Mountain biking is fun, there’s no denying it. You can ease around a scenic lake, discover a mind-blowingly difficult trail, or stumble across a little known waterfall all from the comfort of your seat. But pushing your bike to the nearest highway and hitchhiking back all because of a burst tire is not so fun. Here are 5 easy skills every rider should have under their helmet to ensure you’ll always get back to the trail head.
- Know when it’s time to take a bath: You wouldn’t want to be paraded around caked in mud and dirt, so neither should your bike. Luckily, this is a really easy piece of maintenance to keep up with. Simply fill a bucket with warm, soapy water and gently scrub your bike with a nylon brush, with special attention to the really grubby parts. Dump the rest of the bucket over the bike, fill up with clean water and rinse it clean. Although using a brush takes a little longer, hoses can drive water and dirt into sensitive parts of the bike upping the chances for problems. Not only will your bike be sparkly clean, but you’ve extended its lifespan as sweat, grime and road salt are corrosive and damaging.
- How to fix a flat: One of the most common maintenance problems you’re likely to ride into, knowing how to fix a flat is definitely worth preparing for. To prepare, make sure you’re always carrying a good set of tire levers you’ve tested (some tires are a little tricky to get off the rim), a tube, a patching kit and a pump. First remove the wheel by disengaging your brakes then releasing the axle. Second, find the origin of the flat tire by beginning on the outside and working your way in. To get inside your tire, release all the remaining air and use your tire levers beginning on the side opposite to the valve to lift it free. Remove the inflatable tube. If you don’t see any obvious blowouts, check the valve. When you locate the cause of the problem, begin to replace the tube (you can repair it with a patch if it is a minor tear, but as with a car’s donut tire, make sure you replace the patched tube as soon as possible.) Partially inflate the tube to give it shape and place the tube inside the tire. Starting with the valve stem, place the tube and tire back onto the wheel and reseat one edge of the tire completely, reseating the other edge beginning at the valve and proceeding around the wheel (you may need to use the tire lever to help at the end.) Check to see everything looks correct, and pump it back up to its recommended pressure. Then, reversing how you took it off, reinstall the wheel and don’t forget to REATTACH YOUR BRAKES!!!
- How to fix a chain: Similar to the flat, you’re probably going to run in to this one in the lifetime of your bike. To make sure you’re ready, always carry a chain, or multi purpose tool with you. First, turn your bike upside down and locate the broken link(s) in your chain. Remove two links of chain at the damaged ends (the links alternate, so removing two balances the pattern out) by placing it in the groove of your multi-tool and pushing out the pins – NOTE, don’t push the pin out the whole way so you can push it back in later. Reattach the chain again by lining the new links together and using the chain tool to push the pin back through. Work the new link back and forth to loosen it up (so it can bend around the gears!).
- How to straighten a wheel: Before you start daydreaming about what you must do on a bike in order to need a wheel-straighten, know that straightening it is doable. Simply take the wheel and force it straight by slamming it (carefully!) against the ground or tree. With a little work, you’ll be able to get your wheel straight enough to ride you back to your car.
- How to adjust your suspension air pressure: Trail conditions change, gear changes, and sometimes you need to readjust your suspension air pressure. Because of this, always carry a shock pump with you on long rides for adjustments. Check what pressures you need to run in your suspension for the ideal ride (found in the manufacturer’s specifications, owners manual or on the fork/shock company’s website) and readjust if needed. Before you continue with the ride, make sure the settings feel good when you’re on the seat as they will compress with the weight. A general rule of thumb is the bike should sag 20 to 30 percent when you’re on it.
You’re all set! Gear up, drive out, and it’s on! Have a great ride!