Keeping tabs on what is going right, and what is not, on your mountain bike can seem like a full-time job. This bit-by-bit guide on how to keep your bike in tip top condition should give you a better understanding on different service intervals and what to expect to pay for the work and parts.
As with anything mechanical, prevention is better than cure. At least once a year, twice if you ride more than four times a week, take your bike to your local bike shop and get them to do a complete strip-down service – hubs, BB, headset serviced, wheels trued, gears fine-tuned, everything cleaned and inspected. It may seem a big outlay, at R800-R2000, depending on the qualifications/ability/reputation of your mechanic, but it will pay for itself over the year, so just do it.
By Ruan Deyzel
1 – Bottom bracket
Most bikes these days have a very simple system to remove the cranks. This makes access to the bottom bracket (BB) very easy. Bottom brackets should be inspected at least four times a year, and after very muddy, wet or dusty races. Multi-stage events are hard on bikes, and the BB should be inspected before and after each event – in particular, on wet, muddy events. The hosing down of the bike often lets water run down the inside of the seattube and headtube, and settle in the BB shell area of the frame. Some bikes come with a small drainage hole underneath the BB shell, which makes a lot of sense. Most bottom brackets have good seals, designed mainly to keep dust out, and which do a reasonable job with water. Prevention here will pay off; a regular removal-clean-regrease-refit regimen will help your BB last long. Replacement is expensive, ranging from R500 to over R2000. If your BB bearings need consistent replacement, every couple of hundred kilometers, then there is something wrong with the installation of the BB. Get a competent technician to have a look and make sure the spacing is correct. A strip and relube shouldn’t take the shop more than an hour.
2 – Pedals
After each ride, check that the springs are free of any mud and grass you may have collected. Make sure the pedals turn smoothly on their axles; if not then the bearings need to be cleaned out and inspected for any problems that might have caused the pedal to tighten up. Specialised tools are required to service pedals, and service and bushing kits are available from most suppliers. When cleaning up the transmission the pedals can also be included. Expect half-an-hour to an hour of the shop’s time, depending on the severity of your problem. At the same time, check your cleats for excessive wear, as this can not only damage your pedal, but be dangerous on the bike, as worn cleats can either pop out when you least expect it, or stay bound when you need to dab, depending how bad they are.
3 – Hubs
Hubs can be checked on the bike to make sure they are turning freely, and for side-to-side play. Hubs should be inspected and cleaned at least twice a year, or after particularly wet and muddy rides, as well as before and after multi-stage events. A hub service can cost from R185; it is not a hard job and should take around an hour to get done. This would also normally be included in a full service.
4 – Brake pads
Ideally, these should be inspected after every ride, both visually and by feel. It is important to know what type of braking surface you have on your pads, i.e. resin or metal. This will decide how often pads should be checked: Resin makes for a dry pad, which does not last long in wet conditions. Metal pads are more all-weather, and will generally last longer in the wet. All brake pads should be inspected after wet and muddy rides. Check for excessive wear, and for even wear across the pad, as well as for debris, which you can pick out with a small screwdriver. Having a spare set in your toolbox is always a good thing. Pads can be replaced easily at home. All brakes require some tweaking after new pads are installed. Consult the brake manufacturers’ websites on how best to set them up perfectly. Expect to spend between R120-R400, per wheel, for replacement pads.
5 – Tyres
A tubeless system is always a better option in South Africa; the tyres have more robust sidewalls, and a sealant can (must!) be used to thwart our particularly nasty thorn problem. After each ride, check for sidewall cuts, especially if there have been rocks on the ride. New rubber would always be advised before big races and multistage events, and remember to check the sealant level before every major event.
6 – Suspension fork
Wipe down and check the stanchions after every ride – especially after muddy ones – to help minimise scratches and marks that could affect the smooth motion of the fork. Most manufacturers have a recommended number of hours between oil changes, normally around 100 hours of riding, and the dust wipers will be replaced at this time too. A specialist shock technician should normally do the job as it is fiddly and the consequences of getting it wrong are expensive. This would cost between R200-R550, excluding the dust wiper kit, depending on manufacturer. Check the air pressure of the fork at least once a month and add if necessary.
7 – Headset
Generally, this is a fit-and-forget part, but periodically check for movement by placing one hand on your top tube, and the other on the stem. If you can detect any movement between the two, sort it out immediately. Also, if you feel movement when you pull your front brake, which is not coming from the natural give that’s inherent in your suspension fork, tighten it up or seek help. New bearings could cost you about R350-R600, and a whole new headset anything from R300 to over a grand. I recommend double checking everything is fine at least four times a year, with a correctly-fitted (make sure your bike shop can, and has, reamed and faced your frame properly!) unit, you can expect it to last a few years at the bottom of the range, and indefinitely if you drop bigger money at the outset.
8 – Chainrings
Inspect after every ride, for broken and bent teeth, especially the big blade, as this is the first contact a large obstacle will have with the bike once the front wheel has gone over it! Even if you haven’t dug your cranks into any low-lying impediments, check, as the front wheel often throws up rocks onto the chainring. Replacing your chain regularly will mean you will avoid the expense of a new set of chainrings for a couple of years, and with prices ranging from R250 to over R1500 per ring, chains suddenly seem cheap.
9 – Cluster/Cassette
This should also be inspected after every ride, for any bent or broken teeth, and to remove any grass or twigs you may have collected. If you change the chain at regular intervals, a cassette should last a few thousand kilometers, provided no damage has been done to any teeth. Cassettes can cost from R800 to over R4000, depending on the quality. Once again, if you have Shimano, replace with Shimano. Your shop shouldn’t need more than an hour, remembering they will need to reset your gears too.
10 – Rear derailleur
This is the most vulnerable part on your bike. You need to check and clean off debris after every ride, and sometimes when you stop for a breather too. Long grass can wrap in the jockey wheels and do damage, as can twigs. Removing them will save you a lot of money. Keep an eye on the jockey wheels: as the teeth wear, shifting deteriorates, and the chances of the chain dislodging on the bumpy stuff increases. New jockey wheels will set you back between R150-R350. The derailleur is attached to the frame via a replaceable hanger, which can bend in a crash, or by snagging a branch, so this should be checked for the correct position for optimal shifting. A service at your bike shop would take care of any settings that need to be done.
11 – Chain
A worn chain guarantees poor shifting, and will shorten the lifespan of your transmission, as jockey wheels, cassettes and chainrings wear into the ‘stretched’* chain. Depending on how the transmission is maintained, a chain should be replaced after roughly 1300km, which should save the cassette and chainrings. After every ride, the chain should be inspected for twists and stiff links. We highly recommend learning how to clean the transmission of your bike. It is not very difficult and, with the appropriate cleaning agents, excellent results can be achieved, therefore extending the life of your entire drivetrain. It is not always necessary to put on the most expensive chain, which could end up being costly if you replace regularly, but the replacement chain should always be compatible with your components, i.e. SRAM with SRAM. Try to find a lube that works for you, and your bike. Some require less regular application, but more regular cleaning. Others, less cleaning, but more regular application. I developed SMOOVE universal chain lube to offer the best of both worlds, with noticeably better chain life in similar conditions. Chain life of more than 4000km has been reported when using SMOOVE. Again, this will still depend on the type of conditions you ride in. Wet and muddy races can negatively affect the lifespan of a chain. Carry some lube in your hydration pack/spares kit, and stop to apply it regularly, before you feel that telltale grinding.
Expect to spend between R350-R800 on a new chain, depending on quality. The shop shouldn’t need more than an hour to fit it, but will need to reset your gears at the same time.
*Chains don’t actually stretch, the small rollers around each pin wear, giving the impression the chain has elongated over the more fixed distances between teeth on chainrings and sprockets.
12 – Front derailleur
Another fit-it-and-leave-it-part, but worth checking after each ride for debris, as well as making sure it has not shifted on the frame. Front derailleurs are both simple to adjust, and easy to get hopelessly wrong, so if you are not 100 percent sure of what you are doing, take it to your LBS for some TLC. They will have a standard rate for checking and setting front and rear gears, probably in the region of R185.
13 – Pivot linkage bearings/bushes
The rear swing-arm on most dual suspension bikes runs a bearing system and, like all bearings, this needs to be inspected and cleaned regularly. Non-bearing systems rely on bushes, which need specific care, as laid out by the individual manufacturers – your LBS will know what is best. If you are going to service them yourself, take care, some bushing systems are designed NOT to be lubed/greased! Again, we recommend that they be fully serviced before and after multi-stage events. After wet and muddy rides, the rear swing-arm should be stripped, cleaned and re-assembled. Most bike shops will offer this service in a strip and re-build package. Regular bolt checks and clearing any particles around the swing arm will make sure that it will remain working correctly. Depending on the system. The labour cost should be R350, while bearing/bushing kits range from R250 to over R3000, depending on your bike.
14 – Rear shock
The rear shock on most bikes is quite protected from mud and dust, but to keep it working properly the unit must also be wiped down and inspected every time you ride. The shock manufacturer will have the recommended service intervals for each unit, but when it is time, the service should set you back around R350 for labour, and another R300-odd for spares.
15 – Dropper posts
Your dropper post needs the same kind of attention as most other hydraulic components like forks and rear shocks. Keep the shaft clean by wiping it after every ride, especially if it was wet and muddy. Get a qualified service centre to inspect and service your post at least once a year. This should cost in the region of about R350 for the labour, excluding seals and dust wipers.
16 – Brakes
Most hydraulic brakes using dot4 brake fluid would not require much service unless you begin to experience brake fade. Mineral oil brakes show signs of brake fade sooner, and need to be serviced at more regular intervals, especially before and after multistage events, and rides where a lot of braking is likely. To find out which your brakes use, have a close look at the lever, it’s usually shown.
A brake bleed would normally cost R185 per brake. It costs between R200 and R1200 for the bleed kit specific to your brakes, if you want to do it at home.
Note: all prices quoted are approximate and may vary.
If you own a Specialized bike (especially if it has the Brain shock technology), we recommend you adhere to its maintenance system. Specialized runs a very professional service system making sure that its products are always maintained to the highest level. Most Specialized Concept Stores and Elite Stores will be able to do the 50-hour fork service in house and this can range from anything between R650–R950 everything included. The fork needs to be sent away to Specialized headquarters in Stellenbosch for the 150-hour service though, costing R1500-R2000 all parts included. Specialized rear shocks will need a 50-hour service at the dealer that will cost R550-R800; and the major service needs to happen every 150 hours, costing R1100-R1500. Specialized keeps a comprehensive history on each suspension component for any future reference.
*Originally published in TREAD Issue 38, 2015 and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio – All rights reserved