Mountain Bike Maintenance

Cleaning Your Bike

One of the most important items of mountain bike maintenance involves taking good care of your bike after riding it by cleaning off any mud, dirt, or debris accumulated during your ride. Sometimes if you are riding in clean and dry conditions the bike can be cleaned easily. More often, however, the bike will require more time consuming and tedious cleaning. This is especially true if you have ridden in muddy or wet conditions, through water, in the rain, or in wet creek beds or bog areas.

It’s extremely important to clean your bike directly after a ride before it is put away.

You can just wipe the bike down with a dry towel. If there’s any dried-on mud you can get it off with a wet towel and then dry it afterward. I like to use Armor All which is an automotive interior dash cleaner and protector. Spray a little on a dry towel and wipe down the frame, crank arms, handlebars, fork tubes after the bike is cleaned.

muddy bike


If your bike was extremely dirty you can clean it with a bucket of soapy water (use automotive soap or buy some specialty bike soap). It is important to now clean the chain and lube it. Also, it is a good idea to remove any sticks, leaves, or other debris from the inside of the rear gear cluster (the freewheel) with a thin, long tool such as a screwdriver, or some similar tool which is designed to get between the gears and take out debris.

Lubricating the Chain

Keeping your chain lubricated properly will allow the optimum performance from this most important part of your bike. Road bikes only need occasional lubrication after wet weather but mountain bikers generally require more care because of the mud and dirt involved. If your chain is not tended to frequently, eventually you will have either a broken or frozen link.

First, turn your bike upside down and rest it on the seat and handlebars. Then grab the chain with a cloth and move the pedals to advance the chain through the cloth. This removes some surface debris. Repeat this process with a chain lubricant to further clean the chain. Repeat one last time with lubricant to make sure the chain is properly lubricated.

two men working on fixing a bike together

Pre-Ride Checkup

1) Clean and lubricate the chain.

2) Inflate front and rear tires to the desired pressure.

3) Check travel on brake levers, adjust cable at handlebar or at brake if needed. The brake should start to grip about the third pull on the lever. Remember, the LEFT is your front brake. However, if you live in the U.K., the left lever may control the REAR brake, as we are told by one of our viewers overseas.

4) Check all exposed Allen heads for tightness, using a multiple size hex wrench or Alien tool. These can be found in various areas of your bike (fork tubes, chainring bolts, seat, handlebars, mounting bolts, water bottle cages, etc). Use common sense and tighten whatever is loose.

5) Pick up the front end and spin the wheel. Make sure the wheel is rotating freely and the rim or tire is not rubbing against the brake pad.

6) Pick up the rear end and spin the wheel. Make sure that the wheel doesn’t seem to have a wobble in it, and make sure it spins freely.

7) Feel the spoke tension with your fingers on each wheel, or listen to their tone while holding a screwdriver, for example, against the spinning wheel. Any dead spokes should be tightened with the appropriately sized spoke wrench.

8) Get on your bike and pedal around your driveway or street before your ride. You should shift gears, pedal, and test the brakes.

9) If you ride clipless pedals, check your cleats for tightness and debris, and lube the mechanism in the pedal.

10) Check any lights, racks, handlebar bags, seat bags, or other items to make sure they are properly attached to the bike. Remove any trash or unused food from your bags, and check the gear you may be carrying in them.

Make sure you have the proper tools with you for the ride you are planning. Most riders carry a special bike tool kit, a single bike repair tool, or at the very least a tire pump and patch kit. Find out what tools your partner is carrying if you are riding with someone. Make sure at least one of you has the basics.

fixing a bike out on the trail

Fix a Flat Tire on the Trail

Regardless of whether you chose tubed or tubeless tires, your primary method of fixing a flat while on the trail will be by using tubes. If your rimless tire gets a flat it will likely be near-impossible to fix while you’re out on the trail so it’s always good to bring along tubes as they work with both tire types. You may need these tools to fix it: tire irons (or a Quik Stik), patch kit, pump, a backup tube and sometimes a Presta adapter.

First, check to see if the bead has come off of the rim or if the bead has worn thru to the tube perhaps by rubbing on the brake shoe. Sometimes the bead can stretch and come off in which case you need a new tire. Also, if a tubed bike sits for a while the tires may just go flat and need to be pumped up again. Check the valve stem to make sure that it is tight (use a valve stem tool if you have Schrader stems) and that the air is not leaking here.

Here’s the basic procedure:

1) Remove the tire from the bike after turning the bike on it’s back. Loosen both axle nuts or the quick-release lever and disengage the brake cable so that the tire will pull off between the brake pads. For the back wheel, shift the chain onto the smallest sprocket, grab the derailleur body and pull it toward the rear of the bike, and wrestle the wheel free.

2) Remove the tire from the rim using your tire irons (these may be plastic and not really iron). Use the beveled end and work it about a half-inch underneath the bead starting at a point on the wheel opposite the valve stem. Use leverage to pull the tire from the bead and lock the other end of the iron on a spoke. Take a second iron and work it about an inch from the first and push it to push off the bead, or lock it on a spoke and use a third iron. In this fashion, you can work off one side of the bead and remove the tube.

3) It is important to now check the inside of the tire for thorns, glass, metal fragments, etc.. When you are sure it is clean, move on to the tube. Pump it up a little and listen carefully for an air leak, or submerge it in water and look
for bubbles. The hole, or holes, can be verified by a little saliva which will bubble if placed over the hole.

4) Rough up the area of the tube a little with the sandpaper in the patch kit where the hole is. Apply a glueless patch or apply enough glue to cover the size of the patch. Wait five minutes for the glue to dry and then apply the patch firmly to the tube. If the hole is on a seam, or ridge in the tube, the patch may not hold as well. You may need a new tube. Wait a few minutes for it to bond. Then pump up the tube slightly.

5) Place the tube back in the tire starting at the area of the valve stem. Center it carefully or you will risk damaging the stem and ruining the tube. Work the tube all the way into the tire and then begin to work the bead back onto the rim. You can do most of this by hand and complete the job using the tire irons, but be sure to not pinch the tube in the process. You may have to wrestle a bit to get the last bit of bead onto the rim.

6) Inflate the tire a little bit and then work the bead with your hands to make sure it is even and looks O.K.

7) Use your pump and PUMP IT UP BABY! Some pumps require a great deal of energy to get decent air pressure. You may need an adapter if you have the Presta system to engage it with the pump. The adapter is usually placed on the stem after the valve is turned loose.

8) Replace the tire onto the bike and check the brake cables and alignment of the tire on the dropouts and retighten everything.

9) Go check it out and ride. It may be okay or it may still lose air again after a few hours or days. If this happens then you may have pinched a hole in the tube, the patch may have failed, the valve may be loose, you may have had more than one hole or the item that caused the flat may still be in the tire.

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