Experience has made us rich in stories and advice about riding bikes, although we learned most of them the hard way. Anyway, we wrote down the most important aspects you should take into account when preparing your bike for a competiton.
Any kind of ride – be it a leisure one or a competition, has a key-element in it: a perfectly functional bicycle. After all, you want the adventure that awaits to be thrilling in the good way, and not get stuck in a nightmare that kills all the joy. That’s why a thorough check-up of the bike is necessary and here’s a list of verifications.
The frame of the bicycle, although indestructible at first sight, can be a provider of unpleasant surprises. Cracks and all kinds of damages can occur. Usually, small cracks make themselves noticed through discreet noises, hard to pinpoint and which appear, tipically, at the joints of the frame, but not exclusively. The areas between the headtube, toptube and downtube is under big stress, just like the rear stay one. Carbon frames have a higher tendency to get damaged, but they counterbalance this by a relatively easy way to get fixed back, unlike alloy frames which cannot be salvaged. In the case of full-suspension frames, you might want to look at the mounting points of the shock, as well as at pivoting joints. They might need tightening-up if they are loose and maybe the bearings require replacement. Heavy duty usage can make these joints undo themselves which can lead to serious crashes at high speeds.
The shocks, both front and rear, require careful maintenance in order to function at their best. In the case of air cartridge ones, pressure needs to be precisely set, with a sag of 20% for the front and 25-35% for the rear, for cross-country rides. The precentage indicates the amount of travel compressed when we sit on the bike. Good quality shocks have a rubber ring that indicates the level of sag, by simply gliding down the stanchion when the rider mounts the bike. Of course, all the other settings are just as important, especially rebound which, if it’s too fast, will make the bike jump off the obstacles, while a slow one will not allow enough time for the fork to get back in place between two back-to-back obstacles. Once a year you should service the shocks and if you’re an unstoppable rider, twice wouldn’t hurt. Neglecting the state of this piece can result in irrecoverable damage of it.
Safety depends a lot on the brakes and they should receive the necessary attention. Start with inspecting the brake pads. If budget allows, you should use new pads when heading for a long and demanding ride. If wear exceeds 50% (use a brand new pad for comparison), then it’s a good idea to have a spare set on you and, preferably, to know how to change them. For rides planned over several days or one-day ultramarathons you should carry a spare set or two, even having brand new pads on your bike. Some riders have a spare set of metallical pads, even if they use organical ones usually, for the simple reason that the first get you home no matter what. Logically, all air must be removed from the hose. The regular situation is that a brand new set of brakes doesn’t require service in this regard for a considerable amount of time. However if disfunctions appear, in the sense that pulling the lever varies in travel, you should check it out. After some years, the fluid must be replaced as well. Some models might use mineral oil, others brake fluid, and regardless of this, it is important to use the product indicated by the manufacturer. Last, but not least, visually inspecting the hoods will be efficient in the sense of detecting any obvious damage that can lead to malfunction.
The tires and the wheelset play an important role. If the rims are hit and stray from the central axis, you should visit the bike service. Just as important is to check if the tire is mounted correctly, for a big number of reasons. Spoke tension must also be evaluated, this meaning they should all have about the same value. This inspection also allows to identify and remove broken spokes. Hubs are subject to a lot of vicious treatment by the elements, and the slightest sign of jamming or noises reminds a rider the time for maintenance has come. The sprocket cassette should also be play-free and freely spin without any problems. A common problem that occurs is at the point when you stop peddaling and the chain is put in motion by the spinning of the sprockets, a case that means you have to grease the inner mechanism. Also, check the rims for cracks. If a tubular tire rim has such a flaw, it will automatically indicate itself by the loss of air in the tire.
A pair of tires in good condition makes the difference between a nice ride and disaster. Always check the weather before starting to ride and keep focus on the grip. If you’re using tubeless tires, look for various item that might got stuck in them, such as nail or pins and once every three to six months, replace the inner liquid. Every after flat tire, a small amount of liquid is lost, so be sure to replace it. And of you’re using the good old inner tube, be sure that it’s not punctured.
Unless one is riding only downhill, then the good state of the drivetrain is critical. All gears should be functional and this doesn’t happen by itself, but only by constantly taking care of this system of components. Even the smallest outer element might have hit the rear derailleur, which could influence the way it works. Also, shifting differs when operated under load and the best way to convince yourself is by climbing a small hill and putting the shifter to use. Chain wear is an important element as well and when it reaches 0.7mm you should replace the chain right away, in order to avoid wear of the sprockets and crankset. Dirt might cause irregularities in function of the chain and pulleys of the rear derailleur. Having along with you on rides a spare pulley cage will save you from very delicate situation even if they happen only a few times. You don’t have to be a neglectful rider for a tree branch to tangle up in your derailleur and cause heavy damage. In order to avoid extra maintenance work, a bottom bracket will do wonders.
The rest of the components, such as the seat post, stem, handlebar and so on do not require any special attention, but checking the tension in the bolts pays dividends. In the case of dropper seat posts, functioning must be tested and all the settings should be verified especially if you borrowed the bike to someone the ride before.