Signs that it's Time for a Bike Tune
Article & Photos by evo
Mountain biking emphasizes the maintenance of your gear perhaps more than just about any other outdoor sport. You can get away with rarely waxing your skis, and those pow days will still be just as sweet. If you don’t dry out your running shoes they’ll stink, but you’ll still enjoy a good run in them. But if you don’t take care of your mountain bike and keep up on maintenance it can creak and rattle dangerously, no matter how good the trails are. And mountain bikes are complicated. There are a lot of moving parts, and you need to keep an eye on all of them. The best way to do this is to have a good bike shop give your bike a tuneup periodically. While you’re just paying for a simple tuneup, a good bike mechanic will use this opportunity to go over your bike and let you know if there’s any potential issues or wear that could become a problem in the future, and if there’s any preventative maintenance you can do to help.
A bike tune will take your rattley old mountain bike and return it to its original smooth-riding glory. But how do you know you need a tuneup, how often should you be getting one, and what signs should you be looking out for that let you know it’s time to call the bike shop and get a tuneup scheduled?
First, before we get into how to know you need a tuneup, here’s a few things you should be doing to keep your bike running smoothly without needing to go into a shop for a full tuneup. These things don’t take the place of a tuneup, they simply help the bike work more smoothly so that it works better between tuneups. You don’t need to be a professional bike mechanic to take good care of your mountain bike.
Take care of your drivetrain
The first part of a bike to usually have issues is the drivetrain. The biggest thing you can do to avoid that is to take good care of your chain. After every ride, wipe it off with a clean rag, and lube it with a bike-specific lube. This will keep your chain from rusting, and keep grit from being ground into your chainring and cassette, wearing them prematurely.
Check your tire pressure
Most damage to bike wheels happens because there isn’t enough air in the tires. The air in your tire acts as a cushion that protects your wheels from rocks and other impacts. Don’t run enough pressure, and you’re more likely to dent a rim or break some spokes. Check your tire pressure before every ride, and top it off if you need to. Even tubeless tires can slowly lose some air between rides, and running just a little too low of pressure can put your wheels at risk.
Keep your bike clean
A lot of the wear and tear that makes bikes feel terrible is due to dirt and grit getting stuck between moving parts of the bike. Anytime you come back from a muddy ride, wash your bike well. Don’t use a pressure washer, but a garden hose will do a good job of rinsing all the dirt and grit off. Then make sure to dry and lube your chain. It’s a simple step, but washing your bike before mud has a chance to dry and wear seals and pivots out makes a huge difference in how your bike will feel down the road.
Signs YOU need a bike tune
No matter how good of care you take of your bike, entropy is real, and things will wear out eventually. It’s the same as a pair of bike shorts, it doesn’t matter how conscientious you are with washing them, eventually they’re going to start to smell and wear out. You’re going to need to get your mountain bike tuned eventually, so here are a few signs to look out for.
If your drivetrain rattles, squeaks, creaks, or doesn’t shift smoothly, even though the chain is clean and lubed, it’s time to see a shop. Drivetrains are made to wear out in a progression: The chain is the cheapest part, and it wears out first. Staying on top of replacing your chain before it wears out will protect the more expensive parts of your drivetrain from needing to be replaced. So if your drivetrain is shifting inconsistently, skipping, or making noise, it’s probably time for a tuneup.
For a lot of us, we don’t give our suspension much thought, until it starts making swamp monster noises over every bump. Any kind of new squelchy noise from your suspension is a good indicator that you should head in and get a tuneup. Some folks are comfortable servicing their suspension at home, but most riders should leave that to a competent bike mechanic.
Fluids on your stanchions
Another good indicator that your suspension could use some love is if you notice any kind of oil on the stanchions of your fork and shock. That usually means that your seals have worn to the point that they need to be replaced. Wipe your stanchions with a clean paper towel, and then cycle your fork or shock. If there’s any oily residue on the tubes, you could use a tuneup.
Brakes feeling inconsistent
Hydraulic disk brakes are a huge upgrade over the alternatives. They’re more powerful, and require less maintenance. However, over time, air can work its way into the system. When this happens, your levers can feel squishy, and they can deliver braking power inconsistently. That usually means they need a brake bleed, which is part of most tuneups. Sometimes this issue also becomes clear when you leave your bike upside down for a while, and then the brakes need to be “pumped up” before they’ll engage. If that sounds familiar, you need a tuneup.
Creaks and rattles that you can’t find
Finally, any creak or rattle in your bike that you can’t find and fix yourself is a good excuse for a tuneup. Usually these noises indicate parts that are worn out, or need grease. Sure, you could just ride with earplugs on and ignore the noise, but creaks and rattles are your bikes way of telling you it needs attention. Listen to your bike, take it in for a tuneup, let the bike shop know about the noise you can’t fix, and they’ll give the whole bike some love, as well as fixing the noise.
Most folks put off their bike tuneups, waiting until something breaks. That’s a bad idea, it will almost always cost you more to fix something after it fails than preventative maintenance would have cost. So keep an eye on these issues, and if you run into any of them, get your bike tuned up.
We are evo - a ski, snowboard, mountain bike, surf, wake, skate, camp, and lifestyle retailer based in Seattle, Washington, USA, with stores located in Seattle, Portland, Denver, Whistler, and Salt Lake City (coming soon). We also offer trips to remote locations across the globe in search of world-class powder turns, epic waves, and legendary mountain biking through our evoTrip Adventure Travel Trips.
Traveler. Writer. Mom.