutorials available, there’s no excuse not to try to give your bike the care it deserves.
With simple preventative service measures, not only will you be able to prolong the life of your bike and save money, but you can also keep yourself safe on the trail.