Your mountain bike is more than a toy, it is an expensive piece of sports gear. It is also an investment. Properly maintained it will be more dependable and last for years to come. Without basic care it will likely leave you stranded trail side. Do not worry, maintaining your bike will not cost you another high investment just a little time.
Preventative Maintenance, or PM, are the things you do to prevent a break down rather than waiting until a repair is necessary. Many of these simple, inexpensive actions require only a few minutes and simple tools. The easiest way to ensure that each item is checked as needed is to develop a schedule and make doing so a regular routine. Before you know it, you will do it without even thinking about it.
Every time you ride
The first thing you want to check are the tires. Ensure they are at the proper pressure, that there are no signs of damage or irregular wear. If you do see any damage or unusual wear consider replacing the tires prior to riding. Repeated issues of irregular wear should be addressed by you mechanic as it is likely a sign of a large, more complicated problem. While you are inspecting the tires make sure the axles and skewers are tight as well.
Next, test your brakes. Pump each break lever a couple times, they should solid and grab evenly. If you notice the brakes feel soft check the pads for wear. On the other hand, if they feel loose it is likely there is an air bubble in the reservoir or line. Many times, pumping the brakes a few times or turning the entire bike upside down will allow the bubble to self-bleed. Pads or brakes which will not self-bleed will need the attention of you mechanic.
Now it is time to check the shifts and gears. If you notice anything other than smooth transition from gear to gear it is time to investigate further. Start with the easiest to address. Look to see if the wheels are properly seated in the skewers or thru-axles. Next, check for a frozen chain link – if found lube chain. Finally, tune the barrel adjuster. Beware, tuning the barrel adjuster does require some experience and done incorrectly can make matters worse.
The pedals are next. Look for damage from hitting obstacles, accumulated dirt & debris or pedals that are frozen. Damaged pedals should be replaced, dirt & debris removed, and frozen pedals lubricated.
After the ride
A clean bike is a happy bike. It also makes it much easier to notice any damage that may have occurred because of that last spill. Therefore, it is important to clean your bike after every ride. Do not forget to wipe down the suspension & handlebars as well. If any damage is noted address it as soon as possible, preferably prior to storage. After everything is clean and shiny do not forget to lubricate the drivetrain.
There are several items that should be addressed at least once per season, depending on how hard you ride and what specific features you bike includes. This would include bleeding brakes, inspecting & replacing brackets, upgrading accessories, servicing shocks & repacking hubs. Your annual tune up should also include a deep clean and lube too. If you bike was stored during the off season do not forget to check for tire dry rot.
A few minutes and a couple bucks can save a lot in terms of both down time and repair costs.