You’ve trained all winter and you’re ready to shred some tacky dirt. Too bad your bike has two flat tires, the brakes need a bleed, and you can’t find your multi-tool.
As the days get longer and spring starts to feel more like a reality than a fleeting dream, preparation plays a vital role in ensuring a season full of fun and safe adventures. Though many of the forthcoming tips may seem like prerequisites to the seasoned rider, overlooking any one can put a damper on fun season.
–Prep Your Pack–
A well-stocked pack can mean the difference between finishing a ride as planned or huffing it back to the trailhead. While you may have started last season with all the essentials in tow, odds are that you used a zip tie here and a CO2 cartridge there. After every withdrawal, you told yourself you’d replenish the item next week. But then post-ride beers, life, and winter got in the way.
We couldn’t think of anyone better than Dave Weins to walk us through the packing checklist. As a six-time Leadville 100 Trail Race champ, Dave knows a thing or two about being prepared for long days in the saddle.
In addition to the packing list displayed above, Wiens offered some insight on how and why he packs certain items. For instance, he meant the word “emergency” in the “emergency snack” bullet. Wiens always has a spare granola bar kicking around for the rare time he didn’t pack enough food, or the ride runs longer than expected.
“I wrap the emergency tube in my seat bag in Tyvek,” Wiens said. “It keeps the tube safe in there—a good idea because it might stay there for a few years! But when you need it, you need it.” In the unlikely event that he burns through all three of his tubes, overkill as it may seem, Wines also always carries a patch kit. “I like the Topeak Rescue Box because it keeps everything organized and has a dedicated place for extra chain links and pins,” a handy feature, says Wiens, because rummaging through the bottom of your pack in search of a much-needed pin totally sucks.
His final bit of wisdom? “Stash some cash somewhere in your pack or seat bag.” Contrary to what you might be thinking, the bills are for more than post-ride burger acquisition, says Wiens. “Paper bills work great for booting a ripped tire sidewall.”
–Ready Your Rig–
Remember your beloved mountain bike? You know, the one you tossed in the back of the shed as the days got shorter and colder? The one you rode hard and put away wet?
Last season’s good times came at your bike’s expense, and without a little R&R*, you’re a lot more likely to run into trouble in the coming season. So think of this as a routine physical: Check your bike’s vitals, do what you can on your own, and let the doc take care of the rest.
*Hanging by front wheel in the garage, untouched for five months, does not constitute R&R
Do It Yourself
These basic inspections can be tackled by the least mechanically inclined among us. By identifying potentially compromised components, loose bolts, or a worn-out part, you can dramatically decrease the odds of catastrophic mechanicals throughout the season.
[Visual Inspection] In the same way a friend might notice your dog has put on a few pounds since last summer (when he looks perfectly normal to you), it’s easy to look right past a broken spoke or a frayed cable when you see your bike every day. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and take a close look at the frame, drivetrain, wheels, tires, handlebars, and stem. Notice some unusual wear, nicks, or cracks? Consult a mechanic.
[Sealant Refresh] If your tires are set up tubeless (who runs tubes these days, anyway?), the sealant inside will likely have dried up over the course of the off-season and will need to be replaced. This can be done very easily with basic skills and a couple of tire levers. Deflate your tire, unseat one side of the bead, and check the sealant. If there’s a dried blob rolling around inside, remove it before adding the recommended amount of sealant per your tire’s volume. Re-seat the tire.
Pro tip: Many tubeless tires fit the rim very tightly—remove the valve core from the valve stem while attempting to reseat the bead with a hand pump to maximize airflow.
[Pivot Cleaning and Torque Check] Creaks and squeaks have become synonymous with many of today’s full suspension bikes, but simple cleaning and maintenance will help keep these annoying sounds at bay. Take the time to get to know the pivot points on your bike this winter, ensuring they are clean and properly tightened (torque spec is usually printed on the bolts). Tightening a loose pivot will reduce costly repairs while keeping your bike running smoothly and quietly.
[Suspension and Dropper Post Pressure and Inspection] Though most well-maintained forks and shocks should hold air well, the pressure can (and will) fluctuate with drastic temperature changes or during long storage periods. If you don’t own a shock pump, this is a great excuse to visit your local shop and pick one up. Because of the variation in suspension configurations, check your manufacturer recommendations online for pressure guidelines and air input locations
While you’re adding air and checking sag, you’ll also have a chance to visually inspect your suspension components. “Check your fork stanchion and rear damper body for wear, which can appear in the form of large discolorations or very small vertical scratches, and both can cause big problems,” says Chris Harris of Dirt Labs, an industry-leading suspension service and tuning center. “Additionally, take a look at the wiper seals. Is there excess fluid weeping out? Are there any cracks? These symptoms can not only allow air/oil out, but also let dirt in.”
Harris also advises giving your suspension components’ control functions a once over. “Look for easily identifiable and common ailments,” says Harris. “Is the rebound control not affecting the fork/shock speed enough? Does it feel sticky or notchy? Is the lockout/pro-pedal not firming up compression?” If you notice any of these issues or any strange slurping noises during compression or rebound, says Harris, it’s probably time for some service.
Leave It to the Pros
A visit to your local shop during the slower months is a great way to build rapport, learn some new tricks, and also get your bike serviced and ready to rock before the mad spring rush.
[Cable and Housing Replacement] Often at the root of many shifting issues, worn, gritty, frayed cables create friction, reducing the functionality of your drivetrain. “Sluggish cable action is often due to unseen contamination and/or wear inside the cable housing,” explains George Betz, Master Tech at REI’s Denver Flagship. “If your shifting is less than optimal,” Betz continued, “replacing cables and housing is a simple and relatively cheap solution.” Most shops charge between $25 and $40 to replace cables and housing with a full derailleur adjustment.
[Brake Bleed] As great as hydraulic disc brakes are, they have their flaws. “If any air is introduced to your brake system, performance will suffer,” says Betz. After a long winter of extreme temperature fluctuation, it is vital to ensure brake fluid is clean and free of air. Before performing a bleed, shops will also check your brake pads and replace them if needed. Most shops charge between $25 and $40 per brake for this service excluding brake pad replacement.
[Suspension Service] If you found your suspension to be in less than optimal shape while performing your DIY check, it’s worth trusting in the pros to get your fork or shock back in order. “Cold temps can dry out seals and cause cracking, both internally and externally,” says Harris, “and we do recommend riders avoid leaving their bikes in the cold garage all winter long.”
Remember: Most manufacturers’ full-service intervals are in the 100-hour range, and air sleeve maintenance is usually around the 50-hour mark. Calculating this can be difficult, so instead, try thinking, “Did I go on 35 to 45 rides over last season?” Even if your suspension looks great on the outside, if you can’t recall the last time your suspension was serviced, chances are a basic service is necessary.