Trek mechanic seen working on a downhill bike.
© Dan Griffiths

How to make sure your bike is ready for the trails

We show you how to 'M check' your mountain bike and make sure it is safe and ready to ride with this simple pre-ride checklist.
Written by Eve Green
5 min readPublished on
There are few things more annoying than discovering there’s something wrong with your bike halfway into a ride. At best, it’s an annoying trail-side fix. At worst, it could mean a long walk back and a pricey trip to the bike shop.
All of this can be avoided by giving your bike what’s called an 'M check' before you set off.
It’s named for the rough pattern you follow when checking the bike – start at the front wheel, move up to the handlebars, down to the bottom bracket, back up to the saddle then down to the rear wheel. It’s quick to do and will ensure you don't get caught out by a loose bearing, dodgy spoke or slow puncture when you’re mid-ride.

1. Front wheel

  • Check that the wheel is securely attached and that the axle is in good working order: apply the front brake and try to move the wheel side to side. There may be a little give if you’ve got suspension forks, but there shouldn’t be movement in the axle.
Person adjusts quick-release on MTB front wheel.
The M-check begins by looking at the front wheel
  • Check the tyre pressure with a pressure gauge (around 22psi front and 28psi rear) and give the wheels a spin to check that they're moving smoothly. Look at the tyre to ensure there aren’t any obvious punctures or signs of damage.
  • Apply the front brake to make sure it’s working properly and have a look at the brake pads to make sure there’s some pad left, and they haven’t worn down to the metal. If you look through the calipers along the same plane as the brake disc, you’ll be able to see this.
  • Moving around the wheel, ensure all the spokes are tightly done up by pinching them together two at a time; if there’s lots of movement, then they’ll need to be tightened.

2. Handlebars

  • Ensure the handlebars are done up tightly and are straight. You can check how tight they are by holding the front wheel between your knees and attempting to rotate the bars side to side. Your handlebars shouldn't turn when your wheel is fixed between your legs – if they do, you'll need to tighten the Allen bolt more. To check how straight they are, look directly down from above the bars and see if they line up with the fork crown.
Reece Wilson looks at handlebars in black and white photo.
Reece Wilson checks his handlebars
  • Check that the brake and gear levers are in a comfortable position you like when riding and done up tight enough that they won’t move in use, and that you can reach them comfortably without stretching your hands.
  • Give both brakes a squeeze to make sure they’re working and that the levers move a similar amount. If you find yourself stretching, or if the levers reach the bars, you can usually dial them in or out quite easily; some brakes have a dial, others require a small Allen key tool. Make sure the forks are working and are set up correctly. If you haven’t already done this, there’s plenty of advice online.

3. Bottom bracket and cranks

  • Even with care and attention, bottom brackets do eventually wear out. If you’ve noticed any noise, that can be an indication, as can ‘play’ or movement in this area. A quick way to check your bracket is in working order is to put the pedals in the ‘12.30’ position (one vertically up, the other vertically down), apply the brakes, and push down on one of the pedals and under the bike. If the cranks and bottom bracket move, then it might be time for some maintenance.
Bike cranks and clipless pedal.
Check pedals and cranks are moving freely before ride
  • Check that your pedals are securely attached and spinning freely. If they aren’t, they might need a service which will give them a new lease of life. If you ride with clips, make sure the mechanism is clean and working well. If you prefer flats, check that any pins are still grippy enough to give you the traction you need.
Greg Minnaar tightens the screws in his pedals.
Downhill pro Greg Minnaar makes sure his pedals are ready for racing

4. Saddle and bearings

  • If you’ve got a dropper seatpost, make sure it’s moving smoothly up and down so that you can make any necessary alterations mid-ride.
A dropper seat post attached to Pauline Ferrand-Prévot's mountain bike.
The dropper post helps with steep terrain
  • Give your saddle a quick jiggle to make sure it’s on nice and tight, and in the right position.
  • The bearings on a full-suspension bike can work themselves loose over time and if they do they’ll need to be tightened up. To check, gently lift the bike by the saddle and observe each of the bearings, to see if they’ve got play in them. If so, it’s time to break out the tools. Tightening them up is a fairly simple job, but if they keep coming loose it might be time to get them replaced.

5. Rear wheel

  • The checks here are similar to those for the front wheel: tyre pressure, puncture check, spoke check, etc.
Matt Lombardi checks his tyre pressure at the Enduro World Series Rd5 in Millau, France on July 1, 2017.
Keep an eye on your tyre pressures during winter
  • You’ll also need to check the gears and chain. Both should be clean, well lubricated and free of any signs of rust. If your chain looks dirty, get your cleaning kit out!
  • To check your gears, lift the rear wheel, spin the pedals and move up and down through the gears to ensure they’re shifting smoothly.
It might sound like a lot of things to check, but it should only take a couple of minutes which could save you a lot more time on the trail!