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All About Mountain Bikes

Mountain Bike in the woods

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Riding a mountain bike on backcountry trails and over rough terrain is an adventurous experience. However, all that bouncing over rocks, roots and ruts can take a toll on your bike. By learning proper maintenance procedures, you can add years of life to your trusty steed. This allows you more time riding the trails instead of fixing issues.


Mountain bike tires see a lot of wear and tear. Riding over harsh surfaces causes the tread to slowly wear down. Tubes can pick up punctures from thorns or sharp rocks. It’s essential to periodically inspect your tires and replace them when needed. Checking air pressure before every ride can also prevent flats and damage.

The tread pattern on knobby mountain bike tires provides crucial grip and traction on loose or uneven ground. As the tread depth decreases over time, traction is reduced which can cause the bike to slide around. Once the knobs are 50% worn down, start shopping for new tires. Rotate front and rear tires to help them wear evenly.

Inspect the sidewalls of each tire for cuts or bulges which indicate internal damage. Also look closely for anything embedded in the tread like glass or thorns. Carry a spare tube on rides to swap out if you pick up a puncture. Patch or replace punctured tubes once home so they’re ready to ride again.


Having reliable braking power is incredibly important when mountain biking to control speed and stop safely. Brake pads wear down with use and need to be checked frequently. Most pads have indicator grooves, so when the grooves disappear the pads are worn out.

Replacing brake pads is quite easy on both rim brakes and disc brakes. For optimal performance, rotor discs should be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol and brake pads can be sanded down to refresh the surface. Also check brake cables for fraying and replace as needed.

Properly aligning and adjusting your brake calipers is key to smooth braking function. Center calipers over rotor discs and set appropriate cable tension. This may need minor tweaking as new pads and rotors get broken in. Always bed-in new pads and rotors properly with controlled stops to ensure ideal braking performance.


The mountain bike drivetrain takes quite a beating with all the dust, mud and bouncing. Staying on top of basic drivetrain maintenance will improve shifting performance and pedaling efficiency. The chain is the heart of the drivetrain, so keep it clean and lubricated.

Check your chain periodically with a gauge tool to determine if it has become excessively stretched from use and needs replacement. Stretching causes accelerated wear on cassette cogs and chainrings. Wipe down the chain after muddy rides and apply fresh lube. Avoid using harsh degreasers which can penetrate bearing seals.

Inspect cassette cogs and chainrings for any dangerously worn out teeth or damage. Replace individual cogs/rings or full cassettes/chainring sets as needed. Derailleur jockey wheels and derailleur pulleys also wear over time, check for excessive play and replace when wobbling gets pronounced.


Mountain bikes have suspension systems with shock absorbers and forks designed to smooth out the ride. Keeping suspension properly maintained improves control and prevents damage. Seal wipers should be cleaned and re-greased, air canister pressure checked, and damper settings adjusted based on terrain.

Most rear shocks and suspension forks need periodic full servicing. This involves completely disassembling, cleaning and replacing seals & damper oil. Some high end forks now offer lower leg service which is simpler and cheaper. Consult owner’s manuals to determine recommended service intervals.

Be sure to keep suspension bolts tight over time as vibration can loosen things up. Always use blue threadlocking compound when re-installing bolts on suspension components. Keep stanchions on forks as clean as possible and use seal protecting spray after rides to avoid dirt scratching the smooth surface.


Mountain bike frames have sealed cartridge bearings integrated into key areas like wheel hubs, bottom brackets and headsets. These bearings enable parts to spin freely but withstand side impacts and loads. Since bearings are sealed inside, they last quite awhile.

But excess gravel/grit, moisture or improper installation can damage bearing seals earlier. This allows contaminants inside which degrades lubrication and causes accelerated wear. Listen for crunching sensations when spinning parts, inspect for play/wobble indicating worn bearings.

Replace damaged bearings immediately to avoid parts seizing up. Always use a bearing press for proper installation and facing/reaming tools to ensure a flush fit. Be careful not over-tighten bolts compressing bearings during reassembly. Consider full bearing overhaul service every 1-2 seasons depending on riding frequency and conditions.

Bolts & Torque

Mountain bikes undergo heavy vibration which can loosen bolts over time. Combine this with trailside repairs using multi-tools and things get looser faster. It’s smart to periodically check all stem, brake, derailleur and axle bolts to ensure nothing has rattled loose.

Investing in a compact torque wrench set allows properly tightening key fasteners to manufacturer specs after repairs. Avoid guessing and cranking things down harder than necessary. Overtorqued bolts can twist off or damage parts. Always use mild threadlocker for extra insurance on critical fasteners.

Get familiar with the ideal torque range for different bolts on your bike frame material. Common torques are 4-6 NM seatpost clamps, 5-8 NM brake calipers, 5-7 NM derailleurs, 12-15 NM cassettes, and 35-50 NM crank bolts. Confirm exact specs from manufacturer or local shop.


While it might seem easiest to just hose mountain bikes off after muddy rides, this forces contaminants into bearing seals and crevices promoting corrosion. It’s better to gently wipe off initial dirt layers with a damp towel before deeper cleaning.

Use bike-specific degreasers and brushes to thoroughly clean drivetrain parts like chains, cassettes and pulleys without damaging surfaces. Rinse everything afterwards and spin cranks/wheels to evacuate all solvent. Apply fresh lube to essential points.

For frame/components use mild soap & water, taking care to not blast water into sealed bearings or suspension parts. Wipe stanchions carefully with microfiber to avoid scratches. Lubricate cable housing ends and derailleur pivots to prevent corrosion. Avoid using pressure washers as they drive penetrating moisture everywhere.

Staying on top of essential mountain bike maintenance may take a little extra effort initially. But soon smart cleaning, inspection and replacement habits simply become second nature. Riding with properly functioning equipment is safer and way more fun. Consider DIY repair skills an essential part of mountain biking and your trail adventures will keep rolling smoothly!

About the Author

Tony K

Senior Technical Writer,

Tony K is a technical editor at He has a focus on downhill bike riding but still loves xc bikes too.

With more than ten years of mountain biking experience and more than 5 years testing mountain bikes, Tony has ridden and tested hundreds of different bikes and products, everything from XC to enduro bikes. Tony regularly competes in mountain bike races while seeing how long those compontents can hold up which gives me a lot of insight.

When he isn't shredding down a mountain or camping out, he is writing reviews for Mountain Bike Experience.

Rides: Surly Lowside, Canyon Exceed