AKA Bicycle Service Intervals—Guidelines and the Reasoning Behind Them
One would think that I, as a certified bike mechanic and the owner of a fleet of mobile bike shops, would have no problem staying on top of my own bike’s maintenance schedule. Unfortunately, one would be wrong. Earlier this year, I finally got around to checking the chain on my road bike and it was beyond 100% worn (we recommend getting a new chain at 50%). My mountain bike – new last year – had not been sucking up bumps on the trail as much as I would like so I decided to (finally) replace the bushings and seals to see if that would help get it back to that cush feel that I loved so much the first time I rode the bike. And just like that, it gave me the smooth ride I have been missing for a couple of months. I could go on with other examples, but you get the idea.
For many of us, cycling is not only exercise, but an escape from the normal stresses of life, a great way to connect with nature and friends, etc. When we are able to carve out time from our busy lives and get on our bike, we want to just grab it and go – and we expect it to work perfectly every time. During a ride, we might notice it shifting a bit more sluggish, braking with a bit less efficiency, or just generally making more noise that it once did. Then we get back home after the ride, put the bike up, and get back to the busy-ness of daily life, forgetting about those noises and imperfections until we get back on the bike next time. What we (or is it just me?) forget to remember is that the more we ride, the more attention the bike needs in order to keep doing its part for us. Bikes are elegantly simple machines, but they can also be somewhat complicated in the fact that when one part needs repair or replacement, additional stress can be placed on other parts. So if we don’t stay on top of things, not only will the quality of our ride suffer, but what might be a relatively straightforward repair can sometimes become much more involved (and expensive).
With that, I thought it would be good idea to review recommended service intervals. Keep in mind that these are only general guidelines and what your bike will need will depend on how much you are riding, the kind of riding you are doing, the trail or road conditions, how much power you are putting into the pedals, etc. Additionally, if you have a big event or race that you are working towards, throw these recommended service intervals out the window and get that bike serviced by a professional 1-2 weeks prior to the event. This will ensure that it is working its best for you and will minimize the frequency of mechanical failures (or even hiccups) that could greatly impact what you have been training for.
THE CHECK LIST:
Daily (Before Every Ride):
- Check tire pressure
- Check tires for embedded debris which could result in a flat just a short distance into the ride
- Ensure that quick release bolts are tight
- Squeeze brakes to ensure they are activating correctly
Daily (After Every Ride):
- Wipe down chain
- Mountain Bike – wipe down suspension stanchions
Weekly (Approx. every 100 miles for road bike; 5 hours for MTB):
- Wipe down chain and lubricate
- Wipe grease and debris from derailleur pulleys, chainrings, and cassette
- Remove any other excess debris from frame and/or components
- Wipe down frame, checking for damage while doing so
- Check tires for wear, cuts, or other damage
- Mountain Bike – check suspension and sag settings
Monthly (Approx. every 400 miles for road bike; 20 hours for MTB):
- Complete and thorough bike cleaning
- Degrease and lubricate drivetrain
- Check wheels for true (and for any loose or broken spokes)
- Check that derailleurs are aligned and tensioned correctly
- Check for loose bolts on seat post, headset, stem, pedals, chainrings, etc. (A torque wrench is recommended for this if you have one, and a necessity for carbon components)
- Check bolts on shoe cleats (and for plastic road cleats, check for wear of the tabs)
- Mountain Bike – Check all frame and suspension pivot bolts
Every 3 Months (1,250 miles for road bike; 60 hours for MTB)
- Check chain and sprockets for wear and replace if necessary (see note ① below)
- Tubeless tires – check tubeless sealant. Refresh before a big event or race
- Mountain Bike – suspension service (replace seals, wipers, oil in both front and rear) ②
Every 6 Months (2,500 miles for road bike; 125 hours for MTB) – PROFESSIONAL TUNE UP
- Complete bike wash and degrease/re-lubricate
- Check chain and sprockets for wear and replace if necessary
- Check brake pads and replace if necessary
- Check tires for wear and replace if necessary
- Check grips and bar tape and replace if necessary
- Check derailleur and brake cables for rust, debris, frayed ends. Replace if necessary
- Tubeless tires – refresh tubeless sealant
- Mountain Bike – complete suspension service front and rear (seals, wipers, oil as well as damper and air/springs)
- Mountain Bike – dropper seatpost (clean and lubricate)
Annually (5,000 miles for road bike; 250 hours for MTB) – MAJOR TUNE UP OR OVERHAUL
- Remove drivetrain from bike, thoroughly clean and decrease and check for damage
- Replace shift/brake cables and housing as needed ③
- Replace chain
- Replace cassette as needed
- Check wheel hubs – adjust or replace bearings as needed
- Check wheel brake surface or rotors (disc brakes) for damage or wear
- Check and replace brake pads as necessary
- Replace bar tape ④
- Bleed hydraulic brakes to remove any accumulated air bubbles and freshen fluid ⑤
- Mountain Bike – complete suspension service, front and rear
- Mountain Bike – dropper seatpost (bleed hydraulic system if applicable)
① Chain replacement. A new chain is needed when it measures to 50% worn. This will reduce friction and increase performance, but will also preserve your cassette. A stretched chain will significantly increase the wear rate of your cassette and eventually your chainrings, which will then necessitate premature replacement of these expensive parts. Replacing the chain when it is needed will make your cassette and chainrings last a LOT longer.
② Suspension. One of the most neglected components on a mountain bike, but also one of the most impactful things you can do for you bike, to increase its overall performance and feel.
③ Cables and Housing. Your bike might feel like it is shifting and braking fine, but debris builds up over time and gradually increases friction between the housing and the cables. You may not even notice it because it is a gradual process, but when you replace the cables and housing and eliminate that built-up friction, you will be amazed at the increased performance and softer feel of the shifting and braking.
④ Bar tape. Bar tape is a virtual sponge for sweat, and even if it looks fine, the feel and grip gradually changes over time, and the steady exposure of your handlebars to the salty moisture can lead to severe and potentially-dangerous corrosion. Plus, it just gets stinky. Change it out at least annually, if not more.
⑤ Hydraulic brakes. Hydraulic brake lines should be bled at least annually. Even if they are working fine, it is recommended to refresh the hydraulic fluid to optimize safety and performance, and decrease wear of the internal components. I can’t tell you how many times we bleed brakes and find the hydraulic fluid to be completely nasty. (Pro tip: hydraulic fluid should not be black).
The thing is, your bike will often still work okay even if you ignore many of these recommendations. Most decreases in performance will be gradual and in many cases will go largely unnoticed. Over time, however, you will just not be as happy with how the bike is riding and you might not even be able to put your finger on the reason why. But by staying on top of these things, not only will performance be maintained but the parts will also last longer, and the time and money invested in maintaining the bike as needed will more than pay off in the long run due to increased performance, durability, safety, and pleasure.
Trent Newcomer is a veterinarian and the franchise owner of Velofix Colorado, a mobile bike shop operation that serves the Front Range, from Fort Collins to the entire Denver metro area. Book a bike service appointment and have them roll up to your home or business at velofix.com.