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The Trailhead’s “LOVE YOUR BIKE” series shares pro-tips for coaches so you can help student-athletes keep their ride in tip-top shape! 

Photo by Briana Marie, NorCal Interscholastic Cycling League

One major element to a safe and enjoyable mountain bike ride is to have a well-maintained, properly functioning bike. 

Helping student-athletes avoid mechanical issues with their bikes isn’t always possible, but the BEST way to prevent problems is to perform a consistent, regular ABCDE bike check within your ride groups. If a bike can’t pass this basic test and be easily fixed, it’s time to reassess the plan for that rider.

Check the air pressure in your tires. Know what tire pressure you need in order to have a safe and comfortable ride. Air pressure will vary from tire to tire, bike to bike, rider to rider. Tires that are tubeless will require less pressure; tires with tubes will require more. Reference the side of the tire to see the recommended pressure range. If you have suspension that requires air, check that pressure on a semi-regular basis, too, but remember that you’ll need a shock pump to make changes with your suspension.
SUPPLIES YOU MAY NEED: Bike pump with accurate pressure gauge, shock pump

Fully functioning brakes are essential to a safe ride. While standing next to your bike, pull the front brake lever and roll the bike forward; the brake should firmly stop the front tire from moving, and the back tire of the bike should raise off the ground as you push it forward. Repeat for the other brake: squeeze the rear brake and pull the bike back toward you: does the front wheel lift off the ground, with the rear wheel firmly stopped? Check for wear on your brake pads frequently, too.

While you’re at it: are you able to reach your brake levers easily, without moving your hands from their normal riding position? If your brake levers are too far away or hard to reach, consider repositioning them on your handlebars using your multitool. Different brakes have different adjustability features, so ask a coach, a bike mechanic, or an experienced rider to help you adjust them.
SUPPLIES YOU MAY NEED: Bike multitool or allen wrenches

Visually inspect your chain to look for cleanliness, and check for broken or worn chain links. A clean, lubed bike chain will help you shift smoothly, and will help your cassette last longer, too. After each ride, it’s important to clean/wash your bike (see our BIKE WASH article and handout for tips) and lubricate your chain.
SUPPLIES YOU MAY NEED: Bike lube, rag to clean chain

Your drivetrain includes your derailleur, cassette, chainring(s), and cranks. Visually inspect each to ensure they are tight, there are no broken teeth, etc. Lift up your rear tire (or enlist a friend to help) and move the cranks while you “shift” through a few of your gears to make sure your chain moves smoothly.
SUPPLIES YOU MAY NEED: Bike multitool or allen wrenches

Download a printable ABCDE Bike Check handout for student-athletes via NICA’s Coach Resources, located in the Coach Education Center.

A quick “drop test” of your bike (pick it up by the top tube, and drop it from a few inches off the ground) can help you pinpoint any other major issues. If anything sounds loose, take a closer look. Check your wheels: are they true? Spin each wheel to see and make sure the rotation is smooth and even. Check your thru-axle or quick releases: are they tight, with all quick release levers in a safe position?
SUPPLIES YOU MAY NEED: Bike multitool or allen wrenches

If student-athletes find any issues with their bikes as they go through an ABCDE check, be sure they can be addressed before you take off on your ride. Some fixes are simple and can be done in the field; others will require help from a bike mechanic with expert knowledge and tools.


Bike checks aren’t only reserved for the beginning of practice. As a coach, you should also help perform ABCDE bike checks after any crashes, after changing a tire, after performing any mechanical work on the bike, before sharing a loaner bike, or anytime a bike starts to look, sound or feel differently.

Remember that as coaches, we should only perform/assist with bike maintenance within our own ability, and we should never attempt to fix something on a student-athlete’s bike that is beyond our skill level. 

It is also important to note that due to injuries attributed to brake failures, only bike mechanics with training and professional experience should complete brake or brake pad installation, maintenance, repair or replacement.

You can find more guidance and detailed information within NICA’s bike check, maintenance, & repair standards.

Just remember, when in doubt, have a pro check it out! 

Love this info and want to share it with your student-athletes? Head over to your coach resources via Pit Zone, and find our printable ABCDE Bike Check handout!

About the author

NICA’s Coach Education team exists to support a network of thousands of volunteer coaches across the country in their work to develop youth through the sport of mountain biking. NICA’s coach education provides coaches with the skills, knowledge, and abilities to be confident and effective leaders and role models who build strong minds, bodies, character, and communities through cycling

Special thanks to SHIMANO, a NICA platinum partner.

NICA Partners are enabling NICA to reinvent youth sports and engage families in a thriving cycling community, for life.

Our Partners’ commitment to NICA’s mission has a huge impact on our student-athletes, their families and communities across the nation. NICA Partners are changing the world by getting #MoreKidsOnBikes!