Mountain Biking Spring Cleaning: Getting Ready to Roll

But before you grab your mountain bike and pedal the forested trails of the Eastern Sierra, consider these ‘spring cleaning’ tips from the knowledgeable bicycle technicians of Mammoth Lakes for keeping your bike in top operating condition.

Maintain the chain

The chain is the life blood of your mountain bike and neglecting this crucial component will surely compromise your riding experience. With many moving parts, industry standard steel bicycle chains are susceptible to corrosion from the exposure to moisture and with increasing age.

For most of us, a simple cleaning followed by the application of high-quality bicycle chain lubricant is all that is needed to prepare for the trails. While everyone has their preference for brands of chain lubricant, it is important to adequately apply and thoroughly wipe off a majority of the lubricant with a coarse cotton rag before riding. A chain that is wet with lubricant attracts large amounts of damaging dust and grit.

If the integrity of the chain is damaged (kinked or bent) or if the chain skips or chatters when pedaling, it is time to replace the chain. If possible, purchase a new chain that is the same brand and model as the old one. If the gear set (called a cassette) is well worn, it may also need to be replaced at this time to allow proper meshing of chain and gears.

Cables and cable housing

Shifter cables and if equipped, brake cables, are some of the most important components on a mountain bike. Shifter cables connect the rider to the drivetrain, allowing for the effective and efficient changing of gears by either cable push (to smaller diameter gear rings) or by cable pull (to larger diameter gear rings). The purpose of working brake cables, which are standard on V-brake or mechanical disc brake equipped bikes, is rather self-explanatory and if you use hydraulic brakes, see the section below on disc brake maintenance.

Worn, dirty, stretched, or corroded cables directly impact the shifting of a bicycle. Because the cables are manufactured from braided steel, use and the elements will cause the cables to eventually rust, especially when sitting unused over the winter. For most the cable’s length along a bicycle frame, the cable fits inside plastic housing and over time this housing will trap dirt and grime. Both rust and grime create friction, which can dramatically hinder the precision of your shifting and also leads to excessive cable wear and stretching. The same applies to brake cables, whose performance is necessary for safe and fun riding.

If the shifting of you bike is not as crisp as you would like, then it is likely time to clean or replace the cables. Using the manufacturers guidelines, remove the cables and inspect them for worn coatings, frayed or broken strands, kinking, and corrosion. If the cables are not damaged or worn past their effective lifespan, a simple cleaning may suffice. Using a quality degreasing agent and a rag, wipe down the cable along its complete length followed by the same action, but with a high-quality lubricant.

Damaged or well-worn cables should be immediately replaced. High-end, coated (ie. Teflon) cables are a guaranteed way to improve the performance of your mountain bike and many of the retailers in Mammoth Lakes carry these for any brand drivetrain. When replacing the cables, the old plastic housing must also be replaced at the same time. When our bikes reach this state, most of us will take them into one of the local bicycle shops for a complete tune-up and service by a trained bicycle technician.

Disc Brakes

The advent of modern hydraulic disc brakes has greatly revolutionized the mountain bike industry; especially for those riders that enjoy the long, epic descents of Mammoth. Although disc brakes are relatively low maintenance, a simple cleaning and inspection once or twice a year will dramatically improve the performance and lifespan of your hydraulic brakes.

When inspecting the braking system of your mountain bike, check to make sure that the brake rotors are not warped, cracked, or dented and if they are damaged, consider replacing them immediately. Disc rotors do become dirty over time, which leads to excessive brake pad wear and brake squealing. To clean the rotors, wipe them down with a rag soaked with isopropyl rubbing alcohol. The alcohol will remove all grease, grime, and dust and will evaporate, leaving the rotor shiny and clean.

Before hitting the trails of the Eastern Sierra for the first time of the year, it is also important to check for hydraulic system leaks and for loose braking system-related bolts. Once a month, it is generally a good idea to check brake pad wear and if the remaining pad compound is thinner than a dime, it is time to consider replacement. For directions regarding pad replacement and brake maintenance, consult the owners or users manual or visit one of Mammoth Lakes’ friendly bike techs for guidance.

Suspension (air)

The suspension system is one of the most commonly overlooked components of a recreational rider’s mountain bike. Many modern mountain bikes employ air sprung suspension, which needs to be adjusted and set to the rider’s weight and preference. Over time, forks and rear shocks may lose air pressure, compromising the handling, agility, and performance of the mountain bike.

If your bike is equipped with an air fork and/or rear shock, checking and adjusting the suspension requires a high-pressure shock pump tool. These are a great investment and many different brands are available locally. Before checking the air pressure, consult your owner’s manual or the manufacturers website for guidelines and recommendations based on rider weight.

If it also suggested that when checking the air pressure of your suspension system, you also check the tightness of suspension bolts and connections. These bolts should be snug and care should be taken not to over tighten these fittings. If you have questions regarding the suspension system of your mountain bike, stop by any of the local retailers for guidance and suggestions.

Consider these tips, along with the ABC’s of bike maintenance (A for adequate air pressure in the tires, B for functioning brakes, and C for a maintained chain and pre-ride checklist), before hitting the forested singletrack of Mammoth Lakes. Whether riding the Uptown/Downtown loop or linking the Panaroma Dome Trail to the Mammoth Rock Trail, early season riding is always better on a clean and well maintained mountain bike.

See you on the singletrack!

Jason Abplanalp

Jason Abplanalp first discovered the Eastern Sierra lifestyle six years ago and after brief tenures in Colorado and Idaho, Jason returned to the mountain town he truly loves, Mammoth Lakes, CA. As an avid skier, mountain biker, hiker, and fisherman, Jason believes there is no better place for his family to call home. Jason has…

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