Roadside maintenance tips
Anything can happen when you’re out on the open road, and here are a few tips of how to cope when things go wrong.
Prevention is better than cure
The main thing I’ve learned in all my touring is that things are less likely to go wrong if they are set up properly in the first place. Spend time with your bike before you set off, learning how everything fits and which part does what. Take it to a shop for a once-over. A basic maintenance course is also a good idea. Anything rattling or rubbing will get worse as you ride – a quiet bike is a happy bike.
The dreaded puncture
Limit the number you get by: using tyres with puncture protection; pumping your tyres to the correct pressure; checking the tyre frequently for shards and stones and levering these out (I carry a tiny screwdriver for this)
Punctures are more common in the rain and you don’t want to be taking your tyre off for the first time in a torrential storm, so have a practice at home first!
Check the inside of the tyre for stubborn shards of glass/thorns/pieces of flint otherwise you may make a new hole straight away.
Most cyclists swap their punctured inner tube for a fresh one straight away – it’s quicker and you can patch the old one at your leisure which you can then use as a spare. But don’t be afraid to patch – with touring, you have all the time in the world. Wait for the glue to turn tacky before putting the patch on – it will take far longer to stick if you rush. A patched inner tube, when done right, is just as good as a new one. I find glueless patches less effective. Again, when touring, you’re not so in need of efficiency.
If it’s a blowout you’ll need to use your spare tube, and you can use the old one as a ‘boot’ (a small piece of rubber that prevents the inner tube from bulging outside the tyre). Use a folded over section of the old tube to line the inside of the tyre.
Chains and gears
Be nice to your chain — avoid changing gear when standing up in the pedals, and keep it as straight as possible (e.g. if you’re in a high gear at the front you should be in a high gear at the back). Carry a Quick Link in case of snappage — remove broken link using a chain-breaker and snap the Quick Link in place. It’s possible to fix the chain without using a quick link, by pushing the rivet out most of the way, then pushing it back in once the broken link has been removed. This requires care and practice. Something to try out at home!
If the derailleur itself breaks, remove completely and shorten the chain so it sits on one of the middle rings — you’ll only have one gear but at least you’ll be able to ride.
Racks and frame
Bolts in racks can rattle undone as you ride so check them regularly. Cable ties can be fed through the bolt hole, but they break easily — string or twine is much better.
If the rack itself breaks, see what’s in your luggage or by the roadside that can be used as a splint. A spoon handle lashed in the right place can be very effective. Check for cracks in the frame as well. Use Milliput: ‘moulds like putty — sets like rock’. Amazing stuff.
There are some great youtube videos of how to straighten out a bent wheel – entertaining if nothing else! Check regularly for loose spokes and learn to tighten them with a spoke key (righty does not mean tighty with spokes… the nipples turn the opposite way to usual). Carry spare spokes. Broken spokes in the front wheel can be replaced without even taking the wheel off. The rear is more difficult because you have to remove the gears which needs a specialist tool. A broken spoke will cause a buckle in the wheel and put more pressure on the remaining spokes, so replace asap. Loosen off the surrounding spokes and the brakes if necessary to allow the wheel to turn.
Brake pads will wear as you ride, especially in wet conditions. Turn the barrel adjuster periodically to ensure the brake is still engaging (unscrew the barrel adjuster to tighten the cable). Keep an eye on the pads to ensure they don’t go beyond the wear line.
Broken cables are easy to replace with a little intuition (and of course a spare cable). Typical path of brake cable: Hook inside lever, through barrel adjuster, outer casing (may be two separate pieces of casing or one single), noodle (curved metal part – only on V brakes), bolt.
Multi-tool — Topeak do a good one with a range of allen keys, a chain breaker and a screwdriver.
Puncture kit plus tyre levers
Spoke key and spare spokes
Chain Quick Link
Electrical tape/duct tape