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What are the top 5 mechanical problems that you are likely to face while on tour ?

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What are the top 5 mechanical problems that you are likely to face while on tour ?

Old 03-10-24, 10:06 PM
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What are the top 5 mechanical problems that you are likely to face while on tour ?

What do you feel are the top 5 mechanical problems that you are likely to face while on tour ? Number one is obviously a flat tire due to a puncture. But what are other very common problems that one needs to be prepared for ? Is it a broken chain ? A broken cable ? A broken spoke ? A torn sidewall ?
Just curious as to other's opinions and experiences.
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Old 03-10-24, 10:28 PM
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I'd be curious what others say. Due to the limited number of parts, there are probably only about 30 or so mechanical issues possible on a bicycle. They all can and do happen, but not in a completely unpredictable fashion. Everyone's top five will be different, and the one that gets you may be #6, because 6, 7, 8, and 9 combined are more likely than #5.

I would suggest making a list of everything that might happen, and then identify what would happen to you in each scenario so you can plan ahead for as many of the ones that will really ruin your day as possible.
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Old 03-10-24, 11:04 PM
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What has happened to me on trips, but not necessarily the most common.
Tire puncture
Chain break
Disc brake pad worn out
Wheel out of alignment

And the most often- saddle sores
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Old 03-11-24, 02:12 AM
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A well-prepared bike with fresh brake pads, cables, chain and cassette will most likely give you no problems.

I've never had a snapped cable in 50.000+ miles of touring. 1 broken chain. 1 left crank that came off (bye bye hollowtech). Some fiddling with cantilever brakes. Maybe a few bent spokes, that required a minimum of wheel truing. That's it.
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Old 03-11-24, 02:16 AM
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Squeaky chain and worn out disc brakes (because I failed to check them before).
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Old 03-11-24, 04:29 AM
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I keep a bottle of chain lube in my handlebar bag, when my chain gets noisy it needs a but of lube to get comfortable again. That is not really a mechanical, but mentioned it any way.

I built up my touring bikes from parts. I worked as a bike mechanic before I went to college. So, I try to keep my bikes well maintained. And I do not use the really fast tires, get ones that have some puncture protection. So, for me, a mechanical on a tour is quite rare. Punctures, as mentioned in previous posts above is of course an issue. But I have only rarely toured in thorn country, so punctures are also rare for me. I average one puncture a year.

I can't remember any cables breaking on any of my tours, but I have had two bar end shifter cables break at the shifter in the past two decades, I think hand sweat caused corrosion. I now only use stainless cables, no more galvanized.

Lost a cleat screw, not on a tour, but it could have been. I carry spare cleat screws now on a tour.

My Lynskey has replaceable dropouts in the rear. Lynskey did this so that a frame could be built for conventional quick release hubs or for through axle. And two M4 screws hold each of the dropouts in. The drive side dropout is also the derailleur hanger. These screws were installed at the factory and never intended to be removed, but Lynskey did not use locktite on them. One of those screws started to unscrew on my first tour on that bike. And the screw head started to rub on the cassette lock ring. At first I started to hear a funny squeak, but could not figure out what it was. Eventually, that gripped the lockring well enough that it started to unscrew. As soon as the lockring started to unscrew, there was a lot of drag at the rear wheel as the width of the hub was expanding, so I immediately stopped. After a few minutes, figured out what the problem was. Half of the screwhead had worn off, an allen wrench would not fit in it. But this was on a tour, not a ride near home and on a tour I carry a spare derailleur hanger and also a lockring tool. Got a spare screw from the spare hanger. And tightened up the lockring with the lockring tool. When I got home, removed all four screws from both sides, loctited the screws into place.

Somehow, I have no idea how, something got caught in a rear spoke and jammed the against the frame, I felt a sudden jerk in the rear wheel and then continued to roll freely. This was in the middle of Iceland, there were no trees, it was not a stick, the only thing it could have been was a rock. Later that day, at one spot the rim started to rub on the brake. Checked it later at the campsite, and I had a nasty kink in the spoke and the nipple was quite loose. I managed to tighten it up. I had spare spokes and nipples but I did not want to pull the tire and rim tape off, so kept riding. Replaced spoke at end of tour at home. You can see one spoke has a nasty kink in the middle in the photo. The bike is upside down in the photo.



I have to remove my crank arms to pack my S&S bike for travel. I bought self extracting crank arm bolts for that bike. And one of them self-extracted somewhere in the middle of Iceland. So, at end of tour, trying to pack up my bike I had to move the self extractor from one side of the bike to the other side, and of course I did not have the right tools for that. Lesson learned, I now carry a regular shop type crank puller so I can make sure I can pack the bike at the end of tour.




That said, I have seen lots of mechanicals on other bikes owned by others while on a tour. Listing what I can remember below:

My last tour, my touring partner had a flat. A seam in a tube split. That can't be patched, so he rode for a while on his one and only spare before he bought another spare. I always carry two spares on a tour because a few times I have had a non-repairable tube problem.

Rack bolt falling out. Three times on different tours. One of the people that had this problem, I met him in the middle of Iceland where parts as common as M5 screws were unavailable anywhere within a 100 km, he had wrapped duct tape around the rack bolts on his bike and his wife's bike to prevent any loose bolts from completely falling out because he had run out of spares. I now use blue (removable) thread locker on all rack bolts, kickstand bolts, shoe cleat bolts. Other bolts get grease instead. I now even carry a tiny bottle of thread locker on tours. On my last tour, someone at the campground actually asked the two of use on that tour if we had any locktite, he was surprised that I did. Considering that many bike shops do not even have any thread locker anywhere in the shop, bolts coming out is more common than it should be.

In the middle of nowhere, met a Brit that had broken his chain so often that he no longer had all of his gears. I had two spare eight speed quick links, so I could part with one. His drive train was nine speed, I told him it probably would not work, but if he was stranded on the side of the road, maybe an eight speed quick link on a nine speed drive train would get him rolling again?

Front derailleur, either a spring broke or a spring stop broke. I managed to make this functional, just barely with some bunge cord. It took the bike owner a day to figure out that bunge is not as good as a spring, but it would shift eventually if he did not pedal too hard while shifting.

Fairly new bike, external bottom bracket bearing failure. Rider got a new bottom bracket shipped to a bike shop on the route from the bike manufacturer.

Rear derailleur hangers out of alignment, this is most often on bikes that were shipped by airline. Poor indexing and shifting. Several occurrences. I refuse to try to straighten a replaceable dropout when I am in a campground somewhere, as if I broke it, that would be a catastrophic disaster.

A friend of mine went over the handlebars when a steerer tube broke at the fork crown and his lower fork was no longer connected to the bike. The bike had crossed the country on loaded tours twice, and had been crashed a few times. Apparently it had been cracked for a while. This was on a van supported tour, the van driver took him to the hospital.

I know two people that had a rear wheel lock up on them. One on a van supported tour. I was not there so I only heard about it, not sure what happened but it was a cartridge bearing wheel that would no longer turn, he bought a used wheel at the bike shop. The other was not on a tour, her bike rear wheel locked up, it was on PBP and she crashed. She said it was the drive train and they got the wheel to work again. She finished but did not make the time cutoff.

I would not call this a mechanical failure but poor brakes or wheels out of true. In one of these occasions, rubbing alcohol wipe on the rotor fixed the poor braking.

If I think of any more, I will add them. Even though I have never experienced a spoke break on a tour, I will continue to carry spare spokes for the wheels that I built. My light touring bike, I did not build the front wheel so do not have spare spokes and do not know the length, so will carry a Fiber Fix spoke on that bike on tour.

Last edited by Tourist in MSN; 03-11-24 at 08:20 AM.
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Old 03-11-24, 04:47 AM
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I'm probably the only one in this group who has broken three cranks! One in VA, one in MI, the other in rural CO. Two were Campagnolo the other TA. Was able to hitch to bike shops each time for repairs. Problem solved with beefier Shimano and Sugino replacements. Another time a dropout braze failed in Booneville KY. Repaired by village smithy.

So my advice? Always bring a spare crankset and frame! (just kidding!)
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Old 03-11-24, 05:16 AM
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Originally Posted by MarcusT
And the most often- saddle sores
Hey!
I dindunuffin!
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Old 03-11-24, 05:29 AM
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The mechanicals I’ve had were flat tires, vibration related or crash related. Most flats are easy but, with bags and racks, practice at home. Getting a rear wheels off is much different on the side of the road than at home. My last flat, on the Erie Canal trail, was a slashed tire. Very glad I’d packed a tire boot.

I’ve had cables loosen from vibration and rack fittings loosen. I’ve also had to deal with minor things from tip overs and low speed crashes. Not bad but worth considering.

When I take a classic bike with freewheel, I always spin the FW off, relube and spin it back on before I leave home. Given a broken spoke, I don’t need to deal with a badly stuck FW too.
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Old 03-11-24, 07:17 AM
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(other than wear, preventative maintenance usually takes care of these, except lubrication -- e.g. brake pads -- loose bolts -- frayed cables -- worn drive train components chain/cassette/chain ring)

o Loose spoke/broken spoke. (I carry a spoke wrench and spares) (two incidents)
o Damaged rear derailleur -- still partly functional, but poor shifting. (one incident)
Broken spoke and damaged derailleur occurred on the same occasion -- muddy gravel road, heavy rain, lots of mud, bike on the roadside, I stepped inadvertently on the rear wheel while reaching out for a fallen piece of kit. Actual damage surfaced during the next day.

Over roughly 9 years touring (perhaps a total of 14 months, 20 000 kms), never had a catastrophic failure.

Last edited by gauvins; 03-11-24 at 07:21 AM. Reason: typo
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Old 03-11-24, 07:20 AM
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The only roadside repairs I've done are punctures.

In town or camps;

Two broken spokes, one of those baggage handling damage.

Replace brake pads.

Chain maintenance, one repair on someone else's bike.

Retape handlebars.

Replaced a sealed hub bearing.

Replaced pedals

Added various accessories
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Old 03-11-24, 07:29 AM
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Originally Posted by BobG
I'm probably the only one in this group who has broken three cranks! One in VA, one in MI, the other in rural CO. Two were Campagnolo the other TA. Was able to hitch to bike shops each time for repairs. Problem solved with beefier Shimano and Sugino replacements. Another time a dropout braze failed in Booneville KY. Repaired by village smithy.

So my advice? Always bring a spare crankset and frame! (just kidding!)
Not broken, but I have replaced three cranks while on tour:
- Most dramatic was just before Christmas 2018 between Kerrville and Junction TX where the crank arm snapped. A combination of walking/hitching got me to Junction where I took a greyhound bus home; continued the trip a few months later
- In Tbilisi Georgia in 2014 I put my pedals on backwards, stripped the threads. Used a taxi to go to a bike shop and get the crank replaced
- On a ride from Memphis to Cincinnati in 2004, I was coming through Paris TN when the right pedal stripped out of the crank. It was Sunday so found a motel nearby. The next morning I rented a car from local auto dealer to bring the bike to Jackson TN bike shop where it was replaced.

However, I agree this is not common.

Roughly in decreasing frequency, I can think of the following:

Occasionally
- flat tire, caused by wire, goat head or similar issue that is easily patched or occasional tube replacement
- minor adjustment
- lube chain

Happens but not that often:
- flat tire where need to replace the tire
- disc pads worn

Has happened but less often than above
- worn cassette
- chain replacement - typically maintenance stop

Even less often:
- cracked rims
- cables updated, typically maintenance in a shop
- pedal seized up

Freak occurrences
- three broken cranks
- three pedals snapped
- front rack joining metal broken on Surly until they fixed it
- four hubs stopped rotating
- broken spokes
- two chainstays broken on AL bikes
- bottom bracket replaced

The net effect is I have a basic set of tools and spare parts I will bring on tour. When overseas in more remote places I may bring more spare parts. On a long enough tour, I'll anticipate bringing in the bike for a service after 2500 miles or so along the way. Last summer in a six month tour, 6600 mile tour:
- a few flat tires fixed with tubes/patches
- two tires worn out, though not new to start
- one cracked rear rim
- two chains replaced, one cassette replaced - at bike shop


Last edited by mev; 03-11-24 at 08:36 AM.
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Old 03-11-24, 07:42 AM
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The following mechanical summaries is from an 18-month/27000km trip from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia in 2016/2017:Reflections:
  • Disc brakes: I have become a big fan of disc brakes – mainly because of a failure I didn’t have. As a rider who is both heavier than average and cautious, I wear through brakes. On previous trips, this also eventually meant a failure on the rear rim. This didn’t happen on my trip. I replaced rotors once and brake pads many times, but didn’t have any rim failures.
  • Hubs/Wheels: I had two hub failures, both with a Phil Woods hub and the pawls sticking down and the hub spinning freely in both directions. After that, I had Sugar Wheel Works build up a different wheel around a DT Swiss 540 tandem hub. I took an extra ratchet mechanism and grease with me, but the hubs worked without a problem. In my experience, while Phil Woods makes a strong hub, it seems like also important to get the mechanism opened, serviced and cleaned and that is difficult for me to do on the road. After four Phil Woods failures, two prior to this trip and two on this trip, I am more shy about using them on other trips. Through the failures, I was pleased with service I had from Sugar Wheelworks.
  • Frame: The right chainstay of my aluminum Trek 4500 bicycle was cracked in Bariloche and welded. There is sometimes a debate about the suitability of Aluminum vs. Steel on touring bikes. Despite the failure, I am still undecided on the debate.
  • Derailleur: My rear derailleur twisted off the bike in the mud of the Dalton Highway. For now, I still think of this as a fluke that happened once in many cycling miles.
  • Tires: I used three different models of tires during the trip: Schwalbe Marathon Plus, Schwalbe Marathon Mondial, and Schwalbe Marathon Supreme. The first two are heavier but also extremely durable tires that served me well. The Supreme tires are considerably lighter (and hence faster). They held up well enough, though I did eventually have enough punctures that I ended up picking new tires back from the USA. Once I got past Mexico, I didn’t see Schwalbe tires in bike shops I passed along the way. They might be there if one searches more.
  • Tubes and tire sizes: Through Latin America, I had 26″ wheels but with Presta tubes and not the more common Schraeder valve. There is also a debate in cycling community about 26″ vs. 700C in Latin America. I carried enough spare tubes and in my experience, the odd sizes I had were not an issue.
Notes from a long supported ride across Africa in 2013 include the following:
- two flat tires during the entire trip; other riders had up to 30, Africa is full of thorns. I had two marathon+, one marathon dureme and one marathon mondial
- brought extra brake/shifter cables. Didn't use but other riders did have cable issues after sandstorm in Sudan
- replaced my middle chainring along the way (it wasn't new at the start)
- used three sets of spare brake pads
- replaced a cassette and chain 2/3 of the way along the trip
- used a replacement derailleur hanger in Ethiopia

Last edited by mev; 03-11-24 at 08:34 AM.
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Old 03-11-24, 08:29 AM
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- Tire puncture- tube or tubeless, doesnt matter which since both should then be looked into after a puncture.
- Brake wear/noise/rub- disc or rim, doesnt matter since rub happens with both due to many random factors.
- Rough shifting- usually easy fix, just a cable tension adjustment, but its still a mechanical problem and can sometimes take longer if you need to reset the derailleur position and cable tension due to the FD or RD being bumped too hard.
- Mounting bolt loose/missing- another usually easy fix, assuming you notice it early enough or you have a spare.
- Tent issue- zipper break, seam leak, seam tear, pole snap, etc.


Not all are bike related, but I would view these as the most likely mechanical problems I/others face.
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Old 03-11-24, 08:45 AM
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Originally Posted by mev
...
Freak occurrences
...
- four hubs stopped rotating
...
Just curious, were all four hubs that stopped rotating cartridge bearing hubs, or were any cup and cone? I saw in your next post you identified Phil hubs, thus cartridge bearing, but it is not clear to me if you had any cup and cone hubs stop rotating?

Were all hub problems rear hubs, or any front hub problems?

Was your Surly front rack your only rack failure, or did you have any other rack failures? If so, any conclusions on what to avoid? I expected some rack failures to appear in this thread but a word search did not find any others.

Thank you for the extremely detailed posts.
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Old 03-11-24, 08:48 AM
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Originally Posted by BobG
I'm probably the only one in this group who has broken three cranks! One in VA, one in MI, the other in rural CO. Two were Campagnolo the other TA. ...
Sounds to me like you are bragging.
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Old 03-11-24, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN
Just curious, were all four hubs that stopped rotating cartridge bearing hubs, or were any cup and cone? I saw in your next post you identified Phil hubs, thus cartridge bearing, but it is not clear to me if you had any cup and cone hubs stop rotating?

Were all hub problems rear hubs, or any front hub problems?

Was your Surly front rack your only rack failure, or did you have any other rack failures? If so, any conclusions on what to avoid?
Both the Phil Woods rear hub and Surly front rack failures are areas where there was subsequent design improvements that may have also addressed some of the issues I saw:
-- I used a 48-spoke Phil Woods rear hub as a way of getting "bombproof" wheels. These had four sets of pawls and a spring to let them spring back. The problem was that the pawls would stick open and then the hub would freely rotate.
- On two occasions, I had a bike shop pull the hub apart and clean/reapply grease with mixed results.
- In Hamilton, New Zealand that seemed to work for several days but then it failed again before Napier.
- When the a rear hub failed near Smithers BC in 2016, Phil Woods sent up a replacement hub under warranty. This hub had five sets of pawls which Phil Woods indicated was a design change that should also improve things.
- However, after that failure and subsequent failure of different hub on my mountain bike near Rawlins, WY I had a bike shop in Fort Collins take everything apart and it worked from there to San Diego. At that point, rather safe than sorry, I decided to switch to a different hub for rest of my trip.
- In addition to New Zealand, Rawlins and Smithers failures, I also had one in southern Thailand in 2007.

I have had only one instance of a front hub with cup and cone having an issue. That was on trip across Russia where it appears one of the front bearings disintegrated. Still rode with a wobble and few days later had a bike shop redo the hub with right number of bearings.

The Surly front rack failures were with brackets that looked like the bracket below on the left. The failures I had on both sides was on the very tip of the bracket where the bracket mounts on the front wheel. That metal broke on both my left and right brackets. The failure was undoubtedly helped by my having larger/heavier backroller panniers on the rack and cycling ~1500km of gravel road with some corrugation until eventually the repeated stresses broke the tip of metal. I was still able to jury rig things by sliding the bracket forward a bit more and having the nut/washer grab further back. After my trip, Surley sent me replacement brackets. These went straight across and didn't have the kink in them. I have continued to use the rack and haven't had a failure since.

I no longer have the same blackburn rack that came with my Trek 520. Eventually the metal fatigued and cracked. I replace the rack between tours.

Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to use and recommend the Surley rack and treat the failures as special circumstances and likely rare. I am more cautious with the hub failures. Probably OK for others, but for me I have intentionally tried other hubs instead for a better in the field maintenance and sense of reliability when I am more remote.
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Old 03-11-24, 11:15 AM
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1st hand and riding with

Cleat Bolts
Seat post clamp Bolt
The normal things, of pads non usable tire, tent pole.

Things I carry when 4 bagging. Cleat bolts, qr saddle clamp, pads, folding slick and for personal reasons.... Bottom bracket.
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Old 03-11-24, 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by seanmccoye
Cleat Bolts
Seat post clamp Bolt
The normal things, of pads non usable tire, tent pole.

Things I carry when 4 bagging. Cleat bolts, qr saddle clamp, pads, folding slick and for personal reasons.... Bottom bracket.
Often, but not always, if you break a seatpost bolt, if you can extract it, the stem cap bolt will work as a substitute until you get to a hardware store.

On some of my bikes, I cut a slot into the threaded end of the seatpost bolt so that if it breaks, an extra small screw driver might be adequate to remove it. Used a Dremel cutoff wheel to cut the slot.
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Old 03-11-24, 11:56 AM
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Originally Posted by mev
...
Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to use and recommend the Surley rack and treat the failures as special circumstances and likely rare. I am more cautious with the hub failures. Probably OK for others, but for me I have intentionally tried other hubs instead for a better in the field maintenance and sense of reliability when I am more remote.
...
I bought a Surly front and rear rack. Initially used both for touring, but after two tours decided that the front rack was overkill for my uses. Donated the front rack to a bike charity. Bought a Tubus Ergo to replace it. On a different bike I use a Tubus Tara on front.

Rear Surly, I still have it and use it on my heavy touring bike for riding around near home, the wide platform is nice for that. But for touring, I use a Tubus Logo EVO on my heavy or medium touring bikes. My light touring bike gets a Racktime Addit rack in the rear. I think both the Tubus and Racktime are stiffer than the Surly, even though the Surly clearly has more metal in it.

Thanks for the additional info on your hub issues. My rear hubs for touring are the older design steel axle Shimano XT, 36 spoke. Very happy with them and the quarter inch ball bearings makes me feel confident with them. Also have a Rohloff on my heavy touring bike, but that is a total different topic.
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Old 03-11-24, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by seanmccoye
Seat post clamp Bolt.
Did that on my last tour. 60 miles from home on the 9th day of the trip. I could have waited a few hours for the shop in town to open to see if it could help. If it could have, I would have gotten home later than I cared to. Instead, I accepted an offer of an extraction of shame. Only cost me a lunch for two.
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Old 03-11-24, 11:01 PM
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Originally Posted by saddlesores
Hey!
I dindunuffin!
Well, sometimes you can be a real pain in the ....
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Old 03-12-24, 01:20 AM
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Side wall cuts ... 2 x in 25 years. thats all.

Should use Schwalbe Marathon Plus ))
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Old 03-12-24, 01:50 AM
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RACK BOLTS (solutions):

I don't like loctite. This is because, on my rear rack, long bolt (rack designed for discs, which I don't have) so more bending moment on bolt, it sheared off at the frame after 7 years. I was lucky, the threaded shaft was loose enough I could back it out with a dental tool. With loctite, that would have been impossible, even heating it up to soften the thread locker. The following info I thought up myself, I'm sure someone else has as well:

1) Use rack bolts that are long enough to stick out past the eyelet on the inside. Then if the head end breaks off clean, you can grab this to back out the shaft in whichever direction is easiest.
2) Make the amount the bolt sticks out on the inside, equal to a nut height (nylock nut if it will fit, or just conventional nut, you might need the latter or a thin nut on the drive side dropout), tighten the bolt, then put the nut on the back side and tighten. Bolt will not come loose. No need for loctite. If the bolt breaks at the head end (99.999% probability), you can back the nut off to expose the bolt to grab, unless the nut itself has enough grab to back out the bolt. Tighten the nut a bit less tight than the bolt head, you don't want to stretch the bolt and unload the thread engagement in the eyelet.
3) Rather than locktite on the threads, use anti-seize, so it doesn't freeze in place. Anti-seize is not as slippery as grease or oil, supposed to not change coefficent of friction versus clean, dry, and unrusted.
4) Put dot of bright nail polish on top (12 o'clock) position of bolt head, this will give you early warning if bolt starts to loosen. Do this also on crank bolts and bottom bracket cups.
5) Use good quality stainless steel bolts and nuts.
6) Carry spares in all lengths, they're small and light.
7) I did the same trick on the front derailleur cable bolt that was always coming loose, as cable position wants to unscrew the bolt. Haven't had to touch it since, 2 years.




Last edited by Duragrouch; 03-12-24 at 03:49 AM.
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Old 03-12-24, 06:08 AM
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Bikes: 1961 Ideor, 1966 Perfekt 3 Speed AB Hub, 1994 Bridgestone MB-6, 2006 Airnimal Joey, 2009 Thorn Sherpa, 2013 Thorn Nomad MkII, 2015 VO Pass Hunter, 2017 Lynskey Backroad, 2017 Raleigh Gran Prix, 1980s Bianchi Mixte on a trainer. Others are now gone.

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Originally Posted by Duragrouch
RACK BOLTS (solutions):

I don't like loctite. This is because, on my rear rack, long bolt (rack designed for discs, which I don't have) so more bending moment on bolt, it sheared off at the frame after 7 years. I was lucky, the threaded shaft was loose enough I could back it out with a dental tool. With loctite, that would have been impossible, even heating it up to soften the thread locker.
...
3) Rather than locktite on the threads, use anti-seize, so it doesn't freeze in place. ...
The thread locker I use is removable, no problem in unscrewing a bolt.

This is what I bought last time I bought any, tiny bottle but it goes a long way.
https://www.truevalue.com/6-ml-remov...hread-locker-1

There are several brands, I have used several and they all work about the same as long as you get the blue which is color coded for removable.

On some bikes you can't put a bolt head on the inside so that the threaded end of the bolt extends outwards, the bolt head can interfere with the chain. But where you can, that is a good solution. I have done that on a few bikes where the rack mounting bolts are high enough above the axle that the bolt head will not interfere with the chain.

My first post in this thread was very clear that the thread locker I use is blue and removable.
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