How to get ready for a mountain bike trip!

You are at the end of the first trail on your well-earned mountain bike trip, and before you know it, someone already has their bike upside down trying to do a trailside fix. We have all been there, or at least know that person who just seems to carry “bad luck” with him or her.
But is it really that? Bad Luck?

Preparation is half the battle

Most of these first-day repairs can easily be prevented by some basic maintenance before leaving! So instead of wasting precious time during your vacation, reserve a few hours on the weekend before you leave and do some basic maintenance work on your mountain bike. If possible, do it even two weeks before. Whenever you do come across an issue you can’t fix or a part you need to order, you have the time to do so!

Nine out of ten times you won’t need any specialty tools to do most of the check-ups that follow, but some basic bike tools would make it a lot easier. As a matter of fact, hereby a list of tools we think any mountain biker, or cyclist for that matter, should have in his or her bike shed. There are some tools on the list that are nice to have, but you can easily do the prep-work without them.


Basic tools

  • (Bike specific) Cleaning agent
  • (Bike specific) Brushes / Sponge
  • Allen key set
  • Torx key set
  • Set of screwdrivers (especially Phillips)
  • Pumps (Both for your tires,
    and one for your suspension)
  • A GOOD set of tire levers
  • Cable cutters
  • Needle nose and side cutters
  • Chain whip & cassette lock tool
  • Chain breaker

Oils, grease, spares

  • Tubeless sealant
  • Chain lube
  • Brake fluid
  • Brake pads
  • Grease
  • Tires
  • Shop towel or lint free cloth

Nice to have

  • Torque wrench
  • Air compressor
  • Bike stand
  • Chain checker
  • Spoke wrench
  • Pedal wrench (not all pedals come with an Allen key possibility)
  • Brake bleed kit

A clean bike is a happy bike

If you want to make working on your bike easier, then clean your bike. Cleaning your bike gives you the opportunity to check for wear and tear up close. In addition, you will keep your hands & tools much cleaner, and the bike just looks better! Now, with a clean bike, start working on the next steps.

Smooth is fast

Most modern mountain bikes are equipped with some kind of suspension. Whether you ride an XC, Trail, Enduro, or Downhill bike, chances are you have at least 100 mm of suspension travel in your front fork and 80 mm in the rear shock. If your suspension works as smoothly as it should, then you will attack the downhills with much more confidence.

All the suspension manufacturers are doing a lot of testing and developing to make their components travel as smoothly as possible. To keep your suspension running smoothly in the long run, you will need to do some regular maintenance on it. Starting with just cleaning the lowers after every run, to doing a lower leg service after about 50hours or a year. Both Fox and Rockshox have great manuals on how to do a lower leg service on the fork, or an aircan service for the rear shock. These procedures you can do at home when you are able to follow step-by-step instructions with clear photographs for visual recognition.

These simple procedures will have your suspension running just as smoothly as when you got your bike!

Tires

If your home trails consist of hard pack and small roots, then you are probably running a set of light casing tires. Compare the trails of your destination with your usual trails to decide if it would be wise to upgrade your tires. Destinations like the Alps, Dolomites, or other high mountain ranges are known for both their sharp rocks and steep loose trails. A sturdier sidewall will help prevent cutting your tire, and a knobbier tire will give you a bit more traction when braking and cornering on the loose terrain.

When you are already running the tires you are using on the trip, check them all around. You do not want to go on a mountain bike trip with worn tires and having to replace them in the first few days as a result. Are all the knobs still intact, is the sidewall in one piece, does it hold air longer than a day? Tires looking all good, top off your tubeless sealant, and you’re done!

Wheels & Spokes

While your suspension soaks up a lot of hits, your wheels take the first beating when your thundering downhill. With the wheels in your frame, give them a spin and make sure they are still true. To be sure they stay true, run your hand by each spoke to feel the tension. Even if you don’t know what to feel for, you will definitely notice a loose spoke! If it’s one spoke and the wheel is in true, grab your spoke wrench and tighten it carefully. When you don’t feel comfortable or have multiple loose spokes, find a good wheel builder who can help you out.

Speed doesn’t hurt you

But the sudden stop against any object, because your brakes didn’t work, will! When was the last time you really checked your brakes? And we don’t mean the last time you pulled them, and you slowed down. Your brakes are perhaps the most important component of your mountain bike. That being said, their effectiveness can lessen a little each time you ride without you noticing it. Pads wear out, both pads and discs get contaminated, air gets into the hydraulic system, and pistons could get stuck. Making sure your brakes are in good condition should be on the top of your list before going on any mountain bike trip.

Take a good look

Begin with a visual inspection; start at the levers, are they still straight? A bend lever can shorten the throw and so reduce the power you’re putting into the system. Work your way down from there, is the brake hose still connected to the lever assembly the right way? Pull the lever a few times and check if there is no brake fluid leaking at the connecting parts at the lever as well as at the caliper. If there are no leaks, follow the hose and check for any wear and tear, especially at places where the hose can touch or enter the frame when moving.

After that visual check, take out your wheels and pull your brake pads. Generally, the pad material should measure at least 1 mm thick, check your brake manufacturer’s manual for the specific measurements. If they are less than 1 mm thick it’s wise to replace them before your trip!
Since you have your wheels out now, check your discs. Are they straight and thick enough? SRAM recommends replacing your discs when they measure less than 1.55 mm thick.
Lastly, check the pistons inside the caliper for even travel. In the most ideal situation, each piston (2 or 4 depending on your brakes) is exposed the same amount. When this is not the case, you end up with uneven pad wear and can result in loss of braking power.

If you have the tools, this would be a great time to do a brake bleed if you haven’t done this in a while.

Gears

Due to the introduction of the 1 x 12 gearing, checking your drivetrain became a lot easier. Grab your chain checker, or measuring tape, and check for wear. The standard pitch of a new chain link should sit at half an inch (12.7 mm), pin-to-pin. An inner plus an outer (wide and narrow) link of a chain makes an even inch. Check out this article on Cyclingtips.com for an extensive deep dive into the matter.

Since the rear derailleur is the only part left that shifts the gear, it needs to work properly. Start at the lowest end of the gearing and shift through them all, and if it works, don’t try to fix it. If it doesn’t work, check your manufacturer’s manual or YouTube. Make sure the B-tension is set according to their specifications and work your way through the limit screws. This isn’t rocket science, but you do need some patience setting it up!

Check, 1,2, bolt check

When you have checked the parts above, it is time to put your bike together. As a final check, you want to make sure all the bolts on your bike are tightened (to the correct torque) and a simple way of getting to all the bolts is to follow the lines of your bike. So start at your bar, work your way from the outside in checking the brake lever, dropper, and shifter mounting bolts. Next up, are both the stem and headset bolts to make sure your bike turns when you want to 😉

Follow your top bar to the center of your bike and work your way down. Firstly, the bolts that fix your saddle to your (dropper) seat post, and then the seat post itself. If you have a full-suspension bike, then the next bolts to check are the ones that make your rear end squish. Put your front wheel back in, tighten the axle, center the caliper, and make sure it turns smoothly. Move towards the middle of the bike to check both your cranks and pedals. And finish with putting your back wheel in, tighten the axle, center the caliper, and put on the chain. Lastly, take a test ride, run your bike through all the gears, bed in your brakes, and you are ready to go to enjoy your mountain bike trip!


What are your go-to’s when preparing for a mountain bike trip?
Did we forget anything? Let us know in the comments below!