Cycle Touring Maintenance Essentials

The Toothbrush

No I’m not talking about twice-a-day cleaning your pearly whites. I’m talking about caring for your bike.

For my current cycle tour from the UK to Cape Town, I have in my panniers all manner of spare parts and tools for on the road repairs and maintenance.
There’s one piece of equipment I have used more frequently than any other:

It’s a toothbrush.

Many of the roads I’m travelling are dusty. The dust fills the air when vehicles pass. I create my own little orange clouds from my bike tyres. This dust settles on everything; on you and your bike. Ok, so you end up looking filthy, but you can still pedal. The bike on the other hand doesn’t fare so well. The dust clogs the chain and it’s not long before the bike is creaking and groaning in response.

Oiling the chain only makes more dust congeal. You have to clean the chain properly and remove all the dirt. The best way I have found to do this is with an old toothbrush.

A toothbrush is the perfect size to get in-between the individual chain segments and clear the dirt and dust away. It’s lightweight and takes up next to no space, which are two important requirements for any cycle-touring equipment. It’s also very cheap and can be bought anywhere. It takes less than a minute.

You don’t have to be cycling on Africa’s dusty roads to take full advantage of the toothbrush either. You can use it whenever you clean your bike – whether that’s during a regular clean while on tour or after a particularly muddy mountain bike ride on the trails back home. All you have to do is let the mud or dirt dry and use the toothbrush to dust it off. Only then can you get out the lubricant and give it a good oil.

The toothbrush can also be used to easily reach the dirt in those hard to get to parts of the bike. It can also be used to smooth oil finely over the entirety of the chain. Too much oil on the chain is wasteful and only exacerbates the problem of dust clogging.

Other Essentials

A rag: For cleaning the rest of the bike, any old piece of cloth can be used. Together with the toothbrush it’s all you really need besides a supply of water.

Oil: For lubricating the chain and preventing rust

Multi-tool: For making adjustments, tightening loose parts and general repairs. A complete multi-tool should have a set of hex wrenches (Allen keys), screw drivers and box end wrenches (ring spanners), tyre levers and a spoke key. It may not be as easy to use as individual tools, but it’s compact size and weight make it perfect for cycle touring, or even taking with you on the trails.

Puncture Repair Kit and Pump: Punctures are inevitable, it’s just a matter of when it will happen. You’ll need to be able to remove the tyre (using the tyre levers from the multi-tool), repair the whole in the inner tube and re-inflate the tyre.

Duct tape and Cable Ties: For everything else. A little imagination may sometimes be needed, but almost any other problem can be solved with the use of either duct tape, cables ties or both.

Useful online resources:
Park Tools: With excellent step-by-step guides for all bike maintenance and repairs

Topeak: This company produce an excellent range of multi-tools, including their ‘Alien’ series

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