Guide to 9 common roadside repair mistakes.

Don’t make the same newbie mistakes the author has.

#1 – Clueless and tool-less. I have never felt more hopeless touring than when I’ve been stuck along the road miles, or even days, from the nearest bicycle repair shop, with a breakdown that I couldn’t repair. However, I’ve learned that with a little planning, training, a bicycle multi-tool, and just a few spare parts, I could overcome most mechanical difficulties myself. One of my favorite sites to help you learn how to make bike repairs and the tools you will need is http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help .

#2 – Not able to fix a flat tire. The most likely and frequent cycling breakdown is a flat tire. Repairing a flat tire is a skill all cyclists must have. Fortunately, a flat tire is one of the easiest repairs to make with lots of help available to show you how. One site that offers several guides to fixing a flat is https://www.bicycling.com/video/how-fix-flat-tire-road-bike . On long tours I carry a couple extra tubes. An extra tube comes in handy when it is too dark to patch a small hole in a tube or when it is raining and I just want to get rolling again as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, many flats can be avoided simply be inspecting your tires regularly. Small slivers of glass and other sharp objects can become embedded in a tire but take miles of riding before they are driven far enough to puncture a tube. By taking the time to inspect your tires and removing embedded objects before they puncture your tube, you will save time by eliminating the need to patch the tube later.

As expected, during my 2015 coast to coast ride, my most frequent breakdown was from flat tires. Most of my flats were cause by small bits of wire from steal belted radial car tires that got embedded in my tires. These fine wires were nearly impossible to remove with my fingers so small pliers or tweezers were a necessity in my tool kit.

Repair kit: Tube patch kit, tire levers, hand pump, a small screw driver or blade and pliers to dig embedded objects out of tires and a presta valve adapter, if required.

Spare parts: Tube.

#3 – Not prepared for tire damage. I felt confident that I could quickly fix a flat tire until I rode over road debris and sliced my tire. I replaced my tube but my bike was still unrideable because the tube was bulging from the tire like a blister ready to burst. If you are lucky, a tube patch placed inside the tire may work temporarily. I’ve also heard that a folded dollar bill inside the tire to cover the hole sometimes works. I carry an emergency tire boot and I also carry a small section piece of an old tire that I can trim to fit inside my tire as a temporary patch. However, to be on the safe side, I would recommend carrying a spare tire on those long rides with few repair shops along the way.

Repair kit: Emergency Tire Boot.

Spare parts: Tire & Tube.

#4 – Couldn’t fix a chain. It is always worth the additional weight to carry light lubricant that can serve double duty as a chain and component lubricant. Sometimes a chain problem can easily be resolved by lubricating a stiff link. However, for most chain repairs you will need the right tools and nothing else will work. While I’ve only broken a chain twice, it is one repair you can’t improvise. You will need a chain tool and a replacement pin or a “missing link”. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place, once I was caught without tools and parts and I tried to hammer my chain back together with two rocks. It didn’t work. Also, chain repairs can be a messy business. So, a small rag or latex gloves are optional for the repair kit.

Repair kit: Chain tool, small rag or latex gloves (optional)

Spare parts: Replacement pin and/or “missing link.”

#5 – Broken spoke. I’ve never broken a spoke. Although I have been lucky in this regard, it is still a repair I’m prepared for. Unlike most breakdowns where you can at least roll the bike alongside you, a taco shaped wheel resulting from a broken spoke can catch in the fork, stays or brake and may not roll. Although you may only have to loosen or disable the brakes to get the wheel to spin freely, this is not a safe alternative. A better option is to carry spare spokes. However, keep in mind that you must have the correct length for the front and rear wheels. And a rear wheel will require two different length spokes. Making matters worse, a broken spoke on the rear cluster side will require additional tools for removing the cluster. For this reason I opt to carry a “FiberFix Spoke” so that I don’t have to remove the cluster to use it on the rear wheel to get me going again.

Regardless of the method you use to repair the problem, you will need some understanding of the sometimes mystical art of the truing wheel.

Repair kit: Spoke wrench

Spare parts: Spokes or “FiberFix Spoke”

#6 – Adjust a derailleur. The axiom, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure could not be more true when it comes to derailleurs. A drop of lubrication applied to the derailleur’s moving parts regularly will help prevent problems from wear and it will keep your gears shifting smoothly (always remember to wipe away any excess lube). However, if a few drops of lubricant will not fix our shifting problem, you’ll need a phillips screwdriver for the 3 adjustment screws – the tension adjustment, the H-Screw (high gear limit stop) and the L-Screw (low gear limit stop). While adjusting a derailleur can be frustrating, patience is the key and help can be found at http://bicycletutor.com/. Keep in mind that the adjustments on these screws should always be made in 1/4 turn increments. In addition, you may need a 5mm allen wrench to adjust a stretched shifter cable if the cable barrel adjuster will not take up the slack.

Repair kit: Phillips screwdriver, 5mm allen wrench, lubricant, and a small rag (optional)

#7 – Adjust brakes or replace brake pads. Since I try to take a short 15-20 mile ride almost daily, I don’t always inspect my brake pads for wear. I’m just not that far from home for pads to be a major problem. Unfortunately, I’ve developed the same bad habit before starting on a longer bike journey. As a result, more than once I’ve had to deal with the problem of brake pads that wore to a point that I could not continue the ride with them on longer bike trips. This generally happens when I’ve been riding in the rain. The combination of rain and road grit can wear down brake pads very quickly. To make matters worse, some replacement pads are much harder to find than others (if you can even find a bike shop nearby). You might be able to find pads for caliper or linear brakes without much problem but disc brake pad are not as ubiquitous. Since replacement pads are light, I never leave home on a long trip without them. For help on adjusting bike brakes checkout
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Bicycles/Maintenance_and_Repair/Brakes/Adjusting_Rim_Brakes

Repair kit: 2 & 4mm allen wrenches (universal caliper brakes)

Spare parts: Brake pads (4)

#8 – Loose parts and lost screws. It is amazing how many bike parts come loose after just a week on the road. I’ve been on rides that felt like the fillings in my teeth would shake loose. It’s always a good practice to check and tighten bike parts regularly. However, today’s bikes are made up on light weight parts that can easily be destroyed if over tightened, so caution is advised. This task requires that you know every nut and bolt on your bike and have the right screw driver and wrench. Luckily my touring bike has mostly allen head bolts and a multi-tool will do the trick in most cases. Just in case I do miss something, I carry a few extra 5mm x 20mm socket cap for racks, fenders and water bottle screws that may go missing along the route.

Repair kit: Multi-tool

Spare parts: A few 5mm x 20mm socket cap screws

#9 – Frayed or broken cables. The only other breakdown I experienced during my 2015 coast to coast ride was a broken derailleur cable. Luckily, it was my front cable and I was left with a full range of rear gears until I could make the repair. I may have avoided this problem had I replaced all the cables before I started the ride. Nevertheless, I now carry a full set of pre-cut brake and derailleur cables in my repair kit. While I do carry end caps, I also solder the ends of the cables. This keeps them from fraying in my repair kit. It also prevents fraying when I run them through the cable housings and clamps.

Repair kit: Wrenches that fit the derailleur and brake cable clamps.

Spare parts: Pre-cut brake and derailleur cables.

With a little preparation most breakdowns can be repaired with a handful of tools and spare parts.

Repair kit:

  • Tube patch kit
  • Tire levers*
  • Hand pump
  • Emergency Tire Boot
  • Straight blade and phillps screw driver*
  • Small knife*
  • Small pliers or tweezers*
  • Presta valve adapter
  • Chain tool*
  • Small rag
  • Latex gloves
  • Spoke wrench*
  • An assortment of wrenches to fit your bike*
  • Lubricant
Spare parts:

  • Tube(s)
  • Tire
  • Replacement chain pin
  • “Missing link”
  • Spokes or “FiberFix Spoke”
  • Brake pads
  • 5mm x 20mm socket cap screws
  • Pre-cut brake & derailleur cables

*Tools that may be found on a good bicycle multi-tool

Ken Whittaker

This page was last updated April 6, 2018