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Mountain bike maintenance during the off season: 3 things you need to do

How to care for your mountain bike in the off-season

The Revel Rail 29, Revel's aggressive trail bike
Travis Reill / The Manual

For many, fall and winter mean more moisture on the mountain bike trails and better riding conditions. We eagerly await the end of summer dust and anticipate mountain biking in some rainy conditions.

Even a light dusting of snow only makes the trails better, especially when it melts.

For others, fall and winter mean heavy snowfall that stays on the ground for months. Mountain bikes are hung up and traded for skis.

I sincerely hope that the coming of winter doesn’t mean the end of mountain bike season for you. If the snow stays around in your neck of the woods, you can get out on a fat tire bike or head south for mountain biking.

However, if you find yourself hanging your mountain bike up for the season, it is the perfect time to take it to the bike shop for some needed maintenance. 

Now, you may say that you already perform your mountain bike maintenance and can do it at home. That may be true, but since you have some non-mountain biking time on your hands, have the professionals at your local bike shop perform more significant tasks.

What I mean by “major tasks” is maintenance performed on your mountain bike that you may want to leave to the professionals. This maintenance is either too complicated or requires special tools. Often, it is both.

Plus, anytime you need major work done on your mountain bike—as far as your warranty is concerned—it might be best to leave it to the professionals. 

Changing the lubrication and cleaning the bearings of the bike hubs. New shiny bearings installed in the hub. bicycle repair.
silentalex88 / Adobe Stock

Mountain bike bearings

There are bearings all over your mountain bike. Your wheels have bearings in the hubs. The frame’s front triangle has bearings in the headset and bottom bracket. And, if you have a full-suspension mountain bike, there are bearings at every linkage and pivot point for the rear suspension.

And just like everything else on your mountain bike, these bearings collect dust and dirt. This dirt and dust makes its way down into the bearings, causing them to perform poorly.

If you are off your mountain bike due to being snowed in for the winter, set up an appointment at your local bike shop to have them service all your bike’s bearings. They may find that certain bearings need replacing as they go through. Others will need to be cleaned and re-greased.

Of course, performing this task takes a unique tool: a bearing press. Many have tried to make their own bearing presses only to damage their frame and void their warranty. Don’t make the same mistake. Take it to the professionals and have any mistakes be on them.

You will be surprised by how much better your bike will feel after servicing or replacing the bearings. Bike shops will tell of customers coming in, complaining of suspension problems, and having the issue be linkage bearings. Don’t neglect your bearings.

Schwalbe Styx MTB tires for the rear wheels of mountain bikes on a sales stand, Hannover, Germany, September 17, 2022
Frank / Adobe Stock

Time to true your wheels

After a long season of rocky and rooty trails, it is time to get your wheels back to feeling brand new. 

Maybe you have heard a few dings as you’ve gone down the trail. Perhaps you came up short on a jump or two. Whatever the case, you likely need to have your mountain bike wheels trued.

Mountain bike wheels, especially alloy wheels, have spokes connected to the hub and screwed into the wheel itself. As you ride, the spoke tension will begin to back off. As you can imagine, this doesn’t happen uniformly.

The result is a wobbly wheel. This wobble can be so significant that you can feel it while riding your bike down the trail. If you don’t take care of this issue, you can bend the rim, damage your frame, or break the wheel altogether.

Few people have a wheel stand for truing a mountain bike wheel in their garage. Truing your wheels isn’t incredibly difficult, but it does take experience, and many mechanics have it down to an art.

Take your mountain bike to a bike mechanic and ask them to true the wheels. Professional mechanics will be able to have consistent tension on each spoke. If you attempt to true the wheel and don’t do the best job, the wheel will likely develop a wobble quicker than before.

Front suspension, the Rockshox ZEB fork on the Revel Rail 29
Travis Reill / The Manual

Suspension service

Keep your mountain bike running smooth and absorbing impacts like it should. After a long, dusty summer season, it is time to have your suspension serviced.

Like your bearings, dirt and dust have made their way into your mountain bike’s suspension, resulting in poor performance. Dirt can also cause scratches in the stanchions, leaking oil from your suspension.

For a suspension service, I recommend taking it to a professional. There are many specialized tools that you likely don’t have. Plus, your suspension has many parts working together to provide a supple ride—it is a lot to screw up.

Before leaving your mountain bike at your bike shop for a suspension service, ask them what is involved with their suspension service. If it is just replacing seals and oil, ask them about sending it to the manufacturer for a “full service.” Here, the suspension is pulled apart, cleaned, inspected, and rebuilt. 

The shop may also be able to direct you to a suspension specialized in your area.

Check with your local bike shop. They will often offer some “overhaul” service that encompasses everything we just addressed. Also, this should be regular mountain bike maintenance. You should have these services done regardless of snow.

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Travis Reill
Hi! I'm Travis, a teacher turned stay-at-home dad turned freelance writer. Mountain biking is my passion. Fortunately, I've…
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