Category Archives: MTB tools and maintenance

Long Term Test of Brill Cleaner

Brill Cleaner 500mlBrill Cleaner – how does it work for bikes?

I’ve been using this for a couple of months now, so this post is what I’ve found after a good few uses…
…those of you that know me might have noticed that in the past I might have, once or twice, turned up for a ride with a pre-muddied bike! So maybe I’m an ideal candidate to test out bike cleaner?! Or maybe not, you decide!

Whether it’s the influence of the product or not, I’ve actually been more motivated to wash the bike after muddy rides since it arrived! Often the mud will have dried on before I get to the hose pipe so it’s a good test for any cleaner. My frame is a blasted anodised finish & the mud seems to stick more than it might to a glossy painted finish.

The Brill Cleaner works more or less like other brands, with a difference, which I’ll get to.
You spray the bike, let it soak in a bit then give it a go with a non-abrasive brush. Then hose it off & it’s done.

It’s very effective, not too much effort & not particularly time consuming; much quicker than a bucket of soapy water. Where it has the biggest difference/advantage to a lot of products is that you get a bottle of concentrate, either 500ml for £8.95, 1 litre at £14.95 or 5 litres for £29.95. You then dilute it according to whatever job you’re doing. 1:10 seems fine for muddy bikes, so that means you get 5 litres of cleaner from a 500ml bottle. This makes it great value and you can also use it for cleaning other stuff that might need a stronger or weaker solution (I know, why would you even want to non-bike stuff?!). I haven’t tried it on the dishes, probably not recommended..!

There’s a list of items with the recommended dilutions on the bottles. Whichever size you order, you get a spray bottle included which you re-use. It’s a ‘made in Britain’ product & although it’s new to the cycling world Brill has been around since 1987.

It’s also 100% biodegradable and if you look at the FAQ under “What does it clean”, the answer given is – Everything!

All in all, it’s well recommended with seemingly no downsides apart from you still have to actually remember to clean your bike…

You can get more info & order from the Brill website –
They’re also on facebook and twitter

MTB maintenance tips that might not be obvious

Not all easy MTB maintenance tips are obvious, until you know. So, in some kind of vague order:


tyre_rim sectionAssuming you can remove & refit a tyre, make it easier by squeezing the beads into the middle (deepest part) of the rim with your finger & thumb all the way round. This makes the tyre much looser & it’ll often come off & go back on by hand. No tyre levers means much less chance of damaging the tube


The other day I put a new chain on because the old one was worn just past the limit. I had a very quick look at the cassette as well & it was hard to tell if it looked worn or not. I thought not & it isn’t that old so I left it where it was. Next ride, in the 2 smallest cogs the chain was jumping as if the teeth were worn out. On closer inspection though it was just a greasy gunk in the gaps between the cogs. The small cogs don’t have a deep space in between them so it fills up quicker. Quick scrape out with a screwdriver (or even a proper tool) & all is well. If it still happens when the cassette is clean then it’s time for a new one. Incidentally, I’ve found cheap cassettes outlast expensive ones, in 9 speed at any rate. Not sure why this should be, could be just bad conditions when using the good ones maybe


If your drivetrain is playing up & you suspect something’s worn, a proper chain gauge is well worth investing in. You’ll no longer need to guess at the cause… See a previous post for more info


cracked hub flangeApart from the usual things to check, a good reason to keep the bike clean is to check the hub flanges every so often for hairline cracks. It’s unlikely but if you spend a lot of time in the air or ride really aggressively or, ahem, you like your pies etc, then it’s more likely & spotting a hairline crack will give you a better chance to get the hub replaced before a big self destruct happens on a rocky downhill…

Use your eyes & also run your fingernail along the edge of the flanges. If there’s a crack, do not continue to use the wheel until it’s rebuilt with a new hub. Some brands will replace cheap under a crash damage scheme, some might even replace out of warranty for free if you’re nice…


A quick one which you may well already have heard – Fox forks with their very regular service intervals do better for storing the bike upside down. The lube oil will keep the foam rings under the seals nice & soaked. Providing it hasn’t run out. If the foam rings dry out they wear the anodising off the stanchion. Some Rockshox seem to leak oil out of the top cap if you store them upside down though


Assuming you know the mechanics of how to adjust a headset, the main thing to know about getting it right is that too loose can damage the headset & maybe the frame, but too tight or even just a bit sticky & YOUR STEERING WILL NOT WORK PROPERLY! If it doesn’t move freely you’ll lean into a corner & the bike will go straight on… Bad!

To make sure this doesn’t happen, when everything’s clean & re-greased & you’ve removed the play, lift the front wheel off the ground, holding the frame & give the handlebar a tap. The bar should rotate & keep going. If it comes to a sudden stop for any reason apart from the cables, the headset is too tight & dangerous! Re-adjust


1st off, if you have a steel frame & an alloy post, make sure you use grease, anti-seize or a fibre-grip type of compound. Check it regularly, especially if you never adjust the seat height mid ride, or it’s a dropper post. Clean it regularly & re-apply whatever grease or similar you’re using. If you don’t the 2 different metals can electrolytically corrode together & it’ll seem like it’s been welded in! There are various extreme ways of sorting it but they’re not guaranteed to work & can damage your frame…

Finish Line Fibre GripIf you are using a standard alloy post in an alloy frame, grease is fine. Carbon posts & certain dropper posts benefit from fibre-grip or ‘liquid torque’ to reduce the torque needed on the seat clamp to secure the post. For carbon posts this is obviously a good idea. Excessive torque on the clamp can interfere with the operation of some dropper posts

Whilst talking about dropper posts, I have a KS myself & I’ll just mention a quick tip for KS posts; If you follow advice I’ve seen on the net to unscrew the top collar & oil the shaft then replace the collar, too much oil will cause the shaft to pop back up a bit when you lower it. The oil seems to take up too much space somewhere & cause a bit of pressure. So a very small amount of the recommended kind of grease is much better. If this has already happened, KS provide instructions to partially strip & reassemble some of their models

Disc brakes

If you’ve removed a set of pads & the pistons won’t push back in, they might be seized. This can be just baked on dirt as they get really hot. Washing powder is great at removing it. An old toothbrush dipped in water then in some washing powder is ideal for cleaning the pistons. Avoid using metal tools directly to push the pistons in unless it’s a specific tool. Best way is to refit some old pads & use a screwdriver in between the old pads. Another reason to avoid pushing directly on the pistons is that the ones with a locator pin for the pads can be damaged easily. You can snap the pin off if you’re not careful

Park Tools CC-3 chain wear indicator

I might be wrong, but I’m guessing that this tool is very underrated by a lot of home mechanics…

If your chain wears beyond a certain point you’ll very quickly need a new cassette & chain-rings as well as a replacement chain. On the other hand I’ve seen a fair few bikes which obviously have wear in the system but actually the chain is OK & it’s just a middle chain-ring that’s gone. Without a definite point of reference it’s often assumed that the chain is the problem.

This is where the Park Tool comes in. It’s cheap, usually under £10 & accurate. It takes all of 10 seconds to check a chain & is about as easy to use as you can get.

It has 2 measures, one side tells you if the chain is more than 0.75% worn, the other if it’s past 1%. If neither side fits into the chain using the method in the instructions, then the chain is fine. So if the bike’s riding well, no need to change anything. However, if it feels like something’s worn, you know it’s not the chain & you can look at the cassette and/or chain-rings. The reason for the 2 readings is that different chain manufacturers have diferent standards. I tend to take no chances & replace when it’s past 0.75%. 1% always seems a bit much on a 9 speed system (yes, haven’t upgraded to 10 yet…)

Park Tools also have another version called the CC3.2 which works in the same way but measures 0.5% 0.75%. It seems some brands/models of chain need to be replaced sooner these days…

You can get other more complicated gauges but I don’t much see the point of spending any more than this for something that’s less simple to use. Other brands do tools that are similar to the Park, but most are less ‘definite’ in the way they indicate. So I’d recommend the Park version. Once you get what it does it’s really a no brainer. Get one!

Superstar 10mm QR Through Axle

Add stiffness to a full sus bike with a QR back end

You might be wondering what this item is for. It allows you to run a 10mm axle bolt through hub in a frame designed for a standard skinny quick release. Same as a 15 or 20mm axle fork is stiffer than a standard quick release, this gives a stiffer rear end than standard. Normally you’d need a frame with specific dropouts.
This one works like a normal quick release, and unlike a specific 10mm you don’t even have to remove it completely to get the wheel out. I ride a 2008 Orange Five, which is great, but I was interested to see whether the rear could be stiffened without paying for a replacement Maxle swing arm.

Superstar 10mm QR through axleIf you have a rear hub like a Hope Pro 2, conversion kits are available so you don’t have to replace the hub & get the wheel rebuilt. I’m not sure I’d have bothered if the cost was going to be high, but the Superstar QR is £7.99 post free & the Hope 10mm kit was £20.99, so worth a go.

Anyway, the important thing, does it make any difference? Well just had a quick blast & straight away I could tell it all felt more solid. Sidehops normally show up a bit of flex on landing but with the new set up things were much improved.

This should mean holding lines on rough trails will be better, which is the kind of thing I’m after. 90% sure it will based on the 1st ride. If it ends up making no difference I’ll add a comment.

Ghetto tubeless…

Some hints for setting up your wheels tubeless

I tweeted a more compact version of these instructions the other day after fitting some new tyres using the ghetto tubeless method. Thought I’d put it in order, add a bit more info, & post it up here for reference

I prefer this method to the kits that come with a rimstrip; some widths of rim don’t fit the rimstrips too well. Also, this method costs about half the price or less of the packaged kits

So, if you fancy going tubeless for less rolling resistance, no pinch flats, more grip & the ability to run lower pressures, here’s some easy to follow instructions:

  1. Check the net for good/bad tyre/rim combos, but I’ve found Maxxis on EN321’s to work well, also Continentals. Kenda’s don’t like it so much. Some tyre/rim combos are just too loose fitting & some tyres have extremely porous side-walls. Maxxis seem to be built really nicely
  2. Fit a rim tape, as it will protect the rim strip you will make from damage by the spoke holes (I use a couple of layers of insulation tape, remember to cut a hole for the valve)
  3. Next, fit a 24″ (or smaller) Schrader tube onto the rim, with no tyre on yet. Blow it up a little bit just to make it easy to centre it on the rim. It needs to be one with a removable core (most are)
  4. Now cut the tube with sharp scissors down the centre so it opens up & turns into a (very wide at the moment) rim strip
  5. Clean off the chalky stuff with a damp cloth, then wipe dry. Fit the tyre using washing up liquid on the bead to make life easy
  6. Remove the valve core using one of the little tools, (cheap to buy). This is so that inflation in the next step can be done as fast as possible, and you’ll need the core out to get the sealant in
  7. inflate to 60psi as fast as possible to seat the bead. If it’s not working, make sure the beads are outside the valve hole. You’ll likely need a track pump. Some people use a CO2 cartridge or take it to a garage & use the airline, although some airlines these days seem to be slower than a track pump
  8. You might need to mess about a bit to get the tyre beads seated well so it inflates…
  9. Carefully remove the pump, if you can let the air out slowish that’s better. Don’t put the wheel down as it might move the tyre
  10. Now put some latex sealant through the valve hole into the tyre, using a plastic bottle with a narrow nozzle, or a small funnel. Valve needs to be at the bottom, obviously…
  11. Use about 150-200ml, or whatever the brand of sealant recommends. Refit the valve core & inflate to 60psi again. Sealant might leak a bit but as long as it’s not pouring out just hold wheel flat & swish the sealant around until the leaks stop. Turn over to do both sides. If it’s leaking really bad then something’s moved and you’ll need to make sure the tyre’s re-seated again
  12. When it’s sorted, carefully trim off the excess rim strip. I used a sharp knife with the flat of the blade against the tyre so I couldn’t cut the sidewall. Just be careful & follow the usual rules with sharp blades. If you’re an uncoordinated type, probably get some else to do this! A blunt blade is asking for trouble as the rubber will be awkward to cut
  13. To be on the safe side leave it at 60psi for a good few hours (24hrs if you can spare it) before adjusting to riding pressure. You should be able to use lower pressure than before, as pinch flats will be no more! How much lower depends on your set-up. Some tyres/rims will be a tighter fit & the tyres less likely to roll of the rim at low pressure
  14. Ride!

Brands of sealant include Joe’s No Flats, NoTubes, Effetto Cafe Latex & Bontrager