Trail Tech: Spring tune-up tips for beginner mountain bikers

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

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

It is always good to settle on a system when inspecting your bicycle. You could divide the task by various categories  – wheels, frame, suspension, brakes, drivetrain, for example – 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.

Editor's Note: This list is list is geared towards beginner and intermediate home mechanics and is by no means exhaustive. Have some insight to share? Leave a comment below.

1. Inspect your tyres

Determine how much tread your tyres have left and check for knobs that are peeling off as well. Inspect the tyre to make sure there are not small tears or thorns stuck in the tyre that could become a problem on the trail.

It’s not uncommon for tyre 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 running tubeless, it's a good idea to add sealant to your tires every few months:
If running tubeless, it's a good idea to add sealant to your tires every few months:

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

How to set up tubeless mountain bike tyres

2. Wheels

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

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:

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

How to true bicycle wheels

3. Brakes

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

If you hear the sound of scraping while spinning the wheels it may be time to reposition the brake caliper:
If you hear the sound of scraping while spinning the wheels it may be 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, a quiet workspace, and gentle tweak of the rotor.

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

How to align your disc brake calipers

How to straighten a bent disc brake rotor

How to remove and replace disc brake pads

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

How to set suspension sag

5. Cockpit

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 regrease the seat tube, or use carbon paste if the post 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.

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:
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:

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.

How to adjust handlebar height

How to service a headset

Are wider handlebars better?

6. Shift and brake lines

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 worn cables and housing as needed.

Replace worn or frayed derailleur cables:
Replace worn or frayed derailleur cables:

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.

How to replace and adjust derailleur cables

How to replace a hydraulic brake hose

 7. Frame

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.

Small rubber cable covers can prevent marring and silence cable slap:
Small rubber cable covers can prevent marring and silence cable slap:

Examine the frame for signs damage from rock strikes, pay particular attention to the down tube and chainstays.

If you ride a full suspension, be sure to check the suspension pivots and shock bushings for any signs of play.

Tips to protect your frame from wear and tear

8. Drivetrain

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.

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

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, ideally 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."

How to adjust a front derailleur

How to adjust a rear derailleur

How to check for chain wear

How to fix a broken chain

9. Frame fasteners

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 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:

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. Pay special attention to those bolts that you rely on to keep your smile intact: stem, handlebar, brakes, shifters.

Why torque wrenches are invaluable

10. Prep your gear

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

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:
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:

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.

Telltale signs it’s time to replace your helmet

What to pack for long mountain bike rides

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

Josh Patterson

Tech Editor, US
Josh has been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1998. Being stubborn, endurance racing was a natural fit. Josh bankrolled his two-wheeled addiction by wrenching at various bike shops across the US for 10 years and even tried his hand at frame building. These days Josh spends most of his time riding the trails around his home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Discipline: Mountain, cyclocross, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Anywhere with rock- and root-infested technical singletrack. He also enjoys unnecessarily long gravel races.
  • Current Bikes: Trek Remedy 29 9.9, Yeti ASRc, Specialized CruX, Spot singlespeed, Trek District 9
  • Dream Bike: Evil The Following, a custom Moots 27.5+ for bikepacking adventures
  • Beer of Choice: PBR
  • Location: Fort Collins, CO, USA
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