How do you keep a mountain bike running reliably? The best way is to perform regular mountain bike maintenance. Dirt and grime corrode both the frame and the components. Your frame needs to be cleaned regularly, and the components require cleaning and servicing as well.
Failing to grease and clean components can result in a noisy ride at best. At worst, parts will break or fail. Cleaning the frame will prevent grime from chipping away at the paint and finish. Routine maintenance lets you avoid unpleasant surprises on the road and replace cables and brake pads before you’re in trouble.
There are a lot of important steps, but we’ve broken down the most common maintenance routines to help you get started. From filling the tires to bleeding your brakes, this guide will help you keep your mountain bike clean and problem-free.
MOUNTAIN BIKE MAINTENANCE 101: A BEGINNERS GUIDE
If you do nothing else, make sure to give your bike a weekly all-over clean and wipe down. Remove mud and other grime on the same day when possible, and do the general clean once a week if you’re riding routinely.
Make sure to use bike cleaner to avoid damaging any surfaces or the finish, and grease and lube all moving parts after washing. We’ve already made a cleaning guide for quick and thorough scrub-downs.
You should be able to wipe down and inspect your bike in about ten minutes or less. Look for anything rubbing, clicking, or loose and inspect the frame and wheels for cracking.
You should also do a larger clean after really muddy rides or before major service. The Global Mountain Bike Network has made a video detailing every step in a thirty-minute clean.
VIDEO: IN-DEPTH MOUNTAIN BIKE CLEAN
1. HEADSETS, HUBS, CRANKS
The headset affects steering. Hubs affect your wheels, and cranks are what turns the chain. These components are vital but easy to overlook. Make sure they are all tight and moving smoothly, and carefully adjust them if not. They also may need to be greased.
VIDEO: HEADSET ADJUSTMENT GUIDE
Regular maintenance means cleaning and making sure they feel smooth. You may need to do more in-depth work every few years, or after a particularly harsh ride for the bike. It’s not mountain bike specific, but Bikeradar’s article on hub service may be helpful.
Crank arms are fairly easy to adjust and work with, provided you know what tools you need. Thankfully, Singletracks has published a guide listing tools, types of cranks, and how to work with them. If you feel any play when pedaling or if they click or shift around when you’re cleaning the bike, you’ll need to do a thorough service on the cranks.
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If you have disc brakes or calipers, you need to clean and service them regularly to make sure your bike can stop when you need to. According to Bicycling Magazine, there are four simple steps to spot trouble with disc brakes.
Make sure to follow all four: A warped rotor can make braking impossible, and it’s easy to overlook. Caliper brakes are even easier. Look at the pad for wearing, then spin the wheel while lifting the bike and make sure it spins freely and stops when the brake is used.
Worn pads need to be replaced promptly. Calipers are fairly straight-forward: Unscrew the pads, remove them, replace them with new. Disc brakes may be a little more complicated. Remove them whenever they are less than 1 mm thick
VIDEO: DISC BRAKE REPLACEMENT
Caliper and mechanical-style disc brakes both use cables to operate the brakes. Sluggish braking may be a sign that you have a frayed cable or a leak in a hydraulic system. Leaks can be fixed by bleeding, and worn cables should be replaced promptly.
Performance Bike published a guide to replacing brake cables and shifter cables, which isn’t too technical. According to REI, it’s a good idea to lightly lubricate the brake levers and pivot points of brake levers. Take note that sluggish braking may be a sign that you have a frayed cable or a leak in a hydraulic system.
BLEED DISC BRAKES
If you have disc brakes, you probably need a bleed kit. Air in the line will make your brakes work poorly. Some brakes are easy to bleed, even on the trail, and others are more complicated. Every brake has its own routine, but here are some general tips on what not to do from Epic Bleed Solutions.
3. SHIFTING CHAINS AND CABLES
Shifters are similar to brake levers; grease the moving spots, and typically you’re set. Shifter cables also fray and wear, and may need to be replaced.
VIDEO: REPLACE SHIFTER CABLES
These parts actually move the chain up and down the gears. They can be finicky and tend to be easily damaged, especially the rear derailleur. Clean these components once a month, and review this guide by Bicycling if you’re derailleur seems to be poorly adjusted.
BIKE CHAIN AND CASSETTES
We’ve already covered cleaning and lubing the chain, but make sure to check for wear and stretch when you clean. You can buy a chain stretch tool to measure, or simply go to the bike shop whenever it feels sloppy and ask them to check. If your chain is stretched or worn, you’ll need to replace it and the rear cassette, which wears with the chain.
Cassettes will show visible wear when they need to be replaced–think shark teeth instead of clean, unified sprocket edges. They’ll also shift poorly. If you need a new cassette, make sure you buy a compatible chain at the same time.
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4. BIKE WHEELS AND TIRES
Your mountain bike wheels should freely spin around the hub without rubbing, touching, or hitting anything else. If the wheels don’t spin true, in a proper circle, they’ll need to be serviced. Problems include spokes, broken or loose, worn-out hubs, and possibly even damage to the rim.
Truing mountain bike wheels is not a basic maintenance task: Make sure you go to a professional if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you have a cracked rim, it’s unlikely that the wheel can be saved; better to buy a new one.
Tires are easy: Simply look for smoothed worn patches, cuts, tears, or other damage. If a tire is damaged, buy a new one right away. A worn tire will affect braking and steering, and a damaged one will likely cause a flat. It’s a good idea to buy an extra set of tires and keep them somewhere clean and dry.
Clipless pedals should be cleaned and lightly greased, particularly the contact points where your cleat connects and any internal bearings or moving parts. Flat pedals don’t need external greasing, but should also be cleaned and gently greased where they spin around the crank.
6. SEATPOSTS AND SADDLES
It’s probably the one part you think least about: Where you sit down. Failing to maintain this essential part, however, can actually ruin the frame of your bike.
Make sure it can move smoothly up and down, never overtighten it (use a torque wrench!), and put a little grease for alloy seatposts in alloy frames. Don’t grease carbon: It can degrade the plastic and ruin the frame.