Bike Repair Skills a Touring Cyclist Should Know

Fixing brakes

With almost mathematical certainty bike components break or need adjusted. You may be lucky and have no technical problems on a tour but you will have better peace of mind if you know how to deal with things if they do go wrong. This is a list of useful skills to know but you should consult external links to learn these skills. Even better is to buy a book on bike repair. There are plenty of cheap ones in the deals section.

Fix a Puncture

Everyone who rides a bike should know how to fix a puncture. Don’t rely on so-called ‘puncture-proof’ tyres. Any tyre with air in it can get a puncture.

Oil a Chain

There isn’t really much to oiling a chain so you have no excuse for not knowing how to do it.

True Wheels

This is a bit trickier than oiling a chain but not really too hard. The further you ride and the more weight you carry, the more likely it is your wheels will go out of true, i.e will deform either laterally or vertically or both. Make sure you have a decent spoke tool of the right size as it’s very easy to damage the spoke nipples.

Replace Spokes

This one can be quite tricky. The spokes most likely to break are the ones behind your cassette so you need to remove this, which takes a fair bit of force and requires a special tool. You also need a spoke tool but these are easier to come by. You will also need to know how to true your wheels if spokes are replaced.

Adjust Brakes and Change Pads

There generally isn’t much scope for adjusting disc brakes but it’s important that rim brakes are adjusted right, otherwise your braking will be less powerful and you could wear out your rims quickly. On long tours the pads can wear out so you should know how to change them.

Replace Cables and Their Housings

Cables can stretch and fray and some go rusty. The housings can clog up and kink. This can make your brakes and gears less efficient and even fail completely! It’s a good idea to carry some spare cables on long tours and know how to fit them.

Repair or Replace a Chain

It’s not unheard of for chains to snap – it’s happened to me – and they will certainly wear out on long tours and possibly need replaced. Replacing a chain is not difficult, though it is messy and often requires a special chain tool.

Replace a Cassette

Just as your chain will wear out so will your cassette, though it should last a few chains. It is probably best to get this done in a bike shop if possible, but since you will need to remove a cassette to replace drive-side spokes it’s a useful skill to know, assuming you are using a bike with a cassette of course.

Adjust Deraillers

Shifting problems are more often than not caused by cable issues or bent hangers so it’s best to check these first before adjusting the shifting screws. It’s still a good idea to know how these work in case they do need adjusted. Obviously this only applies if your bike has deraillers.

Remove Pedals (if flying)

In theory this is a pretty easy thing to do but be aware that most left pedals have reversed threads to stop the pedal unscrewing when riding. You will probably also need a special pedal wrench to get leverage and avoid damaging the pedal.

Loosen and Retighten Handlebars (if flying)

If flying you may need to loosen your handlebars to put them parallel to the frame.

On a short tour you may get away without knowing all of these skills but they could turn out to be necessary. For longer tours you really ought to know them. Depending on your bike and the length/location of your tour you may need other skills as well. No one can predict what can happen on tour (it wouldn’t be an adventure otherwise) so this should be seen more as a starting point than a comprehensive list. Being able to do things like change a bottom bracket or service your hubs is useful but generally not practical on tour, however sometimes needs must.

There are plenty of online resources that will teach you these skills – some are listed in the links section – or you could buy a book on bike repair. The deals section has several at good prices. Youtube also has plenty of instructional videos.

It’s also a good idea to know what sort of tension the various bolts and adjusters on your bike require, as well as when and how to lubricate the parts. Sometimes too much can be as bad as too little.

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