10 tips to get your mountain bike ready to hit the trails this season

Spring tune-up tips for mountain bikers

Whether you’ve set your bike aside for winter pastimes or ridden it hard through the muck and mire, now is the perfect time to give your machine a thorough inspection to ensure it’s in tip-top shape for spring.

First and foremost, it is always good to settle on a system when inspecting your bicycle. You could divide the task by various categories — e.g. wheels, frame, suspension, brakes, drivetrain, etc. — or you could simply work from front to back. Either method works, so long as you cover all the bases.

Here are 10 things to check over before hitting the trails this spring. 

1.Tires

Check your tires for signs of wear
Check your tires for signs of wear

Determine how much tread your tires have left and check for knobs that are peeling off as well. Inspect the tire to make sure there are no small tears or thorns stuck in the tire that could become a problem on the trail.

It’s not uncommon for tire casings to give out before you’ve worn out the tread. Check for excessive sidewall wear: look for abrasions and threads protruding from the casings.

If you run your tires tubeless, now is a good time to top off your tires with a fresh scoop or two of your favorite sealant.

2. Wheels

Inspect the wheels: give the spokes a quick squeeze to make sure none are loose
Inspect the wheels: give the spokes a quick squeeze to make sure none are loose

Spin your wheels to check for any side-to-side wobbles or vertical hops. This is also a good time to make sure the wheels are spinning freely and that the hubs are neither too loose nor too tight. Give the spokes a quick squeeze to make sure none are loose. 

Take a close look at where the nipples meet the rim; hairline cracks could quickly turn into a major problem.

Tension and true as needed. If you are not comfortable doing that, take the wheel to your favorite shop.

3. Brakes

The start of the season is a good time to check your brake pads. If there is less than 1.5mm of material remaining, it's time for a new pair
The start of the season is a good time to check your brake pads. If there is less than 1.5mm of material remaining, it's time for a new pair

While checking your wheels, you hopefully heard the sweet sound of silence as the disc brake rotors spun through the brake calipers. If you heard scraping, then it's time to reposition the brake caliper.

Brake rotors can also become bent, so pay attention to any side-to-side wobble. This is an easy fix with an adjustable wrench or a rotor alignment tool, a quiet workspace and gentle tweak of the rotor.

Check the brake pads for excessive wear and replace if needed.

4. Suspension

Inspect the fork stanchions for any nicks or scratches. Use a clean rag to wipe off any dirt from the fork seals. Check the seals for cracks or excessive fluid build up; both are signs that your fork may need to be rebuilt.

After inspecting the front and rear shocks be sure to check that your sag is where you want it. Increase or decrease air pressure accordingly
After inspecting the front and rear shocks be sure to check that your sag is where you want it. Increase or decrease air pressure accordingly

Once everything seems to be in working order, cycle the fork and rear suspension several times before checking your sag settings and adjust your air pressure accordingly.

5. Cockpit

Check you stem, handlebar and seatpost too
Check you stem, handlebar and seatpost too

The stem, handlebar and seatpost may be the three most thankless components on a mountain bike. While they need very little in the way of routine adjustments, it is still important to inspect them for signs of damage from time to time.

Remove your seatpost and re-grease the seat tube or use carbon paste if the frame is carbon. Remove the handlebar and inspect it for signs of over-clamping; check for deep gouges that could lead to a potential failure down the line.

When it's time to reinstall the handlebar, make sure the stem is straight, the headset properly adjusted (there should be no play or binding as the handlebar moves back and forth) and position the brakes and shifters to your liking. Be sure to tighten everything to its proper torque.

6. Shift and brake lines

Inspect the cables and housing for signs of damage and replace as needed
Inspect the cables and housing for signs of damage and replace as needed

Check derailleur housing for signs of wear, paying special attention to where the cables stop on the frame, as it is not uncommon for the wires encased in the plastic derailleur housing to pull through the ferrules at the end of the casing. Replace frayed cables and worn housing as needed.

Follow a similar system for the brake and dropper seatpost, if applicable. Follow the brakes from the levers to the calipers checking for signs of wear and scuff marks.

 7. Frame

Check your frame for signs of damage from crashes, as well as for cable rub — a few strips of protective plastic can prevent needless marking from shift and brake lines
Check your frame for signs of damage from crashes, as well as for cable rub — a few strips of protective plastic can prevent needless marking from shift and brake lines

After inspecting the shift and brake lines for wear, it is also a good idea to check the frame. 

Brake and shifter housing that is allowed to rub excessively against a frame can and will chew through steel, carbon and aluminum frames. It’s easy enough to prevent this with a few small strips of protective tape.

Examine the frame for signs of damage from rock strikes and pay particular attention to the downtube and chainstays.

If you ride a full suspension, be sure to check the suspension pivots and shock bushings for any signs of play and torque to the appropriate spec as recommended by the manufacturer. 

8. Drivetrain

Without a functional drivetrain you’ll be going nowhere fast
Without a functional drivetrain you’ll be going nowhere fast

Without a functional drivetrain you’ll be going nowhere fast.

Shift through the gears, there should be no popping or skipping from one cog to another without you moving the shift levers.

Inspect the derailleur hanger to ensure it’s not bent.

Examine the teeth on the chainrings and cassette cogs for signs of bent or broken teeth. Keep in mind that on most modern components the teeth have varying shapes to aid in moving the chain from one cog to another.

Inspect the chain for wear with a chain-checker tool. Over time the bushings that make up the chain’s rollers wear down and develop play, this play allows the chain to “stretch."

This is also a great time to degrease your drivetrain and lube your chain. 

9. Frame fasteners

If you don’t own a torque wrench and plan on doing your own bike maintenance, buy one. Keep a list of the manufacturer’s recommended torque values whenever possible
If you don’t own a torque wrench and plan on doing your own bike maintenance, buy one. Keep a list of the manufacturer’s recommended torque values whenever possible

While some of these nuts and bolts would have been covered while looking over your brakes, cockpit, frame and drivetrain, this is still worth its own mention.

If you don’t own a torque wrench and plan on doing your own bike maintenance, buy one. Keep a list of the manufacturer’s recommended torque values on your workbench or in your toolbox. Pay special attention to those bolts that you rely on to keep your smile intact — i.e. the stem and handlebar. 

10. Prep your gear

Last but not least, take a few minutes to go over the gear that connects you to the bike. Check to make sure the buckles on your shoes are in good shape and that your cleats are firmly screwed in
Last but not least, take a few minutes to go over the gear that connects you to the bike. Check to make sure the buckles on your shoes are in good shape and that your cleats are firmly screwed in

Last but not least, take a few minutes to go over the gear that connects you to the bike.

Check to make sure the buckles on your shoes are in good shape and that your cleats are firming screwed in.

Examine your helmet for cracks and replace if needed.

If you ride with a hydration pack, take the time to clean it out and repack it. Have a bladder in need of cleaning? Never bothered to throw out any of the energy bar wrappers? Have several punctured tubes stuffed in the bottom of your bag? Now is the time to deal with all of this.

Inspect your tools, too. Make sure your shock pump and mini pump are both in working order. If you carry a first-aid kit, replace anything you used but didn't replace last season.

Have something to add to the list? Leave your comments below.

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