Fortunately, the bicycle is a simple machine with quick and easy solutions for the most common roadside problems.
And how to start up again after you break down.
You’re merrily rolling along when you notice something doesn’t quite feel right. Maybe it’s getting harder to pedal, or perhaps you find that your balance is a little off. Or maybe the problem is obvious, like a snapped chain or broken spoke. Fortunately, the bicycle is a simple machine with quick and easy solutions to these five most common roadside problems.
Before you go, build your ride-along tool kit
First though, build yourself a ride-along tool kit that contains at the very least, a portable pump, a spare tube, a multi-tool, and a bit of cash. Optional items include tyre levers for removing your tyre, patch kit, and extra chain links.
Given the volume of rubbish and broken tarmac that line public roadways, puncturing is all but inevitable. You’ll know you have a puncture — also called a flat — when your bike becomes difficult to manage and you start to feel the road surface more acutely due to a drop in tyre pressure.
Solution: Completely deflate your tyre (if it isn’t already); remove the tyre from your wheel — use your tyre levers if you have them; check the outside of your tyre and also run your fingers around the interior to find and remove the offending cause of your flat; unroll your spare tube and inflate it just a little so that you can easily insert it inside your tyre; once your tube is in place, put your tyre back on your wheel — make sure the tyre’s edges are securely inside the rims; then inflate your tyre to the recommended pressure printed on the outside of the tyre.
Also called “ghost shifting”, this is when your bike starts shifting gears without any input from you. Ghost shifting happens because the rear derailleur isn’t seated directly inline with the gear cogs.
Solution: The first thing to check is to see if your rear wheel is securely in place. Make sure the wheel is seated in the frame where it’s supposed to be, and check to make sure the quick release (or thru axle, if that’s what you have) isn’t loose. If the ghost shifting continues, locate the barrel adjuster (a mini barrel-shaped piece just behind the upper part of the rear derailleur) and turn in quarter turn increments to reposition the derailleur inline with your cogs.
This can be the result of a broken or loose spoke or — in the event of a crash — a warped wheel.
Solution: If it’s a loose spoke, your multi-tool will likely have a flat spoke wrench to tighten it. Fit the spoke wrench onto the spoke nipple located near the rim and turn to tighten. If the spoke is tightened too much, your wheel may wobble in the opposite direction so you may want to give it a spin before hopping back on. If it’s a broken spoke, try to remove it or to bend it to get it out of the way. If, however, your wheel is warped, call it a day and get yourself to your local bike shop to have an expert assess the damage. While not ideal, you can get yourself home on a wobbly wheel but be sure to have an experienced mechanic check it out.
This annoying problem will turn your ride into resistance training rather than a spin around your favourite loop. When your brake pads are touching your wheel’s rim or your disc brake rotor, you’ll find it harder to pedal (and you’ll wear out your brake pads faster).
Solution: Check to see if your wheel is securely in place because if it’s not properly centred, it can “lean” slightly to one side or the other and cause the brake pads to touch. If your brake pads are still interfering, you may have a warped disc brake rotor or faulty callipers. You can try bending your brake rotor back into place or, if your brakes have a quick release lever, use it to temporarily widen the distance between your brake pads and rim just enough to get home.
Chains are designed to withstand more force than a human can typically exert on his or her own. Chains do wear out though and they can also fail when not properly cared for. When a chain snaps, it instantly loses tension and will spool through your drivetrain and onto the ground before you even know what happened.
Solution: Some multi-tools, like the top of the range ones from B’twin and SKS, have a chain tool, which helps manage the pins holding the links together so that you can remove or install links in order to get you home. If you carry extra links, all you need to do is replace the broken link. If that’s too much trouble, remove the broken link plus the one next to it and connect the intact links. Sure your chain will be shorter but you’ll be able to get yourself home.
The best solution to common roadside problems is arguably prevention so before you head out for a ride, make sure that your bike is running smoothly. This means at least tyres and brake pads that aren’t worn down; a clean, well-lubed chain; and a small portable tool kit to keep you rolling because a common roadside problem doesn’t have to be a major one!