Getting Your Bike Trail Ready

This past Thursday I was able to hit the trails for my first ride of the season. While the weather didn't exactly cooperate, it was great to get out for a quick rip. After storing your bike for the winter there are a few important things to do tomake certain that your bike is in top form and ready for the trails.

In order to make your pre-season bike maintenance a little easier it is important to make sure that you have a solid post season maintenance routine. For the purpose of this article, let's assume that you haphazardly tossed your bike into storage after your last ride in the fall and didn't take the proper time to clean it up.

These tips apply mainly to mountain bikes, but most of these principles still apply to road bikes and hybrids as well.

Check Your Tires: This seems pretty obvious because after a winter in storage, most tires will be flat. Also take a look to ensure that the tires are still in good shape. If the treads are wearing out or if you notice any damage to the side walls, think about replacing them. All tires come with a manufacturers suggestions inflation range. Pay attention to this range when putting air in your tires.

Rims: Since the advent of disc brakes, rims take a lot less of a beating then they used to. This doesn't mean that you can ignore them. Check your rims to make sure that they are true (turning without wobbles) and if you notice any wobbles, check your individual spokes for tension. You will notice very quickly when spokes are too tight or too loose. Truing a tire is a time consuming and tedious process so if you're not up for it, take your bike rim into your local bike shop.

Inspect Your Chain: Some people may not realize that chains wear out and need to be replaced. The lifespan of your chain can be greatly increased if you maintain it well. Most bike shops sell chain gauges that will tell you when you need to replace your chain. A worn out and stretch chain will cause damage to your chainrings and cassette as well (see below).

To start the season clean your chain off with a degreaser (I use varsol) and a course brush. Lubricate the chain with a lube specifically made for bikes and wipe off any excess.

Chainrings and Cassettes: The other 2 components of your drive train are the chainrings (the 2 or 3 big rings connected to your crank/peddles) and the cassette (the 7, 8, 9 or 10 rings at the back of the bike). To start, clean off all of the grunge and degrease them. You will likely find that the rear cassette collects all manner of debris so pay close attention. Inspect both parts for excessive wear and bent or broken teeth. Shark finning (distinct wearing of one side of the tooth that makes it look like a shark's fin) will become apparent if it is wearing out. If this is prominent and happening on most of the teeth you will need to think about replacing the components. Note: the more worn out your chain is, the more damage it will do to your rings and cassette. Replacing your chain more frequently can lead to fewer drive train problems and increase the life of the other components.

Front and Rear Derailleurs: Your deraileurs are key to proper shifting. They areprecision components and needs to be precisely tuned after a winter in storage. Both deraileurs haves small tension springs so make sure that you clean and lubricate them. Small adjustments can be made to the deraileurs with the tension screws located on the shifter at the handlebars or the back of the rear derailleur.

Brakes: We have discussed the components that make your bike go, but now let's look at the equally important components that help your bike stop. Most modern bike will come with some sort of disc brake but there may be some bikes that still have V-brakes or even cantilever brakes. Regardless of the style of your brakes make certain that they are in good working order. Changing the brake pads for all 3 styles of brakes is required and they may require some adjustments from time to time. Take some time to clean the contact surface of the brake pad; be it a disc or the rim.

Suspension: Most modern trail bikes come with some form of suspension; be it exclusively in the front or both front and rear. Most suspensions utilize a variety of oil, air pressure, damping or springs. Check over your suspension and keep an eye out for oil leaks which can be easily spotted because dirt and grim will collect there. If you are riding an air pressure shock, make certain that the current pressure meets your weight; we all put on a little extra weight during the winter season. If you suspect that your suspension might be compromised, take your bike into your local bike shop for servicing.

Tighten TheBolts: Take a quick moment to tighten the essential bolts on your bike. Most can be tightened with an Allen wrench (5mm, 6mm and 7mm are the most common). If you want to get really specific you can use a torque wrench to tighten each bolt to spec, but hand tightening has always worked for me. I have also found that the bolts can rust so you may wish to lubricate them lightly. Common bolts are found in the: headset, stem, seatpost, waterbottle cage, and your deraileur holders. I will also add a quick inspection of your quick release levers to this list. Don't ride without checking them first.

This is not an exhaustive list and there are hundreds of videos on line that will help you tune your bike for the upcoming season. In the event that you are not comfortable tuning your bike on your own, take it into a local bike shop for servicing. The $40 or $50 spent on the service is money well spent and you might not realize the benefit immediately, but down the trail you will be glad that you did.