Repairs.

Following last summer’s successful London to Paris and Devon coast to coast cycles, I realised that despite meticulous planning and the belief that my bike was in perfect working order, it was more by luck than judgement that I got back from both trips without having suffered a wheel, gear, or brake related failure that would have left me totally stranded.

The fact that my bike was in pretty good condition meant that I was of the (foolish) belief that I only really needed the equipment and knowledge to carry out a puncture repair. Therefore, the only tools I took with me on both trips were a puncture repair kit, a pump, a couple of spare inner tubes, and a multi-tool with allen keys and screwdriver heads.

At the very end of my London to Paris trip, when I’d already arrived in Paris, my rear wheel rim suffered a pretty catastrophic failure, resulting in a broken spoke and a significantly weakened rim. It was sheer luck that the bike was still just usable, and I was able to limp from train to train and get home without having to take the bike to a shop to be repaired. Had this happened in the middle of the countryside, miles from the next village, let alone the next town with a bike shop, I’d have been totally stranded.

Given that I’m going to be cycling on my own through France for around 12 days in June, the majority of which will be rural cycling, I thought it would probably be a good idea to both invest in the tools to carry out more major repairs, and to equip myself with the knowledge to be able to do so.

Therefore, when my current wheels were showing signs of excessive wear, and it was clear they’d soon need replacing, I decided to keep them on the bike over the winter (so as not to mess up a new set of wheels on wet, dirty, gritty roads) and set about researching how to build a new set myself.

It’s been a very steep learning curve, and has taken a lot of research, but I’ve managed to build a very good, strong pair of touring wheels, and in the process have learned a lot of new skills. Whereas before I’d have been clueless, tool-less, and stranded in if I’d hit a pothole and knocked a wheel out of line and/or broken a spoke, if this happens in June I’ll have both the tools and the know-how to carry out a repair myself.

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So, if there are any cyclists reading this who are new to touring, and lacking the skills needed to carry out their own repairs, here are my recommendations for what you need to know how to do for yourself, and the tools you’ll need for the job.

Flat tyre:

You will need: 

  • Puncture repair kit containing glue, patches, sandpaper, chalk (not essential)
  • Tyre levers
  • Spare inner tubes
  • Pump

The spare inner tubes aren’t essential. But imagine yourself getting a puncture in the driving rain towards the end of a challenging day. Do you think you’ll fancy repairing a puncture by the side of the road with no shelter to hide in? I thought not. Having spare inners will mean you can whip the old one out, put a new one straight in, pump it up, and get on your way. The repair can be carried out in the comfort of your tent/hotel room/log cabin.

I know of many novice cyclists who don’t know how to repair a puncture, and will take their bike to a shop for it to be repaired. Don’t do this! Even if you only go out for a day trip on your bike, you can get a puncture anywhere. It is very easy to repair a puncture, and there are plenty of videos on YouTube showing you exactly how to do it.

Finally, remember to check the tyre to see if the cause of the puncture is still embedded in the rubber. If it’s still there when you pump the tyre back up, you’re going to be fixing a lot of punctures…

Broken spoke:

For the front wheel, you will need:

  • Spare spokes of the correct length and type
  • A spoke key

And for the rear wheel, in addition to the above, you will need:

  • A cassette lockring removing tool
  • A chainwhip

If you get the chance to build your own set of wheels, have a go at doing so rather than asking a shop to build them for you. You can always take them into a shop to be checked over if you’re not confident you’ve done a good job. By the time you’ve finished, you’ll have learned a whole load of new skills, and replacing a broken or bent spoke will be easy.

It is easier to replace a broken spoke on your front wheel than on your rear one. This is because no extra tools are needed in order to take the old spoke out and thread a new one into the wheel. The extra tools are required for a rear wheel break because the rear cassette (the stack of gears sitting in the middle of your rear wheel) are right up against the edge of the hub. This prevents you from being able to get at the spokes on that side of the wheel. Have a look at your rear wheel and you’ll see what I mean.

It is impossible to remove the rear cassette without a lockring removal tool and a chainwhip, but as soon as you have these tools, it is an easy job to do.

Spoke lengths are very specific, and are calculated to the nearest millimetre. In order to calculate the length of spokes your wheel needs, you need to know some key measurements of your hub and rim, and then run these numbers through a spoke length calculator. The spokes for the front wheel will be of one length, and then there will be two more lengths of spoke for either side of the rear wheel. Therefore, you’ll need to carry at least three spare spokes to be sure of having the right length to replace a broken one.

Working out your hub and rim measurements, and calculating spoke lengths, are pretty complicated topics which I won’t attempt to explain here. Either research these areas on Google or ask your bike shop to calculate the spoke lengths for you and provide you with some spare spokes. If you’re in the middle of nowhere with a broken spoke, you only need the spares, and to know which one to use depending on which wheel has suffered a break. You don’t need to know why they’re the length they are or how that’s calculated.

Snapped gear or brake cable:

You will need:

  • Allen key
  • Cable cutters
  • Spare gear cable
  • Spare brake cable

A snapped cable is an easy thing to learn how to repair, but impossible if you don’t have a spare cable, so don’t go touring without some! I didn’t know how to replace either of these when I first got into cycling, so when I’ve needed to replace my cables I’ve watched YouTube videos in order to learn how to do it, rather than taking my bike to a shop to be repaired. It’s a five minute job at most, and and essential skill to have if you don’t want to be stranded in the middle of France with a snapped gear cable.

Broken chain

You will need:

  • Chain splitter
  • Spare chain links

Provided your chain is in good condition and is well maintained, it is unlikely you’ll have to carry out a chain repair, but it’s still a possibility and if you’re in the middle of the countryside without the tools you’re vulnerable. This seems like a difficult job if you’re not familiar with how to do it, but once you know how, it really isn’t difficult. As ever, YouTube has a multitude of very good instructional videos you can use to help you learn.

Worn out brake pads:

You will need:

  • Spare brake pads
  • Allen key

This isn’t a repair you should ever need to carry out on the road, unless you’re on an extended tour of a week or more. If you check your brake pads before you leave and there’s plenty of life left in them, they’re not going to wear down enough to need replacing in the course of a week or so.

However, if you’re going to be touring for an extended period of time, and you’re carrying lots of weight on the bike which will increase the forces you’re having to use on your brakes, extra pads are essential. Changing the pads is very easy, requiring only an allen key to release the brake cable, remove the old pads, and fit the new ones. Guess where you can learn how to do this…yes, YouTube.

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