How to Tune Up Your Mountain Bike This Spring

Spring is now officially here and that means that you can ride your bike without freezing your fingers, hitting a patch of ice, or dealing with sloppy, slushy snow. Winter riding is certainly doable, but boy, isn’t it nice to be able to ride when the weather is nice and the birds are chirping?

If you haven’t ridden your bike all winter long, be sure to tune it up before you hit the trails. As tempting as it is to just pull your mountain bike out of the shed and go out to your favorite trail, you should always do a little springtime tune-up on your bike before you head out for another great season. Here’s what you need to go to get it ready to ride once again.

Give it a Second Glance

mountain bike
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Take the time to look over every part of your bike. Because you know your bike well, this should take only a few minutes. But look at everything. The tires, brakes, frame, wheels, seat post, seat, fasteners, handlebars, controls, gears, chains, reflectors and lights, pedals—absolutely everything.

Note any dings or damage, but especially damage to important-but-often-overlooked parts like brake cables, handlebars, and the brakes themselves. If there’s anything that might affect your bike’s performance, give it a quick ride around the block to evaluate it. If you notice anything out of sorts, you may also want to get a professional opinion.

Even if you can’t or don’t want to fix everything now, it’s important to know what is going on with your bike. If an issue suddenly becomes worse or begins to affect your ride, you’ll know what’s going on. You may also decide to take more care in certain situations because of a known issue. A simple visual inspection can tell you a lot, and it’s actually smart to do one before every ride.

Scrub Your Bike

cleaning a bicycle
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If you left your bike muddy (shame on you!) or it has gathered some dust sitting around, sprinkle it with a light mist of water. Make sure you don’t send a steady stream of water anywhere near your hubs, headset, or bottom bracket. These can take in water which can make your bike rust from the inside out or cause it to creak when you use it.

Using gentle dish soap mixed in with the water, work up a light lather all over your bike. If you want to, use a sponge or a toothbrush to scrub in hard-to-reach places. Rinse again, then wipe everything down with a soft towel. Shake or bounce the bike when you’re done, to make sure you’ve removed all the excess water.

It’s never a bad idea to apply a protective spray to your bike after cleaning it. There are plenty of options out there specifically designed for bikes, but automotive and marine cleaners and protectants can also work.

Clean Your Chain

bicycle chain
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Sure, you just cleaned your whole bike, but your chain deserves some extra TLC. Wipe it down with a towel while checking for cracks, breaks, excess dirt, and rust. You can take the chain off and soak it, but most riders find that a little degreaser goes a long way when it comes to cleaning your chain. WD40 does work,  but you’ll be best off buying one specially made for bikes. The spray is inexpensive and a single can of the stuff will last a long time.

If you decide to go the degreaser route, make sure you also have a small brush and some magnets on hand. Spray between each link, use the brush to work the degreaser deep inside, then run the magnets over each link to remove metal filings. Be sure to wipe the degreaser off with your soft towel. Let it dry completely before you lube your chain.

Speaking of lube, that’s part of the process, too. Most riders like a wet lube, unless nearly all of your riding is dry (and, let’s face it, it’s spring…nothing is dry or if it is it won’t stay that way). You’ll know you have enough lube when you can barely see it but you get oil on your finger if you touch the chain. It’s easy to overlubricate your chain. This won’t necessarily cause problems, but it will sling chain lube all over the rest of your bicycle once you start riding.

Check Your Brakes

Wrenches for fixing your bike's brakes
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Good brakes are key, especially when you’re getting out after a little while away. You want to know, for sure, that you can stop when you need to! Test your brakes. If you have to pull the handle all the way to the handlebar before they engage, you hear scraping, or you experience a wobble, it’s time to make some adjustments.

If you don’t know how to adjust your brakes, it may be time to take your bike to a shop for some lessons. You can find videos online, but these adjustments aren’t always universal and you’ll want to be sure you know how to do the work on the bike you have. With that said, the depth of knowledge out there on the Web should be enough to show you how to adjust your brakes yourself. Take some time and make sure you have the tools you’ll need to get the job done.

You should also check the thickness of your brake pads and look for wear and tear. If they are less than 1.5 mm thick or show signs of damage, replace them before you ride this spring. That way, you won’t have to worry about them again for a while and you’ll be sure to stop every time you pull the brake levers.

Fix Your Gear Shifter

mountain bike gears
Image from Unsplash

Ride slowly on a flat surface to test your gears. Shift from one to the next until you’ve hit them all. If any of them have problems or everything seems to jump around and the bike skips gears, it’s time to make some adjustments.

Once again, if you’re not sure how to do this, it’s time to get some professional help. Watch the guy at the local shop work on your bike once, and you may not have to take it to him again. Many shops also offer tune-up classes where you can work on your bike under the supervision of a professional who can give you the how-to for your specific model.

Check your derailleur for signs of wear, too. Look at the place where the cables end on the frame. It’s not uncommon for them to fray or pull through. If they’re worn, it’s usually smart to replace them now so your bike can work well all spring, summer, and fall long.

There have been many times where riders put off certain types of maintenance only to get partway through the riding season and need serious repairs. Don’t let this happen to you. Do all of your maintenance at the beginning of the spring riding season so you don’t have to go without your bike mid-season due to some issue that was easily fixable that you chose to overlook or put off.

Getting your bike ready to ride this spring should take about an hour unless you need to consult with a pro. Pretty soon, you’ll be back on the trails taking on new challenges and improving your skills.

One comment

  1. What about assembly?

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