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Awesomize Your Ride - A Spring Service Primer

Photos Andrew Major

Basic Betterment

Spring is here and whether brand new, well loved, or a used acquisition, it's time to get the bikes purring for hero-dirt season.

There are a lot of small things to be done to maximize a bike's performance, and the difference between off-the-floor and tuned is at least as appreciable on a budget machine, like the 1360 USD Rocky Mountain Growler 40 shown here, as it is with a more premium package.

This is the third piece in a series of Spring Service Stories. For suspension bearing overhauls and basic air can service please check out Wrench Now, Ride Later, and for a thorough guilt trip on the current state of your bicycle have a look at Buyer Beware.

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Often the biggest difference between a budget brake system and a top-end brake system is the stock pads.

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Harder or less abrasive material means less stopping power. Just changing the front pads makes a huge difference.

Contact points are key. Whether it's dialing in a new bike or refreshing an existing ride nothing will make or break the experience like a saddle, grips, and pedals. I've yet to find a lock-on grip I like as much as doing the old glue-and-wire on a pair of push-on grips so that's what I always recommend.

It takes a bit of time but even factoring in the other supplies, push-on grips bring more comfort and grip per width at a lower price. My current favourites are the Renthal Push-On Super Tacky, Sensus Swayze, and Eclat's Pulsar but there are lots of great options out there.

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On my own bikes I glue-and-wire Push-On grips. Test bikes? These well loved Renthal Tracton grips are a favourite.

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Contact points. Always be prepared to swap grips and saddle. The WTB Volt is good, I'd love to see companies spec the Koda.

Kona Wah Wah 2 Pedals

Great pedals make every difference. My favourites on a budget are the Kona Wah Wah 2 and Look X-Track Alloy.

I'm not going to tell anyone what saddle works best for them, but I'll maintain that one of two widths of WTB's Koda saddle are going to work great for the vast majority of riders with or without a diaper in their shorts. Unlike some of the premium saddles I've had great experiences with, the Koda comes in at price levels where it's a no-brainer to spec it on budget-focused bikes.

There are still some real ass-hatchets coming stock on bikes but the shop you're buying from wants you to have a great experience so you'll come back. Work with your dealer to make sure you're pedaling on something that doesn't light your bits on fire.

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Expect a bit of noise on the first 1-2 rides with a fresh narrow-wide ring or fresh chain on an old narrow-wide ring.

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I've been using Dumonde Tech Pro-X regular chain lube for a couple years now. It's great year round on the Shore.

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It's expensive on its face, but if you follow the instructions and only apply when needed this little bottle lasts a long time.

Keep the drivetrain well lubed but don't overdo it - one drop per roller and apply when needed. I've had great results locally, year round in all conditions, with Boeshield T-9 and Dumonde Tech regular chain lube but there are lots of good products around and many areas seem to have a go to preference, so ask around.

I'd never recommend putting Tri-Flow on a chain but it's great for cables and housing especially when it comes to the galvanized steel cables and crap housing that comes on budget bikes and with pretty much every dropper post.


Budget-friendly, real, mountain bikes are called on to service any number of purposes. In the past they always came with hard rubber knobby tires that were slow and loud on the road and sh*t on trails with any moisture but now many companies are using something faster rolling out of the box.

Case in point would be the Growler's WTB Ranger 2.8 tires. They roll along without too much noise or drag and they're great for gravel or tamer hard pack trails. Once more aggressive mountain biking starts happening it's time to substitute the front tire for something that will grip under cornering and braking loads. For winter on the North Shore I prefer a more aggressive tire front and rear.

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26+, 27+, and 29+ sized tires make sense on hardtail frames and paired with budget suspension forks.

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Good rubber is never cheap, but the min-maxing win on a knobby tire goes to the 2.8" Vigilante in the Tough Casing.

Plus tires make sense on budget mountain bikes. They take up some of the pounding a hardtail will deliver out back. They absorb enough of the small bump noise that a basic suspension fork can't handle such that, with proper air pressure, they can make up quite a bit of the performance difference compared to a high-end fork.

The issue with good knobby plus tires with proper sidewall support is they are expensive. Best bang for buck I can find is the WTB Vigilante 2.8* which has awesome support while remaining supple in the Tough Casing variety. I'm currently running a High Grip up front and a Fast Rolling model in the rear and it's been a great experience in wet, dry, and snow.

*WTB currently only makes this tire in a 27+ variety but my fingers are crossed for a 29+ edition.


The first thing I do with any Shimano-equipped test bike is check the clutch tension. Even the lowly, and actually awesome, Deore 10spd clutch derailleur has adjustable tension that is only a 2mm hex key away. Lube the shifter housing with Tri-Flow, back off the clutch tension a bit and suddenly the shifting goes from mega-stiff to downright pleasant.

Between narrow-wide rings and the lighter clutch action, there are zero dropped chains and things stay quiet. Over time I'll add a bit of tension as the derailleur wears. In a similar vein, if your Shimano clutch derailleur is feeling a bit bagged out it may just need the tension increased a touch.

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Pull off the rebound knob

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Let out the air pressure

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A light tap and then remove the bolts

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Pull off the lowers horizontally

The factory lube job on any fork is a complicated matter. If the average consumer of a $1500 bike sees excess lube being purged from the seals, that's a trip back to the shop thinking their fork's leaking. I pull the lowers and pack the fork seals with Slickoleum. For the first 1-2 rides I'll be wiping away some excess lube but the fork is instantly much smoother.

Basic RockShox forks are equally easy when it comes to popping the lowers and lubing the seals, just be aware that there is a touch of bath oil in each side of the lowers so it's important to keep the lowers horizontal while removing them to avoid a mess.

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Slickoleum is a shop necessity at my house. So many uses!

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There will be some excess to wipe away for the first couple of rides.

A properly lubed fork with less stiction can be run firmer, for better support from the air system, while simultaneously acting much smoother through the rough.

When it comes to setup these basic forks usually prefer to be run with a bit more sag (~25%) and with the rebound fast compared to forks with more sophisticated damper systems. This Suntour has a wide range of rebound adjustment and I run it as fast as I can comfortably keep control of the front end.

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This Deore drivetrain was a bit sticky out of the box. Step one was to Tri-Flow the housing.

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Step two was to pop the cover on the derailleur and detune the clutch. Over time I'll add tension as the derailleur wears.

One of the best pieces of maintenance for a non-inverted fork is to buy a $1.50 hook at Canadian Tire or otherwise hang or store the bike vertically so the fork's dropouts are a bit higher than horizontal. This will keep lubricating fluids at the seals and bushings, keep the fork feeling fresher longer, and cut down on service and potential wear.

Tubeless Wheels

With a fresh set of tires with proper sidewalls I get back a supple ride quality and add a large degree of flat prevention by removing the tubes.

Most rims are tubeless compatible, and most mountain bikes are coming with specifically tubeless compatible rims even if they ship with tubes. That's the case with the Rocky Mountain Growler, which just needs tape, valves, and sealant to do the conversion.

There's really only one vital secret to a quick tubeless seat: remove the valve core when inflating for the first time, pop the beads on, and then reinstall it.

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Pump, your choice of sealant, and don't forget to remove the tubeless valve core.

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The secret to Gorilla Tape is to buy the full width roll and tear it for the perfect edge-to-edge fit.

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QR rear end? Ask around and chances are that a friend has a quality XT or XTR unit languishing in a box.

I generally use either Stan's Tubeless Tape or Gorilla Tape to seal the rims. With Gorilla Tape, I skip the pre-sized 1" rolls as I find on wider rims it can bond to the tire and make for an ugly removal. I buy the wide roll and tear it to the perfect edge-to-edge size for a specific rim.

With Stan's Tape that's never an issue as long as the rims are clean and dry before applying. If you haven't bought Stan's Rim Tape for a while, it is now available in wider options including a 39mm model that works great with the Race Face ARC i40 and Velocity Dually i39 rims I'm running on my own bikes.


Saddle, grips, pedals all dialed? Next it's time to look at the brakes. As various NSMB writers have noted, if the bike has Shimano brakes check for a stamp on the rotors that says 'Resin Only' and if it's there, upgrade both rotors tout suite. After that, have a think about the brake pads.

One of the biggest differences between most companies' budget disc brakes and high-end units is the stock pad compounds. Budget brakes usually come with pads that are especially hard for a long life or are less abrasive so the rotors don't wear as fast, and for commuting and light trail action, that's fine.

As an example, the stock pads on the Magura MT Sport brakes I'm testing are fine on the road but when things get steep there's simply not enough friction up front (the rear clamps down just fine). Upgrading the front brake to their Race pads made for a huge difference in control and the pads I pulled will eventually do duty out back.

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If I was putting money into the Growler 40 my first upgrade would be a Works Components -2° headset.

Works Components Angleset AndrewM

They're a bit tricky to install but, as I'll note in my upcoming review, the product is excellent.

The next obvious upgrade on any budget bike is a dropper post. My advice is to buy the post with the most drop that fits, but opinions vary on that subject. I don't mind the 125mm dropper on the Growler most ofthe time, but I'd add a QR to the frame and manually adjust for steeper trails.

After that it's a Works Components -2° Angleset. As I noted with the tires, a budget hardtail is being called on to perform a huge range of tasks. The nature of being a chameleon, for local riding even the static 67° head tube angle on the 27+ Growler starts to feel a touch steep when the bike is really pushed and most bikes in its class are a degree or two steeper. That's a mere 80 USD that can have an obvious effect on the range of terrain a budget bike can comfortably tackle.

Any brilliance to lend to spring maintenance and budget upgrades? Please shine a light on it below!

Trending on NSMB


+4 Cr4w Tjaard Breeuwer Andrew Major Timer


And check your helmet for damage.


+1 Cr4w

I love fresh cleat day.



Nothing like a crisp snap.


+3 Andrew Major Tjaard Breeuwer Velocipedestrian

I think it's a good time to check if your pivots are still running smoothly if you are running a full suspension bike. 

Also, try to do some subtle changes to your bike setup and see if you can get it better! Roll the handlebars slightly, try putting more/less spacers beneath your handlebar, move the seat a little forward,  etc... If you find a more comfortable position, great! If you don't, go back and know that you have the bike set up perfectly. If you spend some time tweaking, it might prevent a more serious  outbreak of upgraditis.



Absolutely! Take the shock out and cycle that back end. Wrench Now, Ride Later covered popping the bearings seals and greasing them - makes a big difference to bearing life with our (usual) winters.

It’s a great point on experimenting with basic fit. Bar roll - a real difference from a minor change.


+3 Tjaard Breeuwer Andrew Major Niels van Kampenhout

If you want to go the whole hog and have to pull and replace bearings, I ordered a custom set of bearing pullers/presses from here :

Granted, it's a tool for a specific frame, but if you're finding you replace your bearings more often then it amortizes after one replacement cycle compared to LBS prices - I also don't have anything else I need a bearing tool for so a custom one suits me fine.



I’ve had really good luck with this Boca tool for pressing in bearings:

It’s not a daily use shop tool, the price/job for the home wrench is solid if you’re doing frame bearings. 

I haven’t come across a need for a blind puller for some time. I always just punch bearings out. Although, now that I’ve said that...


+2 Andrew Major Skyler

Glad to hear the Works Angleset is an excellent product, because I ordered one last week!  

I love my Nimble 9 geo, but when I saw Works made a -2° for a 44mm head tube, I ordered it on the spot to see if I can turn the N9 up to 11.

Really looking forward to the review.


+1 MTBrent

Getting it perfectly aligned is a little bit of a PIA. Once it’s golden the Works is an awesome piece. Easy to go back if you decide you prefer the stock geo.



Take your time and expect it is going to take a lot longer than you think. 

I’m on my second angle set from Works (different bikes). Great product and excellent bearing life.


+2 Andrew Major Sandy James Oates

This is a great article, keep 'em coming.

Where can I buy Boeshield T-9 or Dumonde Tech in the Vancouver area?

Also, I used gorilla tape last year and when I pulled it off due to non-sealing issues it had left behind a godawful mess of adhesive that took 45 minutes per rim to clean up. I'll never use it again.


+1 Jonas Dodd


I’m always surprised when shops don’t have one or the other at least. Obsession stocks the Boeshield lube (or did recently). Any shop can easily get either so I know plenty of folks who’ve had their preferred shop bring in the Dumonde Tech but I don’t know who stocks it.



Thanks Andrew!


+1 Tjaard Breeuwer

Over the last few seasons I've been wearing out rotors. If you're heavy or ride a ton it's worth measuring rotor thickness once in a while to see if they've turned into razor blades.



Good one! Never mind the potential of a cracked rotor it can really affect performance.

On that note, when buying rotors it’s a good idea to look at starting thickness. For example, the fancy Hope rotors some folks like to run are thinner from new and that can affect how some brakes can perform as they get into their pad life.



Hmmm... Hope rotors are thinner?   You are referring to the floating ones?  I recall measuring mine against some Shimano Ice-tech ones and it was veritable wash...  we are talking hundredths of a millimetre here...   I could be mistaken.    We have a rating system at our shop for every service based on rotor wear.   Most peeps are totally in the dark that a rotor can even wear out.



Magura/Formula 2.0mm - replace at 1.7mm

Shimano/Hope 1.8mm - replace at 1.5mm

With worn pads and rotors near the minimum it’s enough to affect performance notably running Shimano/Hopewith Magura/Formula.


+1 Andrew Major

I’d say the title of this article should be somehting like “upgrade your new(to you) bike”. It doesn’t seem to talk much about maintainance per se.

Still, a great article! And the missing upgrade, high end cables and housing, and checking the routing to avoid sharp bends, best back for your buck shifting upgrade.

For upgrading brake pads, check out the Trickstuff Power pads. Can’t remember which German bike magazine did a test, but the significantly raised braking power over the stock SRAM Guide pads.



I’m very interested in the Trickstuff pads. Anything for more bite from Guides.

Shimano sintered pads in TRP brakes makes such a difference - it would be cool to try the Trickstuff Shimano pads as a comparison.

The original working title was ‘Awesomize Your Budget Ride - A Spring Service Story’ since it’s mainly grounded in this Growler 40. These things change for a variety of reasons. Glad you liked it anyways!


+1 Andrew Major

Yeah, cheapish and very easy upgrade, new pads in brakes:

It was Enduro-MTB:

"Don’t forget aftermarket pads too: in our tests fitting the Trickstuff Power+ brake pads to the SRAM Code R resulted in a 20% improvement in average braking torque, and an average of 18% improvement in deceleration times. Plus, they were quieter"


+2 Tjaard Breeuwer Andrew Major

I agree with this. I think new shifter and dropper cable should be an automatic pre-season change out. It's too often overlooked, even by professionals. Mechanics don't want to scare off their customers and try to keep prices low. When I was a mechanic we'd only change the cable and housing if there was a problem. Near the end of my shop days, I had a different mind about it. New cables and housing will be something a discerning customer can feel and they should always get that feeling after a bike gets tuned up. If it's in for a tune-up, cables and housing are automatic. And they don't need to be crazy high end, just reasonable quality.  

Good to know on the pads. I switched to sram brakes last year and when I swapped out the stock resin pads for sintered I didn't get the performance boost I had come to expect from doing the same with shimano.


+1 Andrew Major

I wholeheartedly agree with traditional grips over lock ons as you suggest but I am not sure why you need to go through the hassle of wire and glue. Traditional grips are way better than they were in the 90's. I've been running silicone grips for years and they are such a tight fit that they don't start turning until they are ready to be replaced anyways. Recently I got a set of lizard skins that came on a build and figured I'd try something new and was impressed with their performance as well. Solid feel, no twisting, nice balance between cushion and feel and they have this cool textured surface that cools your hands and keeps from getting sweaty when riding without gloves.



It rains here a lot. Wire keeps the water out and the glue keeps the grips from spinning. I absolutely wouldn’t run rubber push-ons without glue + wire.

I don’t like the silicone grips (various brands). I know people have good results with those sans glue + wire.


+2 Andrew Major Metacomet

+1, I had some slide on grips with no glue or wire running fine all summer in my dry climate but then one ride in the wet on BC's south coast and they were spinning like a throttle. I was not making BRAPP noises!


+1 Skyler

"I know people have good results with those sans glue + wire."

Oh, hey. I feel like that's a good segue. Have I ever mentioned I like ESI grips?


+1 Andrew Major

I've run the ESI's in ALL weather (I live on the west coast and ride all year round) and they only even begin to feel loose if they are pretty well worn. This is not surprising given how hard it is to get them on the bar. I haven't had the lizard skins in the wet but I wouldn't be surprised if they motorcycle grip in the wet.



A few light blasts from an air compressor gets them on the bar in seconds.


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