Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Mechanical!"—On the Road and at Home

Boyd's latest blog made me think about another kind of preparation that must happen well before the day of the Assaults—your own mechanical ability both at home and on the road.

Most of us will rightfully leave bicycle mechanical work to the professionals: your local bicycle shop. But a few mechanical skills need to be practiced at home and often because you may be confronted with them on the road. And on game day, a few mechanical skills can save your ride (FYI. . .My "best time" on the Assault from the early 1990s, that lasted until a few years ago, included TWO flats—one on Bill's hill and one at the base of Hwy 80).

First, everyone should know how to change tires, including using the typical equipment you'll use on the road (such as a CO2 cartridge instead of the floor pump). Installing a tire while making sure the tube isn't pinched or installed carelessly takes PRACTICE. Ideally, you should be able to remove and install a tire with NO tire tool—but you need to practice enough so that you can at least install the tire without a tire tool. The basic technique is using the palm of your GLOVED hands to roll the last 2-3 inches of bead into the proper seat beneath the rim lip. This takes installing many tires, and you should begin practicing well before any event.

Practicing tire installation means little, however, if you are not properly equipped on the road. Your saddle pack should have tubes (be sure to have the right length stem if you have a unique rim depth—best strategy is always buy 48 mm - 60 mm stem lengths). Have at least one, but usually two, tire levers that are solid, wide, and have a hook for the spoke to help remove tight tires. Have 1 or 2 CO2 cartridges that match your CO2 head (I recommend a screw-on head only with threaded cartridges for less space in the bag). And have boots for ripped sidewalls.

To make boots, the next time you remove an old tire, cut 5 or 6 sections of about 1-2 inches each; then, cut off the beads so that you can use these as sidewall boots in case of a tear. Emergency boots include a folded dollar bill, an empty gel pack, and duct tape (see below).

Next, know how your drivetrain works—chains (do you use a unidirectional chain?), front and rear derailleurs (including cables), and brakes (including cables). You should have a good multi-tool in the saddle pack that has all the tools YOUR bike needs (check allen wrench sizes needed, and try to find a tool with an 8 mm allen for the bottom bracket; check screws—phillips or flathead?).

Even if your local bike shop installs and adjusts your bicycle, know what the adjusting screws and barrels on your derailleurs do (what are the results of each direction of turning) and make sure they are all workable (adjustment barrels are notorious for seizing if you don't have them lubricated and fail to turn them from time to time).

Also carry a spoke wrench (again, that is specific to YOUR wheelset), and have some knowledge of using the wrench to make a wheel rideable if you break a spoke.

A couple neat tricks that can save you on a solo ride or on event day include duct-taping a shifter cable under your saddle (the duct tape can serve as a boot) and carrying a KMC (or appropriate brand and size) quicklink for broken chains. Of course this means, you need to be sure to carry a multi-tool with a chain tool (again that is the right size for the brand and speed chain you use).

Useful guides to learning basic repair/maintenance:

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

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