29 Sep 2017

MTB: how to keep your bike running smoothly

Maintaining your mountain bike not only gives you a smoother ride but gives your bike parts a longer life, ensuring that you get the most out of your spend. What's more, regularly practising these handy skills could do you, or someone else, a big favour out on a ride. So, here are some top MTB maintenance tips.

Keep it clean

It can seem a chore, but there’s really nothing better – giving your bike and wheels a clean straight after riding is best of all. You’re already dirty, so splashback doesn’t matter, plus the filth hasn’t had time to dry and cake on. Wait and the job only gets worse. Best of all, doing it immediately leaves the bike ready to go next time.

Avoid pressure washers

While pressure washers make light work of removing dirt, they can make light work of removing grease and penetrating bearing seals, too. A bucket, sponge, brush and eco-friendly bike cleaner is all you really need.

Check for damage

Cleaning is also a great time to spot impact damage, loose bolts, slack or notchy bearings, loose or broken spokes or tire problems, simply because you’re in close and handling bits of the bike. It’s much better to find them at home rather than after a failure up in the hills. Stay safe we the quick and easy 'M-Check'.

Get a chainchecker

You may resent spending money on a small, spiky bit of metal that does nothing but measure chain stretch, but looking after your chain will save you plenty. If your chain’s clean and hasn’t broken it’s tempting to think it’s OK, but excessive wear leads to accelerated wear on the cassette and chainrings. Leave it too long and a new chain will misbehave unless you replace everything else too. That’s very expensive – especially with 11-speed! It's far more cost-effect to replace your chain before it's too late.

Get a torque wrench

All bolts have a torque to which they should be tightened; your manufacturer should supply ratings. They’re important, too – especially if you use carbon parts. Overtightening can cause stress risers, cracking and complete failure, while the dangers of undertightening are obvious. Bolts can rattle free and disappear completely.

Don’t imagine that metal parts are immune, either. Even the most expensive aluminum can be warped, split, crushed or stripped, even by an innocuous-looking little fastening as found on seat collars or lock-on grips.

Service your cables

Invested in high-quality mechs and shifters? Then don’t neglect the only thing that connects them. If shifting is unreliable, lube the cables. With the cable held vertically, form a funnel (the corner of a small plastic bag works well) and tape it to the end of the outer. Fill it with a penetrating PTFE lubricant and leave gravity to drag it through and out the other end. Clean up and refit.

If performance improves, it’s actually time to replace the cables. Not only will this give you better shifting, but it reduces the chances of the chain sitting misaligned and wearing your cassette (or skipping, crunching and snapping your chain). Again, it can be more expensive in the long run if you don’t spend the money.

It’s not unusual for cables to need renewing about once a year. Replace both inner and outer, and make sure to keep all curves gentle and constant for the lowest resistance.

Get your suspension serviced

While thorough cleaning helps, if you’ve done more than 200 riding hours your fork or shock will need a strip down, fresh oil and maybe new seals. And that’s if they’ve been dismantled, inspected and lubed every 25 hours or so… (your manufacturer will recommend exact intervals).

Dirt gets past even the best seals, oil gets contaminated, vital foam rings dry out and bushings wear. At best, performance suffers, while at worse, expensive stanchion damage follows. As it’s gradual, you may not have noticed how much. Servicing can make a fork or shock feel like a new – especially if you go for some upgraded parts in the process.