Incrementally DIY

When I was in grad school, I couldn’t afford bike mechanics, so I did most of the work on my bike myself.  In the years after that, I simply didn’t have the time – or desire – to work on my bike, so the best tool in my bicycle repair toolbox was my Visa card.

As it turns out I live about 4 1/2 miles from the nearest bike shop. Even with a car, a trip to the bike shop takes about an hour. That’s an hour I can use working on the problem myself.

The list of things that I now know how to fix is growing. I can change a flat with either a patch kit or a new tube. I know how to replace and adjust brake pads. Since these are the two most common repairs, they are really good to know. This year I learned how to change the cassette on my Bike Friday. (It’s a special cassette with a special tool that my local bike shop didn’t have.) Today, I replaced a broken link on the chain of my Tour Easy.

I have some unconventional tools in my toolbox:

  • I use metal tire levers to get my tires off my wheels. (I never use them to get the tires back on. Try it. You’ll find out why. It will cost you a tube.)  Plastic levers break. Metal tire levers were hard to find like leather saddles. Thankfully, the industry has repented and bike shops now carry both.
  • I always keep a piece of cardboard handy (although a credit card is also useful). I use it to toe in my brake pads. When toed in, the front of the pad hits the rim before the back of the pad. This keeps the pads from squeaking. Squeaking is for mice, not bikes.
  • My favorite tool is a dollar bill. I use the dollar as a tire boot. I fold it twice and place it between the hole in the tire and the new tube or the tube patch. This keeps the hole in the tire from chewing a hole in the tube.  (I call these secondary flats mystery flats because you can search all day and never find a piece of glass or wire in the tire.)
  • A short piece of wire from a coat hanger. Today, I figured out how to replace a chain link in my chain. It helps a lot if your chain tool is not broken. (I just bought a new one.) You need a something to hold the chain taut while you work on the bad links. You gather the chain around the bad link so that the bad link and the ones around it sag below the rest of the chain. Then you use the wire to hold the main part of the chain taut while you conduct the operation.
  • I use zip ties or the straps from my toe clips when mounting tires on my Bike Friday. The rims are every so slightly bigger than spec and the Schwalbe tires I use are really stiff. Once I get the tire bead partially over the rim, I use the ties to keep it from slipping off while I am persuading the rest of the bead over the rim.

I have a few specialty tools:

  • I carry a Fiber Fix emergency spoke. This is a cleverly designed Kevlar cord that you can use as a substitute when one of your spokes breaks,
  • I have a Capreo cassette tool to remove the Capreo cassette on my Bike Friday.
  • I have  special wrench for tightening my Brooks saddles. Unfortunately the nut it turns is broken on The Mule.
  • I carry a nut driver to tighten the hose clamps on my Tour Easy. These are used to hold the seat back to the seat base and to the seat back stays. (It sounds dumb, but you can buy a hose clamp anywhere if it breaks.)

What strange tools and doodads do you keep around for working on your bikes?