Mountain Bike Maintenance Basics + 7 Projects You Can Do At Home

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Upclose shot of dirt covered mountain bike drivetrain
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Whether you’re a seasoned mountain biker or just getting started, keeping your bike in good working condition is essential to staying safe, having fun on the trails, and even progressing your skills. But don’t worry – you don’t need to be a mechanic to keep your bike running smoothly. With a little time and effort, you can easily do simple mountain bike maintenance projects at home.

I get it, though. Taking your bike apart and putting it back together may sound terrifying at first. But the truth is that mountain bikes are actually pretty simple and with the help of YouTube or a friend, you can be confidently wrenching on your bike in no time.

Get your bike ready for the season with these 6 mountain bike maintenance projects you can do at home


Essential mountain bike maintenance tools

Before we get our hands greasy, you’ll need some basic tools to start working on your bike. Below is a list of essential mountain bike maintenance tools to get you started.

  • A bike stand. While you can make-shift a bike stand out of workbenches or chairs, having an actual bike stand makes mountain bike maintenance so much easier and safer for your bike. I like this Foundation stand because it’s not too expensive and it has a large tray to hold tools and small parts.
  • Long-handled hex (aka Allen) wrench set. Your multi-tool will most likely have all the hex wrenches you need, but having a long-handled set will make home maintenance a lot easier. They allow you to get more leverage when tightening or loosening parts and the ball end allows you to access hard-to-reach areas.
  • Floor pump with an air tank reservoir. If you want to change your tubeless tires yourself, you’ll need a floor pump that has an air tank so you can seat the tires on the rims. A normal floor pump isn’t high-pressure enough. Alternatively, this handheld air compressor works great, too.
  • Shock pump. A good shock pump is vital for setting your suspension sag to your weight and riding style. I prefer a digital pump even though they’re more expensive.
  • Valve core remover. You’ll need this to add sealant and change a tire.
  • Chain lube
  • Grease
  • Degreaser
  • Tire sealant
  • Multi-tool with a chainbreaker
  • Shop rags

Mountain bike maintenance schedule

To help prevent big and expensive problems, it’s important to keep up with regular mountain bike maintenance. The tips below are a good starting point, but you may need to adjust your maintenance schedule based on how often you ride and the conditions you ride in.

Before every ride

  • Tires: Check your tire pressure before every ride and add air if they feel soft.

PRO TIP

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of pumping your tires up to a specific PSI before each ride. Not only will this make your riding feel more consistent, but it’ll also help you avoid rim dents and flats.

PSI will vary depending on your weight, ride style, type of terrain you’re riding on, and what tires you have.

  • Brakes: Give the brakes a quick squeeze to make sure they’re working properly and they don’t feel ‘soft’.
  • Derailleur: Shift through all the gears to make sure they’re working properly
  • Chain: Inspect the chain for damage and wipe off any excess grease or dirt. Lube it if it looks or sounds dry.
  • Noises: Make sure your bike isn’t making any weird noises like knocking or creaking.

Every 2-6 months

  • Suspension: Check your sag and add air to your front fork and rear shock accordingly.
  • Brake pads: Check break pad wear and replace them when needed.
  • Brakes: Bleed your brakes to remove air bubbles and containimated fluid.
  • Chain: Check chain wear and replace it when it’s about 75% worn (or roughly 2,000 miles of riding).
  • Tires: Check tire wear and replace them when the tread is worn or the cornering knobs are starting to tear off.
  • Tire sealant: at 1-2 ounces of fresh tire sealant every few months
  • Front fork suspension: The general rule of thumb for a good mountain bike maintenance schedule is to have your lower fork leg serviced after every 50 hours of riding.
  • Pivots & bearings: clean and grease your pivots to remove dust and dirt.
  • Cables: check to make sure your shifting cables and dropper post cables are not kinked or damaged. Replace them if they are or if your shifting is off.

Yearly

  • Rear shock suspension: depending on how hard and often you ride, it’s a good rule of thumb to get your rear air shock serviced about every 125 hours of riding or annually.
  • Dropper post: Dropper posts should be serviced every year.

Basic Mountain bike maintenance

Now that I’ve covered the essential mountain bike maintenance tools you’ll need and a general overview of a mountain bike maintenance schedule, here are a few basics projects to get you started:

1. Clean, Grease & Lube your bike

One of the best ways you can keep your bike in tip-top shape and running smoothly is to keep all the moving parts nice and clean, greased, and lubricated. This includes your chain, drivetrain, dropper post, front and rear suspension, hubs, etc…

Here are a few quick and easy ways to keep your bike clean, greased, and lubed:

  • Use a degreaser to remove dirt and grease from your drivetrain (rear cassette, chain, front chainring, and derailleur). Be careful about applying the degreaser so you don’t contaminate your brake pads!
  • Once your drivetrain is clean, apply chain lube and wipe off the excess.
  • Use Maxima SC1 on your front and rear suspension stanchions and your dropper post to keep them lubricated and protected.
  • Clean and grease your pivots and bearings.

What you’ll need

Videos & tutorials

Mountain biker's legs covered in mud with muddy mountain bike lying on ground in front
Mountain bikes – and mountain bikers! – need to be cleaned regularly

2. Replace the chain

Bike chains wear out over time and will eventually need to be replaced. A good rule of thumb is to replace your chain when it’s about 75% worn.

If you feel like your gears are slipping or you’re hearing a lot of chain slap as you bound down the trail it might be time to load a new chain onto your drivetrain.

You can check the wear by using a chain wear indicator or if you track your rides (like on Strava), a new chain is needed around every 2,000 miles.

What you’ll need

Videos & tutorials

3. Add tire sealant

If you’re running tubeless tires (which most mountain bikers are these days), you’ll need to add 1-2 ounces of fresh sealant every few months depending on how much you ride, where you ride, and what the temps are.

As a general rule of thumb, the more you ride, the harsher the trails (think thorns and rocks), and the less humid the temps, the more often you’ll need to add sealant.

What you’ll need

Videos & tutorials

Mountain biker kneeling on ground with arms raised to the sky next to mountain bike with flat tire
Avoid being this guy by checking your tire sealant every few months

4. Replace tires

How long has it been since you’ve replaced those nubby tires on your bike? If they’re looking a little worn then it’s probably time to swap them out for new rubber.

A couple of quick things to look for when deciding if you need a new tire:

  • Are the side knobs cracked and wobbly when pressed? These are your cornering knobs and if they don’t stand up straight when you wiggle them back and forth you might find yourself face down in the dirt…
  • How worn are the center treads? If they are smooth and almost flat to the tire then it’s definitely time to replace them
  • Is the rubber cracked and dry? If you haven’t taken your bike for a spin all winter be sure to check the condition of the rubber

What you’ll need

Videos & tutorials

Worn down mountain bike tire that needs to be replaced
This tire is definitely due to be replaced

Advanced Mountain Bike Maintenance

5. Bleed Your brakes

If you’ve noticed that your brakes are feeling ‘soft’ or ‘squishy’ even though there’s plenty of life left in the brake pads then it’s probably a sign that they need to be bled. What does that even mean?

Bleeding brakes involves removing air bubbles from the brake lines by pumping new brake fluid into and through the lines. These bubbles form after normal use and they need to be ‘bled out’ so that the brakes feel firm again and aren’t contaminated with air.

Bleeding brakes is not as hard as it sounds and after watching a video a few times guaranteed you’ll be able to do it yourself!

What you’ll need

Videos & tutorials

Mountain bike handlebar with brake bleed kit inserted into brake lever
Bleeding brakes involves pushing fluid through the brake lines to remove contaminated oil and air bubbles

6. Lower fork leg suspension service

Like brakes, the front fork shock needs to be serviced every now and then to keep it working smoothly and efficiently. Dirt and grime can get through the seals and the oil that keeps the shock lubricated eventually seeps out or dries up. Every front fork shock has a suggested service maintenance schedule which is around every 50 hours of riding, but check your shock service manual for actual recommendations.

Servicing the lower fork leg isn’t as complicated or scary as it sounds. You will need to take the fork partly apart, but the process of servicing it is actually pretty easy and straightforward. It involves replacing the seals and adding more suspension oil.

PRO TIP

The process of serving a lower leg is the same for most forks, but the oil that you need varies for different brands. Make sure the oil you have matches the brand of fork you’re working on.

What you’ll need

Videos & tutorials

7. Rear shock suspension service

If you do a lower fork leg service you might as well do a rear shock service as well, right? Right 🙂 This is a little more tricky than a fork service, but definitely still doable if you have the right tools and watch a few videos.

Why service the rear shock? For the same reason you want to service the front fork: regular maintenance keeps the shocks feeling smooth and efficient and ensures that your ride feels as fluid as possible.

Note: This is just for air shocks – I’m sure you can self-service coil shocks as well, but I’ve never done it…

What you’ll need

Videos & tutorials


I hope this post inspires you to get your hands dirty and do a few basic (or advanced!) home bike maintenance projects. Working on your bike isn’t as scary or perplexing as it may first seem. Just take it slow and watch a lot of YouTube videos 🙂

Do you do your own mountain bike maintenance at home? What does your maintenance schedule look like and how did you learn those skills? Leave a comment below!

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Learn how to do basic mountain bike maintenance with this detailed guide including essential mountain bike maintenance tools and more
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