It’s been a tough week…lots of pressures and a few big deadlines.
You have been really looking forward to riding your mountain bike and can’t wait to hit the trails. You throw your gear together and arrive in the carpark in record time.
But there is that nagging feeling in the back of you mind…are you forgetting something?
A quick look over your gear…all seems to be there.
So not wanting to hold up the group, you throw a leg over your trusty mountain bike and roll onto the first run of singletrack for the afternoon.
But something just isn’t right…and it all comes back to you as you hit the first big climb…that awful gear change that you were supposed to fix has just come back to haunt you…
by Rod Bucton
Friday, 6.45 am, Port Macquarie, Mid North Coast New South Wales, Australia
A really, really important thing to do that I find (and it catches me out when I don’t do it) is to do a thorough check over your bike before you go for a ride…every single time.
The times when I don’t do this is always when I have problems.
Here is a quick routine that I follow before every ride, which at the end of the day if you do the same, means you’ll have more enjoyment on your mountain bike.
Now, the first thing, get your bike into an area where you’ve got a bit of space and preferably near your home workshop and tools. You might need your hex keys or tyre pump, so get your tools ready.
So first step, always…check over your bike and make sure everything is okay.
That there are no cracks in the frame, everything feels sounds and raise the whole bike up and just drop it on the ground. It’s not too high, but if there is anything loose or wobbly on your bike, you’ll hear a noise or sound or rattle or something that is a little unusual. This gives you a starting point that something might be loose or need a closer look.
If you do find something loose, inspect, tighten it up, adjust it or whatever it needs. If all is okay then move on.
The next thing to do is to check your tyre pressure in both tyres…very, very important thing to do. Often, you might do a bit of a squeeze test. You would have seen someone do this before…where you squeeze your thumb against the tyre to check if the pressure. It’s a rough idea but it’s certainly not accurate and it’s not the right way to go.
Use a tyre pump with an accurate gauge to set your tyre pressures.
I’ve even seen guys that haven’t done this well and head out on the trail with tyre pressures still too low, and this particularly with tyres with tubes, is very easy to have what is called a pinch flat.
This is what happens if you don’t have enough pressure in the tyre, and you ride over a bump, or a log, or a rock and the tube is “pinched” between the wheel rim and the tyre, to the point where it cuts the tube and you have a flat tyre very, very quickly. This is more obvious, when you remove the tyre for a closer inspection and you find two small little cuts on the inside of the tube. That’s the sign of a pinch flat.
Even riding tubeless tyres with tyre pressure that is too low may result in damage to your wheel rims.
To determine what tyre pressures are adequate for you, often there’s an indicator marked on the sidewall of the tyre, which is often a good starting point. You might want to try some different tyre pressures, depending on the type of surface that you are riding on.
A harder more compact surface might call for a higher tyre pressure or if the surface is a little bit softer, loose or sandy you might go for a tyre pressure that’s a little bit lower than usual. So a little bit of trial might be needed here.
If you find your tyre pressure is too low, use a tyre pump or at home I prefer a good quality floor pump, which allows you to pump up a tyre quickly and has an accurate gauge on it.
Next it’s important to keep your chain well maintained and well lubricated. I prefer to use what is called a wax or a dry lube. I’ve tried some oil based lubricants in the past and the riding that I do, with this particular lube I have ended up with quite a dirty, oily mess on the chain, because you do end up with a bit of dirt and water that flicks up off your tyres into the chain and when this mixes with this lubricant and just makes an awful mess on the chain and gears.
The dry lube looks like a white milky liquid. Different manufacturers suggest to use different amounts, but what I do with the bike on a stand is to –
spin the cranks and the chain in the reverse direction, let the chain freewheel
squeeze a very fine line of this lubricant around the outside of the chain and do the same on the inside of the chain,
then with a little bit of rag, again while you’re spinning the chain, hold the rag on either side of the chain and then it do a full revolution just to take off any excess of lubricant that might be on the chain..then you are good to go.
Without a good lubricant on the chain, you can end up with a very dry chain, which certainly doesn’t help the life of the chain – will increase wear on the chain and also makes a terrible grinding noise….you probably would have heard people riding past you that sound like this.
If you are riding around with no (or very little) sound coming from your bike, generally, that’s a good indicator that things are okay.
The next thing to do is check your gear change.
Is your chain moving smoothly between all gears, front and rear?
Are you over shifting or half shifting?
This can add to unnecessary frustration when you ride.
We all know what it’s like when you are out on the trails and you come to a small hill…you try to change the gears…only to hear them grating and grinding or missing a gear or changing down too low or up too high or you might even drop a chain altogether. This force that you are putting on the chain, together with an unusual movement or gear selection, may also damage or break your chain if it has a weak link.
If your gear change is not working well, adjust the front or rear derailleur as required.
Always check your brakes are working well and with your wheels are well aligned.
The main type type of brakes on mountain bikes are –
Caliper brakes or Disc brakes.
Caliper brakes operate when the brake lever is pulled a caliper squeezes the brake pad against the wheel rim (that acts as a braking surface) and slows the bike down. It’s important that the brake pads aren’t overly worn and correctly aligned. If the pads are old they can become quite hard and don’t work as well, so they may need changing
Also with this type of braking system, it’s important that that rim is clean and free of debris. Dirt, mud or even grease or oil on the rim will prevent the pads from stopping as quickly they should.
Disc brakes operate in a similar manner, when the brake lever is pulled a caliper squeezes against a disc which is mounted off the wheel hub. This is a far more superior system, than the previous caliper system. It provides much more powerful and controlled braking in all conditions.
Cheaper bikes may have a wire cable that operates the caliper action when you squeeze the lever. Whereas mid range to high end mountain bikes have a hydraulic oil system.
Next check the front & rear suspension. Ensure your forks (& dual suspension rear shock) sliders are clean from dirt and mud and are well greased and are moving freely and smoothly. If they are dirty use a clean damp cloth to wipe away the dirt & old grease…being careful not to use too much pressure and the scratch the sliders or force and dirt into the seals.
Once clean wipe a small amount of shock grease around the sliders. Then holding the brakes on, pump down on the front (and rear for dual suspension) of your bike to force the sliders in and out then wipe off any excess, leaving a thin film of grease.
Also check the air pressure in your shocks to ensure the correct minimum pressures for your weight. Guide tables for this are usually on the side of the forks, in the users manual or on the manufacturers website. If additional air is required use a shock pump to get the correct pressure.
And that wraps up your pre-ride bike check.
Ok but what if you you come across a problem with your bike that is a bit more serious than just an adjustment here or there.
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So keep in touch and get out on the trails.
About The Author
Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.