Mountain Bike Maintenance
When riding gritty, sandy trails and clattering through rock gardens, your mountain bike can take a beating. Keeping it in top condition is key to improving its lifespan, with regular maintenance helping to keep your pride and joy running smooth and saving you money on repairs in the long run - but what do you look for when checking your bike over?
Whether checking worn tyres or locating an indiscernible creak, this article aims to equip you with the knowledge to keep your bike in top condition and performing at its best all year round.
A clean bike is a happy bike. Mountain biking is a dirty sport, and it pays to keep your bike clean and free from dirt and grime that could accelerate component wear. Although the temptation to sling your filthy bike in the shed is always there, regularly cleaning could save you from costly component bills. With its constantly moving parts, the drivetrain is one of the areas most susceptible to premature wear, especially when riding in sandy conditions where grit will grind away at the chain, cassette and derailleur.
To clean, use a drivetrain cleaner/degreaser and a brush to tackle the grime, then rinse with water and dry. A chain cleaning device is a quick way to get your chain sparkling, without the hassle of using a brush. Once clean, apply chain lubricant and wipe away the excess. Always use a bike safe cleaner and take care not to force water into the bearings found in the bottom bracket, headset, hubs, and suspension linkage.
Now we’ve established that a clean, lubricated drivetrain will wear slower, here’s what to look out for when inspecting your drivetrain. Using a chain checker, you can check whether your chain is still within tolerance. A stretched and worn chain will lead to poor shifting and can shorten the life of your cassette and chainrings, so replace yours when necessary to increase your drivetrains lifespan.
Poor shifting, excessive noise and gear skipping can be a symptom of a worn drivetrain, as can changes to the tooth shape like shark finning. Groupset components are consumable and will eventually need replacing to keep your ride running smooth.
Over time, the bolts on your bike may become loose, and it is worth doing a regular bolt check to maintain the correct torque. Vibration from the trail can cause even tight bolts to loosen over time, especially on new bikes. Check all the bolts on the bike, but pay particular attention to fixings on the stem, the suspension linkage (on full-suspension models), and your thru-axles or quick-release skewers.
Measured in Newton metres, torque is the measure of force required to ensure perfect bolt tension. Too little torque can cause bolts to come loose, and too much can easily damage components, so it pays to use a cycle-specific torque wrench.
Muc-Off's Top Maintenance Tips
1 - There is nothing more annoying than squealing disc brakes! If your brake discs have been contaminated or are squealing, try a bit of Muc-Off disc brake cleaner on the pads. If the contamination is bad, remove the pads, give them a bit of a scoring with sandpaper and soak them in disc brake cleaner.
2 - Don’t forget to use a protection spray on your bike like Muc-Off Bike Protect or Muc-Off Silicon Shine after cleaning, as they not only protect your bike from small scuffs and scratches, but vastly reduce the mud and grime from sticking to your frame and components! Win-win.
3 - Got sticker residue or sealant stuck to your frame that won’t come off? The Muc-Off Glue and Sealant Remover is gentle on paintwork, preventing scratches and paint damage!
All moving parts on your mountain bike are subject to wear and tear, including bearings such as those found in the hubs, bottom bracket, headset and on full-suspension frame pivots. Bearing wear is hastened by the ingress of dirt and water and can manifest itself in the form of creaking or a rough, graunchy feel. Many mountain bike components use sealed bearings to help prevent this, but worn bearings will require replacing to keep your ride running silky smooth. Drifting out worn bearings within a hub or pivot can be a tricky job at home, so if in doubt, consult your local cycle mechanic.
The mech hanger connects the derailleur to the frame and is designed as a point of failure to keep your components safe from impact. Correct derailleur alignment is crucial for maintaining smooth, crisp gear shifts, and the hanger can easily bend or break when struck. Although a derailleur hanger can be bent straight, they are an inexpensive part to replace and are a handy spare to keep in your toolbox.
It can be hard to pinpoint drivetrain issues, but common symptoms of a bent mech hanger are poor shifting in the higher or lower gears. Another common drivetrain issue is a stuck cable, which sees the shifter paddle feeling overly firm and can be fixed by replacing the inner and outer gear cable.
Over time, gear cables will stretch and require re-tensioning. As a general guide, if shifting is slow into the lowest (easier) gears, the cable requires more tension, and if slow to change into the higher (harder) gears, it requires less.
Brake Pad Wear
As the braking surface on your brake pads wears down, the pistons will align themselves to the amount of pad remaining to deliver a consistent bite point on the trail. When your pads are near the end of their lifespan, they should be replaced to maintain optimal performance.
A sign that your brake pads need replacing is poor braking performance, and the amount of pad remaining can be checked by looking through the disc caliper. Sandy, wet conditions and downhill riding will accelerate pad wear, and some pad compounds, such as sintered pads, will be more durable than others and require less maintenance.
Hydraulic disc brakes are commonplace on modern mountain bikes, and although they are a sealed system, the brake fluid will eventually need replacing to maintain peak performance. Air can slowly make its way into the system, resulting in a squishy lever feel that may even pull to the handlebar. Bleeding your brakes is a simple task with the correct tools but may require servicing at your local cycle shop.
Bushings and Frame Bearings
Specific to full-suspension mountain bikes, the bushes and bearings found within the linkage will eventually wear and may need replacing to keep your bike at peak performance. Found throughout the pivots and within the shock eyelets, bearings and bushes reduce friction between two moving parts.
An indicator that these would need to be replaced is movement within the frame pivots, which can be noticed when lifting the bike up. A regular strip down and regrease of your frame can prevent excessive wear as it reduces dirt and grime buildup.
Tyre and Tubeless Maintenance
As the contact point between the bike and the ground, tyres are crucial to your bikes performance. Mountain bike tyres use a specific tread pattern to supply traction on rough terrain, and the knobs and sipes that make up the tread will eventually wear and require replacing. When inspecting your tyres, look for torn or diminished knobs as well as damage to the sidewall from rocks and trail hazards. Tyre pressure can reduce over time and should be checked before every ride.
Tubeless setups offer increased grip and enhanced puncture protection and are one of the most effective upgrades you can make to your bike. Over time the tubeless sealant can begin to firm up and will become less effective. Checking and topping up the sealant should be done every few months, and if your tyre is struggling to seal a puncture, it may need a tubeless plug to repair the damage.
Having your suspension serviced regularly keeps it feeling plush and slick through its travel, offering improved traction and performance on the trail. If your fork or rear shock feels dry, loses its small bump sensitivity, or is noisy through its stroke, it may be time for a service. Silicone based products can reduce the friction between the stanchion and seal for plush, silky suspension.
If your suspension is regularly losing pressure, it may be that the seals are damaged and need replacing. Similarly, if your dropper seatpost develops unwanted vertical or side to side movement, it may require a service to bring it back to working order.
Although bike maintenance may seem intimidating, keeping track of these areas of wear can keep your bike running box-fresh for longer and save you money on repairs in the process.
Are you looking to revitalise your bike? Our wide range of Muc-Off maintenance products offers all the essentials you need to tackle any task.