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Rescue repairs : how to be self-sufficient on a bike

This section deals with the repairs you may need to make while out riding – and for these you need a toolkit. Do carry your own, even if you ride with other people who are well equipped. No one wants to be in a group standing around saying, ‘But I thought you’d have your pump.’ Also, ensure you can use everything in your toolkit, and immediately replace items that you run out of, like spare tubes.

If you’ve never tackled the following jobs before, practise: (1) getting the wheels on and off your bike; (2) removing and refitting tyres; and (3) splitting and rejoining chains in the comfort of your own home. None of these repairs are difficult, but they’re all much harder if tackled for the first time in the cold and wet. Considering what we expect them to do, bicycles rarely go wrong. If you keep your bicycle well maintained, it will be unusual to face a repair that is not on this list. However, you are occasionally faced with the unexpected. Miles from home with the night closing in, you may have to make an emergency derailleur pivot. You can succeed using a spare pivot from the dismantled innards of an Allen key tool, held in place with a generous wad of electrical tape. The derailleur should even chang gear quite effectively.

Keep your cool, be resourceful

Whenever you have to fix your bike by the side of the trail, think the task through carefully before you start. If you’re frustrated by a puncture or other repair, don’t start fixing until you’re less stressed. Do not, at any stage, throw your bicycle around, however petulant you feel. This improves nothing. You also look stupid.

Remember, everything you’re carrying and wearing is a potential emergency spare. Shoelaces, watchstraps, almost anything can be useful in ways you’d never think of unil you really need them. If you have to release your brakes to fix the bike, remember to refit them.

Spread a jacket out on the ground to catch pieces before you start work. Any part that falls off your bike or drops through cold, wet fingers can make a break for freedom, lying still and quiet on the ground until you’ve given up and gone away. Your bicycle is on your side and really wants to get better, but it needs encouragement, not abuse. Swear if you have to, but don’t kick it.

Repairing your bike after a crash

The first priority after you’ve crashed is to assess yourself as safe to ride once the bike is fixed. Always stand up as soon as possible and say things like ‘I’m fine’, even if you can’t remember who you are, it will help.

Don’t believe it when anyone else puts on the act either. You may be shaken even if you’re not injured. Stop and recover before you get back on the bike. Once you’ve decided you are all right, check over the bike. Don’t get sidetracked by obvious damage because there can often be more than one problem. Decide if you can safely repair the bike, or whether it will be quicker to walk out than struggle vainly for ages with the repair before limping home anyway.

Tools for the trail

You can carry your tools in your backpack along with your water, packed lunch, waterproof and kitchen sink. If you don’t use a backpack or are racing and only have your jersey pockets to stuff things into, then use a seatpack for your spare tube and toolkit as landing flat on your back with a large multitool in your pocket makes for interesting bruises. Use an old toe strap to stop the seatpack rattling against your saddle rails and seatpost as you ride – even the quick-release versions suffer this irritating characteristic that’s as annoying to those around as it is to you. Lots of people carry their tools in a rucksack or bumbag, but they’re heavy and painful to land on so I prefer to let the bike do the work. Seatpacks that clip on and off a clamp are best; it’s fiddly messing about with muddy Velcro straps on the trail.

This selection of tools is a starting point rather than a definitive list. What you need depends on your bike and riding environment. For example, the bolts on most bikes are the Allen key type, but if yours has nuts, you need the corresponding spanners. If you often get punctures – for example, because you ride thorny trails – carry extra tubes and patches. Carry a patch kit even if you have a spare tube; punctures can come in rashes. Ensure you know how to use what you’re carrying! If you get desperate, you can stand by the side of the trail or road looking
pathetic, hoping some kind soul who knows how to use your tools will ride past, but it’s a risky strategy.

how to be self-sufficient on a bike

Rescue tool pack

  • Spare tube, with the correct valve (thin Presta or fat car-type Schraeder) for your pump.
  • Pump. Make sure it fits your inner-tube valves. Double-action pumps put air in as you both pull and push, refilling the tyre much more quickly. If you carry the pump on a bracket in your frame, use extra Velcro straps to ensure it doesn’t rattle loose. After riding in muddy weather, clean the pump so the seals around the barrels stay airtight and won’t leak. If you ride a lot in mud, carry the pump inside a backpack or bumbag to keep it clean. If the seals grit up and leak, the pump can’t build up pressure.
  • Patch kit. You can carry either a traditional puncture repair kit, with vulcanizing solution and rubber patches, or ‘instant’ ready-glued patches. The first creates a more permanent repair whilst the second is easier to use when you’re crouched behind a drystone wall in a snowstorm, but whichever you choose make sure you’ve got a good bit of sandpaper in there too as the patches won’t adhere to an unroughened tube.
  • Tyre levers. If you’re not confident about getting the tyre off the rim with two levers, then carry three – they don’t weigh much. Plastic levers are far better than metal ones, which damage the rims.
  • Fold-up Allen key/screwdriver toolset. We prefer the foldup tools for outdoor use. They’re easier to find if you drop them, and the body of the tool makes a comfortable handle for tightening and loosening bolts without hurting your hand. As a bare minimum, you need 4, 5, and 6mm Allen keys, a flat-head screwdriver and a Phillips screwdriver.
  • Chain tool. For Shimano chains you also need to carry appropriate spare rivets. You can also buy spare Powerlinks (see Split Links later in this chapter), which are a quick and easy way to split and rejoin chains, and weigh almost nothing.
  • A couple of zipties. These are essential for emergencies and come out top in the weight-to-usefulness chart.
  • A strip of duct tape, wrapped around the barrel of your pump. Like zipties, it weighs almost nothing and can come in very handy in an emergency.