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How to Setup Your New Mountain Bike - First Ride Checks

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Mechanic reaching to grab MTB tools as needed to setup his new mountain bike.

If you are new to mountain biking, or if you have just hooked up a new bike, setting the bike up for the first time might seem like a daunting task. However, it's an important skill to learn to ensure a smooth and safe ride. In this guide, we'll walk you through the essential steps to setup your new bike properly right from the start.

Small Steps, Big Impact: Setup Your New Bike for the Trail

These basic steps can transform your bike's performance on the trail. Giving it a thorough once-over is essential for any pre-ride preparation. Before taking that first ride, ensure that everything is correctly assembled, well-maintained and finely tuned for an optimal biking experience.

Torque and Tightness

Begin by checking all the bolts and fasteners on your bike. Ensure they are properly tightened to the manufacturer's recommended torque specifications. Pay attention to critical areas like the stem, handlebars, seatpost and wheel axles. This step ensures your bike is safe and stable during your rides. I’ve had both the rear and the front axle come loose during a ride.

Tyre Pressure

Proper tyre pressure is vital for grip, traction and overall performance. Use a reliable pressure gauge to check and adjust the tyre pressure to the recommended levels. Riding with the correct tyre pressure will help prevent flats, air loss and optimise your riding experience.

For a guideline on tyre pressure, see the Tyre Pressures section in this article.

Suspension Setup

Suspension setup needs to be set up to match your weight and riding style. A good starting point is to follow the suspension unit’s manufacturer pressure and rebound guidelines. Once set, move onto the sag. Sag is the term used to define the amount the suspension compresses under your weight. Typically, this would be 20% sag for the front fork and 30% sag for the rear shock. Use the manufacturer's recommendation for rebound. Fine-tune the rebound and compression settings to ensure a smooth and controlled ride on the trails.

For more information on sag, see the Suspension section in this article.

Handlebar Alignment

Check the alignment of your handlebars to ensure they are straight and centred. Loosen the stem bolts slightly on the steerer tube attachment. There are two ways to align the handlebars.

1. Align the handlebars with the front wheel

2. Or better, align the bars to each fork head of the front fork’s crown.

Setting handlebar alignment to fork crown
Handlebar alignment method no.2

A properly aligned handlebar ensures accurate steering and comfortable riding.

Chain Lubrication

Regularly lubricating your bike's chain is essential for smooth pedalling and to prevent premature wear. Apply a suitable bike chain lubricant to the chain, let it sit for 10 minutes, and then wipe off the excess. A well-lubricated chain reduces friction, noise and maintenance needs.

Product Recommendation

Highly recommended chain lube: Muc-Off Dry Lube

Alternative options: Rock n Roll Gold Lube if you can get it. Followed by Smoove Universal Chain Lube and then Squirt Long Lasting.

Recommended and Rated Chain Lubes
Recommended and Rated Chain Lubes

Note: Use a good wet lube for wet conditions, else carry a small application container with you to re-lube your chain with dry lube during the ride.

Brake and Gear Check

Give your brakes a thorough check to ensure they are functioning correctly and smoothly. Adjust the brake lever reach to fit your hand size comfortably. Test the gear shifting to make sure it's precise and responsive. Make any necessary adjustments to ensure reliable stopping power and efficient gear changes.

Safety Precautions

Double-check all components and connections for any signs of wear or damage. Ensure pedals are securely attached and spinning freely. Inspect the frame and suspension for any cracks or issues. Address any concerns promptly to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride.


By mastering the art of initial mountain bike setup, you not only create a safe and efficient ride, but you also develop a deeper understanding of your bike's mechanics. Regularly inspect and maintain your bike to keep it in peak condition and ready for countless thrilling rides ahead.

Remember, if you ever feel uncertain about the setup process, consult a professional bike mechanic or a knowledgeable rider to guide you through the steps.

MTB Maintenance Tips

Give your MTB a good full wash after every ride

It only takes 10 minutes. Washing your bike not only cleans it and increases longevity but it also allows you to give your bike a regular check-up. Use a good cleaner like Muc-off or the like and a nice soft brush.

Make sure you get regular services

This can vary depending on how often you're riding, what kind of riding you do and the conditions you ride in.In South Africa, we can ride all year round, so it’s good to aim for at least 2 - 3 services a year.

Lubrication means long life

Drivetrains take a hammering and need your support. To keep things running smoothly, there’s nothing more important than the drivetrain. Grit and mud can cause havoc so it’s super important to remove it with a bike-specific degreaser and a good application of fresh lubricant. Avoid spray lubricants as they waste a lot of content and can spray wide and contaminate brake rotors and pads.

Happy riding!

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