Setup your bike
You finally got yourself a bike. Check that there is no play in the assembled parts and no creaking noise, put on your helmet, find a good zone, and go out riding! During your first ride, you should make all the necessary adjustments that will make this bike perfectly tuned for you. Assuming the bike is in good working order, a set of Allen keys and an air pump is probably all what you need to tune it to your liking. Let’s review the adjustments that will affect most your riding and safety.
Steering – If you have high-rise bars that sweep back, try them positioned at different angles. Leaning forward, the handlebars offer a lower riding position in favour of front wheel moves. Positioned upwards, the bars bring the steering further back, making it easier to pull bunny hops and to lift the front wheel in general. Only a few millimetres will make a huge difference on how the bike rides, so take the time to experiment with the steering set up and discover what position works best for you.
The length and rise of the stem will determine how much stretched you will be on the bike. Changing the stem is probably one of the most effective ways to alter the feel of a bike. If the steering tube is not cut too short, you can also lift or lower the stem by shifting spacers above or below the stem.
Wide handlebars give you more torque for the direction and more stability in trackstands. Slim bar grips and thin gloves will ensure a more direct touch and feel of the obstacles compared to thick grips. It is important that you feel with precision the asperities and texture on complex terrains, especially at the front wheel level.
Brake levers should be positioned on the handlebars so that the tip of each lever is just about level with each index when you hold the bars. That way, you can reach for the brakes using just the indexes, while maintaining a good grip on the bars. This will also prevent your other fingers from being accidentally trapped by the levers when you pull on them to a full stop.
The brakes should block the wheels to a full solid stop, the pads pushing evenly flat against the rim flanges or the disc. The Magura HS33 hydraulic rim brakes are powerful and very popular for the rear. If your frame doesn’t have a built-in brake-booster (photo brake booster), it is a good idea to fit one as this will prevent the frame seat stays from flexing (the frame elasticity decreases your braking performance).
Disc brakes (cable or hydraulic driven) are the most popular on the front, offering excellent braking modulation and fine control especially for front wheel moves.
They stop better than rim brakes because the fork doesn’t flex under braking pressure. V-brakes are weak in comparison. They require excessive finger pressure, at the expense of a good grip and at risk of tendinitis.
On most brake levers, you will find an adjustment barrel to pre-load the course of the brakes to your liking and compensate for pad wear. The hydraulic circuit doesn’t require any maintenance, except if you accidentally burst the hose open (only then a special bleeding kit is necessary to refill the hydraulic circuit). Often, external brake boosters double as protection cover for the rear brake hose, preventing many accidental kicks.
Most riders grind the rear rim to increase brake pad friction and braking performance.
This also wears the pads faster. On a smooth rim, braking performance can be improved dramatically by rubbing a small block of tar on the flanges, but this is not as effective in wet conditions.
Drivetrain – The chain should run smoothly and fluidly without bumps or jumps. If two chain links are not pivoting properly, try to loosen them up by flexing them sideways. The freewheel, whether mounted on the front or the rear, should click nicely and smoothly with no play. If you want your bike to feel lighter and more responsive, then choose a smaller front ring or a larger rear sprocket. That will bring the gear ratio nearer to 1, but each pedal kick will propel you shorter and with less torque. Reversely, fitting a larger front ring will make the bike feel heavier, because the pedal kicks will drive more turns from the rear wheel.
Pedals should be as gripping as possible. Loosing control of the pedals means loosing balance or worse, crashing. A slipping foot often results in a nasty pedal backlash, the other foot driving the free pedal to hit you back in the shins or the calves. Cage pedals are among the lightest and most reliable in natural riding conditions. For optimum power, position your feet on the pedals so as to push on the platform with the ball of your feet (not the middle, nor the heel).
What pressure for the tyres?
It depends largely on how thick your tyres are, the riding ground, and mostly how smooth you ride. Riding over round blunt obstacles like wood logs or massive boulders is more forgiving than landing over sharp squared urban edges. Practically, you want to put as little pressure as possible without the risk of pinching your tyres too easily. Put too low pressure and you’ll get repetitive snake bites, when rim flanges pinch the tube flat against an edge and pierce two holes into the inner tube, side by side. Though, less pressure always improves the grip, because the tyres can literally conform to the edges and shapes of an obstacle.
The lowest pressure in the tyres also gives you more rebound elasticity for side-hops, adjustment hops and for landing. It makes the bike more comfortable to ride (which is nicer for the wrists too). A quick test is to ride softly, and check that you never feel the rim in hard contact with the ground when bouncing or rolling over the edge of a kerb. A pressure between 16 and 17 psi (pound per square inch), or between 1.1 and 1.2 bar is a good compromise for a smooth rider. In their harsher debuts, beginners are better off with more air to protect their rims. Fat tires (2.5″ or wider) made of soft rubber compounds offer the best grip.
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