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There is nothing cyclists hate more than having a ride interrupted by a mechanical issue, but the reality is that none of us have a sag wagon following us during a training ride, nor are we privy to a roving mechanic. For many riders, the only option is to make the much dreaded call or text hoping that someone is not only nearby, but also available to pick you up.

But, with just a few repair tips, you won’t have to make that call. Changing a flat tire and adjusting your gears are both fairly simple and might make the difference between a good ride and a very long day.

Changing a flat

Bike rims and tires come in two types, clincher and tubular. Almost all riders use clinchers and save the (often) more expensive tubular rims for racing. The main difference is that clinchers feature a tube inside of the tire, while tubulars do not. For this reason, clinchers are easy to change if you puncture.

You will need to carry a few small tools in order to successfully change a punctured tire: tire levers, a spare tube, patch kit, and either a small pump or Co2 cartridges.

The following infographic by Sally Carson, in collaboration with CommonCycle of Ann Arbor, explains, step-by-step, exactly how to accomplish changing a flat by repairing the tube with a small patch kit. The one thing I would like to add is that is it often much easier to bring a spare tube and use it than trying to patch a tube. Tubes are generally inexpensive. If you want to re-use them, then wait until you get home to patch it and then replace it as the spare in your kit. If you do use a new tube, then skip steps 10 through 13.

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Fixing grinding gears

The second skill to have is usually overlooked by riders. Most people just take their bike into the shop every time the drivetrain starts to make noise or squeak. While you still want to go in for a yearly tune-up, minor adjustments are easy to make on the run.

First, be sure to keep the chain lubricated. While WD-40 is the most popular off-the-shelf lubricant, it should never be used on a bike chain. It leaves residue on the links that attract dust and grime and decrease friction leading to a noisy, inefficient drivetrain. Head to your local bike shop and chat with them about the correct lubrication to use; depending on environmental conditions, there are different formulas. Dry lubes keep dust off the chain, while other compounds are better for wet conditions. Using the correct one increases the life of your chain and helps keep your bike quiet.

If you have some play in your shifting on the rear derailleur, it is something that is fairly easy to adjust using the two small set screws on the rear derailleur. No matter what brand you have, there will be two small screws, one with an “H” and one with an “L” near it. The H adjusts the movement of the derailleur on the high side, while the L adjusts the low side. The screws are turned with a small screwdriver.

Two things are very important to remember. First, the screws only need to be turned a very small amount at a time. Second, the movement is the opposite of what you might assume. To move the derailleur to the outside of the smallest cog (to the right, if looking at it from the rear of the bike), turn the L screw counter-clockwise. To move the derailleur to the outside of the largest cog (to the left if looking at it from the rear of the bike), turn the H screw counter-clockwise.

In other words, moving either set screw counter-clockwise moves the derailleur farther from the midpoint in either the high or the low direction.

It takes some getting used to, as it is counter-intuitive.

This technique is most easily accomplished if you have a friend with you who can hold the bike up and slowly turn the pedals to ensure that the chain is sitting on the cog teeth correctly. But, if you find yourself alone, you can make very small adjustments and then turn the pedals yourself. It is not perfect technique, but it will often save hours of gear grinding.

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In addition to tools to fix a flat, you should always carry a small bike multi-tool with hex tools as well as a screwdriver. If your seat loosens or your handlebars begin to wiggle — which is uncommon, but can happen, especially if you are riding on very rough roads — you can simply stop and tighten the bolts. (Just as a small aside, you do not need to wrench down on bolts as hard as possible. This often does more damage than good as it can strip the treads or even crimp carbon components).

More importantly, take a few minutes before you ride to check your bike. Make sure to inflate your tires to the proper pressure before every ride. Lube your chain and clean any excess debris from the drivetrain. These small steps will help to keep everything in tip-top shape.


About the Author

Dena Eaton is a former cyclist and ironman triathlete. In a short 5 year span, (2003-2008) she raced over 60 triathlons including 12 Ironman. She was an All-American in 2004. Of the three disciplines, cycling is her specialty and in 2008, she switched gears to track cycling. She is a multi-time National Championship Medalist, and Five Time Masters World Champion. She has advanced coursework in physiology and has coached several athletes. She makes her home in San Diego where she writes, photographs and teaches at Palomar College.
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