Bike Repair and Maintenance For Dummies
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Before you hit the road on your bike, put together an emergency tool kit for unexpected repairs and give your bike a pre-ride maintenance inspection. Stay alert while riding your bike and practice some basic road safety rules to stay safe and enjoy your ride.

Bike tools to take when you ride

Before you hit the road on your bike, assemble an emergency tool kit so you’re prepared in case of a breakdown. Take the weight and size of bike tools into consideration when you’re loading up your tool kit, you don’t want tools that will weigh you down or not fit into the tool pouch. Include the following tools in your emergency tool kit. (After you have some biking experience, you may decide to change or add to it.)

  • Small frame-mounted tire pump: A flat is going to strike eventually so unless you want to walk home, take along a pump.

  • Tire-patch kit: When you have a flat, you’ll need a patch kit to repair it.

  • Spare inner tube: A spare tube is important to have on hand when you blow a tube and a patch kit won’t do the trick.

  • Tire levers: For most bikes, tire levers are necessary to remove and install a tire.

  • Allen wrenches: Use these for adjusting parts of your bike.

  • Screwdrivers: Both types — Phillips and flathead — are required for adjusting derailleurs and other parts.

  • Spoke wrench: Make sure you have one that fits the spoke nipples on your bike.

  • Pliers: If you have to work on cables, you’ll need pliers.

  • Rag: A rag will help keep your hands clean.

  • Small light: A light is important to have in case you get caught out at night.

On extended trips (more than a few hours at a time or for multi-day trips), bring all the preceding items, plus the following:

  • Spare tire: If you tear up a tire, you’ll be glad you had a foldable spare tire on hand.

  • Extra tubes: If you blow out both tubes on a ride, you need two spares — one isn’t always enough.

  • Chain tool: A longer trip increases the chances of having issues with your chain, and you’ll need a chain tool to take apart the chain and reconnect it.

  • Chain links and rivets: Because there’s always the chance of breaking a chain, it’s good to have replacement links handy for reconnecting the chain.

  • Spare spokes: Have a couple extra spokes available. Make sure you have the right size for each wheel.

  • Spare cables: Extra cables for the brakes and the derailleurs are useful for longer trips when a weighted-down bike puts extra strain on the cables.

  • Lubrication: As you ride on extended trips, parts will need to be lubricated. Keep a small plastic bottle of lube that you can apply to your chain, pivot points, and cable.

  • Duct tape: This all-purpose tool can get help you solve many problems, at least long enough to hold something together until you get to the next town.

A pre-ride bike inspection checklist

Before you head out for your next ride, take a few minutes to do a quick bike inspection. Giving your bike the once-over can increase the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of your next ride. Follow these steps as part of your pre-ride preparation:

  • Open and close the quick-release levers on your wheels to confirm that they’re tight.

  • Move each wheel side to side to check for looseness.

  • Give each wheel a spin to see that it doesn’t wobble and that the rim doesn’t contact the brake pads at any point.

  • Check the air pressure of your tires with a pressure gauge and compare it with the recommended pressure listed on the sidewall. Under-inflated tires will drastically increase the rolling resistance, increasing the amount of energy needed to pedal the bicycle. If you’ve inflated them properly, they’ll do a better job of absorbing any impact and protecting the wheel from damage.

  • Visually inspect the tires, looking for any cracks, cuts, or tears.

  • Give the brake levers a strong squeeze to ensure that the brakes firmly grip the wheels. You shouldn’t have to pull the levers more than halfway to the handlebars.

  • Confirm that the brakes grip the rim and that they have sufficient rubber.

  • Straddle the front wheel, pinching it between your thighs, grip the handlebars, and try to twist them side to side. Try the same procedure but, this time, straddling the frame and squeezing the brakes; try to rock the bicycle back and forth.

  • Grab a crank arm in each hand and try to shake them for looseness. If there is some play in the bottom bracket, it should be overhauled. If it’s very loose, it could be dangerous to ride.

  • Confirm that the pedals spin freely but that you can’t pull them away from the cranks.

  • Set your saddle to a height where you can just barely place your toes and the balls of your feet on the ground when you sit on the saddle. Another indication of proper position is if your leg is bent at a slight angle when your foot is on the pedal at its lowest position. If you can lock out your knee, the seat is too high. If your saddle is set too high or too low, you’ll lose efficiency as you pedal and may even cause strain or injury to your body.

  • Set your stem and handlebars so that they leave your back at a 45-degree angle. Even though you’ll be a little less aerodynamic, the fact that the weight of your upper body will be distributed between your torso and your arms will make you ride much more comfortable. Note: Some traditional riders take the old-school approach of positioning the handlebars by having the ends run parallel to the top tube in the frame, but this isn’t a comfortable position for any period of time.

  • Improve your visibility. There’s nothing more important than being safe while you ride and improving your visibility can go a long way toward that goal. Wear brightly colored clothing. Make sure that your wheels and pedals have reflectors, and wear reflective arm and leg bands. Keep a bright white front light and a flashing LED rear light for when you’re caught out at dusk or for night riding.

  • Stock emergency gear. You should always be prepared for the worst — whether it’s an accident, getting lost, a storm, or fatigue. If you keep some essentials stowed away in your jacket, in a pannier bag, or elsewhere, you’ll be ready for when the worst strikes. Take a cellphone, identification (like a driver’s license), money, energy bars, a rain jacket, and sunglasses.

Safety tips while riding your bike

Taking care of your bike is only one aspect of staying safe while riding. Take these steps to reduce strain on your body, protect your bike, and improve safety while your ride:

  • Pay attention to the road in front of you. Your goal is to avoid obstacles like rocks, potholes, and other hazards, which, if you hit them, could result in a bent rim or other incident.

  • Instead of jumping or riding across a curb (which could damage your rim or, at worst, cause you to crash), dismount. Try walking your bike instead.

  • Shift into your lowest gear before you reach the steepest section of a climb. Trying to shift when you’re barely moving puts a lot of strain on the chain and derailleurs, and if the chain springs off the largest cog into the spokes the damage will be even greater. Plus, you may not be able to shift in time, causing you to come to a stop.

  • If you have to go over a bump, raise yourself off the saddle. Use your arms and legs as shock absorbers as if you were a horse jockey, to lessen the impact of the blow.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Dennis Bailey has been actively involved in bike repair and maintenance for almost two decades. He has worked on bikes on bike tours in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Keith Gates has been repairing bikes for more than 30 years and provides personalized service as the owner of A-1 Cycling, with locations in Manassas and Herndon, Virginia.

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