Before you load up your mountain bike for a day on the trails, do a quick once-over to prevent any avoidable mechanical issues. An easy way to systematically cover all the main points on your bike is to do an “M-Check”.
Start at the front wheel axle, move up the front fork, down the frame to the pedals, up the seat post, and down to the rear wheel in an “M” shape. Quickly check that everything is tight, clean, properly inflated, and looks good to go. If in doubt about anything, spend more time checking. It’s not worth risking a crash or having to endure a long walk back to the car.
Here’s a closer look at the different components you should be inspecting.
Brakes must be in good working order for safety. Check the brake pads (the surfaces that rub against the wheel rim or disk). Over time the brake pads wear down or dry out and need to be replaced. Inspect the pads to make sure they are wearing evenly and making even contact with the braking surface.
If you remove a wheel to transport your bike to the trailhead, get in the habit of double-checking to be sure you clamped your brakes back onto the wheel properly once at the trailhead. This is easy to overlook in the excitement of heading out.
Bolts and Cables
Inspect the major bolts on your bike. Mountain biking especially puts the bike under a lot of stress through vibrations, jumps, and bumps. All that movement can cause bolts to come loose over time. If you have a carbon fiber frame or fork, make sure you use a torque wrench to tighten any bolts on your bike. Though torque wrenches are ideal for all kinds of bikes, over-tightening on a carbon frame will cause the carbon to crack.
The main bolts you will want to pay attention to are:
- Front and rear axels either have bolts or quick releases. Check to make sure everything is tight and in good working order.
- Handlebar and front fork bolts should keep everything tight and in alignment. There’s nothing more terrifying than trying to turn with loose handlebars (I can speak from experience). Stand with the front wheel between your knees and use reasonable force to try to move the handlebars from side to side. There should be no movement from the bars.
- Check the crank arms (what your pedals are attached to). Make sure neither crank arm is loose or wobbly.
- Make sure your pedals are not loose and clean any dirt out. Dirt inside clipless pedals can cause them to freeze up.
- The bolts or quick release on the seat post can come loose. Check to make sure there is no movement up, down, or side to side of your seat.
Do a quick check of any brake or shifting cables on your bike that are visible. Look for signs of fraying or wear. If there is significant wear on any cables, replace them before heading out. A snapped brake cable will ruin your day and may cause a serious accident.
Wheels and Tires
Check to make sure the spokes on each wheel are tight and not bent. A broken, or bent spoke can signal other wheel problems or even compromise the integrity of the wheel.
Inspect your tires for signs of wear and any debris. Thorns, rocks, or other things stuck in your tire can cause a puncture. If you pull out a thorn or rock that looks like it went all the way through or deep into the tire, it’s a good idea to check or replace the inner tube before your next ride.
Typically tire pressure on mountain bikes range from 22 psi to 35 psi with a little more air in the rear wheel because the majority of your weight is toward the rear of the bike frame. Factors that influence what tire pressure to choose include what kind of tires you have, the terrain you are riding, and the conditions of the trail. Many riders also have personal preferences about tire pressure.
Taller and heavier riders often prefer higher psi and tougher tires. Choosing a tire with higher Treads Per Inch (TPI) count can also give more support and traction.
Slightly lower tire pressure is beneficial on rough terrain while tires with higher psi roll more easily on smooth, hard terrain.
It’s a good investment to purchase a bike pump with a pressure gauge to be sure you are getting the right psi for each ride. Look on the side of your bike tires to find the recommended psi level for that tire. Don’t be afraid to experiment with what feels best for you but avoid over-inflating past the recommended psi as you run the risk of a blowout.
Check Your Toolkit
Finally, double check the toolkit you take with you on the trail. Make sure you bring the following:
- Spare tube
- Tire pulls
- Either a CO2 inflator or a mini-bike pump
- Patch kit
- Multi-tool with the correct size hex wrenches or adjustable wrench
Now you’re ready for a fun and hopefully incident-free day out on the trails. You can use the same “M-Check” when you’re finished riding as you wipe down your bike to assess any maintenance needs before your next ride.
Anything you’d add to this pre-ride safety check? How has a pre-ride safety check helped you in the past? Leave a comment below!