6 Quick Fixes for Cyclists

Broken spokes, dropped chains, soggy shoes—a lot can go wrong when you're on the road. Learn these simple tips and nothing can slow you down.

   Photo: Kalmatsuy Tatyana via Shutterstock

Bikes can be finicky beasts. If you’re new to the roads, chances are especially high that you’ve struggled with a stubborn derailleur or lathered yourself in grease trying to coax a dirty chain back onto the chainring. 

But with the proper cycling know-how, you can be ready for any eventuality. From fixing a flat with a dollar bill to stabilizing your wheel with some spoke handiwork, we’ve got you covered with these tips from pro cycling bike mechanic Chris Kreidl, who just left powerhouse women’s team TIBCO for a spot with SmartStop Pro Cycling p/b Mountain Khakis.

Fix a Flat With a Dollar

Bring your bikini for corn skiing in Mammoth, California

  Photo: saap585 via Shutterstock

The situation:  You joined a fast-paced group ride and are heading back home. Suddenly, you hear a hostile hiss of air flowing from a dime-sized gash in your tire and feel the rim dig into the pavement. The tire's shot and you're down to your last tube. If you just fix the flat, the tube will stick out—and blow once you start riding. What's your move? 

The fix: Pop off one side of the tire and run your finger along the inside, checking for debris like thorns or nails that can cause another flat. When you're through, replace the ruined tube with your spare.

Next, take out a dollar bill and fold it in half or in quarter. Lay it on the inside of the tire between the gash and tube.  Be careful to keep the bill aligned with the hole as you set the tube—it helps if it has a little bit of air in it—around the wheel. Mount the tire, inflate the tube, and if you're lucky, you might still catch the other riders.

Not riding with cash? Kreidl recommends using the wrapper from your energy bars or gels as a tire boot. And if all else fails, duct tape also works. Wrap the tape around your multi-tool so you never have to make the embarrassing call to friends for rescue.

Dry Shoes With Newspaper

Bring your bikini for corn skiing in Mammoth, California

  Photo: Melifiscentgirl via Flickr

The situation: You're on the first day of a weekend-long cycling trip, and your pack is caught unawares by an afternoon thunderstorm. You have a 60-mile ride tomorrow and don't want to develop trench foot. How do you dry your shoes? 

The fix: Open up the shoes as far as they'll go and remove the insoles. Grab a newspaper (old-fashioned news print works best, so don't go shredding any Outside copies) wad up several pages, and stuff the balls into the shoes until they're jammed with paper. Be generous.

Wrap the insoles in newspaper and place them on the AC for some emergency dehydration. Let sit and repeat as necessary, Kreidl says, but you'll be surprised how much water even a few newspaper sheets can absorb.

For a last-minute fix, put the hairdryer on low heat—to avoid deforming your shoes—and stick it below the tongue. 

Wrap a Broken Spoke

Bring your bikini for corn skiing in Mammoth, California

  Photo: phatcontroller via Flickr

The situation: You're mashing uphill when a spoke on your wheel gives way with a sickening pop. It's miles to the nearest bike shop and you need to get home. How do you ride on? 

The fix: The best bet is to unscrew the spoke from the nipple on the rim. But if you can't get the spoke to budge, twist it around a neighbor to prevent it from catching on anything else. Give the wheel a spin. If it touches your brake pads, simply flip up the little lever on top of the brake caliper for some wobble room.

Just remember: The wheel is a delicate object. Riding on broken or missing spokes can deform the rim or threaten to do more damage. This trick will get you home, but don't go riding any centuries on the wheel until it's been to the shop, Kreidl warns.

Instead of limping home on a broken wheel, strum the spokes before you ride to check for mismatched tension. If any spoke feels looser than its neighbor, head over to the shop or your truing stand.

Pedal a Dropped Chain Into Action

Bring your bikini for corn skiing in Mammoth, California

  Photo: Sander van der Werf via Shutters

The situation: You're pedaling up a climb when your foot jars to a stop on the downstroke. The chain's dropped and you'd prefer to eschew the humiliating and greasy task of stopping to wrestle it back on. What do you do? 

The fix: Stop pedaling and look down. If the chain is caught between your bike and inner chainring, shift up into the bigger ring while pedaling very gently. If the chain's heading into your pedal, shift down. In most cases, you'll be able to set the chain without dismounting your bike.

If all else fails, hop off the bike and push the rear derailleur toward the handlebars. That'll give you enough slack to get the chain back into place. But before you hop back on, turn the cranks to get back into the right gear.

In the future, ease up on the pedals when shifting between chainrings to avoid damaging your components, Kreidl says. If the problem persists or you're trying to take your cycling to the next level, invest in a chain catcher.

Prevent Crippling Knee Pain

Bring your bikini for corn skiing in Mammoth, California

  Photo: Edw via Shutterstock

The situation: You're halfway through a ride, but your knees are killing you.  You stop to stretch the sore joints, unsure you can make it home. Is there a way to relieve the pain?

The fix: Chances are your position is the culprit. If the seat's too high, you lose power, compensate by tilting your pelvis, and stress one knee (typically your left one). Too low and you invite debilitating leg cramps.

Unfortunately, serious knee pain isn't magically fixed on the side of the road with a multi-tool, so focus on easy-pedaling home, says Kreidl. But lowering your saddle can work in a pinch. Ask a buddy to spot you, and adjust the seat so your knees are comfortably bent when your foot is at the bottom of the stroke. 

When you get home, keep your shoes on and measure the distance from the floor to your greater trochanter (the bonny protrusion at the top of your leg). Take between 96 to 100 percent of that number and use it to set your seat height, measuring along the seat tube from the center of the bottom bracket to the lowest point of your saddle. Err on the low side of the equation for comfort and power.

While adjusting your seat height is part science (our formula comes from a 1997 study in the journal Sports Science), it's also an art. Every fitter has her own formula, so be prepared to explore the entire range of heights until you find a position that feels best.

Stay Warm Without Extra Layers

Bring your bikini for corn skiing in Mammoth, California

  Photo: RioPatuca via Shutterstock

The situation: You're shivering on a ride and it looks like the gentle breeze will turn into a gale. You unfortunately forgot all your extra layers at the house. How do you stay warm?

The fix: Swing by the nearest gas station or grocery store and stock up on a few sheets of newspaper and two small sandwich bags. Rip out the individual pages and stuff them down the front of your jersey. While not the most elegant of solutions, it will block some of the wind, keeping your core warm. To protect your toes, slip a sandwich bag between your shoes and socks to block the wind. And for a pro-European flair, replace the icy contents of your water bottles with hot tea or warm water.

If you're not anywhere near a gas station, self-generated heat is the best solution. "In my experience the best thing to do in the event of a sudden downpour is just to ride harder. Provided it's not very cold out, one's body will create quite a bit of heat, enough to keep the core decently warm at least," Kreidl says. 

But don't be caught out cold. In the spring and fall and especially at high altitudes, always pack a vest and arm warmers.  They're light and small enough to pack into your jersey pockets and throw on if the weather suddenly changes.

Filed To: Biking
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