When Good Rides Go Bad

Leslie ShapiroGear, Peak Pedaler, Prep

Wow, this whole bicycle thing is terrific. You’re chugging up the hills and coasting down the other sides. The pedals are going round and round and you’re clicking off the miles. Life is good. The finish line in Colorado Springs is practically in sight.

Then, suddenly, disaster strikes! Your tire makes a hissing sound, your spokes make a pinging sound, the iceberg rips a gash along the hull. Abandon ship! Well, okay, actually there wasn’t an iceberg, and you don’t need to find a lifeboat. What you do need to do is to alert the riders around you that you are slowing down, then pull all the way off the road, onto the gravel or grass, and take a deep breath.

Your imminently reliable bike has somehow failed you. Given the close bond between you two, that’s hurtful. But get over it. Mechanicals happen. Let’s assess the situation.

First, if it’s something serious such as a loose headset or a broken skewer, or if you don’t feel comfortable making a roadside repair, flag down a Ride Official or a SAG vehicle. Never, ever, ride an unsafe bike. Get a lift to the next rest stop and let the pro mechanic handle it. You’ll be on your way in no time.

But, if you can clearly identify the problem and have the means and skill to fix it, you can make a temporary repair and at least ride to the next rest stop.

By far, the most common bike problem is a flat tire.

Nothing will blow out a tube faster than a gash. You can't just put in a new tube and expect it to last.

Nothing will blow out a tube faster than a gash. You can’t just put in a new tube and expect it to last. I’m sure you have the tools and spares and experience you’ll need to fix a flat. But, don’t overlook a few basic tire tips. Try your best to determine what caused the flat. Inspect the tire for the offending item. Carefully look and feel for a shard of glass, a piece of wire, or whatever punctured your tire. But be careful – don’t let the glass also slice your finger. Finding the glass and removing it is important because otherwise you might fix the flat, then get another flat from the same shard. Sometimes you find the item and sometimes it’s gone, but take the extra time to check carefully.

A dollar bill, empty gel pack or powerbar wrapper will provide an emergency fix to get you to the next aid station.

A dollar bill, empty gel pack or Powerbar wrapper will provide an emergency fix to get you to the next aid station. Everyone carries a spare tube or patch kit, but not usually a spare tire. If the tire has a sizeable cut, you can “boot” the tire by covering the cut with a variety of materials: empty gel pack, Powerbar wrapper, dollar bill, etc. Place it between the tire and the tube, making sure it’s smoothed out and make sure the inflated tube does not bulge out. This is a temporary repair; get a new tire at the next rest stop.

Everyone carries a spare tube or patch kit, but not usually a spare tire. If the tire has a sizeable cut, you can “boot” the tire by covering the cut with a variety of materials: empty gel pack, power bar wrapper, dollar bill, etc. Place it between the tire and the tube, making sure it’s smoothed out and make sure the inflated tube does not bulge out. This is a temporary repair; get a new tire at the next rest stop.

All the bolts on a bike are essential, but some are more essential than others. If you have the skill, maybe you can take a bolt from a water bottle cage (put the cage and bottle in your jersey pocket), and use that bolt to replace one missing from a derailleur. Of course, using your multitool, you can snug up loose bolts to secure a slipping seatpost, etc. Once again though, if in doubt, SAG and let a mechanic handle it.

Since you’re a savvy rider, you probably wrapped a bunch of electrical tape around your handlebars and seatpost. That tape is great for minor fixes. For example, you can wrap a fraying brake cable end, stop a rattling water bottle, and last but not least, you can cover a saddle rough spot that’s destroying your $300 Assos shorts.

Speaking of planning ahead, it never hurts to anticipate problems and pack the solutions. Bring along a few cleat screws, a chain master link, etc. Clearly, if you use specialty items, bring along the special spares. For example, if your deep dish wheels need valve extenders, bring a spare in case you lose one, or just tubes with extra-long valve stems. If you ride a bike with 650 wheels, bring plenty of your own tubes too – not many people will be able to help you out if you run out of spares.

Colorado weather can be unpredictable and even if your bike doesn’t really care about the freezing cold, your body does. If you need some quick and free warmth, stuff a newspaper or plastic bag down the front of your jersey; they are remarkably effective at fending off a cold downhill wind. Get creative. Cut the bottom off a Walmart bag, and it makes a lovely tank top. I’ve been on a couple of rides where the motel shower cap served as a helmet rain cover. Tyvek FedEx pouches are also nice – they’re practically indestructible and pack nicely into your seatpost as an emergency layer under your jersey. You get the idea.

In a perfect world, nothing bad will ever happen. In reality, knowing a few work-arounds will keep you rolling down the road. Keep it safe but think outside the box. Eat your heart out, MacGyver.