By Ditiro Coyne
I live by the saying that a person is responsible for their own comfort – and this is particularly the case if you spend a lot of time on the road or trail, either running or cycling. As a mountain biker, I spend several hours in the bush on my own, and when I’m out there, I need to know that my bike is sound and if something goes wrong that I’m able to figure out what to do. As my kids have become more involved in the sport, I’m also working on ensuring that they too have some basic knowledge of how to clean their bikes, especially in preparation for a big ride or race. With the help of my 10-year old daughter, I’ve put together some guidelines to help you service your mountain bike. Even if you use a trusted mechanic (shout out to Dragon from BK Cycles!), these are still things you should be aware of, especially if you ever find yourself in a pickle!
Six Tips To Get Your Mountain Bike Race-Ready
1/ Check your tyres. Make sure you have enough slime in your tyres. If you are racing in most places in Botswana, you will have an abundance of thorns including the large and brutal moselesele (Kalahari Christmas Tree/ Sickle bush/ Dichrostachys cinerea). These thorns sometimes have a thick base and will require a healthy gulp of slime to seal. They will happily puncture your car tyre so your MTB tyre definitely stands no chance! There are numerous YouTube videos that show you how to check your slime level and also how to top up if necessary. I highly recommend tubeless tyres if riding or racing in the Botswana bush.
2/ Make sure your bike is clean. This is most important when it comes to your chain, chain ring and cassette and even your pedals… basically your whole drive-train. De-greasing and lubricating your drive-train is essential since old grime and build-up can cause friction and may even affect your gear changes. It may also cost you a few watts of power… if not actual watts, then at least psychological ones! After degreasing, you’ll need to wash the grime off with a hose. If you live in a water-scarce area, using a garden spray comes in very handy. There’s nothing more satisfying than smooth, quiet and slick gear changes.
3/ Lubricate your bike correctly. Check the weather forecast and trail conditions. This will help you select the correct lubricant. In Botswana, most of our races take place in dry and dusty conditions but I have found myself racing in very rainy and muddy conditions and having the right lube is key! There are some universal lubes that are quite good for most conditions if you want one less thing to think about. There are some handy videos on YouTube that show you how to lubricate your bike correctly. It’s important not to overdo it.
4/ Test your brakes. Once you’re done lubricating your bike, please test your brakes. It’s easy to accidentally get some lube on your brake rotors. This will definitely affect your braking. It’s always important to have brakes that function well, especially under race conditions where urgent and precise braking may be necessary. If your brake rotors do get contaminated you may need to use a brake disk cleaner. You will need to use them a bit to re-coat your rotors and get used to the altered braking characteristics that will result. If you’re unhappy with the performance of your brakes it’s worth getting assistance from a mechanic. It’s easy to make them worse if you don’t know what you are doing.
5/ Check your tyre pressure. Knowing the course conditions beforehand can also help you select the most appropriate tyre pressure. There is some personal preference that comes into play with selecting the correct pressure. Whenever traction is called into question on a course you will generally select a pressure that is slightly lower in order to give your bike a bigger foot print. If the course is firm and fast then higher pressure will give you greater rolling efficiency.
6/ Check your emergency kit. To prevent race drama becoming a race crisis, it’s important to make sure you’re ready to rescue yourself from the more common catastrophes. Depending on where you’re racing and how long the course is as well as what the rules of the race are, you must pack accordingly. My general kit contains the following:
- Tyre plugs: Some punctures will be too large for the slime to seal. It will be necessary to plug them.
- Pump or bombs: You may lose air on the race and need to top up.
- Tyre levers and spare tube: A torn tyre side wall can prove devastating. A tube may be the only way to get you back on the trail.
- Multi-tool: This is essential if for any reason you need to tighten or adjust anything on the ride.
Most of the time these things don’t get used in a race but it’s best to have them and not need them then to need them and not have them! I hope this helps you get your mountain bike ready for big rides or races! If you’re an MTB cyclist, how comfortable are you at cleaning or servicing your bike? Do you have any more tips to share? Do you have a trusted bike mechanic?