Spring Bike Maintenance Checklist
5 Post-Winter Tips for Road and Mountain Bike Tune-Ups
Spring brings new beginnings—flowers start to bloom, the days get longer, and animals and cyclists awake from hibernation. Whether your bike has been busy logging miles through the winter or hanging on a hook in the garage, performing some basic bike maintenance before hitting the road or trails is a smart strategy.
Start With a Clean
Before performing a road or mountain bike tune-up, snag a bucket, bike wash, degreaser, cleaning brushes, a sponge, and some rags and get scrubbing. Clean bikes perform better and are more pleasant to work on. It’s also easier to spot potential problems on a clean bike. Check out Bike Maintenance 101: How to Clean Your Bike for step-by-step instructions on giving your bike a bath.
Road Bike Maintenance
A spring road bike tune-up gives you the chance to address issues early in the riding season, ensuring your first rides aren’t plagued by unforeseen problems (and you won’t subject your bike to unnecessary wear and tear).
Tighten Bolts: From dangerous loose stems to the annoying rattle of an untightened bottle cage, one of the simplest things you can do for road bike care and maintenance is to check your bike’s bolts. Grab a torque wrench and your owner’s manual before you get to work—over-tightening bolts can damage your bike and destroy expensive components.
Drivetrain: Any respectable road bike tune-up guide will recommend checking your chain length with a chain-checker tool before diving into your drivetrain. If your chain is stretched, now’s the time to replace it. A little dirt on moving parts can lead to a large amount of wear.
Follow up your initial bike wash with a deep clean of your drivetrain. Cover the chain and cassette in degreaser and scrub, floss, and wipe away the grime. Follow up your cleaning by lubing the chain. Don’t forget to wipe off any excess lube, as it will collect dust and dirt and undo all your hard work.
Brakes: Whether you’re running rim or disc, checking your bike’s brakes are an essential part of any road bike maintenance routine. Most rim brake pads have wear indicators; if yours are getting thin, replace them. If your pads are in good condition, take a minute to make sure they’re evenly engaging with your rim.
Disc brakes are good about letting you know when they’re out of adjustment—think scraping or squealing—however, it’s possible to unknowingly wear down the pads. Pull the pads out to get a good look at them. If there is minimal material—typically less than 1mm—on the pad, it’s time to replace them.
Wheels and Tires: The next task on our road bike tune-up checklist is inspecting the tires. Look for any damage in the sidewall or objects embedded in the tread. A good rule of thumb is that if you think your tires are reaching the end of their life, it’s time to replace them. Spin both wheels to ensure there are no side-to-side wobbles and squeeze the spokes to make sure none are loose. Tension and true as needed, or bring your bike into the local shop. Don’t forget to check the air pressure in each tire before hitting the road!
Mountain Bike Maintenance
In the beginning, mountain bikes and road bikes weren’t all that different. However, mountain bikes have evolved greatly since the balloon-tired paperboy bikes that spawned the sport. Consequently, in addition to measures such as tightening bolts, maintaining the drivetrain, and servicing the brakes, they have a few unique maintenance needs.
Inspect Everything: Jumping, hucking, dropping, and crashing is an ordinary day in the life of many mountain bikes. With that in mind, an integral part of a mountain bike tune-up is to go over your bike and inspect it for damage. On the frame, look for cracks that might signal larger problems than mere maintenance. Also check for any wear on the frame that you can control with protective tape. If your bike has suspension, check the fork’s stanchions stations and rear shock for scratches or gouges. Take a close look at your rims, ensuring they’re crack free—paying close attention to where the spoke meets the rim.
Set Your Suspension: A full-suspension mountain bike tune-up should include an examination of your fork and rear shock. Make sure the seals aren’t dry or cracking, and that there’s no fluid buildup. Be sure to also inspect the suspension pivots for any play. These issues are above the capability of most home mechanics, but addressing them early will save you time, money, and headaches down the trail. Check the pressure in the fork and shock using the manufacturer’s recommendations as a guideline, and increase or decrease accordingly.
Dropper Post: Dropper posts are becoming ubiquitous and a complete mountain bike maintenance program pays attention to this popular part. Wipe any dirt or dust away from the seal and add a little suspension grease to it. Push on the seat and look for any pogo-ing. Side-to-side movement is common, but anything excessive might signal it’s time for a new cartridge or overhaul.
Tubeless Tires: Tubeless tires are common on today’s mountain bikes (and more and more road bikes). If you’re running tubeless, check your tire’s sealant level at the beginning of the season.
The Finishing Touch
Don’t forget accessory gear maintenance and combing through your bike kit before the season’s maiden ride. Spend a few minutes inspecting your helmet for any cracks, give your hydration bladder a thorough clean, and tighten your cleats if riding clipless. Similarly, make sure you have all your riding essentials on hand, including a spare tube or tubeless repair kit, a pump or CO2 inflator, a chain master link, a multitool, and a small first aid kit.
Tim Peck is a freelance writer based in Concord, NH. When Tim isn’t shredding the snake-like singletrack of the Northeast or pounding out miles on the rural roads around his home, he’s found procrastinating on his next writing assignment scrolling through photos of his last trip to Moab.