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  1. #1
    Senior Member timmythology's Avatar
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    Mechanical Knowledge

    So I am starting to notice that the main barrier for myself with long distance cycling, is my total lack of mechanical knowledge of bikes. Which can be a very major part of doing long distance rides in the middle of nowhere. Especially if something were to go wrong.

    When i say, lack of mechanical knowledge, I mean a total lack of figuring out mechanical thing's period. I do make up for this deficit by meticulous maintenance of my bike at two LBS. I do not buy tools, which creates a barrier for more thing's than my bike But it also provides me with more time to cycle on the weekends, when I notice my friends using their tools One friend of mine finally figured it was easier, faster, and more efficient to just do the project for me, than try and explain it to me.

    I started riding bikes in 2005, I remember my great 6 mile rides, and have progressed since to the goal of a 200k this year. Now in that time, and with two bikes; I have had one broken spoke, broken chain ring, and a broken derailleur during the ride. So of the major mechanical issues on the road, I think only one could of been planned for. Which I guess is one incident every two years, knocks on wood.

    Now most of my longer distance rides have been in organized events, rather than solo, so an option other than my self could be easily available. The longest I have done solo is 65 miles, with no options available for assistance. Which is half of where I want to be. So now I am trying to gauge what the least amount of mechanical knowledge a person should have on long distance rides is. Especially at night, regardless of weather, in the middle of nowhere.

    What's your comfort level?

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by timmythology View Post
    Now in that time, and with two bikes; I have had one broken spoke, broken chain ring, and a broken derailleur during the ride. So of the major mechanical issues on the road, I think only one could of been planned for. Which I guess is one incident every two years, knocks on wood.
    I'd say two: neither a broken spoke nor a broken derailleur should completely disable a bike.

    So now I am trying to gauge what the least amount of mechanical knowledge a person should have on long distance rides is. Especially at night, regardless of weather, in the middle of nowhere.

    What's your comfort level?
    I, literally, know how to take a set of steel tubing and TIG-weld it into a bicycle frame, then install every component necessary to turn it into a working bicycle including hand-building wheels. I've built one mountain bike frame, one set of wheels, and assembled 5 or 6 other bikes from the frame up. I would not, however, consider myself to be especially mechanical.

    But it doesn't take a whole lot of mechanical skill to be able to build a bicycle. If you can remember "right tighty, lefty loosey" you know 90% of what it takes to assemble a bike from the frame up. If you own a #2 Philips screwdriver and a set of metric hex keys (sometimes called "Allen wrenches") you've got 90% of the tools you'll ever need. Tons of info on Sheldon Brown's site and the Park Tool website to get you started...

    On a long-distance ride, you should know how to:

    1) Replace/repair a flat inner tube
    2) Boot a torn tire
    3) Adjust the height and placement of your saddle
    4) Fix a broken chain (can also be used to bypass a broken derailleur and turn the bike into a single-speed)
    5) Perform minor derailleur adjustments (hint: copy the adjustment instructions and keep them in your seat bag; I can never remember which adjustment screw does what nor the correct order for futzing with them)
    6) Replace a broken spoke (a FiberFix spoke replacement kit makes this much easier... in theory) and retrue the wheel

  3. #3
    Watching and waiting. jethro56's Avatar
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    I found a abandoned bike in a friend's barn. (He abandoned it and said take it.) Unfortunately it's the wrong size for me but I took it apart and reassembled it for fun. Ready to go for someone 6'5" or taller.

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    cool, I'm 6'5" 230 lbs..

  5. #5
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    I carry a compact set of tools, plus the usual spares. However, I have found my bikes to be very reliable. Not all of my bikes are new and even my 1974 Schwinn Paramount and 1987 Trek are ready for a century at all times, once I put air in the tires.

    When I started riding long distances, I was very concerned about flats and other problems. Those concerns were unfounded. I will get a flat about every 1000 miles, and changing a tube takes ten minutes. Now I have no real concern about my bikes.

    I do have strong wheels 32 or 36 spoke wheels and good quality bikes. But any bike, above the department store junk level, should be very reliable.
    Last edited by Barrettscv; 03-03-11 at 08:45 AM.

  6. #6
    Downtown Spanky Brown bautieri's Avatar
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    I think you are over thinking it. Sometimes, crap does happen. For my comfort with my mechanical ability, I'd say my confidence in myself is pretty high. But, you can't really prepare for everything. Instead, you need to prepare for what is most likely to go wrong and have a means of correcting the failure good enough to get you home or get you to a place where you can get help. For a 200k, I'd worry most about flats or a broken spoke. Neither of which is a big deal to fix or patch up.

    Carry your cell phone and some cash.
    Last edited by bautieri; 03-03-11 at 06:41 AM.

  7. #7
    Junior Member Bustedlink's Avatar
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    The more you know about bicycle mechanics the better a cyclist you will be. There is only one way to learn mechanics of any kind, get some tools and learn to perform some tuning tasks, and go from there.

  8. #8
    Senior Member EKW in DC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sstorkel View Post
    On a long-distance ride, you should know how to:

    1) Replace/repair a flat inner tube
    2) Boot a torn tire
    3) Adjust the height and placement of your saddle
    4) Fix a broken chain (can also be used to bypass a broken derailleur and turn the bike into a single-speed)
    5) Perform minor derailleur adjustments (hint: copy the adjustment instructions and keep them in your seat bag; I can never remember which adjustment screw does what nor the correct order for futzing with them)
    6) Replace a broken spoke (a FiberFix spoke replacement kit makes this much easier... in theory) and retrue the wheel
    A few years ago, before I started to get into cycling again, I wouldn't have known how to do any of these except for perhaps the inner tube. Fast forward to present, and I could do/have done all of those things myself.

    OP: I say this not to brag, but to point out it's easy enough to learn. Sometimes it's easier seeing it done and trying it a little yourself than just having it explained. Biek co-ops can be be good for this. They and also LBS's sometimes offer special maintenance classes at various levels of knowledge. Something worth looking into if you ask me.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by EKW in DC View Post
    OP: I say this not to brag, but to point out it's easy enough to learn.
    Agree! Ten years ago I was the kind of guy who, literally, didn't know how to swing a hammer. I'm still not very good with a hammer... but I can now do just about anything that needs to be done on a bicycle. I started with simple projects like fixing a flat tire, adjusting the derailleurs and replacing handlebar tape then worked my way up to building a frame from scratch. If I can do it, my guess is that anyone can. The biggest trick is being able to realize when you're in over your head and asking someone for help rather than proceeding blindly and getting yourself into a real pickle!

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    Quote Originally Posted by timmythology View Post
    I do make up for this deficit by meticulous maintenance of my bike at two LBS.
    Meticulously maintaining your bike yourself will teach you how to maintain it and fix it if anything happens on the road. It's easy nowadays, with sheldonbrown.com, parktool.com, other websites and free online video tutorials.

    So go buy those tools. You'll be confident in no time.

  11. #11
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sstorkel View Post
    5) Perform minor derailleur adjustments (hint: copy the adjustment instructions and keep them in your seat bag; I can never remember which adjustment screw does what nor the correct

    That's really strange that you have a problem with that because it is set up in a mechanical order/sense. On the rear, the top screw is the hig and the bottom screw is the low. Right tightens the limits, left loosens the limits. On the front, even more basic. Inside is for the inside limit (low) and outside for the outside limit (high).

    As far as turning the barrel, if you turn it the wrong way you'll know. If worse comes to worse turn the barel till it begins to jump up onto the next cog, then back of about 1/4 turn. You should be right in the ball park. This takes about 20 seconds so it's not like you can screw up without written instructions handy.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Wogster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by timmythology View Post
    So I am starting to notice that the main barrier for myself with long distance cycling, is my total lack of mechanical knowledge of bikes. Which can be a very major part of doing long distance rides in the middle of nowhere. Especially if something were to go wrong.

    When i say, lack of mechanical knowledge, I mean a total lack of figuring out mechanical thing's period. I do make up for this deficit by meticulous maintenance of my bike at two LBS. I do not buy tools, which creates a barrier for more thing's than my bike But it also provides me with more time to cycle on the weekends, when I notice my friends using their tools One friend of mine finally figured it was easier, faster, and more efficient to just do the project for me, than try and explain it to me.

    I started riding bikes in 2005, I remember my great 6 mile rides, and have progressed since to the goal of a 200k this year. Now in that time, and with two bikes; I have had one broken spoke, broken chain ring, and a broken derailleur during the ride. So of the major mechanical issues on the road, I think only one could of been planned for. Which I guess is one incident every two years, knocks on wood.

    Now most of my longer distance rides have been in organized events, rather than solo, so an option other than my self could be easily available. The longest I have done solo is 65 miles, with no options available for assistance. Which is half of where I want to be. So now I am trying to gauge what the least amount of mechanical knowledge a person should have on long distance rides is. Especially at night, regardless of weather, in the middle of nowhere.

    What's your comfort level?
    I would say if you want the minimum of knowledge with field repairs, you should know how to:

    Repair a puncture....
    True a wheel with a broken spoke, enough to make the bike ridable....
    Replace a cable.
    Repair a broken chain.

    For minimum tools, a set of tire levers, a pump, a chain tool, a pair of wire cutters, a spoke wrench the proper size.
    For minimum parts, a spare tube, a spare rear brake cable, a spare rear shifter cable, a spare spoke in each size required, a spare chain link or two, a 6" piece of floral wire, a 12" hunk of duct tape.

    Let me explain that last two, I once had a derailleur break on me, used the wire to hold it together long enough to get to a bike shop for a replacement, I actually rode the bike to the shop! Duct tape is the handyman's secret weapon, it's very tough and has a very strong glue, it can be used to hold a lot of things together when they break, field repairs are the world of jury rigging, when the next nearest person is 20 miles away, being able to make something work well enough to get you to them is the key. It doesn't matter how it looks, or how well it works, as long as it kinda works. Really though, you know the old saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it's true, actually I think it's more like an ounce of prevention is worth a hundredweight of cure, but that's beside the point.

  13. #13
    Senior Member timmythology's Avatar
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    Ok, first and formost, i am not really talking about chaning a tire. I have done that many times on the road, and at home. So I am over thinking this to a degree I am sure.
    In my "kit" i carry 1-3 tubes, patch kit, little mini multi tool, some ziptyes, patch kit, tire iron's. I like the suggestion of carrying directions on the derailleur, since i did that with my first flat, which is a nice way of being prepared.

    So for the chain, I just need a link, and tool. I'll start reading about the wheel, but that is not going to be easy

    I think most of it is just having the confidence to ride in a strange area, in the dark, for 200k. I find this to be a little daunting. My biggest concern is time, and therefore getting stuck in the night somewhere. On a century the best i have finished is eight and half hours. My longest ride at 118miles was closer to 12 hours. My computer tells me I do around 13.7 mph over long rides. So I feel a little thinking is in order on the next go around. Well i can keep talking, or I can go ride my bike.

    cya

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Beanz View Post
    That's really strange that you have a problem with that because it is set up in a mechanical order/sense. On the rear, the top screw is the hig and the bottom screw is the low. Right tightens the limits, left loosens the limits. On the front, even more basic. Inside is for the inside limit (low) and outside for the outside limit (high).
    It's really strange that you assume that all derailleurs are the same and that one set of instructions will work for everything... If I only owned one bike, I wouldn't have a problem. Unfortunately, four of the five bikes I own have derailleurs and they're not all the same.

    Just looking at front derailleurs, there are a number of factors to take into account: SRAM versus Shimano, high-clamp versus low-clamp, and top-pull versus bottom-pull. IIRC, I've got three bottom-pull derailleurs (two high-clamp, one low-clamp) and one top-pull derailleur. I guarantee that your instructions don't work for all of the derailleurs I own... I just can't remember which ones are which!

    The score is much the same with rear derailleurs: Shimano versus SRAM, high-normal versus low-normal, etc. Again, I'm not sure your advice applies to to all the different permutations. All of my rear-derailleurs are low-normal, but I want to say that SRAM and Shimano put the limit screws in different locations due to the differences in the shifting mechanism. Or maybe it's a difference between MTB and road bike? Again, I can't remember which is which.

    In addition, for SRAM road components at least, the order of adjustment seems to be important. My experience was that if I followed the instructions exactly, adjustment was super-easy. Fiddle with the limit screws in random order and it was very difficult to get things dialed in precisely. Shimano seemed much more amenable to random twiddling.

  15. #15
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sstorkel View Post
    It's really strange that you assume that all derailleurs are the same and that one set of instructions will work for everything... If I only owned one bike, I wouldn't have a problem. Unfortunately, four of the five bikes I own have derailleurs and they're not all the same.

    Just looking at front derailleurs, there are a number of factors to take into account: SRAM versus Shimano, high-clamp versus low-clamp, and top-pull versus bottom-pull. IIRC, I've got three bottom-pull derailleurs (two high-clamp, one low-clamp) and one top-pull derailleur. I guarantee that your instructions don't work for all of the derailleurs I own... I just can't remember which ones are which!

    The score is much the same with rear derailleurs: Shimano versus SRAM, high-normal versus low-normal, etc. Again, I'm not sure your advice applies to to all the different permutations. All of my rear-derailleurs are low-normal, but I want to say that SRAM and Shimano put the limit screws in different locations due to the differences in the shifting mechanism. Or maybe it's a difference between MTB and road bike? Again, I can't remember which is which.

    In addition, for SRAM road components at least, the order of adjustment seems to be important. My experience was that if I followed the instructions exactly, adjustment was super-easy. Fiddle with the limit screws in random order and it was very difficult to get things dialed in precisely. Shimano seemed much more amenable to random twiddling.
    Damn! I had it in my mind to type "most" but fogot. No, I am not assuming. I have a tandem, mtb, hybrid, 4 roadies that are all the same, MTB and road derailleurs, but most Shimano. That includes 3 other roadies and another tandem that I no longer have.

  16. #16
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by timmythology View Post
    So I am starting to notice that the main barrier for myself with long distance cycling, is my total lack of mechanical knowledge of bikes. Which can be a very major part of doing long distance rides in the middle of nowhere. Especially if something were to go wrong.

    So now I am trying to gauge what the least amount of mechanical knowledge a person should have on long distance rides is. Especially at night, regardless of weather, in the middle of nowhere.

    What's your comfort level?
    Well, millions of people head out in cars and trucks every day, some probably heading to the middle of nowhere, and I doubt many have the knowledge, tools or parts to make repairs enroute.

    That being said, bikes aren't extremely complex. The knowledge and tools can be obtained without a huge outlay of cash or time so I would think it would be well worth pursuing. Personally, I believe one of the best ways to learn bike maintenance is on a beater bike. They can be had cheaply (picked up a mid-90s Diamond Back Sorrento for $20 just last night which I am confident can be brought back to life with nothing but cleaning, lubing and tuning) and are great introductions to wrenching without the fear of messing up an expensive bike. Grab an old bike, buy some basic tools, read a book or go online for instructions and have at it.

  17. #17
    working on progress treebound's Avatar
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    Find ride reports from the long distance folks and read about what they've had to deal with, let their experience be your teacher.

    Many bike shops and places like REI Co-op offer bike repair classes. Also, during the off season, you might be able to find a friendly mechanic at a local bike shop willing to teach in exchange for some negotiated fee or food or beverage.

  18. #18
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    I just finished completely stripping my $2500 (at least thats what I try to convince my wife it cost) touring bike down to the last bolt and rebuilding it. I lubed and cleaned the hubs, disassembled and cleaned avid bb7s, seperated the chain and installed a quick link, removed and cleaned the cassette, cleaned (basically looked at) the bottom bracket and headset. I am not afraid of it anymore. It cost me less then $50 for tools (all park, don't buy crappy tools) and parts. NIKE said it best "DO IT"

  19. #19
    Senior Member timmythology's Avatar
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    Sorry, but I value my spare time at a higher rate than the lbs charges. So they can keep my bikes running good. Especially at this point, with my schedule, since I am a 3/4 time student, work a 40 hour a week job, and am married. So spare time for learning is not on the books. I also do not find tedious chores to be fun. While I can agree that bikes use simple mechanical technology, I also find that it is very tedious.

    On the other hand I had this conversation at the lbs I frequent, and they will trade a can of hamms for a short lesson on field repairs. So thing's are moving forward at least.

    The good news is that my mtb was heeled from heelstrike this afternoon so I am very happy right now. I also had a nice ride in to work, even though it was wet.

    Dig your right, there is a night time 200k in two weeks, so I'll just go do that

  20. #20
    Senior Member cyclist2000's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by timmythology View Post
    Sorry, but I value my spare time at a higher rate than the lbs charges. So they can keep my bikes running good. Especially at this point, with my schedule, since I am a 3/4 time student, work a 40 hour a week job, and am married. So spare time for learning is not on the books. I also do not find tedious chores to be fun. While I can agree that bikes use simple mechanical technology, I also find that it is very tedious.

    On the other hand I had this conversation at the lbs I frequent, and they will trade a can of hamms for a short lesson on field repairs. So thing's are moving forward at least.

    The good news is that my mtb was heeled from heelstrike this afternoon so I am very happy right now. I also had a nice ride in to work, even though it was wet.

    Dig your right, there is a night time 200k in two weeks, so I'll just go do that
    I am too cheap to let an LBS do my repairs. I typically do all my own repairs unless it requires a tool that is a lot more expensive than the repair. like facing a bottom bracket (tool costs about $500)

    But I do suggest that you have a mini tool that has a chain tool included. Most on-the-road problems can be repaired with this type of tool. with the exception of a repair of a broken spoke.

    I like having a little knowledge of repairs so minor problems won't have me walking back home or drastically shorten a week long tour.

    Another place to learn about bike repairs is at a bike co-op and you may not have to experiment on your own bike.
    I don't do vintage, I bought them new, rode them, kept them. Now they are just old bikes
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/bustercrb/sets/72157623483647522/

  21. #21
    Senior Member timmythology's Avatar
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    I have the multi tool, just not one with a chain tool, but than b-day is next month and it will make a perfect prize for the picking. I also am cheap, which is why I just find the right person to do the job I have spent a lot more money having people fix my mistakes, and learned that I can save money by paying others at the start. I like to cook though

    So from this thread I just need to learn the wheel part, and buy a new mini tool, the rest I have done.

  22. #22
    Senior Member timmythology's Avatar
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    I do save a lot of money from take out, and eating out. Since I know how to cook I never could understand someone paying 30 bucks for a steak, when the company at home is better, as well as the steak.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by timmythology View Post
    I have the multi tool, just not one with a chain tool, but than b-day is next month and it will make a perfect prize for the picking. I also am cheap
    A chain tool for your birthday?! Don't buy an expensive chain tool, especially if you only have one bike. I bought mine for less than $10, and I've used it to shorten chains and install power links for my two bikes and friends' bikes. No problems so far. Just try using it once to see how it works, and if it works (do that with the expensive ones, too!) so that you can depend on it if something happens.

    And don't say you're cheap unless you mean it. Some of us work hard all our lives to deserve such a title.

  24. #24
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    The Park CT-5 chain tool is cheap ($10-15) and small enough to live in a seat wedge. I own a more expensive chain tool, but have to admit I use the CT-5 more than anything else because I have them stashed on all my bikes to they're always close by...

  25. #25
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    Your original post implied you were uncomfortable getting to far from civilization on your bike because you didn't know how to deal with it breaking. I certainly had better things to do them strip my bike and put it back together but now I can do it. I absolutely would recomend patronizing your LBS but if you want to be comfortable you have to bight the bullet and learn. I also have a family of four so simple tune ups and cleanings can get spendy and I cook at home because I am cheap.(and I have earned it)

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