4 min read

It's a bummer but your mountain bike needs care, love and attention (just like the family cat).

Keep That Bike Clean

It's strangely cathartic to return your abused bike to show room condition. Apart from the aesthetics, the cleaning process lets you assess the condition of your bike's components so you can catch potential problems early (a stitch in time and all that...) A dry rag works best. If it's really grotty then a preliminary gentle wash helps but remember that bikes hate water (just like your cat). Don't squirt with high pressure - the water works it's way into hubs, pedals, shocks and bottom brackets to cause permanent rust damage.

Chain Care

Regularly cleaning and lubing your bike's chain reduces wear and improves shifting performance. Worn chains are bad Karma. They drastically increase front and rear cog wear. With replacement drive trains setting you back $150 plus, looking after the business end of your bike is well worth the effort. (Some modern lubes like Rock 'n' Roll are self cleaning, minimising the need for all this additional maintenance. Worth a trial unless you ride in very wet and muddy conditions.)

  1. Remove the crusty bits from your chain, derailleur, rear cluster and front chain rings with a stiff nylon or wire brush (a nail brush works well, but beware of your flatmates if they find out) 
  2. Get down on a chain cleaning device from your local shop. It is the only sensible way to clean your chain and is essential kit for the job. 
  3. Score some cleaning solution. It needs to get the gunk off the chain but not strip away all the lubricant. Bio-degradable degreaser works well, smells good enough to drink and eases your environmental conscience. CRC 5.56 also does a good job. 
  4. Do that chain cleaning thing (check out the instructions for your particular cleaner). You may have to have a couple of goes with fresh solution to get it spotless. Wipe the chain down with a clean rag and leave it to dry. 
  5. Now you need some lube that won't wash off in the first puddle but isn't so sticky that it acts as a filth magnet. For hot, dry and dusty conditions choose a 'dry lube', otherwise stick with a standard chain oil. Squirt oil onto the chain while spinning the pedals slowly backwards. Fanatics lovingly squeeze one drop at a time onto each link - your choice. It's best applied the night before you ride to give it time to make like Colgate and really 'get in'. 
  6. Wipe off any excess oil with a clean rag. Be sure to never let oil get anywear near your disc brakes.

Gear cables

With time, cables stretch causing imprecise shifting - typically you'll find it difficult to select the biggest cog or the rear derailleur makes ghastly clicking noises when you attempt to change to an easier gear. It's simple to tighten cables by screwing the barrel adjuster by the gear shifter anti-clockwise. If that doesn't work, let your shop mechanic loose on the problem. Cables also enjoy being cleaned and lubricated - which helps to ensure featherlight shifting. Here's the trick - select the largest cog at front and at the rear (while pedalling) then relax the shifters while stationary, ie. select 1 at the front and 9 or 10 at the rear. The cable goes super slack, allowing you to remove it from the lugs on your frame. Slide the casing to one end - exposing the cable at the other so you can clean it - use CRC on a dry rag then a small amount of light oil or dry lube. Then move the casing to the opposite end to do the remaining cable. Refit the cables and tighten the cable with the shifters.

Brake Adjustment

Brake pads wear and need tweaking. Modern hydraulic systems generally self adjust. Replacing worn pads is normally quite straight forward. Beyond that you'll need to engage the services of your local bike mechanic.

Check for wobbles or loose bits

Tighten the obvious with an Allen key or spanner - boogie down to your local shop for the uncertain. Components you should keep an eye on are:

  • Bottom bracket - grab hold of both cranks and wrestle them sideways testing for any play. 
  • Headset - it can work loose but it's difficult to tell if this has happened. Apply the front brake and place your left hand at the top of the forks, with the tip of your thumb and forefinger clamped against the lower bearing set. Rock the bike backwards and forwards against the brakes, feeling for movement between the two cups. 
  • Hubs/wheel cones - grab each wheel at the rim and try to move from side to side - there should be no more than a couple of millimetres of play. Fixing these problems is best left to a bike mechanic unless you know what you're doing. There are some excellent maintenance books around - check out your local bike shop or library.

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