Why is MTB Maintenance Important?
Making sure your mountain bike is well maintained is really important to get the most miles out of it. Because of the kind of riding you do on a mountain bike compared with other bikes, there’s a lot more wear and tear on the bike and the components. Staying on top of maintenance requires just some basic tools and is key to keeping your MTB performing at its best and having enjoyable rides every time!
Which Parts of a Mountain Bike Need to Be Maintained?
Just like a car, there are parts of the bike that need regular maintenance, others periodic maintenance, and the rest simply a visual check or as needed. Making sure that you perform regular checks both pre-ride and post-ride go a long way. Paying attention to anything that seems like it may not be working quite as it should is crucial to keeping your bike running at its best.
Parts that need either regular maintenance or some form of periodic maintenance are:
- Bottom Bracket
- Brake Pads
- Disc Rotors
- Brake System
- Rear shock (if it’s a full suspension MTB)
- Headset Bearings
- Pivots (if it’s a full suspension MTB)
- Dropper post (if equipped)
Tires & Wheels
- Tire pressure
- Tire wear
- Tire sealant (if you run a tubeless setup)
Mountain Bike Maintenance Schedule
The maintenance schedule for your bike may vary based on the components it’s equipped with, but as a general rule the mountain bike maintenance schedule below will go a long way to keeping your bike at its best and giving you the most fun on the trails.
The suspension components on your bike will have a specific service schedule that should be followed. This is typically expressed in hours, but that can be easily extrapolated into a regular schedule. If you track your rides on Strava or similar apps, or your shop uses Hubtiger for servicing your bike, you’ll be able to track hours easily. If you don’t track your rides and simply ride, look at how long you typically ride and multiply by how often you ride each month, and you’ll be able to calculate an approximate service interval for your suspension system.
While it’s easy to neglect servicing your suspension until it starts misbehaving or making noise, it can quickly lead to very expensive repairs. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Before Every Ride
Before you go out on your ride, at minimum you should check:
- Tire pressure - make sure your tire pressure is correct
- Wheel spin - your wheels should spin freely without brakes rubbing or rim wobbles. If your brakes rub, you may have a bent brake rotor that needs to be straightened.
- Chain - make sure it’s lubricated
- Axles - make sure these are secure, especially if you have a bike that is equipped with quick release axles
- Brake check - make sure brakes are working and responding as expected. If you get some squeal from contamination, wipe the rotors down with isopropyl alcohol.
- Bounce test - while holding the bike steady with one hand, lift each end about 8 inches off the ground and drop it. Listen for any odd noises that might indicate something being loose or needing more attention.
Extras to check if your bike has been sitting for a while:
- Dropper post - make sure it’s working and the return is snappy when actuating it from the dropped position
- Suspension - check your sag and adjust the air pressure if needed
- Shifting - run your bike through all the gears and make sure its shifting as expected
After Every Ride
When you finish your ride, there are a few things to do that will help make sure your next ride goes smoothly:
- Clean your bike - depending on if you rode dry terrain or it was a mud bath, this can be super quick, or much more involved. Any time you ride in muddy conditions, you want to make sure you clean your bike post ride as quickly as possible. Few things cause damage more quickly to your drivetrain than caked on mud that’s allowed to dry.
- Chain - if you need to clean the drivetrain, make sure the chain is dry and re-lubricated. A wet chain that’s not properly cleaned and treated will quickly lead to corrosion and a shortened chain life. Keeping your chain in good condition will also help prolong the life of the rest of the drivetrain.
- Give it a quick once over to see if there’s anything that doesn’t look right or is out of place, especially around the derailleur and cassette as problems here escalate quickly.
Every 10-15 Rides
After about every 10-15 rides, it’s good to do a few additional checks, especially if you tend to ride hard:
- Chain stretch - check the stretch on the chain using a chain checker like the Park Tool Wear Indicator 3.2. Anything over .5 stretch indicates it’s time to replace the chain.
- Headset - check to make sure it’s still tight. This is best done by having the bike on the ground, and while squeezing the front brake fully, try to rock the bike forward and backward. If the headset is loose, you’ll feel/hear the movement (don’t mistake movement from the fork for a loose headset).
- Derailleur - check to make sure the derailleur is still shifting as it should and doesn’t need any cable adjustment.
- Check the brake pads for any signs of wear that would indicate replacement. Typically this is only a concern at this point if you’re riding in rougher conditions that accelerate wear.
- Suspension - check for any signs of abnormal wear or oil leaking past the seals. A thin coating of oil is normal, but it shouldn’t be excessive.
- Pedals - if you’re using clipless pedals, check the mechanism and use a light lube on any moving parts.
- Wheels - check to make sure the wheels are true and that there are no loose spokes, particularly the rear wheel as it takes more abuse. Rock the wheel side to side and make sure there is no lateral movement.
Every Six Months
We recommend that you take your bike in for a professional service every six months. Key things that should be checked and adjusted:
- Cables - adjust shifter cables, this is especially important when you have newer cables as they tend to stretch the most in the first few months of use.
- Cassette - check for excess wear and tear. A worn chain that’s stretched too much will cause increased wear on the cassette.
- Bearings - check all bearings for wear and proper greasing. It’s also a good practice to clean dirt from the bottom bracket area and any pivots.
- Tires - Check tread wear and signs of dry rot (small hairline cracks on the outside of the tire)
- Sealant - If you’re running tubeless tires, check the sealant level and top off if necessary. If you live in a dry climate like the desert southwest, you’ll need to replace the sealant completely.
Once Per Year
At a minimum, you should get your bike professionally serviced once a year. This should include suspension service as well depending on how many hours you ride:
- Brake bleed - hydraulic brakes should be bled once a year to keep your brakes working optimally and minimize wear and tear on the system.
- Suspension service - the appropriate service should be performed, whether it’s the 50 hour or 100 hour service.
Check for any wear and tear or sounds coming from the bike during use that are abnormal. These could be indications of worn-out components. Most of these areas are covered in your scheduled checks, but common areas include chain and cassette, bottom bracket bearings, and suspension linkage. If you have a torque wrench, it’s a good idea to check the torque on bolts and through axles.
Check out our selection of tools and lubricants needed to keep your ride in tip-top shape here.
When to Have Your Mountain Bike Professionally Serviced
As a general rule, we recommend having your bike professionally serviced twice a year at your local bike shop. At minimum, you should at least get an annual service to have a professional make sure everything is running as it should and to replace any wear items like shifter cables and the chain. They’ll also be able to spot any issues you might’ve missed that would lead to additional component wear, like bearings that are starting to wear out, wheels that need to be trued, etc.