A Bike of Many Parts

It’s a few weeks since I arrived back in the UK. The short cycle from the airport was the least smooth of the whole journey. Nothing to do with the roads this time though. When it came to re-assembling the bike, having been packed in a big box for the flight, the pieces just didn’t seem to fit together. The gear cables wouldn’t connect to the hub so I couldn’t change gear, the brakes barely worked (although that had been an increasing problem over the final weeks) and the forks didn’t fit in quite right into the frame so I had to leave a few of the spacers out. And then there was the wobbly back wheel which nine months after I first noticed it, was now, well, very wobbly. Never mind, I could still cycle. And it wasn’t far.

So for the last few weeks I’ve been without the use of the bike (although fortunately I have a moutain bike too, which is getting well-used instead). Time to get it fixed. First I took the back wheel over to SJS Cycles, where Dave had a quick look at it and said he could have the hubb all fixed up in half an hour. And sure enough, after half an hour, I walked out of the shop with a replacement hubb, and new sprocket fitted too. Very impressed. I also stocked up on three Schwalbe Marathon XR tyres.

Yes I know a bike only has two wheels! In any case the tyres that took me through Africa still have some life in them. But Schwalbe no longer manufacture these tyres and there’s just no other tyre that will stand the test of touring time. These should keep me on the road for a while longer. My legs are bound to give up before the tyres give out.

But the rest wasn’t going to be quite so simple. Simply because I’ve decided to fix the rest of the bike myself.

I thought I had the spare parts I needed. And so on Sunday morning, with multi-tool, pliers and a good supply of WD40, I set about taking off the old parts that needed replacing. On closer inspection, this turned out to be most of the bike bar the frame, wheels and new hubb.

My touring bike - mid-repair

Having removed several layers of bike oil and grease from my hands and body, the afternoon was mostly spent on the internet searching out the replacement parts I need… brake cable set, gear cables, headset bearings, chain, chainring, a new twistshifter assembly and the only part that sounded remotely interesting which was the ‘noodles and boots’ (and they’re nothing but small bent metal tubes that the brake cables fit through).

So until I get the new parts through, the rack is on my mountain bike so I can head off to the hills at the weekends. In the meantime, my trusty tourer is scattered about my room in several rusty or dirty pieces.

I think I forgot to mention – the next tour I’ll be cycling the Great Divide from Canada, through the USA, to Mexico. You can read more about it on my new website, Helen’s Take On…

And over the coming weeks I’ll be posting more on the Togblog about how the preparations for the trip are going.

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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
(http://www.parktool.com/repair/index.asp)

Topeak: This company produce an excellent range of multi-tools, including their ‘Alien’ series
(http://www.topeak.com/products/Tools)

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