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Spring Bicycle Tune-Up : Mountain Bike Basics and Repair Tips

Whether done by yourself or your local bike shop, tuning up and maintaining your bicycle will ensure an enjoyable, trouble-free start to the upcoming mountain biking season. Being prepared for common problems on the trails is the next step.

Whether you have been riding your bike all year round or not, doing the following bike maintenance tips will make all the difference.

Check for chain wear and replace, if necessary.
For bike tech geeks there is a tool for measuring wear between chain links. It's called a wear-indicator tool. For the rest of  us, a ruler might do. Count 20 links on your chain (pulled tight). The pin-to-pin measurement should be exactly 10 inches. If longer by 1/16 inch or more, you need a new chain. Or you can do it yourself by removing a chain link or two with a universal bike chain tool. If OK, clean the chain. Use your bike brush set or even an old tootbrush will do. We like to use a citrus based chain degreaser or Simple Green. Then lube your bike.
Check bicycle tools and spare parts.
This is a good time to see if all your tools are in order for both do-it-yourself home maintenance, or in-your-seatpack mountain bike repair kit for the trail. Number 1, we've found that a bike stand is indispensable. A few tools and spare parts helpful to have on hand for spring tune-up repairs include chain checker or metric ruler, universal chain tool, tire levers, cable cutters, hex keys, spoke wrenches and floor bike tire pump. A mini bike tire pump is neccessary for your on the trail kit. If your pump doesn't include a psi guage, you'll need one one. A flat tire repair kit is a must. We also carry a tube of slime sealant and Duct Tape for quick temporary fixes. See 12 ways Duct Tape Can Save Your Bike Ride
Spare parts that will come in handy include: replacement brake cables and brake pads, 6 ft. of derailleur cable housing and 6ft. of brake cable housing and cable ends, spare tubes, extra Presta or Schrader Valves (at least 4), extra handle bar shifters
Spare parts that will come in handy include: replacement brake cables and brake pads, 6 ft. of derailleur cable housing and 6ft. of brake cable housing and cable ends, spare tubes, extra Presta or Schrader Valves (at least 4), extra handle bar shifters,
Starting from the front of the bike and working toward the rear will help to ensure a thorough job. Don’t forget the chainring, crankarm and water bottle cage bolts. On threadless headsets, check the stem-clamp bolts but leave the bolt on top alone (leave for the shop).
Lighly grease the saddle rails.
Adjust saddle height if neccessary.
Check the chainring and cogs for any bent teeth.
These can usually be re-aligned and straightened with an adjustable wrench.
Check your headset, bottom bracket and hubs.
If very gritty you should probably overhaul. If loose, then just tighten. This will require learning and experience, or a shop fix.
To check for headset tightness: apply the front brake and roll bike forward and backward. Wrap your hand where the headset and fork meet. If you hear any knocking sounds or feel any play then loosen the stem bolts and tighten the headset. You can also remove the front wheel and rotate the handlebars from side to side. The steering motion should feel smooth, with no binding or rough spots.
To check the bottom bracket: Shift the front derailleur to the smallest chainring, then lift the chain off. Spin the cranks. It should feel smooth with no lateral play, roughness or excessive resistance.
To check the hubs: Give the front wheel an easy push to spin 2 or 3 times. It should spin freely and come to a stop with a slight back and forth motion, rather than an abrupt stop. If it is not rubbing on the brake shoe, an abrupt stop is probably caused by improper adjustment of the hub and bearings. Next grasp the rim or tire and lighly wiggle the wheel from side to side. There should be no lateral play. Repeat for rear wheel after removing the chain.
Lube the fork sliders of your front suspension.
Make sure the boots at the bottom of the sliders are sealed. Wipe out any grit next to the seal with a clean cloth and reset the boots. For more extensive suspension maintenance refer to manual, book or bike shop.
Check grips for excessive wear.
Replace, if necessary or remove and clean. Lift the ends of the grips off the handlebars a little with a small screwdriver. Work in some soapy water or dishwashing liquid as you slide the grip off. Clean or install new ones. Remove all traces of dishwashing liquid. If difficult to install, then dip the grips into hot water before forcing over handlebars. Spraying hairspray inside before installation will prevent slipping.
Check pedals.
For the traditional type, make sure screws or bolts securing pedal cages and toe clips are not loose or missing. Replace any missing dust caps on the spindle to prevent dirt or water from effecting the bearings. The pedals should spin freely. Make sure the pedals are securely fastened to the crankarms (may need pedal wrench). Make the same checks for smooth operation of clipless pedals. Clean any mud or dust from the pedal body and lube moving parts. Worn out cleats will take more force to release from the pedal.
In addition, the following should be performed a couple of times during the spring riding season.
Check cable housing. Lube sliders and all cables.
Inspect the cables for signs of rust, fraying or kinks. The cable housing shouldn’t be cracked. Replace anything that doesn't pass inspection. Not only will the shifting and braking be smoother, your ride will be safer. Rust causes the cables to become weak and brittle. Do you really want to be accelerating downhill when the cables snap? If all is ok, lube the sliders and cables. Modern, plastic-lined cables usually don't need lube.
Check and adjust shifting.
See go for a test bike ride.
Check and adjust brakes and brake pads.
Whether your bike uses a disc brake system or rim brakes, they also need maintenance. Rim brakes require a lot more maintenance than disc brakes (understatement) as grit, small pebbles, mud, water and other elements wear down not only the pads but the rims as well. Brake pads these days have grooves or markings that indicate when to replace them.
Check tires for tire pressure and wear.
Check the tires for excessive wear, flattened rubber tires and cracked sidewalls or bubbling. Exposure to the sun, ozone and the elements over time causes the rubber to detoriate and become brittle over time. Replace tires if neccessary.
Check the tire pressure with a psi guage. The optimum tire pressure will depend on the size and type of bike tires you have and the type of riding you do. You can usually find the recommended PSI range printed right on the tire.
Go for a test bike ride.
When you are done, take your bike out for an easy, test mountain bike ride. Shift through all the gears, test the brakes. Listen for any unusual or loud grinding, squealing or squeaking noises. If you hear any loud groaning coming from your mouth, its a sign that your body also needs a spring tune-up to get in shape for the upcoming cycling season.


If you are not familiar with your bike’s parts and their necessary care then you have several options:

  • Buy a good book on mountain bike maintenance and repair. Study it and practice!
  • See if classes on bike maintenance and repair are available at a local bike shop near you.
  • Just bring your bike to the shop for a spring bicycle tune-up. Basic bike maintenance, including checking and adjustment of shifting and brakes, lubing sliders and cables and checking tires for wear can easily be done yourself. Overhaul or adjustments of the headset, bottom bracket, hubs and derailleurs and truing of wheels will require experience or a local bike mechanic.