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So, you finally laid down 500 bucks or more for that new mountain bike you’ve been dreaming about night after night. Spring is here, summer is fast approaching, and you’re just itching to take your baby out for a spin, catch some air, and test out the action on that fat front shock.

Well hold on, partner, because if you take some time to learn how to care for your investment, it will hold its value and provide you with satisfaction for many years and thousands of miles down life’s rutted dirt roads. Properly maintaining your bike will help you become a more reliable rider who doesn’t have to make frequent stops for adjustments and repairs. And a little TLC will go a long way in preserving and even increasing the value of your machine in the future.

You’ve probably already taken the bike for a few test laps around the parking lot of the shop you bought it from. Pick a short, easy, close-to-home loop for your first ride. Don’t go on a long, difficult ride right off the bat! Your new bike is going to need some adjustments, and you will want to take a shakedown cruise or two to start working out the bugs.

Before your maiden voyage, take a moment to read or at least skim the owner’s manual that came with the bike. Today’s mountain bikes are more high-tech creatures than ever before. Believe it or not, you may find some useful information in there.

If you’re a smart operator you talked the shop out of at least one free tune-up when you plunked the cash on the counter. The first and foremost rule of mountain bike maintenance is clean, clean, clean! If you bring the bike in nice and clean, I guarantee you will get better service from your local bike mechanics!

Clean your drive train, preferably with warm soapy water and a soft-bristled brush, after every muddy or sandy ride. Choose a comfortable, sunny spot to wash your bike. If you get into cleaning your machine rather than seeing it as a chore, you will enjoy the whole mountain biking experience more. Ideally, you’ll need a water source, some soap, (dish detergent will do but I prefer a biodegradable product called Simple Green – it’s available at any supermarket) rags, a big soft-bristled brush, and an old toothbrush for those hard-to-get-at places.

Do not blast your drive train with a high-pressure stream from a garden hose or a coin-op car wash! You’ll only succeed in blowing the factory grease and lubricants out of place. Clean thoroughly, but remember, you want to get rid of mud, sand, and grit, not the bike’s lubricants.

After cleaning your drive train, you’ll want to lightly grease your chain with the lubricant of your choice. (I use an old standard: Tri Flow in a spray can.) The most effective way to do this is as follows: Lean the bike against something. (If you bought a mountain bike with a kickstand, don’t feel bad about yourself. Just go somewhere with some tools and quietly remove it.) With one hand, hold a rag underneath the chain to catch excess spray. Have a friend spin the pedals backwards as you spray the chain with your other hand. Don’t go bananas! Excessive lubrication is wasteful and will actually cause more grit to stick to your bike. Two or three times around will be more than enough lube. If you don’t have a friend handy, (or if you don’t have any friends) spin the pedals with one hand while spraying with the other hand. Then take a rag and wipe up the excess. Give the front and rear derailleurs a light spray, too.

Remember to store your bike inside or at least out of the sun. Excessive sun and temperature changes will dry rot your tires. If you don’t think you’ll be riding again for a while, take some air out of the tires – this will extend their life.

So, have fun riding and treat that bike like it's your baby. If you do, it will treat you right for years to come.