Top 5 Mountain Bike Tune-Up Tips

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You give your mountain bike a ton of abuse… so you have to show it some love too. Otherwise… well, let’s not think about the consequences when you get sudden chain suck on a rocky track, or your brakes give out on a treacherous drop.

You can save yourself a lot of trouble — and pain — with some “before you need it” mountain bike repair. You want to keep your most important components tuned up, and replace worn-out ones before they abandon you right when you need them most.

So here are my 5 absolutely vital Mountain Bike tune-up tips:

Tune-up tip #1: Test your brakes

Mountain Bike
After every trail ride, clean your brake pads and rims. Look for any grit that’s embedded in your pads and remove it with something sharp.

Once you’ve got the grindies out of your brake pads, clean the pads and the rims/discs with some rubbing alcohol on a soft cloth. This will not only lengthen the life of your pads and rims, it’ll give you greater braking power.

Check the alignment of the brakes too. Make sure the brake pads are an equal distance from the rim and they both hit the rim at the same time when applied. When properly aligned, the brake pads will be slightly angled toward the front. This prevents that horrible wild-pig squeal.

You’ll need to change your brake pads if:

You have to squeeze extra hard to get any grip out of them. The grooves in the brake pads are worn down to almost nothing. (Note: These are instructions for cartridge or bolt-on brakes, not disc brakes.)

Tune-up tip #2: Tighten up all your bolts

Mountain Bike
This may seem obvious, but any loose bolt anywhere will just get looser and cause more wear as you put your bike through the punishment of those rugged trails. So go over every inch, find every bolt, and tighten every one that shows any play at all.

You’ll keep your bike healthy a lot longer… and better yet, you’ll get familiar with it from every angle.

Tune-up tip #3: Check your chain

Mountain Bike
If any part of your bike chain is worn, or if the chain is stretched, then replace it.

To see if it’s stretched, count out 20 links and measure them as you pull them tight. They should be 10 inches from pin to pin. If they’re 1/16 inch longer — or more — new chain time. Another way to tell is if you can see daylight between the chain and the sprocket.

(Note: stretching shouldn’t be an issue if you have a bushingless chain.)

If you tend to get your bike good and dirty, you’ll need to clean the chain to keep grit from wearing it down. You can:

  1. Take off the chain and put it in a plastic soda bottle with some citrus solvent and shake it up.
  2. Clean it on the bike with citrus solvent and an old toothbrush.
  3. Use an on-the-bike cleaning machine, available in bike stores.
  4. Rinse the chain with a hose then let it dry.

Lubricate the chain on the bike by running the pedals backwards and dripping a line of bike oil along the bottom run of the chain.

Tune-up tip #4: Spin your wheels

Mountain Bike
Turn the bike upside down and give each wheel a spin. They should spin freely.

Look for wobbles. Eyeball each wheel head-on as it spins. If the wheel does wobble, or touches a brake pad anywhere in its rotation, check to see if there’s lateral play. Stop it and try to wiggle it from side to side. If it’s loose you’ll need to tighten it up.

For a quick-release wheel:

  1. Take it off and put it on again
  2. Check that the axle is straight
  3. Line up the brakes so they hit the middle of the rims
  4. Lock the wheel on again good and tight (the lever should leave a dent in your hand)
  5. Make sure the quick release lever points up or toward the rear of the bike so it doesn’t catch on anything
  6. While you’re riding

For a standard wheel:

  1. Tighten the bolts that hold the axle onto the forks (front wheel) or chainstays (back wheel).
  2. If your wheel wobbles but doesn’t wiggle, it’s wonky. Bad news. You’ll have to get the wheel straightened (or trued).

That’s usually a bike shop deal.

Tune-up tip #5: Fill up your tires

Mountain Bike
Finally, make sure your tires are properly inflated every time you ride! Under-inflated tires can turn a nice ride into a death march!

Find out when you buy your bike what the ideal psi is for your bike, weight, and riding style, then maintain it religiously!

Do these easy maintenance checks regularly and you’ll save yourself a whole lot of mountain bike repair. You’ll make your ride a lot smoother too.

Now get out there and hammer!