Road Repairs

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The Quick Fix


Breaking down on a day trip or a cross-country adventure can be a real problem. Knowing how to get your bicycle rolling again with limited supplies is vital to your tours success.


New bicycle components are very reliable and seldom break.  If you are planning a long distance tour rebuild your bike before you leave. Why invest all the time, money and planning that a tour takes to leave with worn out equipment. Look at new running gear as buying an insurance policy for trouble free riding.


I will go over a few tricks of the trade we have learned over the years. Please review the section Tools and Equipment to Carry and see what a properly equipped touring bike should have on board for tools and spares. I will assume that anyone leaving on an unsupported tour has some basic knowledge of bicycle repair. If you don't you better get some before you leave.



Front Derailleur Cable Break


New cables rarely break. So if you are planning a long distance tour outfit your ride with new cables.  Should you break a cable here is how to get out of a jam.


When you break the front derailleur cable you will quickly find yourself on your crankset’s smallest chain ring. Not a bad thing if you’re on a big climb, but not too good for running on the flats.  The roadside “quick fix” for this is easy. 


Most touring cyclist run a triple so you will want to get onto your middle chain ring.  On this ring you will still be able to climb the hills plus maintain a decent speed on the flats.

The only thing you need for this roadside repair is a stick of the right diameter. Place the stick between the frame and the disabled derailleur. (See photo) 


Don’t worry about damaging your fancy paint job. The wood is actually softer than your paint and will not scratch or nick it.


You can choose which chainring you want by the diameter of the stick. 


Rear Derailleur Cable Break


The most common cable to break is the one that operates the rear derailleur. When this happens the derailleur moves down onto the cassette’s smallest cog.


If it is early in the day the best choice is to pull out your spare cable and thread it through the housings.  But if you’re looking for the “quick fix” to get rolling again, here is what to do.


Unless you are on a relatively flat grade being stuck in your lowest gear could become difficult. You would be much better off running a gear closer to the cassette’s mid-range.


You could use your Hi/Low adjustment screw to make a one or possibly even a two cog change, but most likely this would not be enough. To move the derailleur onto a larger cog you will need to put tension back on the cable.


Normally the cable breaks on the end inside the shifter. Just pull the cable out of the housing.  Next loosen the bottom bolt on your bottle cage.


Pull on the on the cable until the derailleur is aligned with the cog you want to run.  Next wrap the cable around the bottle cage bolt and tighten.


 Be sure to go over the outside of the bottle cage so the cable does not touch the bike frame.


It may look like the cable is touching the frame in the picture but it actually has over one-eighth of an inch clearance.


Should you have a narrow cage and the cable does contact your paint job just put something soft in-between the two. The cable is not going to be moving so anything will work. A small piece of paper, bar tape or even a twig will do the trick.


This quick fix will get you back on the road without too much effort and in a gear you can work with.







 Flat tires are one of the unexpected pitfalls of long distance touring.  Some people are luckier than others but at some point all of us will have the pleasure of changing out a flat while on tour.


Some simple tips will help you get through this unpleasant experience without further incident.


Choosing the correct tires for touring is important.  A touring tire needs to be much more durable than a racing tire.  I cover tire choices in more detail under the Tools and Equipment section of the site.


The first thing to do after you get a flat is check the outside of the tire. You are looking for something obvious like a cut or protruding object.  If nothing is found on the outside you will have to search the inside of the tire for the cause.


Remove the tube without taking the tire completely off the rim. Now add a little air to the damaged tube and note the location of the leak. Next, align the tubes presta valve with the hole it went through on the rim.  This correctly orients the tube and tire to where they were before the flat occurred.


Now look on the inside of the tire adjacent to where the tube is leaking. You should be able to find the cause of the flat.  Rubbing your finger in the area will usually find the problem. It is extremely important to find out what caused the flat to occur.  Otherwise the thorn that popped your tube will strike again.


There is a type of flat that you can get without a foreign object penetrating your tire.  It is the dreaded “snakebite”.


No, it is not caused by a diamondback rattler snapping at your tire as you ride by.  It is caused by compression of the tire and tube against the rim.


When you remove the tube it will be obvious if your flat was caused by a snakebite.  If you see two holes parallel to each other as in the photo that is a snake bite. This flat happens when the tube gets pinched between the rim and the tire.



If you do not choose the correct size tire under inflated expect this type of flat. You will not see any indication on the tire for what caused this flat because it was pinched not punctured.


  If you try and use 23mm tires on a loaded bike you will see plenty of these fang like puncture wounds.  Narrow tires do not distribute the load as well and are not as tall as larger tires and snakebite easily.  Again choose the right tire for the job.


If the tire has a pinhole caused by a narrow pointed object pull it out and you should be all set.  But if you sliced your tire with glass or some other object you will need to repair the tire before you put the tube back in.  If the tire has any “slice” in it at all you will need to protect the tube from that slice.  A slice in the tire will eventually pinch the new tube and cause a flat.  If the slice is long (over 1/8”) the tire should be replaced with your spare immediately. 

But if you do not have a replacement to use here is how to repair a sliced tire.  Quickest and easiest way is with tape. I always carry electrical tape with us on tour.  Just cover the slice with at least three pieces of tape stacked on top of each other. In the photo we used the finishing tape off our bar wrap.  If you don’t have any tape a piece of the tube that went flat will work.  Place a piece of the old tube in the area of the cut. Just be sure it stays in the right spot when you are placing the new tube on the rim.  That is why tape is easier.




These are just quick fixes if youdo not have another tire to replace the damaged one with.  You should never run long distances loaded with a cut tire. 




Broken Spoke



If you should break a spoke the best things to do is stop and repair the wheel immediately.  Trying to ride to your next sleep spot or some other convenient location could end up damaging the wheel. Without wheels my friend, you're not going anywhere.


 I know you can buy a Fiber Fix spoke kit for a quick repair but they do not replace the real thing even for a short run. A loaded touring bike can put a serious strain on a rim missing a spoke.  You still have to do a real spoke repair so why fool around do it right the first time is how we figure it.  Even a rear wheel spoke replacement can be done in less than 30 minutes on the roadside .But if you are in a jam the fiber spoke will work.

If you have read the article on what a well-equipped touring cyclist should have onboard you know I have a spare spokes and the tools needed listed to complete the job.


Replacing a spoke on a front wheel is easy compared to one on the rear. If you break a rear spoke you will need to remove the rear cassette to get the new spoke on.  Instead of carrying a chain whip, cassette tool and a wrench you can get by with one lightweight item, the Stein Mini Cassette Lock Too.

J. A. Stein Stein Mini Cassette Lockring Tool

Stein Mini Cassette Lock Tool


This tool is used to remove the cassette lock-ring without the need for a chain whip. This tool secures the lock-ring from turning by locking it to the dropout so that when the cranks are turned the force will actually break the lock-ring free. It is a light duty tool designed primarily for emergency use. Models are available for both Shimano and Campagnolo. The tool can be used in reverse to install the lock-ring.


Chain Problems


Chains seldom fail but while on tour anything can happen.  Miss a shift under power or catch a stick the wrong way and you could have a chain problem.


Most of the newer 10 speed chains use a special “one time only” link to connect the chain together. You cannot just take out a bad link or two with you chain tool and join the remaining chain again.  If you do it will come apart quickly.


For this reason you should carry a “master-link” that is capable of joining the brand and size chain you are touring with.  What has proven to be a life saver for us is the Superlink III. 


This handy item will join your chain together without the need for that special link. The best part of using a Superlink is you are able to

disconnect and reconnect the chain for cleaning.  They make a variety of sizes to fit most popular chains…. Don’t leave home with out one.



Expect the Unexpected


That's right, expect the unexpected.  If it can break it will. Again leaving with new equipment will greatly improve your odds of not having a breakdown but in life nothing is 100%.  With some ingenuity and the spares we have listed in our Tools and Equipment  section you should be able to make the repair.

Here is just one example of an unexpected breakdown. We were west of Durango, Colorado when one of the riders decided his seat felt a little low.  He stopped raised and the seat post a little bit. When he was re-tightening the bolt on the seat post clamp it broke off. Even though we had a bolt to replace it we could not get the broken bolt out of the clamp. We made the repair with 2 mini hose clamps and vice grips. This repair lasted until we reached the next bike shop along our route.




Notice the two mini hose clamps connect together to hold the seat post up.  We have used mini hose clamps to support a broken rear rack and other things.  Mini clamps are a life saver.  Now I know even a small pair of vise grips is a heavy tool to carry but it has so many uses it has to be brought along. It was once said, "If you can't fix it with a screwdriver and a pair of vise grips it can't be fixed".  I'm not sure if that statement is true of everything it will cover a lot of breakdowns.