A Beginner's Guide to Cycle Commuting 4: Maintenance and Roadside Repairs

The thoughts of MICK ALLAN on having the right tools for emergency repairs...

Having the tools and knowing how to use them are two very different things. For many people wielding a spanner is an unfamiliar if not totally alien experience (and being told; ‘It isn't rocket science' doesn't help a bit). But the simple fact is that bikes aren't very complex. If you know how to turn a tap you can tighten a bolt and, broken down to its constituent parts, a bike is nothing more than a collection of nuts and bolts. Spokes are nothing more complicated than long bolts, spoke nipples are nuts. Simple. Honest!

To make things even easier, over the years nut and bolt sizes have been rationalized so that on many modern bikes a single multi-tool that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand is all you need to take the whole bike apart. And put it back together…

Adjustments. The most basic of all bike maintenance jobs; raise the saddle, re-set the angle of the brake lever, tweak the bar. This is genuinely easy stuff. Find the bolt which secures the component, insert the correct Allen key and turn anti clockwise until the part is loose enough to move. Position the seat/ brake/ bar where you want it and do the bolt back up again. The one and only trick required is this: Have a good think about how tight the bolt is as you undo it and simply tighten it back up to that same level.

Mending punctures. There are too many variables in bikes, gear systems and brakes to give a full set of instructions here but in essence there are three separate skills required for the job of mending a puncture;

1. Removing and replacing the wheel.

2. Removing and replacing the tyre and tube.

3. Patching the tube.

Learn these skills separately in easy to digest, bite-sized chunks and you'll have them for life. And you can pass them on to your kids too. The key tip? Always, always find the splinter, sharp, shard or nail that caused the puncture. Because if you don't remove it it'll go straight through your new tube too.

Avoiding punctures. Luckily modern technology is here to save us from the character building indignity of sitting at the side of a road patching a tube. In the dark. In the pouring rain. The first line of defense is the modern puncture resistant tyre. Nearly every manufacturer makes one to fit your bike. There are no performance negatives except initial cost, they are a bit dearer. Under the tread is a tough layer of urethane or Kevlar which prevents foreign bodies penetrating your tyre. Some manufacturers have so much confidence in their tyres that they offer a money back guarantee against punctures.

For the belt and braces approach, install some tube sealant inside your tubes (or you can buy tubes with sealant already inside). If a sharp object does get through the tyre the sealant fills the hole, preventing air loss (and preventing the long walk home). There is a slight weight penalty, only you can decide if it's a price worth paying. Perfect for a hub-geared city bike, perhaps not for a skinny tyred racer with quick-release wheels.

Lubricants. Buy a chain-lube, not an aerosol and not the cheap stuff from a hardware store. Proper bicycle chain-lube in a dripper bottle. Once a month at the very least wipe your chain clean with a rag, drip a little lube onto the chain, spin the pedals a few times and wipe it all off again. It'll last longer and stay cleaner. In the long run it's worth replacing your chain before it gets too worn, a stretched, rusty or otherwise abused chain will destroy all the other components it comes into contact with. Expensive.

Keep an ear out for unusual noises, rattles and knocks and you'll catch little problems before they develop into something serious or even terminal. In general it's important to be aware of how a bike deteriorates slowly but surely simply from being used. Brakes pads wear, cables get sticky, tyres lose their tread and wheels go out of true. Nothing wears out overnight so don't let worn out brakes take you by surprise half way down a hill. They'll have given you plenty of warning.

And the best maintenance tip of all? Whatever type of tyres your bike wears keep them inflated to their optimum pressure, you'll suffer fewer punctures and your bike will roll easier. It's like free energy.

Read more in this series:

Choosing the Right Bike, Sizing and Equipment

Safety Wear and Other Equipment

Cycle Security

Adjusting to Life with Your New Bike

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