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


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