The following checklist may seem like a lot, but it can be easily performed in 2 minutes or less. Get in the habit of running through these steps systematically before each ride and you'll save yourself a lot of potentially dangerous and costly surprises!
Give the tires a hard squeeze or measure with a gauge. Pressure recommendations are printed on the side of the tire. Wider, tubeless tires can be run at the low end of the range, skinnier tires or tires with tubes will need more pressure to protect from pinch flats. Lighter riders can run lower pressure and heavier riders should run more. Give the tire a quick visual inspection; look for any cuts or abrasions of the sidewall, imbedded thorns, or other damage to the tread.
QUICK RELEASES AND/OR THRU-AXLES
This is especially important if you often remove a wheel or wheels to transport the bike. Make sure quick release levers are in the closed position, they should require a reasonably firm amount of pressure to close. Are the wheels seated all the way into the dropouts? Does the wheel look crooked in the frame or fork? Is the brake rubbing? Can you see a patch of bare metal above the end of the quick release? These are all signs of the wheel not being inserted all the way into the frame or fork. Thru-axles have a torque specification printed on the end. It generally translates to: as tight as you can comfortably get it with a pocket multi tool.
Grab the top of the tire and try to move the wheel side to side while holding the fork or frame firmly. If you can feel any play or rattle, your hub bearings may be loose or worn. Double check your quick release or thru axle. If those are tight and it still has play, it's time to schedule some hub service
With your bike on the ground, squeeze and hold the front brake with your left hand. Place your right hand around the top of the headset. Gently rock the bike forwards and backwards with the brake locked. If you feel any play or looseness in the connection to the frame, your headset bearings may be loose or worn. Lift the front of the bike by the center of the handlebar or stem with your left hand while your right hand is wrapped around the upper headset and head tube of the frame. Rotate the bars left and right. If you can feel roughness or clicking with your right hand, your headset is worn or overly tightened. Adjust as needed or schedule service.
BOTTOM BRACKET AND PEDALS
While holding the frame of the bike with one hand, try to shake the crank arm towards and away from the frame with the other hand. Feel for any play or rattle in the bottom bracket bearings that the cranks rotate on. With the chain in a middle gear, spin the cranks backward to check they are turning smoothly. Wiggle the pedals and give each a spin to check for looseness or binding in the pedal bearings. Schedule service if needed.
Visually inspect chain for damage, rust, excessive dirt or grease. Wiggle some links back and forth with your finger tips, you can usually feel if it is dried out or still lubricated. If it has signs of rust or is dry, apply lube and wipe clean.
BRAKES AND RIMS
Give your brake levers a few pulls to make sure the stroke, contact point, and retraction feels right. Lift each end of the bike and spin the wheel. Watch and listen for any brake rub. Visually confirm that rim brakes are only contacting the rim and not the tire. Look down through disc brake calipers to view the brake pads and clearance from the rotors. Squeeze and hold each brake while rocking the bike forwards and backwards to check for loose brake components, including disc rotors, calipers, or brake pads. Visually inspect cable or hoses for damage or loose connections. Look for any excessive wobble or hops in the rim when the wheel is spinning. Brush or pluck your finger tips firmly around all the spokes to check for loose or broken ones.
WIPE OFF MUD AND DIRT
We recommend wiping dirt and mud off instead of washing your bike. If needed, use low water pressure or a wet rag and a mild cleanser.
Lube once every couple of rides, after every longer 3+ hour ride, or after any wet ride. Wipe off excess oil. If there is a build up of grime or sticky oil, clean the chain and drivetrain and lightly lubricate.
WIPE OFF EXPOSED SUSPENSION ELEMENTS
Gently wipe off dirt, mud, and accumulated oil from fork stanchions and air shock shafts with a soft relatively clean rag or towel. These are the shiny exposed piston parts. Note if there is excessive oil build up you may be in need of seal service.
FOLLOW UP ON THINGS YOU NOTICED WHILE RIDING!
Did you notice an unusual noise or feeling from the bike while on your ride? Something rattling or not working quite right? Don't forget about it before riding again! Small problems become big expensive problems if neglected. Go through the pre-ride checks again to help find the problem and schedule service to take care of it. Your bike will last longer and your rides will be more enjoyable if you do!
CHECK BRAKE PADS
Visually inspect rim or disc brake pads. There are often wear indicators on rim brake pads. Look for uneven or crooked wear patterns. Disc brake pads can be seen by looking through the caliper with a light background. A mushy feel or excess pull at the lever can also indicate worn pads. If in doubt, schedule service. Downhill and wet riding will both require checking and replacing more often.
Clean all the accumulated dirt, oil, and grime from the chain, cassette, chainrings, and derailleur pulleys. Inspect parts for wear and replace as needed. Perform more often if you are riding a lot or in poor conditions.
CHECK FORK AND SHOCK PRESSURE
Air sprung forks and shocks can gradually lose pressure over time. Keep a record of your settings and check occasionally.
MEASURE THE CHAIN
Chains elongate over time as they wear. Use a "chain checker" to measure it. Replace if worn to prevent permanent damage to your expensive cassette, chainrings, and derailleur pulleys, not to mention poor shifting and chain skipping while riding.
Even road bikes are subject to a lot of bolt loosening vibration. Systematically check all of the bolts that you can access on your bike for proper tightness to prevent self-destructing components while riding. Check more often if you are a heavy, powerful, and/or aggressive rider. Conversely, especially for triathlon bikes, fat bikes, and bikes used on indoor trainers, check and lubricate bolts so they don't become seized. Salt water or sweat will weld your bike into one solid lump!
EVERY 3 MONTHS
CHECK TUBELESS TIRE SEALANT
Even if none has leaked out, sealant dries up over time inside your tires. Also clean or replace clogged valve cores. Inspect rim tape, replace if peeling or damaged.
How are your tires holding up? Rear tires wear faster than the front. Check for thin spots in the tread and damage or exposed threads on the sidewalls.
Check spoke tension and true wheels. Inspect for damaged spokes, rims, or other wheel elements.
EVERY 6 MONTHS
Service the Squish
SERVICE FORK LOWERS
Schedule basic fork service which includes replacing lower seals and oil. Your fork will feel great and last much longer. Just like an oil change for your car, but really, don't you love your bike more?
SERVICE REAR SHOCK
Just like the basic fork service, but for rear air shocks. Replace air can seals and oil. If you are noticing any wheezing, sucking, clicking, or other unusual noises, or your adjustment dials and levers aren't doing what they're supposed to, you are in need of more extensive damper service or shock overhaul.
SERVICE DROPPER POST
Guess what? Your dropper is basically one leg of a suspension fork. It needs some regular love too if you want it to keep working smoothly. Schedule basic service.
BRAKE AND SHIFT OVERHAUL
Replace brake and shift cables and housing. Flush and bleed hydraulic brake systems with fresh new fluid.
Once a year, all the bearings in the bike should be inspected and replaced if needed. This includes headset, bottom bracket, hubs, suspension linkages, and pedals.
Inspect and service fork and shock. Service dampers, adjustment dials and levers, shock eye bushes, etc, as needed.