PEDAL PUSHERS: Fixes for the three most common bike problems

There are more ways to fix a problem than you think.

This is true in all aspects of life, not just when you have a problem with your bike. But, since this is a column about using a bike for transportation, let’s limit our discussion. Remember as well that if any of this seems too complicated, dirty or time-consuming, your local bike shop will be more than happy to help. It’s not like a car – you can afford to get your bike serviced.

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Flat tire

By far the most common problem people riding encounter is the flat tire. The thing about a flat is that, while not difficult to fix, it requires time. Say around 10 to 15 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I rarely build an extra quarter of an hour into my transportation schedule. If anything, I am usually running late. And, getting a flat can happen at the most inconvenient times. Like before a meeting during which you will reveal your brilliant plan to take over your industry to board members and the president. Now you are going to be late. Gaaaaaaaaaa!

Instead of breaking out your tire irons and wrestling off the wheel, walk to the nearest bus stop. Get your bike and you as close to your meeting as possible. Then walk the rest of the way. This method works great unless you are on the Lions Gate Bridge when your flat happens. Then you are hooped. Kiss that promotion goodbye.

Chain falls off

Everyone knows not to shift under pressure, but we all do once in a while by mistake. If your chain jumps off, it’s not too hard to get it back on, but your hands will become greasy. For this reason, I carry a pair of disposable gloves (but use them over and over again). See if you can just pick the chain up and put it on one of the cogs. Don’t get on the bike yet. Using your hands, run the pedals backward to set the chain on the correct cog. Now get on and ride.

Sometimes the chain gets caught between the front chainring and the frame. To clear this problem, relieve any pressure on the chain by pushing your rear derailleur pulley forward (the little wheely thing at the back and bottom of your chain). You can use a bit of force here to free the chain. Now pick it up and place it on a cog.

Bad brakes

There are really only two critical systems on a bike. The system that keeps the bike moving (that’s you and your drive train) and the system that stops you. Braking here on the North Shore’s steeps is especially important. If you can’t stop at the bottom of Lonsdale and find yourself shooting across Third Street on a red light, you know you’re in trouble.

Whether your bike sports rim or disc brakes, they’ll let you know when they really need replacement by screaming at you. But, as in life, it’s always better to check before you actually hear from them, because you’ll damage your rims or your disc.

If you have disc brakes you can eyeball the brake pads while squeezing and letting go of the brake lever. You should be able to see the edge of a little square pad on release. If there’s nothing but a big gap, better change them. Disc brake pads are super easy to replace. Watch a YouTube video and boom, you’ll be changing both sets in five minutes, so long as you carry replacement pads.

Rim brakes are easier to check, but harder to replace because you need what seems like five hands. To check them, many pads have a line on the side. If your rim brake pads don’t show that line anymore, change them NOW. Even if one side seems okay, change both. Your friendly, local bike shop mechanic can help you replace and adjust them.

A little maintenance can go a long way. Which means so can you. Ride on.

The North Shore Pedal Pushers are Heather Drugge and Antje Wahl. The guy who makes the column readable, Dan Campbell, prefers driving. See – we can all work together.

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