More and more often (and in particular beginners), they ask me for information about the routine maintenance operations that must be performed on an MTB. Surely those who have been cycling for a long time will know in detail how to keep their MTB in shape, but this is not the case for everyone.

For example, I got to talk to a guy some time ago who had been riding an MTB for 6 months and didn’t know he had to grease the chain.

This article will talk about “small” maintenance and routine checks that do not require you to disassemble anything or fix anything but that will allow you to understand the health of your MTB. Let’s check out the best stationary bike stand.

We will also talk about what a cyclist should take with him to deal with any breakages or problems that may occur at km from home. Keep reading

Cleaning the bike

Ordinary maintenance and periodic mountain bike checks

This operation is one of the most important operations to keep your Mtb healthy. Dirt, mud and debris that grinds between your transmission or moving parts not only contribute to faster damage to mechanical parts but create friction and the friction turns into extra fatigue for your legs.

Let’s dispel a myth. In my opinion, it is not true that you cannot wash the bike with the pressure washer, it can be done and the bike is better, but you have to be careful because there are delicate critical points on which, however, it is not good to spray. If you are unsure, use the classic water hose.

I proceed like this:

– I completely bathe my bike,

– I spray a degreaser on the mechanical parts (chain, crowns, cranksets, sprockets, rear derailleur, brake disc area), then spray a specific bike cleaner on the remaining parts and on the frame.

– I wait for the products to take effect (10 minutes and in the shade), after which I rinse everything

– Once the rinsing operations are finished, I give a good blow of the compressor to dry the bike and proceed to the finishing operations with the rag and a classic spray bottle.

During drying with the compressor (or if you wash with a pressure washer), you must try to prevent any pressure (air or water) from pushing debris into the critical areas and specifically:

– Do not point the compressor lance or gun at the upper fork legs (towards the oil seals)

– No in the direction of the bottom bracket bearings in the crank area,

– No, in the direction of the headset bearings,

If you have a pressure washer with adjustable pressure, lower the pressure a little and clean without major problems.

Once the whole bike is neat and a pint, however, it is not ready for the exit. By washing, you have degreased the bike and there are some parts that need to be oiled in order to slide smoothly.

– The chain must be blown well and oiled by turning it and placing the carton inside. (This is because with the centrifugal force, the oil will pass through the chain).

– The fork legs must be greased with a silicone spray.

– I grease the crank area and the pivot point of the pedals with a bit of WD40.

Now your bike is ready to go out but are you sure it’s all right?. In what conditions is it?

Periodic checks

As mentioned in the introduction, we will limit ourselves to evaluating the condition of the bike, trying to understand whether or not it is appropriate to take it for repair. This type of check is very fast and must be done at least monthly.

Chain: At least once a month, it is best to remove it and clean it properly with a toothbrush and white petroleum. 90% of the chains have the clip that must be released to be able to remove them. The crip can be recognized because it is the only one with the joint. If you do not have it, have it installed by your mechanic. Otherwise, it will not be easy for you to proceed with the cleaning operations. Usually, the clip opens by hand, pushing the shirt to tighten. There are also specific pliers to release the clip but if you do not have the pliers or if the clip does not come off, try this technique that will surely help you. Fit the chain as shown in the photo below and lightly hammer the ring on the outgoing side.

To check the status of the chain, there is a small meter that tells you if you have to throw it away or if it is still good. It is good practice to oil the chain at each exit.

Checking the screws: This is a very important operation as screws often tend to loosen on an MTB. Check them all, especially those in the steering area, the one that supports the derailleur and the wheel pins. The screws must be tightened with a certain force (especially if you have a carbon bike). This force is usually engraved near the head of the screw (eg, 6N), so buy a torque wrench (even cheap) and to avoid doing damage and not tighten to death.

Checking the pads: The brake pads are made up of a steel/aluminum support and a lining that wears out by sliding on the disc. It is necessary to check that the lining layer is not so worn as to brake with the support. Normally this operation is feasible without disassembling anything. Just look at the caliper from above with the help of a flashlight.

Disc inspection: Discs also wear out and their thickness must not drop below a certain value to avoid catastrophic breakage (usually, the minimum thickness is 1.5 mm, but this value can change and is engraved on the outside of each disc).

Measure the thickness in various points with the gauge, taking care to peck with the gauge beats only the area where the pads work at full surface.

Also, check if the discs are straight. Usually, if they are crooked, you should have noticed because a crooked disc with rotation triggers a noise at times. Turn it with a light pointed on the opposite side of the pads. You will immediately understand if it is wrong or not.

Bearing control: basically, there are 4 sets of bearings on an MTB front to which are added those of the levers present on the full bikes. As a rule, they must all be checked or evaluated in the same way:

– Rotation: By rotating the bearing (be it a wheel, bottom bracket, pedals or steering wheel), the bearing must rotate effortlessly and without jamming. With minimal force, the bearing should not jerk.

– Play: By forcing the bearing orthogonal to the direction of rotation, the joint must have no play. To check the steering bearings, place one hand on the front brake and the other between the fork plate and the steerer. Brake and rock the bike back and forth. You should perceive any play. As for the pedals, grab them with one hand and force them up and down. For the wheels, push them on the outer spoke. 

– Smoothness. By making the bearing rotate, it must slide freely without producing any noise and must stop linearly and gradually.

Wheel Inspection: Determining if a wheel is bent is easy. Just spin it and look at it from behind. If it is wrong, you notice it immediately, but sometimes it happens that the rim is wrong. Other times it is the tire that is damaged. To understand what it is, put a small piece of wood resting on the frame very close to the rim and spin the wheel.

When looking at the wheels, run your hand over the spokes tightening them in pairs. If you have a slow or broken beam, you should feel it.

Checking the roofs: The condition of the roofs is very important. We had already talked about it here. Spin the wheels and check the surface (if you have cracks, cuts, etc. ..). Remember that the pressure of the wheels must be checked before each ride and if you have tubeless wheels, the liquid inside must be checked at least every 2 months and in any case after each puncture.

Control of the gearbox: No less important is the control of the adjustment of the gearbox. I use this technique to understand if the change is ok or not. Put the chain on the center front sprocket (if you have a double the large one) and on the second smallest sprocket. Spin the pedals and press the shift lever lightly as if you were shifting to the larger rear gear. Press slowly and before reaching the click, the chain must go up to the upper gear. Releasing the command, the chain must return to its place.

General checks: Last but not least are the general checks. When you clean the bike or take something apart, look at the frame in critical points, look for any cracks, look at the edge of the rims for drafts and try to investigate anything that seems anomalous to you. When you ride your bike, pay attention to the noises and try to understand where they come from and what they depend on, the operation of the gearbox and the driving sensations.

Repair kit

For years I have carried around a bit of everything, something I have never used and something that has often served me, but it is necessary to find the right compromise between the weight to be carried on the shoulder and the possibility of returning on foot.

A distinction must also be made between training outings and competitions. Walking alone in the woods 30 km from home is not the same as staying on foot in a race where surely within a few km it is possible to find someone who can give you a hand.

1) Pump – Essential accessory to always carry around. Many prefer to carry pre-compressed air cans with them, but I don’t like them. The air in the tank runs out and if it runs out, you are in the poop.

2) Inner tube – Indispensable even if you have latex wheels. Any cut that the latex fails to close will force you to put the inner tube to go home. Check that the chamber is the right size for your wheels and that the valve is the same as the ones you usually use and that it is mounted on your pump.

3) Tabs to open the tire – Essential. It is not always possible to open the tire by hand.

4) Multitools – Check that your accessory is equipped with the chain tool (otherwise, buy it separately and bring it). In addition, some bikes have the through pins of the wheels that are unscrewed with the Allen screws. Check that the necessary caterpillars are in your multitools.

5) Chain clip – It weighs little and if you tear the chain 99%, it allows you to go home. Be careful. The clips are not all the same. Make sure you have purchased a clip suitable for your chain (10v or 11V etc.)

6) Cable ties and electrical tape – They weigh little, take up little space and solve many situations.

In my experience, this is the bare minimum that most likely allows you to ride home. However, each situation must be evaluated separately and for example:

– If you go to a race where there is a lot of mud, consider taking a small bottle of WD40 with you (free micro samples). If halfway through the race you have the gearbox half blocked, it will be perfect again.

– If you have no weight problems, take the air reservoir over the pump. If you have a puncture, you will leave again in a flash.

– If you do very long laps, bring a piece of an old thin tire. If you cut the rubber, you risk that the inner tube will remain exposed to you. You can slide the piece of the tire under the cut.

Lastly, if you’ve never done it before, it’s a good idea to try changing an inner tube and putting on a clip at home. If you happen to be in the woods between earth and debris and often rain and mud, everything will be more complicated.