By Jim Langley
One of my favorite things on rides with friends is coming to their rescue, fixing breakdowns and keeping everyone rolling – not standing by the side of the road waiting. If you enjoy solving problems and being the hero for your riding pals, I bet you feel the same way.
All it takes to be a hero and repair most common breakdowns is a little bicycle mechanic know-how and carrying a bike mini-tool, plus a couple of small ride-savers that easily fit in a seat bag.
Large Tire Cuts & Broken Chains
In this Tech Talk, I describe what I carry, and how I handle two common issues I see over and over on group rides: large tire cuts and broken chains.
With wide gashes in tires, simply inserting the spare tube won’t work because when it’s inflated, it will bulge out of the hole in the tire, expand and explode. This goes for large cuts in tubeless tires, too. The sealant won’t work on a large hole, so the spare tube is needed – but only after the hole in the tire has been patched.
And, with a broken chain, unless it’s all downhill on the way home, your buddy’s probably not riding there unless the chain is fixed. There’s an easy way to fix broken chains, as long as you’re prepared (keep reading).
For fixing these and other common problems, such as seat-height adjustments, loose bolts, cable adjustments, etc., I carry a Crank Brothers M-series mini-tool. But the brand you get doesn’t matter as long as it has most of the tools you need for on-the-road repairs. Make sure it has a chain tool that actually works.
Since I often end up fixing flats, rather than a mini-pump or CO2 inflator, I carry a full-size pump because it’s so quick and easy to use. And I also carry quality tire levers since tire and rim standards have slipped so much and you can run into way-too-tight tires.
I’m also the wobbly wheel wizard and prefer truing hoops with full-sized separate spoke wrenches instead of the ones built into in most mini-tools. I carry Park Tool’s Red and Black spoke wrenches. They’re small and easily fit in any bag.
Tip: Ride heroes can’t carry every type of spoke wrench out there. If you ride wheels that came with their own spoke wrench, keep it in your seat bag so you can be rescued.
Fixing Cut Tires
Park Tool’s TB-2 Emergency Tire Boot is my take-along for handling cuts in tires. This 3 X 1.75 inch (76 x 45mm) adhesive patch is large enough to cover most holes and sticks fast to keep the tube inside the tire. Note that with bad enough cuts, the tire will have a blip or wobble at the hole. You might decide to pump to slightly less pressure if it looks iffy. But in most cases it’ll get the rider home.
Tip: If you don’t want to purchase tire boots, make your own by cutting patches from denim or canvas. Saturate them in household rubber cement and let them dry. Then store them in a baggie. To patch a tire, apply tube patch glue to the inside of the tire, let it dry and then apply your homemade boot. With this kind of boot, it’s good to carry a small amount of talcum powder to dust the exposed side of the tire boot before installing the tube so the tube doesn’t stick to it.
Fixing Broken Chains
I may write a longer Tech Talk on the many ways to repair a broken chain on your own. But since this article is for fixing other riders’ chains, I’m going to cover the easiest way to get someone pedaling again.
That technique involves using your mini-tool’s chain tool to remove the ends of the chain that were damaged so that the chain ends will accept and can be joined by what’s known as a “master” or “repair” link, such as KMC’s Missing Link.
Other companies offer repair links like this, and they all work like magic. Think of them as a tire patch for the chain. You want to carry the right sizes for the riders you ride with most of the time. You might carry 10- and 11-speed models if everyone’s on more modern bikes. Since these links are tiny, you can easily carry as many as you want.
Read the directions for the link you’re using it so you know how to install it. And if yours are expensive links, you may want to get paid for it or have riders promise to give it back when they get home and have their chain fixed. Be sure to also warn riders with just-fixed chains (often slightly shorter now) to avoid shifting onto the largest chainring and larger cog combinations since the chain may not make those shifts anymore.
Tip: If the chain isn’t damaged too badly, a repair link might fix it for good. But if multiple links had to be removed (maybe they were bent too badly), the chain will end up much too short and needs to be replaced or repaired later.
Feel free to add your favorite common breakdowns and on-the-road repair tools, tips and tricks in the Comments below the Newsletter version of this article.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.