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Dispatches from Columbine: Is Your Bike Ready to Roll?


By Dave Wiens

Is it time to awaken your bike from a long winter’s sleep? Dave takes us through the process of prepping your machine for spring trails – and fills us in on a lesser-known secret for Leadville success. 

No matter where you live and how much (if any) riding you’ve been able to do during the winter, spring is a great time of year to put some thought and effort into your bike. Maybe, like me, you’re extracting it from some deep, dark corner of your basement. Maybe you plan on doing some major work to it this season, such as upgrading components. Or maybe it just needs a good scrub. Either way, here are my suggestions for making sure it’s ready to take on the trail.

I’m hoping to get out on dirt (hitting the Sidewinder Trail near Montrose, CO) for the first time in 2014 later this week. I just pulled my training bike, a Canyon Nerve AL 29, out of that dark corner of the basement I was just talking about. I parked it there way back in early December, after my final mountain bike ride of 2013.

If I was in any way unsure of its condition, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring it to Dan, the mechanic I’ve used for more than a decade. However, since I remember it being solid the last time I rode it, I don’t anticipate it needing a ton of work. I’m no ace mechanic, especially now that bikes are far more complex than they were back in the day, so I lean on Dan a lot. But in this situation, I’ll check the bike over myself and I hope to find it ready to ride with just a small amount of work.

Dave’s DIY Bike Prep Checklist

Let’s walk through my checklist as I prepare to take my bike out on an ambitious trail ride like Sidewinder:

TiresMy main goal is to put new sealant (I use Stan’s Sealant) in each tire, but this is also a great time to replace the rubber if necessary. I inspect each tire closely for damage that may warrant replacement, including tread wear or other damage or wear. It’s a bummer when you discover an abraded sidewall or similar carnage on a tire that still has lots of tread life left in it, but better to find it now than out on the trail.

If I won’t be replacing the tires, I’ll remove all of the old liquid sealant, pull any buildup of dried sealant off of the inside of the tire and dry the tire out with a rag if necessary. If you’re running tubes, you may be able to get away with visually inspecting the tires without removing them from the wheels. My Continental XKing 2.4 tires from last season are still good to go and just need new sealant this time. (The website suggests replacing sealant every two to six months. If you ride a lot, I’d replace it at least every two months and strategically before big events.)

WheelsWhile the tires are still off, I inspect the wheels closely. I grab each spoke to be certain they’re all tight, inspect the rim or sealant strip and the valve. I spin the wheel to determine if it is true. Once I’m satisfied that all is in order, I put in fresh sealant and re-inflate the tire.

I’ll try to do a short ride close to home with new sealant just to be certain both tires are holding air and sealed. On any ride in the boondocks, I always carry two tubes, a patch kit, compressed air and adapter and a mini pump like the Topeak Race Rocket MT. I’ll also make sure to have my trusty Joe Blow Ace floor pump in the car so that I can start the ride with the perfect tire pressure.

Shocks Next on the list of importance is the pressure in my shocks. Not only do I add air with a shock pump, I also inspect the shock for oil to be certain that I don’t have a blown seal or any other leaks. I compress the shocks to be certain that they are holding air and functioning properly.

Brakes – Next up I check my brakes. Sometimes brake lines go funky without use and may need to be bled. My Maguras are still perfect and the adjustment of the pads on the rotors is spot on. I check this just by lifting each wheel, rolling it and listening for any rubbing.

The tires, shocks and brakes were my main concern because each of these components requires contained fluid. There was a time not so long ago when the only fluid on my bike was what was in my water bottle.

Now, I put a wrench to every bolt on the bike to ensure tightness. I also install and test the new Ergon GE1 grip with a revolutionary inside clamp.

Finally, I lube the SRAM XX1 drivetrain and run through the gears, which are still perfect (no contained fluid, just good old cables). A little lube on the pedals, a check of the Topeak ProPack seatbag to be certain that it is stocked with a Mini Pro 20 multi tool, a patch kit, a spare tube, tire levers, a small bottle of lube, master chain links and a few dollars to use as tire boots (there are no stores where I ride).

Now it’s time for a spin around town to be certain everything is in good order.  Then I’ll be ready for the Sidewinder.

Checking through the above list on a regular basis has the added benefit of familiarizing yourself with your bike. This could pay dividends should you ever need to play field mechanic and solve a mechanical issue during an epic training ride or in a race.

When DIY Just Won’t Do

I didn’t use Dan, my mechanic, this time around because the bike was in good shape the last time I used it. However, there are times when taking your bike to a mechanic is a must. On that list are new bike builds; brake bleeds; suspension service or rebuilds; wheel trueing; and getting your bike tuned up for a race.

Unless you are a competent bicycle mechanic with ample time to work on your bike, consider establishing a relationship with a bike shop in your area (if you haven’t already). Your local shop may be one of the most important pieces of your quest for success in the Leadville Trail 100. Here are two top reasons why:

1. Success at Leadville most often results from solid training, and solid training means lots of miles on the bike. Lots of miles on the bike means going through parts and pieces – tires, brake pads, drivetrains, etc. Riding a lot simply wears our equipment out. Just like your car, your bike needs service on a regular basis. To be able to get through the quantity and variety of training rides that you have on tap, your bike will need to be ready for each and every one of them.

2. You need multiple bikes. This is often called “the quiver,” and many of you have one. Most common is the quiver of two: a mountain bike and a road bike. I recommend this quiver to anyone who is serious about training for and succeeding in an event like the LT100.

Others have more bikes in their quiver: a heavier trail bike, a lightweight racing mountain bike, a road bike, a singlespeed mountain bike, a ‘cross bike, a fixed-gear road bike, a snow bike and a bike just for the third Tuesday of each month. I exaggerate, but you get the idea.

If you’re in the market for a new ride, whether to use in the LT100 or to enhance your training, your local bike shop can be an invaluable resource.

I often get asked about a certain new bike that someone has found at a great price online and if I think it’s a good deal or not. My answer is always the same: I suggest that the first option should always be to purchase from your local bike shop. This is not just to “buy local,” but there’s an important practical element, too. If you’re shopping for something that never will need service, I understand shopping for price even if that means your dollars will leave your local community. However, your bicycle is reliant on service and the occasional need for additional parts and accessories, not to mention the personal attention you’ll want and need to be able to get things fixed quickly for training rides or before departing for the big race in Leadville. Having that relationship with your local bike shop is key in my opinion.

But which shop? All shops are not created equal.

Research shops in your area by asking other riders their opinions and by going in and talking to the employees. Get to know them. If you’re in the market for a new bike or perhaps a component upgrade, you’ll want to be assured that the sales associate know his or her stuff.

It’s the same for the service technicians, a.k.a., the mechanics. Ask them how long they have been working on bikes, how long they have been working there and what sort of formal training they have with bicycles. As bikes have become more complex, the skillset necessary to be an excellent mechanic is much more technical and requires more time, work and dedication to acquire. Great bike mechanics are in high demand and you need to make sure that one of them is working on your bike.

Okay, enough about shops – time to go for a ride. Enjoy!

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