How to Tune Up a Mountain Bike (Complete Practical Guide!)

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Mountain bike being worked on in a workshop

Keeping your mountain bike in top condition will help you avoid frustrating breakdowns and dangerous accidents. The good news is that with a few essential steps, you can tune up your MTB in no time!

In this article, we’ll take you through a complete guide on how to tune up your mountain bike, step-by-step. Buckle up, grab your toolkit, and let’s tune this bike!

A complete tune-up of a mountain bike includes checking and adjusting the brakes, gears, suspension, tires, and drivetrain. Cleaning the frame and lubricating the moving parts are also essential.

Step 1 – Clean Your Bike
Step 2 – Inspecting The Tires
Step 3 – Checking The Brakes
Step 4 – Adjust The Gears
Step 5 – Checking The Suspension
Step 6 – Lubricating the Moving Parts
Step 7 – Cleaning the Frame
Step 8 – Test Ride

What You’ll Need

Before we get started, you’ll need a few tools and supplies:

  • A bike work stand or a way to secure your bike upright while you work
  • Set of Allen wrenches (most bikes use 4, 5, and 6mm sizes)
  • Torque wrench
  • Set of pliers
  • Cable cutter
  • Set of open-end wrenches
  • Bottle of degreaser
  • A can of lubricant
  • Rag or paper towels

1. Clean Your Bike

Spraying a mountain bike with a cleaning solution to clean it
Credit: Mantel

The first step in tuning up your bike is to clean it. Dirt, grime, and debris can accumulate in various parts of your bike over time, causing damage and hindering its performance.

Use a bike cleaning solution, water, and a soft cloth or brush to clean your bike frame, suspension, and components.

Pay special attention to the drivetrain, which is the series of gears and chains that transfers power from the pedals to the wheels. Dirt and grime can cause the chain to wear out faster, leading to costly replacements.

2. Inspecting The Tires

Flat mountain bike tire
Credit: Bike the Sites

Check the air pressure in your tires. It should be within the recommended range indicated on the sidewall of your tires. If the air pressure is low, use a pump to inflate the tires to the recommended pressure. If you don’t own a pump yet, we’ve got a guide on the best electric bike pumps.

Inspect your tires for any cuts, punctures, or worn-out treads. If the bike’s treads are exhausted, or the tires are damaged, it’s time to replace them.

3. Checking The Brakes

Squeezing mountain bike brake lever to check it's firm and responsive.

Next, inspect your brakes. Make sure they’re working well and aren’t weary. Squeeze the brake lever to see if it’s firm and responsive.

If the brake lever feels soft or mushy, it’s time to bleed the brakes or replace the brake pads. Check the brake pads for any cracks, grooves, or worn-out surfaces. If the brake pads are haggard to the metal, you should consider replacing them as soon as possible.

4. Adjust The Gears

Drivechain of a mountain bike
Credit: Bicycling Magazine

To adjust the gears on a mountain bike, you’ll need to make changes to the derailleur, which is the component responsible for shifting the chain from one gear to another. Here are the steps you can follow to adjust:

1. Check The Cable Tension

Start by checking the cable tension of the derailleur. If the cable is too loose, the gears won’t shift properly. If it’s too tight, the shifting will be stiff. Use the barrel adjuster to fine-tune the cable tension until you’re happy with the feel.

Shift through all of the gears to make sure they are working properly. Ensure that the chain moves smoothly between the cogs on the rear wheel. If the chain skips or jumps, you may need to make further adjustments.

2. Adjust The High-Limit Screw

The high-limit screw is located on the derailleur and controls the largest cog that the chain can move to.

If the chain falls off the largest cog, turn the high-limit screw counterclockwise. If the chain rubs against the derailleur cage, turn the screw clockwise.

3. Adjust The Low-Limit Screw

The low-limit screw is located on the derailleur and controls the smallest cog that the chain can move to.

If the chain falls off the smallest cog, turn the low-limit screw clockwise. If the chain rubs against the derailleur cage, turn the screw counterclockwise.

4. Test The Gears

Shift through all of the gears again to make sure everything is working properly. Make any additional adjustments as needed.

5. Checking the Suspension

Pushing down front of mountain bike to see if it bounces back

Mountain bikes come with a suspension system to absorb shock and provide a smooth ride. Check the suspension to make sure it’s working fine.

Test the suspension by pushing down on the handlebars and see if the bike bounces back up. Consider taking your bike to a bike mechanic to get it serviced if the suspension feels saggy or soft.

6. Lubricating the Moving Parts

Applying lubricant to mountain bike chain for tune up
Credit: I Love Bicycling

After cleaning and inspecting your bike, it’s time to lubricate the moving parts to keep them running smoothly. The key components you need to lubricate are the chain, derailleur pivots, brake pivots, and suspension pivots points.

1. Lubricate the Chain

For this step, you’ll need a quality bike chain lubricant and a clean rag. Begin by cleaning the chain with a rag to remove dirt, grime, or old lubricant remnants.

Next, apply a few drops of lubricant to each chain link and spin the pedals to distribute it evenly. With a clean rag, remove any excess.

2. Lubricating the Derailleur Pivots

The derailleur pivots are the points where the derailleur arm pivots on the derailleur body. To lubricate these parts, apply a few drops of lubricant to each pivot and work the derailleur arm back and forth to distribute the lubricant coat evenly.

3. Lubricating the Brake Pivots

These are located where the brake arm pivots on the brake body. To lubricate them, apply some drops of lubricant and work the brake arm back and forth.

4. Lubricating the Suspension Pivot Points

The suspension pivot points are the points where the suspension forks or rear shock connect to the frame.

To lubricate the suspension pivot points, apply a few drops of lubricant to each pivot and cycle the suspension a few times to distribute the lubricant.

7. Cleaning the Frame

To finish up your tune-up, you’ll need to clean your bike frame.

Use a soft-bristled brush and mild soap to clean the frame, being careful to avoid any sensitive parts such as the brakes or suspension. Rinse the frame thoroughly with water and dry it with a clean rag.

8. Test Ride

Man testing his mountain bike after tune up

Now that you’ve completed your tune-up, it’s time to take your bike for a test ride. Testing your bike will give you a better insight to make any final adjustments and ensure everything is working efficiently.

Take your bike for a spin on a familiar road to see how it’s operating after the tuning. If you encounter any issues, make the necessary adjustments and repeat the test ride.

Safety Considerations

Before starting the tuning process, it’s crucial to take some safety measures to prevent accidents and damage to the bike:

  1. Secure the bike in a stable position using a bike stand or work stand to prevent it from falling over during the tuning process.
  2. Wear protective gear such as gloves, glasses, and closed-toe shoes to prevent possible injuries from happening to your hands, eyes, and feet.
  3. Make sure to unplug the battery if working on electric mountain bikes.
  4. Be cautious when working on the brakes and gears. Keep your fingers and other body parts away from moving parts and sharp edges.
  5. Use appropriate tools for each task. Improper tools can cause damage to the bike or harm you.
  6. Avoid over-tightening bolts and screws. Use a torque wrench to check if you’re tightening them to the correct specification.

Following these steps and taking the necessary safety precautions, you can ensure that you’ll tune up your mountain bike for a smooth and enjoyable riding experience.

Some Pointers to Keep Your Bike Healthy!

Now that you have completed your tune-up, you’ll want to ensure keeping your mountain bike in good condition for as long as possible.

Here’s what you can do to keep your bike in tip-top shape:

  1. Store your bike in a dry place: Moisture is the enemy of your bike, so make sure you store it somewhere dry where it won’t get exposed to rain or humidity. This will help prevent rust and corrosion from forming on the frame and components.
  2. Check your bike before each ride: Check the tires for proper inflation, the brakes for proper function, and the gears for smooth shifting.
  3. Clean your bike regularly: Regular cleaning will keep your bike in good condition and extend the bike’s lifespan.
  4. Avoid using water or soap on the drivetrain, as this can strip away the lubricant and cause wear and tear.
  5. Protect your bike from the elements: If you’re leaving your bike outside for an extended period, consider covering it with a bike cover to keep the elements away. Bike covers can prevent sun damage, as well as rain and snow from rusting your ride.
  6. Perform regular tune-ups: They are essential for keeping your mountain bike safe and sound. Plan to give your bike a complete tune-up at least once a year or more often if you use it frequently.
  7. Address issues as they arise: When your bike starts making weird noises during the trip, resist the urge to ignore it and try to stop and address the issue before it gets bigger.
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AUTHOR

Paul Tuthill
Growing up in Scotland, Paul developed a love for the outdoors and a desire for adventure from an early age.