Top 10 Tips To Keeping Your Bike Running Smoothly

by Robb Sutton

Nothing is more annoying on the trail than equipment that is not cooperating with you. An ill-functioning bike can ruin even the best of rides. It is extremely important to keep your bike a well oiled machine so your rides are focused on fun rather than repair.

  1. Make Sure the Bike’s Drivetrain is Properly Lubed – Before every ride, you need to check the chain to make sure it has the proper lubrication. This is especially important during the drier months when dust eats away at components and lube. I have tried numerous products over the years but White Lightning seems to work the best. It is wax based so it is not as messy during application. It also seems to fair better in dry conditions because the dirt and dust flakes off instead of gumming up.
  2. Check Your Cables – Do a once over of all of you cable driven components. This may include brakes, derailleur or adjustable seat post cables. Make sure they are not frayed or binding. If you find a frayed cable, replace it right away. A frayed cable will cause numerous shifting and braking issues that can become dangerous or ride ending.
  3. Check Chain Ring and Cassette Teeth – Bent or excessively worn (shark toothed) teeth on your chain ring and cassette can degrade components and break chains. Bent or worn components should be replaced. In this case, it is recommended that you replace all drivetrain components at once to insure proper operation. This includes the cassette, chain and chain rings. Over time, these components “wear into” each other, so when you add a new component into the mix without replacing the others…it is likely that it will not play nice causing shifting/drivetrain issues.
  4. Adjust Derailleur Cables – The newer the cables, the more you will have to perform this before rides. New cables stretch with time. Slight adjustments will be required after the first couple of rides to get things running smoothly. Both Shimano and SRAM components can be fine adjusted using the barrel adjusters. Tighten the cables one click at a time and test the shifting on the stand. Once you get it dialed in, ride the bike and shift under load to make sure you have found the sweet spot. If you can not get the shifting correct through the barrel adjusters, you need to reset the cables. Shift the derailleur to the smallest gear (loosest cable setting), set the barrel adjusters to one full turn from fully closed and set the cable tension so that it is just barely tight. After you have done that, continue adjusting with the barrel adjusters until shifting is correct. All of this is assuming that you have the limit screws set correctly. Refer to your owners manual for more information.
  5. Check Tire Pressure – There will be another post in the future discussing tire pressure, but for now…make sure you have your tire pressure correct before every ride. I leave a floor pump in my truck for this reason. Over inflated tires are going to make for a rough and bouncy ride and under inflation increases the chances of pinch flatting.
  6. Double Check Other Grease Locations – Take a good once over of the entire bike. Areas like your seatpost, pivots, etc. require lubrication to function properly and quietly. Make sure you have properly greased these areas so that you do not have to listen to constant squeaking throughout the ride. The most common areas for squeaking are the bottom bracket, pivots and seatpost. These little annoyances can really ruin a ride.
  7. Check Shock Pressure – Most of today’s rigs utilize air suspension components for their weight and tune-ability benefits. Ideally, you should be running around 25% sag on the rear shock. This is measured using the black ring provided on the shaft. When you are sitting still on the bike, you should be using 25% of the stroke of the shock. Measure this out as best you can and fine tune it as needed. Each shock manufacturer has a starting point for rider weight. Keep in mind that rider weight refers to fully geared weight. This includes a loaded hydration system and clothes, so set the sag as if you were about to ride. Front shock pressures are a little bit harder to dial in. During the ride, watch your travel (usually seen by dirt lines) and make sure you are using most (if not all) of your travel during the ride. You should only bottom out the shock under extremely hard hits.
  8. Inspect the Tires – The tires on your bike are your only contact with the ground. That makes them one of the most important components on the bike. Check the tires to make sure there is no cracking, dry rotting or excessive wear. Old tires can cause your bike to wash out and not handle correctly. Excessively worn tires can also rip and come off the rim while riding.
  9. Check Every Bolt – I know this sound cumbersome, but in reality…there aren’t that many bolts on a bike to check. Every bolt on your bike has a torque specification, but if you do not have a torque wrench…make sure that every bolt is secure and snug. You do not want components moving or falling off during a ride.
  10. Look Over the Frame – Every frame has stress points. Take a look over the entire frame and make sure there are no cracks or stress marks in the tubing or rockers. If you find any, do not ride the bike.
  11. Clean Your Bike! – I know…I said this was 10 tips but here is #11. Dirt is like sandpaper to everything it touches…especially moving components. It will cause premature wear and damages components. Clean your bike on a regular basis to make sure it continues to run smoothly. It is also a great time to go over everything I have mentioned previously in this list. I use Suzuki Motorcycle Wash and that makes the bike almost too clean. After cleaning…re-lube all components and get ready to make it dirty again!

Obviously, there are other tips that could be added to this list. These are the ones that I find to be the most important and if they are not handled…can really ruin a great ride. Next time you are getting ready, even for small rides, take the extra 15 minutes to complete this checklist. It might make the difference between the ride of the year and most annoying one yet.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO KEEP YOUR BIKE RUNNING SMOOTHLY?

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4 comments

4 comments

Top 9 Ways To Make That Old Bike Feel New Again | Mountain bike product reviews, trail reviews, forum, tips, and classifieds October 8, 2008 - 8:52 am

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Top 9 Ways To Make That Old Bike Feel New Again | Mountain Biking by 198 October 7, 2008 - 6:12 am

[…] can also check out this post on the “Top 10 Tips To Keeping Your Bike Running Smoothly” for more […]

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Christian August 14, 2008 - 4:02 am

I also recommend checking the wheel hubs at least once a year. Spin the wheel while holding the axle with your finger tips. If you feel any roughness, it is likely that the bearings and cones need replacement. It would probably be appropriate to do this at the same time you are replacing the chain and gears.

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Carl Martens August 6, 2008 - 2:09 pm

Glad you hit on the importance of checking shock pressure…this is something that newbies aren’t always aware of and it is something that many people forget to check, but it can drastically affect the performance of the bike.

Carl Martenss last blog post..Tamarancho Loop (Fairfax, Marin, CA)

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