5 things you've got wrong with your MTB setup

Sure fire ways to improve your bike's setup

Oi, you, back there. Your bike’s set up wrong. Sort it out!

Okay, okay, sorry that was a bit rude. While bike set up is a very personal thing, there are a few things that we see out and about that make us cry a little inside.

Taking a few minutes to look and think about your bike’s setup can make a surprising difference to how it performs and how comfortable it is.

Why not have a look below at our list then get experimenting — maybe you’ll find your new perfect setup!

1. Brake lever levels

When it comes to steeper, more technical riding, adjusting your brake lever angle can make a real difference to control and comfort. 

Surprisingly often you’ll see a brake lever angled down almost towards the fork crown — what this does is rotate your wrists over the top of the bars as you reach for the lever. This shifts your body weight forwards and if you hit an unexpected bump means your wrist is more likely to roll further forward.

Pointing your brake levers too far down rolls your wrist over the top of the bars
Pointing your brake levers too far down rolls your wrist over the top of the bars

Angling the levers in a flatter position rotates your wrists behind the bars, allowing you to push the bars up and over bumps, and gives more security when you hit those lumps.

We’d never go steeper than 40 degrees from horizontal and usually place ours at around 20–30 degrees.

Combine this with a brake bite point closer to the bars and you’re also less prone to arm pump. Winning all round.

Set them a bit higher and your wrists push into the back of the bars, boosting control in steep, tech terrain
Set them a bit higher and your wrists push into the back of the bars, boosting control in steep, tech terrain

2. Set your suspension right

Suspension can be a bit mystifying, with plenty of knobs to twiddle and air pressures to play with. But getting it right can totally change the character of a bike and make you a faster rider too.

If you have a full-suspension bike, getting the fork and shock working together well transforms your ride. You basically want fork and shock to react in a similar way to impacts — if the fork bottoms out when the shock barely moves, your suspension will be un-balanced.

Too soft up front and too hard at the back - an unbalanced bike
Too soft up front and too hard at the back - an unbalanced bike

Likewise with damping — over damped suspension (loads of compression and rebound damping) makes it feel sluggish and slow, while under damped bikes can be like riding a pogo stick.

Follow our handy video below for step by step info on how to get your ride riding right.

How to get your suspension dialled in 10 minutes

3. Saddle sores

Whether you're male of female, getting your saddle angled right means happy days for your nether regions.

A saddle with the nose angled up is much more likely to cause discomfort, so we recommend it pointing down, slightly.

Your bits won't thank you for this
Your bits won't thank you for this

We’d also recommend not running your saddle pushed all the way back in the seatpost — this effectively slackens your seat angle, putting your hips in a worse pedaling position over the bottom bracket. It also shifts your weight further over the back wheel, which is rarely a good thing on steep technical climbs.

Pointing down just a touch will keep you happier
Pointing down just a touch will keep you happier

We’re sorry to say that if you have your saddle pushed all the way back in a lay-back seatpost, your bike’s probably the wrong size…

4. Tyre Trouble

Like suspension there are so many rim, tyre and pressure combos out there that it’s not always obvious to know how much air you should put in your rubber.

Generally speaking, running wider tyres on wider rims lets you get away with lower pressures. Running wide tyres on narrow rims leads to tyre roll and requires higher pressures, whereas running narrower tyres on wider rims makes the tyre profile really square and unpredictable.

Waaaay too flat! Tyres will roll, feel sluggish and get punctures
Waaaay too flat! Tyres will roll, feel sluggish and get punctures

Without knowing your rim/tyre combo, weight and riding style, we can’t tell you what pressures to run, but spend a bit of time experimenting (maybe even investing in a pressure gauge) and you’ll go faster, easier, with more grip and fewer punctures.

Too high and they'll ping everywhere and lack grip
Too high and they'll ping everywhere and lack grip

Getting your tyre pressure right is just a case of experimenting — don't be afraid to get all nerdy with measuring them and taking notes.

Generally, wider rims and wider tyres allow you to get away with lower pressures, as will tubeless and better protected sidewalls.

Just right! A nice balance between support, grip and control
Just right! A nice balance between support, grip and control

Oh, and tubeless – it’s a good thing, okay? 

5. Squealing disc brakes

Ah the disc brake. In theory they’re super easy to set up, but as soon as cleaning and maintenance goes to pot they're often the first to create that annoying squeal and speed-sapping rub.

Give them a good clean (with a proper brake cleaning agent), re-align them to stop the rub and let them bed back in again. Trust us, your ears and legs will thank you.

Rubbing brakes are not only annoying, but will slow you down — so sort them out!
Rubbing brakes are not only annoying, but will slow you down — so sort them out!

Brakes will need a bleed every now and again and this is a good time to check them over before they start giving you grief.

Check the pads, check the rotor for wear and straightness and check how they are mounted to your brake mounts. If you want more info, have a read of our brake set-up and maintenance guide.

Think we've missed something or are talking rubbish? Have a rant in the comments below — go on, we know you want to!

Tom Marvin

Technical Editor, Tech Hub, UK
Tom's been riding for 15 years, and has always chopped and changed bikes as soon as his budget allowed. He's most at home in the big mountains, having spent nigh on 30 weeks riding the Alps, as well as having lived a stone's throw from the Scottish Highlands for four years. Tom also enjoys racing events like the Strathpuffer and the Trans Nepal.
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Steep and super tech or fast and flowy
  • Current Bikes: Canyon Spectral, Pivot Mach 429SL, Mondraker Vantage R +
  • Dream Bike: Transition Scout
  • Beer of Choice: Gin & tonic
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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