Bike Maintenance Guide
Before Every Ride:
Check your tire pressure. Make sure they are set exactly where you want them to be. An inexpensive gauge is a fast way to do it without breaking out your pump every time. Nothing says “bummer” like changing a flat tire before–or during–a ride. While you’re at it, check your tire wear and inspect for any other damage. If you run tubeless, signs of a damaged tire is wetness on your tire, this means sealant is leaking out.
Check your brakes. Testing them on a downhill is not the time to discover there’s an air bubble trapped in your reservoir. Take a quick test drive around your house, and pump them a bit. If they feel a little loose, there may be a small bubble you can work free by pumping them a few times, or turning your bike upside down. If not, you should have them bled. If they feel soft, make sure your pads are not worn, then check your lines to make sure there isn’t a leak. It isn’t necessary to check your pads every time you ride if your brakes feel solid, but get in the habit of inspecting them for wear every now and then.
Check your shifting. On your quick test ride, run through all the gears. If they feel off, check and make sure that your wheels are seated properly in the skewers or thru-axles. If they are, then adjust the barrel adjuster on your shifters forward or backwards if you know how. (Forward or “up” helps add tension and helps the chain move up the cassette into an easier gear. Backwards or “down” loosens the tension and helps the chain move down the cassette into a harder gear.) If you don’t, beware: it is easy to make shifting worse if you just randomly start twisting things. Also, check your chain and make sure all of the links are running across the chainring (front) and cassette (rear) without skipping. If your chain is skipping, you may have a frozen link. Lube it.
Check your pedals. These contact points are one of the most overlooked parts of a bike. Flats are often abused by hitting rocks or roots. Clipless pedals can get dirt or grime in them, and freeze up. Make sure they are clean, and you can get in and out of your pedals easily before you tackle technical terrain.
Check the fit. Again, on your test ride, make sure nothing feels off since the last time you rode your bike, especially if it has been a while. This is the time to adjust your saddle or post height, and check to make sure your dropper post is working if you have one.
Listen to your bike. On your test ride, listen. Constant squeaking or creaking may be a sign of component failure. Don’t ignore the noise on your bike!
Check your bolts and screws. This really applies to a component you may have recently installed, particularly one that has a lot of torque, such as a new chainring. These items can loosen after a ride or two. It is also important to check all of your bolts, on every part, every so often, and make sure none are loose or missing. Don’t be tempted to tighten bolts every time you check them, or you may over-tighten and damage the part. Carbon parts have an exact tolerance, and it is good idea to invest in a torque wrench or a T handle torque wrench so that you don’t over-tighten and destroy carbon bars
Check your skewers or thru-axles. Nothing says “bad day” like having your wheel come off while you are riding downhill. For a variety of reasons, including forgetting to tighten them after you pull your bike off of a roof rack or out of your car, your axles may be loose. Check and make sure before you hit the trail.
After Every Ride:
Inspect your bike. Make sure there are no cracks in the frame or the handlebars, especially if you have a carbon frame, wheelset or other components. This goes double if you crashed on your ride, because small cracks can have severe consequences. Check your drivetrain, brakes, and other items too. It is better to find out now that a part needs servicing, than right before your next ride.
Clean your bike. In general, you don’t need to wash your bike after every ride. In fact, it could be detrimental because you will continually expose your bottom bracket and hubs to water and soap, wearing them down faster. Where you live and ride dictates how often you should wash your bike–and this varies with seasons. We typically ride in mud or wet conditions, so we need to wash it more often. If riding in dry conditions, a gentle wash once a week is sufficient to keep it clean for inspection, testing, and lubrication.
DO NOT use a pressure washer or high powered hose on your bike, especially around greased moving parts like the hubs and bottom bracket. Almost any liquid soap will do, but beware that some soaps have strong detergents that may affect paint or lubed parts. When in doubt, buy a bike-specific liquid soap like Muc-Off bike wash and drivetrain cleaner. Degreasers are helpful too, but be judicious where you spray them or you will inadvertently degrease essential parks like the headset or bottom bracket. Also, try not to touch the rotor, your greasy hands will affect the quality of your braking power.
Never ride extremely muddy trails to keep our trails in good condition, but living in Alaska, the trails are often wet. Washing your bike and getting rid of crud helps you see potential flaws/failures, and keeps your bike in better working order.
Wipe down your suspension stanchions. Commonly ignored, it is easy to hang the bike up after squeezing every minute of riding time out of your rig and forget to care for your fork and shocks. Keeping dust and mud off of the stanchions preserves the silky smooth reliability of your fork/shocks, and extends the service interval by keeping mother earth out of the suspension oil. It’s also a good idea to check your recommended air pressure for both the shock and fork every few rides, especially if something feels different or not quite right.
Lube your drivetrain. Wipe off or clean your chain and use your lube of choice. We ride in wet conditions usually, so wet lube is great. If riding in dry conditions, use dry lube. In addition, if riding in cold temps in the winter, get wet lube for cold conditions. Lubing a chain after a ride lets it sink into the chain and attracts less dust and sand than lubing before a ride. Go slowly and add a tiny drop to each link carefully, then wipe off the excess. Using a lot of lube will only attract dirt and interfere with shifting. You should not have to scrub or deep clean your chain too often–no more than once a month depending on where you ride and how often. If you consistently have a heavy, dirty grease buildup on your chain or cassette, you are probably using too much lube. Using a chain cleaner such as the Pedro's Hands Free Chain Cleaner Chain Pig II can also be helpful.
Riding in wet, muddy, or icy conditions requires more frequent maintenance and diligent drivetrain care.
It is also important to have your bike serviced every season, usually in the spring before the bike season ramps up. This may include servicing forks or shocks. Each fork and suspension are specific, so you can google your specific shock and get a more detailed answer, but on average your shocks and forks should be serviced every 20-40 hours. You can tell if they need to be serviced if you see any oil on the stanchions or you hear a suction sound when you compress the shocks, but typically you want to have them serviced before any signs are given. Other services you may need are brake bleeds, rebuilding hubs, refreshing tire sealant, replacing the bottom bracket, or simply a detailed inspection, deep clean, and lube.
Also, how often you service your bike and parts depends on how well you maintain your bike, how many miles you put on it, and the conditions you ride in. The more you make sure your bike is in good working order on a routine basis, the less you will spend annually in service.