The Never-Ending Mountain Bike Maintenance
Summer is in full swing, which means it’s time your bike got a little extra love. Every time you’re about to head out for a ride it’s important to check the ABCs: air, brakes, and chain.
Firstly, check your tire pressure by using your hand and whole body to apply pressure to the tire. If it feels softer than a tomato, it would be a good idea to add a little air. If you have a PSI gauge, even better (if you want to invest in one, check out your local bike shop for options) – the exact PSI will depend on current conditions, type of trails, and the size of the rider.
Make sure to give both your front and rear brake levers a good squeeze. If the lever is touching or nearing touching your grips, it’s definitely time to do yourself a favour and invest in a fresh set of brake pads. Give each lever a squeeze and try to push your bike forward. The front brake should completely stop the bike, whereas the rear brake should lockout with the bike continuing to move forward without the back wheel spinning.
Next, check over your chain, cassette, derailleur, and chainring. Your chain should ideally be clean and lubed up – nobody likes a dry chain. Check to make sure your cassette and chainring aren’t missing any teeth from your gears, as it could result in your chain slipping in between gears. Have a look to check there’s no built-up junk in your derailleur that could possibly slow you down from getting to the top of the trail faster and enjoying the sweet freedom of the downhill descent.
Okay, you’ve come back from your ride, absolutely gassed and now you’re stuck with a dirty rig. What’s next?
Washing your bike
During the majority of BC riding expect you and your bike to get absolutely covered inch by inch in mud. If you’re lucky, you can get away without washing it or just a quick rinse with the hose before putting it back in the garage until the next time.
However, soon enough, you will realize that it’s time your bike deserves a bath. When that time comes, you’ll need the following: microfibre cloths (to help avoid scratches), brushes, soap (car wash works wonders), a bucket, and some rags. Try your best to hose off all the dirt and guck before going in with the warm soapy water and cloths. Wipe your bike down thoroughly, tip to tail getting into all the nooks and crannies. Use a fresh cloth over your fork and shock; go slow to avoid scratches. Did you know scratches can cause dirt to enter and damage your suspension? It’s best to use only water to rinse your brake rotors, and don’t forget to rinse the rest of your bike with the hose to remove all the soapy water.
Now that your ride is sparkling clean, use a cloth to dry off your frame and wipe any remaining water off your chain to avoid rust. If you want to give your bike an extra bit of love, you can even use a little car wax to make it shine a little brighter and repel dirt!
Cleaning the cassette and chain
Get your warm soapy water and brushes. You can buy fancy, expensive brushes specifically for your bike, or you can go to the dollar store and pick up a couple of plastic kitchen brushes that will do the job. Using a little force start going over each of the chainrings, brushing downwards to avoid getting grease on your brakes. Next, move on to the chain; this can be tricky as there are lots of small cracks and spaces for dirty grease. Brush both sides of your chain, the top, and bottom to push the dirt off. If the excess grease still isn’t coming off it’s probably time to bring out the degreaser.
You can save yourself a couple of bucks by going to Canadian Tire and picking up a large bottle of degreaser, instead of spending extra on the bike-specific stuff. We would suggest using a smaller brush for better control – you’ll need to be careful not to get degreaser all over your bike – try to contain it to the cassette, chainring, and chain only as it could be harmful for your brake rotors and pads. Once you’ve got them shining, you’ll notice a difference climbing uphill, and it should make life a little easier! However, if you notice your bike slipping in and out of gears on your ride, it might be time to replace your chain or cassette.
Lubing and greasing
After you’ve cleaned your bike so it sparkles like the first day you got it, it’s time to lube up before your next ride. Keeping your chain lubed and free of guck is super important to ensure you have a smooth ride. You have a choice between dry and wet lube; proper use really depends on the conditions you’re going to be riding in. Dry lube is great for loose, dry, dusty trails as it doesn’t let dirt stick to the chain. Wet lube is great for the classic spring/fall muddy BC days. Be aware when using wet lube in dry conditions, that dirt and debris will gum up your chain and drivetrain.
Changing a tube/tire
Always carry a spare tube! Whether you ride tubes or tubeless it’s a smart idea to have an extra tube on your ride in case of emergencies. Changing a tube quickly on the trail will save you from walking your bike down the rest of the trail as your friends whizz past you. If you want to save yourself some time, you can pick up tire levers; they will help you get under the tire and break the seal much faster. Make sure you remove all the air from the tire before you start to break the seal around the rim. Wiggling the tire from side to side, you’ll need to roll the seam of the tire over the rim to release the tire. Once you’ve got the tire off, screw the tube valve into the rim, put the tube into the tire, and the rim in the middle.
Now for the tricky bit, resealing the tire on the rim. Pro tip: make sure your tire is facing the right direction; most tires are rotational. Start with one side at a time, push the seam under the rim, make sure not to pinch the tube in the process. If you have a tight tire, you’ll likely have trouble getting the last bit of seam under the rim; try wiggling the opposite side of the tire to create extra room. Double-check you haven’t caught the tube in the tire before pumping it up. If not, you should be ready to roll - Literally!
Checking brake pads
Brakes are an essential component of your bike. If they aren’t working correctly, you risk damaging your bike and potentially yourself. Unless you’re one of those crazy folks, who doesn’t believe in using brakes, it’s always a good idea to check the life left on your brake pads before you set off on a ride, and if they are looking thin or you see metal, it’s time for a new set. It’s best to swap your brake pads before you start to hear metal on metal; save yourself from having to replace your rotors as well.
If you’re a handy person or love DIYs, you can find loads of helpful videos online and many forums from bike lovers on bike maintenance. It’s always great to learn the basics of taking care of your bike, because of course, if you take care of it, it will take care of you. Learning to change a tube/tire, check brake pads and do a quick visual inspection on your bike is an essential part of being a mountain biker.
Take it to the Pros
If you’re a person who doesn’t have the time or the energy to fix your own bike, hopefully, you recognize when it’s time to bring it to the experts. At the very least we recommend you get your forks serviced once a year (at the beginning or end of your season) if riding on average two times a week. There are many excellent bike mechanics located in Whistler. Some of the best are just around the corner in Creekside. For all your bike fixing needs, you can check Coastal Culture to get your bike in tip-top shape, or if you need any extra gear, you can hit up Can-Ski Creekside.
Mountain biking is a great summer activity. It gets you out in the wilderness to some of the most beautiful places you could imagine and is a great way to stay in shape. Of course, it has its risks, but keeping your bike in working order is the best thing you can do to keep you and your bike safe!