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If it can go wrong...

Old 04-06-14, 07:31 PM
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If it can go wrong...

I'm planning my first tour in mid-July, which gives me just over three months to make sure I've prepared myself. Since I don't know anything about bicycle maintenance, I thought it might do for me to learn a thing or two, especially if I know I'll be over a hundred miles from the nearest town (which won't necessarily have a bike shop in it).

Aside from a flat tire, what are all the common things people have had go wrong with their bikes? In theory, anything at all could happen, especially if you get into a serious wipe-out. But what are the more frequent problems?
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Old 04-06-14, 07:49 PM
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I've broken spokes on my rear wheel twice, most likely from the extra weight of panniers on my rear rack. Replacing a spoke on the rear wheel can be a nuisance because you have to remove the gear cassette, which requires a special tool. Then you have to be able to true the wheel on site.

The first time it happened to me, I was within a mile of a good bike shop. The second time, I was in the same area, but that bike shop had gone out of business! The rest of the ride back to the ferry (about 20 miles) was horrible. Be sure to check the tension on all your spokes before you leave, and do it with the bike fully loaded. And that doesn't mean you should make them all as tight as you can! If you're not sure what you're doing, go to the LBS.

Final advice: Bring a pair of rubber gloves for repairs on the road. You'll thank me for this.
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Old 04-06-14, 08:24 PM
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Originally Posted by El Cid
Aside from a flat tire, what are all the common things people have had go wrong with their bikes? In theory, anything at all could happen, especially if you get into a serious wipe-out. But what are the more frequent problems?
You should be prepared to handle:

- a punctured inner tube
- a slashed/torn tire
- a broken chain
- a chain that needs lubrication
- a worn chain
- a loose pedal
- a handlebar or stem that is loose
- a broken spoke
- a broken brake or derailleur cable
- a bent disc brake rotor (if your touring bike uses disc brakes)
- a bent rear derailleur hanger (if your touring bike uses a rear derailleur)
- a worn brake pad
- a wheel that is out of true
- an out of adjustment front or rear derailleur

I've had the first 6 or 7 happen to me! Obviously, some of these don't apply on shorter tours if you start with decent equipment.
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Old 04-06-14, 09:28 PM
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Actually, my bike isn't a touring bike at all, but a stock Surly Krampus I got last November. I've mapped out my route, and I plan on hitting a town every other day, assuming I cover 60 miles a day. So I need enough food and supplies for one night out in the open, and then I'll be in town the following day where I can restock and spend a night in a motel room.

Its a good idea to learn how to maintain your own bike anyway, but I'll start with the list you just provided -- and thanks for the advice.
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Old 04-06-14, 10:20 PM
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Pretty much everything sstorkel has said! However some of that stuff is easy and some of the stuff will be lessened with a well maintained bike before you go out.
Also as Papa Tom said, rubber gloves, bring them!

I would also prepare for potential gear failures like bag rips or mounting fails or bolts falling out. Tenacious Tape (Tenacious Tape? by Gear Aid?: Strong, Clean Adhesive Tape for Gear Repair - Gear Aid) is a good alternative to Duct Tape that doesn't leave the sticky residue so is much better for gear repair. You can also pick up some standard bolts for bottle cages or racks for pretty cheap or sometimes for free at your LBS. Those paracord bracelets (either bought or handmade) can be useful sometimes as well if you need to tie down gear or for clothesline or things like that.
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Old 04-07-14, 12:39 AM
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Good list, but there are things you have to maintain, and things that break. So a maintenance issue would be dealing with cable stretch, adjusting your gears, and brakes, lubing the chain, sometimes headsets. I have had tapered cranks come loose from the BB on two bikes, seems to be a 500 mile thing. Easy to fix, but it takes a really big wrench. So if you get 500-1K on the bike before you go, get the cranks tightened before you leave.

Wheel issues are common enough, but you can build wheels that simply will not break. It is worth the cost or effort if you are planing or upgrading a bike.

There are bearing maintenance things. If I have loose bearings, I normally replace them before a long tour. This should not be necessary in that there is a long service interval on these parts, but it is easy to do, and new bearings and grease sorta make the bike feel like it did when you bought it. Same thing with chain, and gear wear. You can basically return a bike to new specs for what it costs to put gas in my tank. Of course, for the moment, your bike is new.
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Old 04-07-14, 05:32 AM
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Originally Posted by El Cid
I'm planning my first tour in mid-July
How long? How many miles?
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Old 04-07-14, 07:42 AM
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Bring a light in case you have a breakdown at the end of the day.
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Old 04-07-14, 07:42 AM
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Originally Posted by sstorkel
You should be prepared to handle:

- a punctured inner tube
- a slashed/torn tire
- a broken chain
- a chain that needs lubrication
- a worn chain
- a loose pedal
- a handlebar or stem that is loose
- a broken spoke
- a broken brake or derailleur cable
- a bent disc brake rotor (if your touring bike uses disc brakes)
- a bent rear derailleur hanger (if your touring bike uses a rear derailleur)
- a worn brake pad
- a wheel that is out of true
- an out of adjustment front or rear derailleur

I've had the first 6 or 7 happen to me! Obviously, some of these don't apply on shorter tours if you start with decent equipment.
Remember that some of these may be best handled by limping, walking, or hitchhiking to the next or nearest bike shop. I'll comment on these a bit based on my touring experiences which include crossing the US a couple times as well as a number of other long tours. These comments are based on that touring experience all of which was in the US, so if you are going to Outer Mongolia things may be different.

- a slashed/torn tire - personally I rely on the unlikelihood of a tire that can't be booted well enough to ride to somewhere to buy a new tire. I'd improvise a boot and if that fails hitch hike to the next place a tire is available.
- a broken chain - I carry a chain tool to remove a bad link and a few spare links.
- a chain that needs lubrication - yep, carry lube and use it every few days
- a worn chain - keep an eye on it and replace as needed, but a worn chain gives plenty of warning so I wouldn't even consider carrying a spare chain.
- a loose pedal - A properly tightened pedal should never come loose. In 55 years of bicycling I have never had one come loose.
- a handlebar or stem that is loose - definitely have tools to remedy this
- a broken spoke - a few spokes, a spoke wrench, and the ability to true a wheel are a good idea.
- a broken brake or derailleur cable - in either case you can still limp along, so I no longer carry spares, but they are small and light so if you feel the need the weight penalty is pretty low.
- a bent disc brake rotor (if your touring bike uses disc brakes) - this should be a pretty rare occurrence and again you can limp along with a bent one so I would not carry a spare.
- a bent rear derailleur hanger (if your touring bike uses a rear derailleur) - This can usually be straightened on the road and worst case you can limp to the next bike shop.
- a worn brake pad - either keep an eye on them and replace before necessary or carry one pair of spares especially in the mountains.
- a wheel that is out of true - good to have a spoke wrench and the ability to use it effectively
- an out of adjustment front or rear derailleur - good to have the knowledge and tools to manage this.
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Old 04-07-14, 08:33 AM
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Like Pete, many of the things sstorkel mentions are things I'd rather limp with to the next bike shop. Wheel and chain stuff you should be able to fix on the road, and a lot of things can be prevented with a bit of attention.

Spare tube? Know how to find what caused the flat and fix it? Absolutely! But pump the tires up every day or two, and that'll help prevent snakebite flats.

Spare tire? I've used one, but only once. Maybe take a light, foldable tire.

Chain trouble? Lube the chain once a week, wipe it down every day or two. Borrow a ruler to measure the chain when you lube it. Small chain tool and spare master link may keep you moving.

Start with a new chain, new tires, and new brake pads (Kool Stop Salmon pads). Keep a couple of 800 numbers for tire suppliers on hand in case you need to have a spare overnighted a day or two ahead for those times when no nearby bike shop has anything over 700x23. When the chain starts to wear, ride to the next bike shop and have it replaced. Take spare brake pads and have them installed first chance you get when they wear past the knobs.

It's a good idea to have a mechanic show you how to trim the brakes and derailers for when the cables stretch. Adjust the brake cables as necessary and leave the derailers alone.

Take a small bag of extra bolts, washers, and nuts in common metric sizes. When you do your weekly chain lube, check all the rack bolts for tightness (and replace anything that fell off immediately!).
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Old 04-07-14, 09:38 AM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1
Remember that some of these may be best handled by limping, walking, or hitchhiking to the next or nearest bike shop.
Perhaps I should have been more explicit: I didn't mean that you needed to carry spares and tools for all of these problems. Rather that you need to be prepared to deal with them. Like you, my goal is often to be able to limp the bike to the next major town rather than carrying a bunch of tools and spares that I may not need. To follow-up on a few specific points:

- a slashed/torn tire - personally I rely on the unlikelihood of a tire that can't be booted well enough to ride to somewhere to buy a new tire. I'd improvise a boot and if that fails hitch hike to the next place a tire is available.
I used to think this... until I had a Continental Gatorskin that separated from the bead and left me stranded several miles from cell phone service. These days, I carry the smallest spare tire that will fit my rims (700x25).

- a worn chain - keep an eye on it and replace as needed, but a worn chain gives plenty of warning so I wouldn't even consider carrying a spare chain.
This is my strategy as well. Even so, the OP would need to know how to remove the old chain, properly size the new chain for his bicycle, and install it. This sounds easy, but if you've never done it the process can be intimidating.

- a loose pedal - A properly tightened pedal should never come loose. In 55 years of bicycling I have never had one come loose.
Back when I let bicycle shops maintain my bicycle, I did run into this on more than one occasion. Hasn't been a problem since I started building and maintaining my own bikes. Still: not a bad idea to know how to install and/or tighten the pedals. In particular, the OP needs to know that the pedals are threaded in different directions.

- a broken spoke - a few spokes, a spoke wrench, and the ability to true a wheel are a good idea.
I carry spare spokes, a spoke wrench, and a FiberFix spoke. I don't carry the tools for removing the rear cassette, however. If I break a drive-side spoke, I would cut/pull the broken spoke out of the wheel using my Leatherman, then replace with the FiberFix spoke. If that didn't work, I'd true the wheel as well as I could with one spoke missing. In both cases, I'd limp to the next bike shop and have them replace the broken spoke with one of my spares.

- a bent disc brake rotor (if your touring bike uses disc brakes) - this should be a pretty rare occurrence and again you can limp along with a bent one so I would not carry a spare.
This is a pretty rare occurrence... unless you ship your bike by Amtrak and they pile every piece of luggage for the entire train on top of the flimsy cardboard box containing your bike when they unload it. Don't ask me how I know this! In any event, I carry a Torx T15 wrench (on my bicycle multi-tool) and Leatherman pliers so I can attempt to straighten the disc if necessary. I also carry a small (0.2oz) tube of Blue Loctite (#242), since brake rotor bolts seem to always have a threadlocker applied.

If I were using Amtrak to get to the beginning of a tour rather than home, I would consider packing a spare disc. And if I used a disc brake system other than Avid BB5/BB7, I would definitely pack a spare disc: I've learned the hard way that not all brake rotors are the same (even when they're marked as being the same size). Avid rotors are the only ones commonly stocked by bicycle shops, it seems.

- a bent rear derailleur hanger (if your touring bike uses a rear derailleur) - This can usually be straightened on the road and worst case you can limp to the next bike shop.
The next bike shop is unlikely to carry a derailleur hanger that fits your bike. I carry a spare hanger and Loctite.

- a worn brake pad - either keep an eye on them and replace before necessary or carry one pair of spares especially in the mountains.
Again, this is also my strategy. The OP would need to know how to remove the old pads, insert new pads, and properly align and space the brakes once the new pads are installed. The later can be tricky, depending on the type of brake you're using, so it isn't a bad idea to learn how to do it before you leave.
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Old 04-07-14, 09:56 AM
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Fiber fix spokes are supposed to be able to replace a spoke on the road without the need to remove the cassette.
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Old 04-07-14, 10:14 AM
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You can usually find someone who will give you a lift in the event of a serious breakdown, so don't sweat it too much.
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Old 04-07-14, 10:21 AM
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yeah ....wave a twenty at some kid in a pickup

this applies to rural areas
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Old 04-07-14, 10:35 AM
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El Cid, Two important steps prior to a tour are first to have the bike and all of your gear in top notch shape and two is to have the knowledge to repair whatever breaks. Find out if any of the bike shops in your area offer maintenance classes. If none, borrow from a library or buy a general bicycle maintenance manual and do the work on your bike prior to the trip. Any friends bicycle savvy?

As previously mentioned, there are failures that can be limped somewhere for help.

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Old 04-07-14, 10:46 AM
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I think we mostly agree. I just wanted to clarify a bit so the OP or other readers didn't assume that that had to carry a lot of spare parts.

Originally Posted by sstorkel
I used to think this... until I had a Continental Gatorskin that separated from the bead and left me stranded several miles from cell phone service. These days, I carry the smallest spare tire that will fit my rims (700x25).
Probably not a terrible idea, but I figure it is a rare enough event that I am willing to resort to hitchhiking in the event of not being able to boot a tire. I am pretty picky about carrying extra weight so I tend to err in that direction. Even if I thought that some time on some tour I'd need to hitch a ride to get a tire, I still wouldn't be willing to carry one on all of my tours.

Originally Posted by sstorkel
Back when I let bicycle shops maintain my bicycle, I did run into this on more than one occasion. Hasn't been a problem since I started building and maintaining my own bikes. Still: not a bad idea to know how to install and/or tighten the pedals. In particular, the OP needs to know that the pedals are threaded in different directions.
Yep, you will likely need to install or remove pedals on long tours since long tours typically involve boxing up your bike at one end or the other if not both. I typically mail my pedal wrench home after I assemble the bike, since more often than not I pay a bike shop to box up my bike and ship it home. At the end of the tour it is worth the expense to me to quickly be shed of the bike and not have to deal with it on the flight home. In my opinion it typically has been $100 or so well spent including the bike shop's fee and the FedEx or UPS charge.

Originally Posted by sstorkel
The next bike shop is unlikely to carry a derailleur hanger that fits your bike. I carry a spare hanger and Loctite.
Yeah, true. I guess I am a bit complacent on this one since I have never needed to replace one even when I broke rear derailleurs off when racing single track on my mountain bike. I did ride with a guy who needed to replace three of them on that one coast to coast tour. He had to wait a couple days to have two shipped to him. He blamed the trailer for the problem, I am not convinced that was the cause, but it might have been. To their credit Trek took pretty good care of him replacing the hangers and a wheel under warranty.
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Old 04-07-14, 10:50 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s
You can usually find someone who will give you a lift in the event of a serious breakdown, so don't sweat it too much.
I have hitched a ride a few times and been with other riders who did several other times. In all if that I think the longest wait for a ride was about 20 minutes, including a location where there was only one car every 20 minutes or so. The more remote the place the more likely that any given car will stop. Way out in the desert most folks will stop. In less remote fewer folks will stop, but there is more traffic.
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Old 04-07-14, 11:21 AM
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with modern 32/36h rims, broken spokes, IME, don't demand any special attention. the wheel may not be as true as it was, but will be ride-able for hundreds of miles. you may want to open the quick release on the brake, if there is one.

and in thousands of miles of touring, i can't recall anything other than tubes and tires causing problems.

i usually carry a spare tube, tire-patching kit, pump, multi-tool and oil (it's not always readily available in gas-station trash can plastic bottles like it once was). and if i have a cassette on the rear wheel, i'll leave the lock ring loose enough to remove it with one of the hex wrenches on my multitool.

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Old 04-07-14, 12:56 PM
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Sounds like previous posters have got your list sorted for you. A word of caution on fibre-fix spokes - follow the instructions! Don't get halfway through and figure you have it cased (like I did).

Maybe I could have kept going with out putting the fibre-fix on, but I had to go better than 50 miles to the next bike shop and felt better with it.

I carry a spare chain link, my fibre-fix spoke, and the normal tire changing tools. Anything more advanced than what those items and a multi-tool can handle, and I hit a bike shop.

+1 on rubber gloves; I carry 1/2 dozen nitrile gloves, makes life so much more pleasant.
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Old 04-07-14, 01:09 PM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1
Yep, you will likely need to install or remove pedals on long tours since long tours typically involve boxing up your bike at one end or the other if not both. I typically mail my pedal wrench home after I assemble the bike, since more often than not I pay a bike shop to box up my bike and ship it home.
I use pedals and cranks that can be installed using an 8mm hex key inserted from the back of the crank. My multi-tool has an 8mm bit, so I don't need a pedal wrench. Carrying a full-sized 8mm hex key would occasionally make removal easier, however.
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Old 04-07-14, 01:51 PM
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--Extra Cleat bolts--
Extra rack bolts

Ability to take the crank off. --IF you are running asquare taper BB buy 8mm self extracting crank bolts and an 8mm wrench--
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Old 04-07-14, 04:35 PM
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Touring is more about logistics and problem solving than about mechanical ability. There are plenty of us who enjoy "wrenching" but honestly it's not a requirement. You'll survive if you can repair a flat, and use your wits for anything else. I would recommend a stop off at a bike shop for a check-up every 1200-1500 miles if you have no repair skills. Learning to do repairs is a good thing know, but not a requirement.
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Old 04-08-14, 07:24 PM
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This past summer on one tour, I had a left crank bolt back out and was lost somewhere. Unbelievable, never had it happen before but it sure ruined what at the time was a nice tour. Btw, this isn't something you can just pick up anywhere, especially in the middle of nowhere. I was not a happy camper ! Now, I will locktite in the future and even carry a spare (oh and make sure you've got your 8mm hex key with you, they don't grow on trees either)
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Old 04-08-14, 09:29 PM
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Well the advice came fast and furious, just in a couple days. The good news is that I have about three months till I plan on leaving, giving me plenty of time to learn the basics of maintenance, which I think is a good idea just as a general principle. If I was maintaining my bike properly all winter, I wouldn't have had an expensive repair just recently (5 months of exposure to road salt basically disintegrated the bottom of my bike).

As for all those breakdown possibilities, its looking like I could handle almost all of them with just a small handful of tools, and the bulkiest item I'll have will be extra tubes and tires.

The length of my tour will be two weeks, starting in Tucson, AZ, then going south to Tombstone, and then north all the way to the Grand Canyon. I've mapped out a route which would have me hitting a small town every other day, so I only need enough food for a single day at a time before I can restock at a store. Compared to some of the more hardcore tours out there, this probably means I can afford space for other things that are slightly less essential (or I can just carry less).

The longest leg of my tour, between towns, will be Tombstone to San Manuel at about 70 miles -- doing that in two days allows me to take a meandering pace and make stops along the way. And if I had a serious breakdown, I'd be passing right near Benson along the way. I'll definitely have my bike in top shape before the tour, and if it takes damage from UPS ground, I can have it fixed at a bike shop in Tucson (I did some reading and found people recommended express shipping for the better treatment of packages, but that may be out of my budget).
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Old 04-09-14, 07:34 PM
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Fixing a flat is at the very limit of my technical ability. I can, with difficulty, tension the brake cables. When I have tried to adjust the gearing, I have always messed up. I can tighten loose bolts, but if my bike was professionally tuned up before I go, everything seems to stay tight during my tours. The job of cleaning/re-oiling a chain is easy; even I can do it!

If my rear dérailleur bent, or a spoke snapped, or the chain broke, or a tire blew out, I would walk, or start hitchhiking. I have been riding a bike for 50 years plus, and touring for over 30, and these things have never happened to me. The way I see things, it is not worth carrying parts and tools that I might need once in a lifetime. On any tour I have ever been on, I don't think I have never been further than 50 miles (90 km) from a bike shop.

It makes a difference where you go. The further away you go from well-stocked bike shops, the more you need to be able to do yourself.

Despite my limited mechanical skills, improvising repairs is part of the fun. On one tour, the weld on the rear rack snapped; I repaired it by wrapping the break with dental floss soaked with Crazy Glue. Another time, I fixed a cracked mirror mount with Sugru. When I discovered my map case had the annoying habit of flapping in the wind, I anchored it to the handlebars with double-sided Velcro.
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