Best maintenance tips for cycle touring.

I’ve thousands of miles of experience cycle touring in the India. Here are some hard-won lessons on how to cope when things go wrong on the roadside.

Prevention is better than cure

The main thing I’ve learnt in all my cycle touring is that things are less likely to go wrong if they’re set up properly in the first place.

Spend time with your bike before you set off, learning how everything fits and which part does what. Take it to a shop for a once-over. A basic maintenance course is also a good idea.

A general rule of thumb is: Anything rattling or rubbing will get worse as you ride – a quiet bike is a happy bike.

The dreaded puncture

Punctures don’t happen that often but there are a lot of simple things you can do to reduce the risk. Invest in quality tyres with puncture protection, pump your tyres to the correct pressure, and check the tyre frequently for shards and stones and lever these out (I carry a tiny screwdriver for this).

Punctures are more common in the rain and you don’t want to be taking your tyre off for the first time in a torrential storm, so have a practice at home first.

If repairing a puncture check the inside of the tyre for stubborn shards of glass/thorns/pieces of flint otherwise you may make a new hole straight away.

Most cyclists swap their punctured inner tube for a fresh one straight away – it’s quicker and you can patch the old one at your leisure which you can then use as a spare. But don’t be afraid to patch – with touring, you have all the time in the world. Wait for the glue to turn tacky before putting the patch on – it will take far longer to stick if you rush. A patched inner tube, when done right, is just as good as a new one. I find glueless patches less effective. Again, when touring, you’re not so in need of efficiency.

If it’s a blowout you’ll need to use your spare tube. Use a folded section of the old one to line the inside of the tyre if you’ve blown a hole in it.

Look after your chain and gears

Be nice to your chain by avoiding changing gear when standing up in the pedals, and keep it as straight as possible (e.g. if you’re in a high gear at the front you should be in a high gear at the back). Carry a Quick Link in case the chain snaps — remove broken link using a chain-breaker and snap the Quick Link in place.

If the derailleur itself breaks, you can remove it completely and shorten the chain so it sits on one of the middle rings — you’ll only have one gear but at least you’ll be able to ride.

Racks and frame

Bolts in racks can rattle undone as you ride so check them regularly. Cable ties can be fed through the bolt hole, but they break easily so string or twine is much better.

If the rack itself breaks, see what’s in your luggage or by the roadside that can be used as a splint. A spoon handle lashed in the right place can be very effective.

Check your wheels

You should check regularly for loose spokes and learn how to tighten them with a spoke key. Carry spare spokes, they can be taped to your top tube. Broken spokes in the front wheel can be replaced without even taking the wheel off. Copy the lacing pattern (typically over-over-under) of the other spokes. Don’t be afraid to give it a fair bit of force.

The rear is more difficult because you have to remove the gears which needs a specialist tool. A broken spoke will cause a buckle in the wheel and put more pressure on the remaining spokes, so replace ASAP. Loosen off the surrounding spokes and the brakes if necessary to allow the wheel to turn.

Brakes will wear

Brake pads will wear as you ride, especially in wet conditions. Turn the barrel adjuster periodically to ensure the brake is still engaging (unscrew the barrel adjuster to tighten the cable). Also remember to keep an eye on the pads to ensure they don’t go beyond the wear line.

Broken cables are easy to replace with a little intuition (and of course a spare cable). Typical path of brake cable: Hook inside lever, through barrel adjuster, outer casing (may be two separate pieces of casing or one single), noodle (curved metal part – only on V brakes), bolt.


Health Benefits of Cycling

There are many health benefits that are associated with cycling. Let’s look at a few of the major benefits:

Cycling is one of the easiest ways to exercise
You can ride a bicycle almost anywhere, at any time of the year, and without spending a fortune. Many people are put off doing certain sports because of the high level of skill that seems to be required, or perhaps because they can’t commit to a team sport due to time pressures. Most of us know how to cycle and once you have learned you don’t forget. All you need is a bike, a half an hour here or there when it suits, and a bit of confidence.

Cycling builds strength and muscle tone
Contrary to normal perceptions, cycling is not a fitness activity that solely involves the legs. Cycling builds strength in a holistic manner since every single part of the body is involved in cycling.

Cycling increases muscle tone
Cycling improves general muscle function gradually, with little risk of over exercise or strain. Regular cycling strengthens leg muscles and is great for the mobility of hip and knee joints. You will gradually begin to see an improvement in the muscle tone of your legs, thighs, rear end and hips.

Cycling builds stamina
Cycling is a good way to build stamina. It is very effective in doing so,
because people enjoy cycling and they wouldn’t really notice that they have
gone farther the last time they went cycling.

Cycling improves cardio-vascular fitness
Cycling makes the heart pound in a steady manner and helps improve cardio-vascular fitness.  Studies have shown that cycling to work will increase cardiovascular fitness by 3-7%. Cycling uses the largest muscle groups the legs, raising heart rate to benefit stamina and fitness.

Cycling eats up calories
Cycling is a good way to lose those unwanted pounds. Steady cycling burns approximately 300 calories per hour. If you cycle for 30 minutes every day you would burn 11 pounds of fat in a year. Since it helps build muscle, cycling will also boost your metabolic rate long after you’ve finished your ride.

Cycling improves heart health
According to the British Medical Association, cycling just 20 miles a week can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50%. A major study of 10,000 civil servants suggested that those who cycled 20 miles over the period of a week were half as likely to suffer heart disease as their non-cycling colleagues.

Cycling improves coordination
Cycling is an activity that involves the whole body. Therefore, arm-to-leg, feet-to-hands and body-to-eye coordination are improved.

Cycling reduces stress
Any regular exercise can reduce stress and depression and improve well being and self esteem.  Cycling outdoors is also a good way to be one with nature and to feel the breath of the earth. It takes one’s mind out of everyday-life stress and rejuvenates his soul.

When incorporating cycling into an over-all fitness program, there are many aspects to consider. Here are some important things to remember:


Consult your doctor
Most people can do cycling. However, it is still best to consult your doctor when thinking about incorporating a cycling activity into an overall fitness program. They shall advise you regarding your limits and capacities and what you should avoid doing.

Cycling is a base training activity
Let’s say that the doctor says that there is nothing wrong with you engaging into cycling as a part of your overall fitness program, what do you do next? Remember that cycling should be considered as a base training activity.  Base training activities are those, which provide endurance and aerobic training at the same time. Re-align your fitness program such that biking becomes the starting activity for the week. Other activities such as circuit training should be done so as to complement the benefits of cycling.

Start slowly and then increase your cycling
For beginners, they should employ a program wherein cycling is done three times a week. Doing it two times a week is also fine, but this depends on the capabilities of the person undergoing the training.

Increase speeds gradually
Gradual increase in speeds is an important aspect of fitness cycling.  Cycling can also be strenuous to the body and the key towards successful fitness cycling is to be patient and not hurry in increasing your limits.

Better safe than sorry
Cycling is great fun but it is important to get the right equipment for the activity. Head gear, kneepads, elbow pads should all be in place when cycling.