By Jim Langley

There were a whopping 27 comments to last week’s Tech Talk, Be a Hero on Rides, which I believe sets a new record. Thanks for the awesome feedback and additional tips to help your fellow roadies be heroes on rides. Here’s a wrap-up of your tips with a few side notes from me.

Are Chain Issues That Rare?

The thing I found surprising is how many comments there were saying how rare broken chains are. But then, after thinking about it a lot, it dawned on me that I probably shouldn’t have used the word “broken,” and instead used “compromised.”

Because “broken” can be interpreted as separated, as in when a chain tool is called a “chain breaker.” Yet, chains can actually be about to fail because a pin has come out of a sideplate or a sideplate is cracking, and to me, that would be considered broken, too (or compromised, if you prefer).

These types of problems can be hard to spot, though. If you’re fortunate you’ll feel them when pedaling way before the chain actually breaks. If you’re unlucky, the chain will snap under pressure and you’ll crash hard. I’ve seen sprinting racers hit the deck headfirst from chains that failed like that – it's not a fate you want to suffer.

I got super lucky once when, while warming-up for the Sea Otter Classic road race, I felt a small clunk in the pedaling (this event’s on my mind because it’s only a month away).

The Otter’s venue is huge, and I only had 15 minutes before my race start. I pedaled gingerly back to my car and got out my chain tool, but I couldn’t see the problem at first. A rider a couple of cars over saw I was in a panic and helped by holding my Cervelo in the air so that the sun hit the chain just right.

And, there, very difficult to see on the backside of the chain, was a link about to fail. I popped it out and installed a master link and managed to make the race start just as my group took off, albeit with chain grease all over my fingers and gloves (that’s what black shorts are for, right?).

There are lots of ways chains can fail like this. Most today use special pins that connect the chain. Others use master links. Whenever a chain is installed, there’s a chance the installer got something wrong – and it can happen straight from the factory that built the bike. The more complicated it is to correctly join the chain, the more likely someone will get it wrong, too.

One way a chain that uses a pin to connect it can fail is if the pin is not properly seated in the chain (i.e. not pushed in far enough, or pushed in too far). It's helpful to use a good, solid chain tool (like the Park Tool CT-3.2) for pin insertion, as compact or mini chain tools can make it more difficult to correctly seat the pin.

In any case, if chain failures are as rare for you as you say, congratulations. But I would still recommend carrying a chain tool and master link. Because a broken chain can spell the end of the ride for somebody and/or a crash if you don’t find a problem before it’s too late.

Tire Patches and Other Fixes

There were some nice suggestions for other types of tire patches, including paper currency, an empty energy gel package (a good reason not to throw the empty away), a piece of Tyvek from a FedEx envelope, or from the racing bib numbers you get at events, and a piece of an old tire casing.

One old tire could yield a nice supply of patches, or boots. Be sure to pick one that has structurally sound sidewalls and some tread left. And, cut off the beads so that the patch is easier to fit inside. This also allows using a wire-bead tire, since the wire beads might puncture the new tube otherwise.

Three roadies recommended wrapping duct tape around a film canister or RX pill container, and storing your boots inside, or around an allen wrench or tire lever. That way, if you’re using a boot that doesn’t adhere to the tire, you can stick it in place with the tape.

Otherwise, you hold the tire boot in place as you insert the slightly inflated tube and reinstall the tire. If that’s too hard for you, always carry the duct tape or use glued boots, like the Park Tool ones I linked to last week.

Another helpful tip is carrying needlenose pliers and a small adjustable wrench for fixing things beyond the “range” of your multi-tool. Similarly, two-time Race Across America champ Pete Penseyres, who teaches Smart Cycling classes, said they recommend that students carry tweezers in their tire repair kits for pulling the small pieces of wire that are shed from steel-belted auto tires. These annoying things become embedded in bike tires and can be hard to remove. (John Marsh added that most mini-Swiss Army knives contain a little set of tweezers – and the credit card versions also contain a mini pick. He carries the credit card model in his seat bag; it takes up very little space.)

Someone also asked how he could help the poor kid riding along on nearly flat tires with Schrader valve tubes, since most roadies carry Presta pumps. One option is to get a pump that can handle Presta and Schrader. And another is to buy and carry a Schrader-to-Presta adapter, only $6.95 from Cantitoe Road, which also allows you to use gas station compressed air in a pinch. (Just be careful with the pressure.)

Lastly, there was a suggestion to be prepared to fix a broken spoke by carrying a FiberFix Emergency Replacement Spoke. This is a Kevlar spoke that folds small and comes in its own container. Plus, it’s adjustable to take the place of any length spoke.

Great tips. Thanks for sharing! And more are welcome!


Jim Langley is RBR's Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.

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