Bike Maintenance

A funny subject this. I love messing about with bikes, and one of the most satisfying parts of our bikes tours is when a wheel gets badly buckled. A brief inspection reveals 2 broken spokes, for you, my friend, the war is over. Not a bit of it!

Lifeline ToolOut with the chain whip, out with the cassette removal tool, the large adjustable spanner, and the spare spokes. With spokes fitted, the wheel is still bent to buggery, so it’s time for the trusty spoke key to true the wheel up. The trick is tiny adjustments – a quarter turn at a time, tighten to pull the rim towards that side, loosen to let it off to the other side. Always loosen rather than tighten where you’ve the choice, and before you know it you’ve got a beautiful straight wheel again, and you’re ready to roll.

The reason I love this repair is because people are so impressed by it! Straightening a wheel is pretty straight-forward, but it looks like a little piece of magic. As a guide, if you’ve messed up a couple of things, and your sheen is beginning to tarnish, there’s nothing like a buckled wheel to make you look good again. Even Mac was impressed with my wheel-truing in the Dordogne, and as he’s about the best bike mechanic I ever met, I felt flattered indeed.

So on our bike tours in France and Italy, all our guides have a massive bag full of tools. We almost never need them, but we have re-built a headset by the side of the road, and we have used a crank-extractor before now. But what is the coolest bike tool of all? The answer is the Chain Wear Gauge. What a beauty. It looks like a 6-inch ruler with 2 spikes sticking out of each end. One side is calibrated to .75% wear, the other side to 1%. Starting with .75%, you put one of the spikes in the gap between one of the links. If the other end plops down into another link, rather than standing proud, your chain is wearing out. Flip the gauge over to the 1% side. If the gauge still falls into your chain, time for a new chain sharpish!

Here’s a picture of a wonderful Chain Wear Gauge. How cool is that? They cost less than a fiver at, but there is a slight problem. You get your cool new Chain Wear Gauge. Turns out your chain is very badly worn indeed, and all the manuals say you’ve runined your drive train. New chain, new cassette, new chain rings. £4.99 for the gauge, £90 for the new cassette and chain. That’s what it costs to be cool.

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