Getting Started: When Things Go Wrong

You are riding along on a bright, warm, sunny day, a tailwind is gently pushing you along. You're about to set a Personal Record (PR) on a Strava segment. Then you hear 120 psi air hissing out of your rear tire. Within a moment, your ride has turned into a chore. Riding a bike is fun, but there are times when trouble comes. There are things you can do to prevent walking home.


The first thing you can do to prevent problems is to properly maintain your bike. Most cyclists don't have the time, talent or inclination to do every maintenance task. But there are some simple tasks that will go a long way to keeping your bike in top shape. If you want to be your own bike mechanic you should get Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance and purchase a full bike tool set.
The easiest thing to do is keeping your bike clean. A bike with components that are not covered in grime will work better. I live near the ocean and do a lot of riding near the beach. The sea breeze here has salty dust in it and that salt will corrode exposed steel parts, like bolts. After short rides, I spray bike wash onto a clean rag and wipe down my bike. I do it as soon as I am done with the ride. If I wait until after my shower, I won't go back and do it later. It takes a just a few minutes to do. And it makes the longer wash job on Saturday easier. After my longer Saturday rides I will spray bike wash onto the entire bike, let it sit for a moment, rinse it all off and then wipe down the bike to dry. I even get the stuff stuck to the bottom of the bottom bracket. I have carbon wheels, so I make sure the brake track is clean. Embedded grit in the cork brake pad will scour the brake track.
Look at your chain, is it gray or is it black? Are you chainrings black with grime and your rear derailleur caked with oil and dirt? I degrease and lube my chain every two months or so. Whenever the chain and cog begin to squeak is a good indicator that it is time to degrease the chain. Your bike must adhere to the Velominati Rule of Silence. A clean and lubed drivetrain should be silent, the only sound from your bike should be the rubber of the tire running on the road.
Most clipless pedals require some lubrication for their annual maintenance. Speedplay pedals require lubrication after 200 miles or so. So depending on how often and far that you ride, lubricating your Speedplay pedals could come up once a month. You do not need the special Speedplay grease gun to lube four pedals. I use a baby medicine syringe from a drugstore, fill it with PolyLube and inject the lube into the port on the pedal. 

Preventing a Walk Home

Before every ride, you should check your tire pressure. Latex inner tubes slowly let air out over the course of days. You can get a pinch flat if your tires are underinflated, by hitting the sharp edge of a pothole, crushing the tire and pinching the inner tube against the rim poking two holes into your tube. As you get closer to the listed maximum tire pressure, the ride will become firmer and firmer. Do not go past the listed maximum tire pressure. I have had a tire explode in my garage. It was like a gunshot in an enclosed space, my ears rang for a minute or so. Most cyclists stay a little under the maximum pressure for comfort.
Since you could be miles from your car or home, it is important to be able to fix a flat tire and perform minor repairs. Cyclists carry tools, spare inner tubes, and pumps either in their jersey rear pockets or in a saddle bag. I carry two spare inner tubes, a mini tool with chain breaker, a CO2 tire pump, one or two CO2 bottles, a tire repair kit, a few dollars and an old driver's license. Naturally, I carry my cell phone, in case all of this isn’t enough and other cyclists can’t fix the problem either. I remember my first long distance ride in 1981, 50 miles round trip from the Jersey Shore to Great Adventure. I wore my jeans, I had no helmet, no cell phone, a frame pump and a rubber cement tire repair kit.

How to Fix Things

Changing a tire on the road happens quite often. In my experience, flats seem to run in streaks. I could go months without a flat and then I will get two or three in quick order. Knowing how to change a tire on the road is important. I’m amazed at how many people will ride without knowing how to change a flat. Bike tires are thin, under high pressure and we ride along side of the road with the debris and broken glass.
There six general steps to changing a tire:
  1. Take the wheel off of the bike. For the front wheel, simply open the quick release and take the wheel off. Unfortunately, 60% of flats happen to the rear wheel, which a little harder. For the rear wheel, it is much easier to shift to the smallest gear, and then open the quick release. Pull the rear derailleur out of the way as you pull the wheel down. Set your bike gently down chain side up. You get style points taken away for putting your bike upside down on the saddle and handlebars.
  2. Look for any nails or glass sticking out of the tire. If you tire is still leaking air, note the location. Take the tire off of the wheel, using your tire levers, scooping the edge of the tire up and over the edge of the wheel. This is the frustrating part for many folks, especially those with reinforced tires, they seem to be harder to get up and over the lip of the wheel. Take out the inner tube, fold it up and put it into your jersey pocket. Do not leave it behind as litter. 
  3. Inspect your tire. Go back to the location you noted before and look inside for any remaining object that may puncture your new inner tube. If you didn’t what did the damage, you should carefully inspect the inside of your tire. I use my eyes and fingers rubbing the rubber surface. I once found a very small rock shaped like an arrowhead embedded in the rubber of the tire. It was so small that it didn’t stick out on either side of the tire, I just felt a little hard object between my fingers.
  4. Install the new tube after blowing a little air into the tube. Putting a little bit of air helps you put the tube in the tire by giving it some shape. Make sure that the tube has no kinks.
  5. Put the tire fully back on the rim. Most of the tire can be put back on the rim with your hands. Only the last small section needs the tire levers. Once the tire is back on, check all around the tire to make sure that none of the inner tube is sticking out. I’ve had a few tubes burst when I tried to pump them up with the tube pinched between the rim and tire.
  6. Put the wheel back on the bike. Again the front wheel is easy, simply put in in the notch, tighten the skewer and close the quick release. For the rear wheel, place the chain on the small gear and move the rear derailleur out of the way as you nudge the wheel back into its slot. Then you tighten the skewer and then close the quick release. In both cases, be sure that the skewer levers are tight when you close them. You get style points if your skewer levers are aligned with your frame, forks in the front, chainstay or seatstay in the rear.
If you don’t have your tire levers, you can use the quick release skewers. Unscrew them completely, take them off of the bike, being careful not to lose the springs on either end of the skewer. Use the quick release skewers as your levers. I’ve done this, it works. If you tire is badly slashed, you can use place a dollar bill on the inside of the cut to keep the inner tube from bulging out when you pump the tire back up. US currency is made with cotton fibers and not paper, so it is flexible and tough enough to get you home. Just be sure to get your money out of the tire when you do. Finally, find a local bike shop that will accept used inner tubes for recycling. After a few years of riding, you will have more than a few stacked in your garage.

3 More Quick Roadside Repair Tips

  1. If you have a carbon fiber seatpost and it snaps off, take your water bottle, empty it out, take off the lid and place it upside down on the seatpost.
  2. If you tire is rubbing against your brakes and is buckled, depending on how bad the wheel is, you have a few options. 
    • For a slight rubbing, you can open the brakes, using the brake lever. 
    • For worse cases of rubbing, look for a loose spoke on your wheel, the spokes keep the wheel true and can become loosened over time. You can use your mini tool to tighten the loose spoke up. Remember to keep checking whether you tire stops rubbing the brakes. You can tighten it too much and pull the rim the other way. 
    • If you have a broken spoke, wrap the broken spoke around another spoke. Use your spoke tool to adjust the adjacent spokes to bring the wheel back to true.
  3. If you chain breaks, hopefully, your mini-tool has a chain break tool or an extra power chain link in your saddlebag.  If you have a power link in your saddle bag, you can replace the broken link with the power link. If not, you will have to use the tool to remove the broken link and reassemble the chain, minus the broken link.
Most rides are fun and trouble free. On a raw occasion, a flat tire or some other problem may pop up. With proper maintenance and a little practice, these problems will be a minor part of your ride and not the cause of a major meltdown on the road or sad phone call to a friend or significant other.