So much preparation can go into one race, training, strategy and of course bike preparation.
When it comes to race prepping my bike, the first thing to decide is which bike is most appropriate for the race. I don’t have the most extensive quiver but I have a XC bike and the big all mountain bike. Is it an enduro or endurance event? Are the trails natural or man made, will the racing be mostly gravity, cross country or a mix? Youtube and Strava are great tools for scoping out the potential terrain and helping to guide the decision, which ultimately boils down to – hardtail or full sus.
Bike chosen its time to get a cup of tea, hit the shed and get the tools out.
A clean bike is a happy bike, first thing to do is get the bike on the stand, get the wheels off and give it a good deep clean. Cleaning the bike usually red flags any potential maintenance issues that have gone unnoticed, as well as making sure everything is running free and clear.
Now we have a sparkling clean bike to work on, it’s time to check the torque on all the bolts. Starting from the top and working down the bike, make sure to adjust the torque wrench to the correct torque for each bolt in turn. If you suspect a bolt has been over tightened, loosen the bolt with an allen key (never loosen a bolt with a torque wrench) then re-tighten the bolt to the correct torque. Don’t forget to check disc rotor bolts as they are sometimes easy to forget.
Once all the bolts are checked, I break the bike down into key areas, making a list of jobs needing done for each.
- Fresh gear cable and index deraileur
- Fresh chain
Cockpit and brakes
- Fresh brake pads
- Bleed brakes
- Fork lower service and oil change
Wheels and Tyres
- True and tension wheels
- Fresh tubeless sealant
- Service hubs and bearings
Slipping gears aren’t acceptable on a race run and a snapped chain (unless you’re Aaron Gwinning) will end your day, so a smooth drive train is vital.
Fit a fresh gear cable then check the high and low limit screws to make sure the deraileur can’t shift off the cassette. A fresh cable will stretch a little as it beds in, so you will need to repeat the indexing after a few rides to get the deraileur shifting well again. Or, you can pre-stretch your new cable so you don’t have to re-index the deraileur, good news for race prepping.
To stretch your gear cable, shift to the innermost sprocket, then whilst turning the cranks pull the deraileur cage outward so you shift the chain into the middle of the cassette. When you let go of the mech the chain will shift back to the innermost sprocket. Repeat a few times and the shift will become slower. Re-index the cable and you have a pre-streched gear cable and a crisp gear shift.
If you’re unsure how to index your deraileur, Park Tools have a excellent guide.
Fitting a fresh chain is usually pretty high on the list of priorities when prepping for race day. If a new chain is going to fail it will usually be fairly early on in its life. Therefore I try to get a few rides on a new chain to make sure it won’t fail and that it’s bedded in.
Make sure the chain is properly oiled and any excess has been removed.
Cockpit and brakes
Racing burns through brake pads like nothing else, with the heat of the moment you’ll brake harder and more aggressively than normal. Pads also pick up all kinds of contaminants in normal use, so as with a fresh chain, it is always best to race on fresh pads. Just remember to bed them in properly in advance.
With fresh pads I always like to give my brakes a quick bleed, not necessarily a full fluid change, just a quick bleed to make sure they are at their best. If its my Avid brakes (yes they can work!), a quick lever bleed will usually suffice.
The other thing to ensure is that your brake calipers are properly aligned to ensure the discs aren’t rubbing and slowing you down.
Nothing is quite as nice on a bike as a dialed fork. Sadly, just like all of the components on a bike, their performance slowly deteriorates over time, we just don’t notice this as we ride them all the time.
One of the easiest ways to refresh your fork is with fresh seals and servicing the lowers. This is the kind of job we know we need to do to maintain our forks performance and prevent damage, but it’s very easy to forget.
An event is a great reason to make you service your fork and remind you that it’s a straightforward job that doesn’t take all that much time.
Wheels and Tyres
Pros and serious racers will race on fresh rubber, for privateers and casual racers that can be a little pricey. If your tyres still have plenty of tread on them, then some fresh sealant and ensuring they are properly seated is the thing to do. Some people go as far as applying fresh rim tape (Gorilla tape) before reseating the tyre, but this isn’t strictly necessary.
While your tyres are off, it is the perfect time to true and tension your wheels. You can do this yourself with a little patience and some basic tools, but if you’re unsure or short of time then a trip to the local bike shop will sort you out. This could take some time, so remember to factor that in as your bike may be out of commission for training rides while the wheels are in the shop.
There is a comprehensive guide on Pinkbike for truing wheels on the bike.
Lastly I like to wipe the frame down with a silicon spray or detail it with a coat of car wax. This prevents mud from building up on the frame as well as keeping the frame looking box-fresh come race day.
Like with washing the frame, it’s wheels off as well as pads out, after all no point changing pads just to contaminate them! There are various brands of silicon spray – some like WD40, some prefer bike specific products. Whatever you use, ensure you keep the wheels and pads well out of the way.
There you have it, that new bike feeling and ready to race.