The Soloist’s Checklist: Pre-bikepacking Maintenance

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15 bikepacking maintenance steps to prepare your trusty steed for a successful backwoods trip…

About the time this post is published, I’ll be somewhere in the mountains on a solo pilgrimage in the Appalachian Mountains. Maintenance and a solid repair kit are not subjects I take lightly when prepping for a solo bikepack. Conversely, prior to a shorter and more casual bikepacking trip with friends, it’s easy to forego regular bike care and throw caution to the wind. A backwoods solo trip should require a little extra precaution. Here are 15 steps to prevent common component failures:

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist

1. Clean your bike.

I know, it seems rather pointless to deep clean your bike just before it gets dirty. But there are three reasons why you should do so: 1. Your bike will perform better (at least for the first couple days). 2. It gives you a chance to have some one-on-one time with your bike and inspect all of the nooks and crannies; it allows you to discover wear and tear, before it’s too late. 3. You can’t really properly tune a bike when it’s packed with dirt and buildup. Close inspection can be a life-saver if there are any issues that were’t immediately evident, such as a frayed cable.

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist

Gather as many brushes into your arsenal as possible. Bottle brushes work well for cleaning in between cogs.

Put your bike on a stand to do the cleaning. This gives you an intimate, eye-level view at all the parts and mechanicals. Dawn works great for breaking grease, and a regular garden hose works well when paired with a few brushes to scrub the hard to reach places.

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist - Cassette

Brush your teeth. As part of the cleaning, use a bottle brush or small stiff bristled brush to clean any gunk or debris from the cassette and chainrings.

2. Clean the chain. No, really clean the chain.

A proper cleaning and lube does wonders for a drivetrain. Get a real chain cleaning tool, such as the Park Tool Cyclone, and a bottle of degreaser, such as Pedro’s Oranj Peelz Citrus Degreaser; it’s worth it. Once the chain is clean and dry, apply a fresh coat of lube. We like ProGold ProLink, Rock-N-Roll Gold, and Finish Line Dry.

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist

3. Inspect the tires.

Look over the tires, especially the sidewall area, for cracks or abrasions. This can be the first sign of a sidewall tear, or a potential failure point. Dry rot might be a little more applicable if you have a stable of bikes and the one you’re taking out hasn’t seen much action in a while. One thing to note: if you store your bike on a concrete garage floor, slip cardboard underneath the tires to prevent dry rot in the casings.

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist

4. Check your spare tubes.

On bikepacking trips I like to lash my spare tubes to the frame of the bike with electrical tape (one to a fork leg and one below the seat tube clamp at the rear)… not the best plan for long-term storage. If you are going alone and your spare tubes have been rattling around in your pack for a while, inflate them to double check their integrity.

5. Evaluate your headset.

While usually not a deal-breaker, A headset bearing is something that can go over time. To check your headset, squeeze the front brake and rock your bike fore and aft. If it rattles or has a bit of play, it either needs adjustment or bearing replacement.

6. Test your hub bearings.

Hubs need regular rebuilding and maintenance; this is something not to ignore. Hold the wheel and firmly and move it from side to side. If there is any clicking or play, the hub is either loose or needs to be rebuilt. Rebuilding a hub is not difficult and there are plenty of tutorials out there.

7. Check your bottom bracket.

Bottom brackets can have a lifespan of less than a year if you ride regularly. Check your bottom bracket bearings by holding the crank arm and pushing and pulling in a side to side motion. If there is any play and you feel a wiggle, either it needs adjustment, or replacing. Don’t ignore the clicks, a frozen bottom bracket can result in a long walk. Believe me, it’s happened.

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist

8. Tighten bolts.

Crank bolts, pedal bolts, rack bolts, stem bolts, etc.

9. Pluck your spokes.

Give your spokes a nice pluck to double check that your wheel is sufficiently trued and none of the spoke nipples are loose.

10. Check your cables.

A sticky or slow shifting cable can lead to stress on the wire itself. A few drops of teflon lube in the housings can help this. Also, pay close attention to the places where the cables are clamped (derailleurs, or mechanical discs). Look for frayed points of contact.

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist

11. Replenish sealant.

Over time, the sealant in a tubeless setup dries out. This, of course, makes it ineffective at preventing leaks. Refresh it every couple of months and add an ounce or two in each tire before you set out.

12. Inspect the brakes.

There are several signs your brake pads are worn or need maintenance. The most common of are: 1. that dreaded gritty scraping sound; 2. a slight stickiness when you brake; 3. too much play in the levers, or not enough. The latter means they might need to be bled, and the first two more than likely mean that the pads need to be replaced.

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist - Brakes

13. Grease.

I like to grease hub skewers, the seat post, stem, and any bolts that were removed or adjusted.

Bikepacking Bike Maintenance Checklist

14. Change your cleats.

Worn cleats can release unexpectedly and if the route you are planning on riding has a fair share of hike-a-bike, they will wear even faster. If they are over worn, give yourself a fresh pair before setting out. Unfortunately, I like Crank Bros pedals, and their cleats tend to wear faster than others.

15. Tune.

Last but not least, tune everything. Besides offering a nice smooth ride when you roll out, this is another means of inspection to find any potential issues. Adjust your brakes to make sure there is no friction, tune the drivetrain, inflate the tires to the desired pressure, and make any final adjustments to ensure your fit and comfort.

Have another Maintenance tip to share, add in the comments below…

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  • Mike

    Solid. A clean bike is a happy bike.

  • http://www.gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/ Nicholas

    Verify that you derailleur hanger is properly aligned and rear derailleur limits are set. A slightly bent hanger will affect shifting performance, but a severely bent hanger will send the derailleur into your spokes. Don’t just shift the derailleur into the biggest cog while in the stand, use your hand to push the derailleur beyond that last cog if possible. If it jumps off that gear into the spokes, check to see that the hanger is straight and the Low limit is properly set.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ bikepacking.com (Logan)

    Great point, I’ll add it to the list when I get back in a week.

  • Rob

    As a bike mechanic, I’d have to highly recommend against using a hose. It is handy to clean, but it will shorten the life of bearings and other components. Over cleaning will cause more issues than not cleaning enough. I generally hand clean my bike every few weeks in summertime.

  • Luke

    As a former pro bike mechanic (I graduated to four wheels) I have to disagree with part of your statement. I understand that you shouldn’t be hosing out hubs and headsets and such, but imho over cleaning will in no way cause more problems than not cleaning enough. I’ve seen hundreds of components not live out their potential lifespan due to neglect and the abrasive nature of dirt. Steer clear of pressure washers, but a typical garden hose should cause no issue as long as you keep the pressure down.

  • Saguache

    For BB maintenance, remove the crank spindle and make sure the bearings move freely in the race. If they’re frozen or gritty: Repack if they’re not sealed, replace if they are.

    Ask me how I know

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