The Technician: Practice, Patience, and a Few Swabs of the Hanky

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, March 1996

The Technician: Practice, Patience, and a Few Swabs of the Hanky

The basics of on-trail repair from D. Scott Daubert, grease monkey to the elite
By Kiki Yablon

Scott Daubert has one last item he'd like us to bring to the trails. "Could you please put handkerchief on your list?" he asks. Noting our stunned silence, he elaborates: "Not only can you use it as a bandanna, but you can wipe your nose or clean your glasses with it." Certainly Daubert, the crack mechanic for Team Trek and the man most likely to be turning wrenches for the U.S. Olympic Team this summer, is no stranger to grime. But the genteel advice is not surprising, considering his view of the sport's prevailing ethic. "Gonzo draws interest," he points out, "but it's not for everyone." Herewith, Daubert's suggestions for ensuring your return to civilization in the face of single-track adversity.

The Pre-Ride Checkup
"Before every race," says Daubert, "I lay out every tool I might need, and I go through every nut and bolt." At a minimum, he suggests that every time you bring along an array of Allen wrenches, a spare inner tube, a pump, a patch kit, two tire levers, a chain tool, a length of spare chain, and a spoke wrench. And before you go, he says, you should do the following basic maintenance:

  • Check your tire pressure, which should be anywhere from 35 (for lighter riders) to 60 (for the more heavyset or aggressive) pounds per square inch.
  • Tighten your quick-release skewers, leaving their levers parallel to the fork legs so they can't be accidentally bumped open.
  • Give your brakes a quick squeeze to see if any adjustment is necessary, and remove any grit from the brake pads to reduce wear on your tires and rims.
  • Clean and relube your chain.

  • Fixing a Flat
    If you've punctured a tube, don't be in a rush to get back on the trail. "It doesn't do any good to stuff a new tube in without first figuring out what caused the flat," Daubert explains. "If it goes again, you're stranded." First, undo your brake and quick release, paying attention to how they'll go back together when you replace the wheel. Next, let any remaining air out and pry under a section of the bead with a tire lever (right).

    Position the wheel parallel to the ground and, holding the rim and tire together with one hand, run the lever around the entire circumference. "It should work like the seal on a Ziploc bag," says Daubert. If the hole--usually a slit--is longer than half a centimeter, you need to replace the tube, not patch it. Check for any remnants of the object that pierced the tube, and then put the spare tube, partially inflated, into the tire (left). Work the bead back under the rim with your fingers, not a lever. Sometimes tools will actually puncture the new tube. After you're sure the tire's snug, fully inflate the new tube.

    Repairing a Broken Chain
    "You can almost ride home with a flat tire," Daubert says, stressing the importance of an operation about which many of us are clueless, "but you can't ride a yard without a chain." If yours breaks, take it off and remove the damaged links, using care to leave both a male and female end (right). You should know ahead of time whether yours is a Sedis or a Shimano, since they require different strategies and different tools. If it's a Sedis, Daubert says, don't take the pin completely out of the female end--chances are you'll never get it back in--and use the chain tool to reattach it to the male end. If it's a Shimano, remove the pin and substitute one of the company's special-shaped replacement pins (which, of course, you should be carrying.) If you had to remove more than one link, reinstall the chain on your smallest chainring and use only the small and medium cogs for the remaining of your ride.

    Adjusting the Derailleur
    Shifting trouble is usually the result of "a communication breakdown between the shift lever and the derailleur." Of the knobs at either end of the line that you can use to adjust cable tension, Daubert prefers that you approach the one on the derailleur first. "It's a way to practice patience," he explains. "If you just ride along turning the knob on the shift lever, you won't actually stop to inspect your bike." First, get off and check to see if the derailleur has any obvious problems--visible damage to the hardware, a foreign object lodged within, etc. If not, go ahead and twist the knob, but no more than a quarter-turn at a time. And forget the old "righty-tighty" maxim: Turning the derailleur knob clockwise, as viewed from behind the bike, will increase the slack; turning it counterclockwise will up the tension.

    Straightening the Front End
    "I hope there's not this myth out there," Daubert frets, "that if something goes wrong with the front of your bike, it's automatically catastrophic." If you suspect something's amiss, take the Daubert test: Stand in front of the bike, hold the wheel between your legs, seize both grips, and twist from side to side. If the stem moves, snug its bolt with a five- or six-millimeter Allen wrench, finish your ride, and then head for your local bike shop. "Generally, it won't collapse on you," Daubert reasons. "It'll just rattle around a little."

    The Civilized Cyclist
    Above all else, follow the basic rules of the trail:

  • When approaching hikers, dial back to their speed. "We're not suggesting you shouldn't go fast," says Linda DuPriest, advocacy coordinator for Specialized, "but sacrificing a little of your adrenaline rush can do a lot for someone else's well-being."
  • Downhill traffic should always yield to uphill. Why? Because it's a lot easier to resume your pace with gravity working for you.
  • Pull over and come to a complete stop whenever you see an equestrian, and establish verbal contact with the rider.
  • Copyright 1996, Outside Magazine

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