Mar 31 2015

Gearing Up to Ride: The Big Picture

I always carry tools in my saddle pack, and I carry even more in my handlebar bag, along with a selection of spare parts. Here’s the complete rundown, beginning with the contents of my seat pack:

  • Spare tire tube
  • Self-adhesive patches
  • Tire levers
  • Hex wrenches (Allen keys)
  • Spoke wrench
  • Chain tool
  • Multi-tool (Leatherman knock-off)
  • Vinyl gloves
  • Cotton rags

And here’s what’s in my ‘bar bag:

  • Tire patch kit
  • Spare brake and derailleur cables
  • Combo Phillips & slotted screwdriver
  • 8mm Allen key
  • 8mm and 10mm combo open-ended wrench
  • Cone wrenchs (13-15mm and 17-18mm)
  • Combo wrench (31mm & 36mm headset spanner & 13-15mm cone/pedal wrench)
  • Lifu mini crank extractor
  • Bottom bracket tool
  • Stein cassette remover
  • Spare brake and derailleur cables
  • Inner tube sections (mostly for padding)
  • Vinyl gloves

And that’s not all. I bring other things as well:

  • Frame pump
  • Mini-pump (as a spare on long trips)
  • Tire boot
  • Spare spokes
  • Cable and U-locks (trips to town, mostly)
  • Removable headlight (does double duty as flashlight)
  • Cyclometer
  • Straps and bungee cords
  • HALT! repellent spray (2-3 cans)
  • Two to three full water bottles
  • More water in a collapsable bladder (long trips)
  • Water purification tablets (long trips)
  • Water filter (long trips)
  • First aid kit
  • Foul-weather gear
  • Bandanna(s)
  • Reflective ankle straps
  • Whistle
  • Cell phone
  • Maps and compass
  • GPS
  • Reading glasses
  • Keys
  • Wallet
  • Lip balm and sunscreen
  • Spare protective eyewear
  • Notebook, sketchbook, pen, and pencils
  • Butane lighter
  • Food in snack and handlebar bags
  • Rack trunk with camera and lenses (and sometimes a tripod)

Not exactly traveling light, eh? And I pay for each item in my kit afresh every time I climb a hill. I don’t set many records on the flats, either. But as a famous man once said, “There’s more to life than increasing its speed.” Freedom isn’t free. If I want to be able to pass gas pumps without stopping and to ride far off the beaten track without having to walk back, I can’t begrudge the weight of a few tools and a couple of water bottles. So I don’t. It’s a small price to pay for freedom, and freedom is what riding a bike is all about. ‘Nuff said? I think so.

Visiting the Neighbors

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Mar 30 2015

Bike Monday for March 30, 2015: Sun and Shadow

Snow lingers on the gravel shoulders, and it still drifts deep in the woods. But the roads are dry, the sun is stronger, and the air holds the promise of spring. I’m on my bike. What’s not to like?

Me and My Shadow

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Mar 28 2015

Be Ready for Roadside Repairs Far From Home

You’re 50 miles from home on your bike, enjoying a day-long ride through the countryside. You’re on your own. And then trouble strikes. It could be a persistent knock with each revolution of the cranks. Or a front derailleur cable that gives up the ghost. Or maybe you hit a deep pothole and sheared a spoke on the drive side of your rear wheel. What do you do? Pull out your cell phone and call someone to come and pick you up? Is there cellphone coverage where you’re likely to meet with trouble? A five-mile ride down the road brings me to a dead zone with no cell coverage, and it stays that way for another 25 miles. There are no other services to be found, either. There aren’t even many houses. Yet it’s a great place to ride, with paved roads and wide shoulders, challenging grades, little traffic, and beautiful scenery—rich woods, verdant wetlands, and rolling hills. With luck, I might also glimpse an ambling bear. But it’s not a great place to meet with mechanical trouble.

In the other direction, the highway takes me toward civilization (such as it is). The roads are equally well maintained, but a breakdown here wouldn’t be any more convenient. There’s no public transportation, and no bike shop worthy of the name. But calling someone to haul me and my bike home just isn’t my style. So I always tool up to ride. I’ve written about my seat bag kit before, but here’s a review of what’s inside:

  • Spare tire tube
  • Self-adhesive patches
  • Tire levers
  • Hex wrenches
  • Spoke wrench
  • Chain tool
  • Multi-tool
  • Vinyl gloves
  • Cotton rags

The seat pack is all I really need for local rides. For longer trips, though, when a walk back home would take me more than an hour or two, I bring a more complete inventory of tools. I call this my roadside repair kit, and I carry it in my handlebar bag.

Petra's Tools

Is my roadside repair kit heavy? Yes, but it’s not any heavier than a large, filled water bottle. I can live with the extra weight, especially considering the peace of mind it provides. Here’s a look at what the kit contains:

Petra's Tools

And here’s a rundown of the contents:

  • Tire patch kit
  • Combo Phillips and slotted screwdriver
  • 8 mm Allen key
  • 8 mm and 10 mm combo open-ended wrench
  • Cone wrenches (13/15 mm and 17/18 mm)
  • Combo wrench (31 mm and 36 mm headset spanner and 13/15 mm cone/pedal wrench)
  • Lifu mini crank extractor
  • Stein cassette remover
  • Bottom bracket tool (not shown)
  • Spare brake and derailleur cables (not shown)
  • Rubber buffers cut from old inner tube (used to keep tools from clattering)
  • Vinyl gloves

Most of these will be familiar to amateur mechanics, but there are two tools which aren’t so common—The Lifu mini crank extractor is on the left, and on the right is a J. A. Stein cassette remover by J. A. Stein (this one fits a Shimano cassette).

Petra's Tools


Items not shown in the photos above include…

Spare Cables.  I carry spare brake and derailleur cables in a pocket in my ‘bar bag. These cables are not interchangeable, and to make matters more confusing still, different makers’ components require differently configured molded heads. So-called “universal” derailleur cables have a barrel head on one end and a disk head on the other. You cut off the end that you don’t need. It’s easiest to do this at home, by the way, using a cable cutter that doesn’t fray the wire. Brake cables are available with barrel heads (the name compounds the confusion, because these look just like the disk heads on derailleur cables) or mushrooms. Some universal brake cables are available, too, and as with universal derailleur cables, it’s best to do the preliminary cutting at home.

Here are some photos to help cut through the fog of confusing terms:

Petra's Tools

The cables in the picture above are Teflon-coated. Note that the brake cable is thicker than the derailleur cable. The brake cable is intended for standard drop-bar levers. Linear-brake levers require cables that look like this:

Petra's Tools

These cables are not Teflon coated. Note the barrel head on the brake cable. (The head on the derailleur cable is nearly identical to that in the preceding photo, despite having a different code stamped on it.)

To repeat what I said earlier: If you buy universal brake or derailleur cables, it’s best to trim off the unneeded head at home using a good pair of cable cutters. If you ever have to cut a cable on the road with the wire cutter on a pair of multi-tool pliers, you’ll see why it makes sense to do the job in advance. Not only will you get blisters in places you’ve never had blisters before, but the cut end of the cable is almost sure to be badly frayed. Good luck in threading that through the housing!

Is all of this a lot of trouble to go to just to prepare for an unlikely breakdown? I don’t think so. It’s just part of…

Being Prepared.  Routine pre-ride checks and post-ride inspections help prevent nasty surprises on the road, but no preventative maintenance program is foolproof. Stuff happens, and when it does, I prefer self-sufficiency to dependency. In conjunction with the tools I carry in the saddle bag, my roadside repair kit allows me to meet almost any emergency. I can tighten loose pedals and cranks, adjust cones on pedals and wheels, tweak the threaded headset on my mountain bike, replace a spoke (I carry spares), pull a crank so I can tighten or service a bottom bracket, and remove (or snug down) any of the many fasteners on any of my bikes. The bottle opener on the combination headset wrench comes in handy, too.

But maybe you blanch at the idea of doing any repairs. Have no fear, though:

You Can Do It!  If you can change a flat tire, you can learn how to maintain and repair your bike. Believe me, it’s worth the effort. You can’t always phone home, and it’s best not to rely on the kindness of strangers. More importantly, working on your bike makes you a better cyclist. A bicycle is personal transportation in its purest form. So why not get better acquainted with yours?


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