Spring Riding Season Means Inspecting, Cleaning, Adjusting…

by editor on March 20, 2010

Bikeskills Tahoe’s Karl Rogne dials in brake levers while Bikeskills NorCal’s Jiro Nakamura does the same behind him.

Spring is here in much of the US;  and on the way to the rest of it. If you’re like most mountain bikers, it’s been a while since you’ve ridden or taken a good look your ride. So before you grab your trusty steep and ride off only to find a mid-ride problem, here’s a checklist of things to take a look at, some adjustments to make, in order to ensure you and your bike take care of one another and remain friends.

First and Foremost, Inspect Your Bike for Cracks, Fractures, Loose Components, etc.

(Left to Right) Head Tube crack just behind the “gusset”, a cracked bottom bracket junction, seat tube crack.

While there are many places your frame can be cracked, the most common ones are where multiple tubes are joined with welds or bonds, and around gussets. So take a good look at these key areas: Head Tube junction, Bottom Bracket area, and the Seat Tube junction. Cracks also form on the rear “stays” of your bike as well, especially where they connect to the frame and rear dropouts. And remember, cracks usually start out as very small, all-but-invisible to the eye; so check slowly and carefully.

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(L to R) Even tiny cracks like the ones around the stem bolts can spell disaster. Hubs are always under stress from the spokes. Cracks can appear even when the bike has been sitting for months or more.

There are lots of pieces and parts on a modern mountain bike.  Many of them are under high loads and take a thrashing. Any time you’re planning a ride you should inspect these critical parts and places. This is especially the case after a prolonged period of non-use. In particular, check out your bike’s: handlebars, stem, rims, hubs, brake levers and calipers/rotors/pads/shoes, fork dropouts and crown, crankset arms, shock and brake mounts.

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Then it’s on to Cleaning, Lubricating and Adjusting… but do it Right!

Wash your bike like you would a child: easy does it. A high pressure blast is okay on the chain, but that’s about it. Take a look at a bearing that had its lubrication washed out on the right…

The forces from riding are the only ones that can result in component failures on your bike.  As all too many of us have found out the hard way, there is too much of a good thing when it comes to cleaning your bike. And there’s nothing worse than using high pressure in combination with strong solvents which include so-called “citrus-based” products as well as grease-cutting detergents. These very effective grease and grime cutters have their place in bike cleaning and maintenance, but when they get in to hubs, headsets, bottom brackets, linkage bearings, and other sensitive areas, they tend to strip away the protective grease and you end up with corroded, rusted parts like the bearing on the right which over time lead to seized up wheels, suspension, lots of creaks and squeaks… and spending a lot money to fix what you were trying to maintain.  Here’s a good article on how to do it right.

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Washing your bike without drying and re-lubing is not a good idea…

One of the most important things to remember about washing your bike is that it’s a three part process. First, wash your bike. Second, you have to get all the water off, and dry it thoroughly: trapped water can and will result damage, especially to precision load bearing, rotating parts. Third, lubricate the pieces and parts that need it, with the proper lubricant. Key areas include: chain, derailleur pivot points, lever pivot points, seat collars (especially quick release types), and pedals. Cables (especially cable ends) are also important to clean and re-lube but can be a bit tricky. Here’s a video on how to do it right.

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A chain wear checker on the left and a very worn chain ring with “shark teeth” on the right.

Wow, do we have some stories about this one… But the bottom line is that if you check your chain for wear, replace it early, you won’t end up with chain rings like the one above, and or a ruined cogset. Instead of replacing hundreds of dollars of parts, you’ll be spending somewhere between $25 and $50 on a chain only. No one explains how to check your chain better than Alex at the Bike Tutor. Click here for the goods.

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You’ll need a special pump to adjust air shocks (right) and forks (left). Your tires have the recommended air pressure range stamped on the sidewalls.

The air in forks, shocks – and especially tires – can leak out over time. So make sure you check them. You’ll have to look in your shock and fork’s manual - or go to the manufacturer’s website - for the correct settings. Your tires have the “min-max” inflation range stamped on the sidewalls. In mountain biking, the optimal tire pressure is a function of your weight, where you are riding, and how you are riding. However, the ”maximum” rating is usually too high for comfort and control… so keep that in mind when pumping them up.

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