Emergency Bicycle Repairs: Brilliant Ideas to Get You Out of a Jam

No matter how prepared you are, sometimes things happen that will test your ability to find a solution. Sure, you could always call a taxi, but a little ingenuity could get you out of a jam. Here's some inspiration for that inevitable day.

Flat Tire

You should always have a couple of extra tubes with you, but everyone forgets to pack the spares sometimes. Or worse yet, you have the spares, but they don't fit! So to fix a flat tire in a pinch:

  • Find the exact location of the puncture and make a tight loop knot in such a fashion so that the puncture is in the loop. Now inflate your tire a bit and slowly ride home.
  • No pump? Find some grass and start stuffing the tire with it, along with the tube. It won't feel great riding like this, but at least it will protect the tire somewhat from damage when riding back.
Presta Valve AdapterPresta Valve Adapter

Bonus tip: If you use Presta valve tires, always carry a Presta-Schrader valve adapter, which will allow you to fill up your tires at a gas station or from someone else's Schrader valve pump.

Torn Tire

If you have a rip in the tire there is potential for the tube to push through the rip and bursting. If you don't have a tire boot with you, look for something that is of tough material to temporarily patch the rip, from the inside. For example, a dollar bill will do for this.

There's probably nothing smaller than a chain link on a bike that if broken can render the bike useless. Here are two ways to get yourself out of this predicament:

  • You need to find a way to connect the broken link. You can use something like a metal paper clip, or one of those plastic ties. Ride on the easiest gear and don't apply too much force as you ride home.
  • Remove the chain, remove the pedals if you can, lower the seat so your feet can touch the ground, and push yourself forward with your feet. It won't win you any races, and you'll look funny, but at least you're not walking.

Broken Rear Gear Cable

If your rear gear cable breaks, you need to make your bike into what is effectively a single-gear. The trick is knowing that your rear derailleur will automatically fall into the smallest sprocket (the hardest gear). If you have a triple cassette at the front put it on the smallest chain ring and ride home. But, if you only have a double, and you have some hills along your way, you can use the lower limiting screw on the rear derailleur to move your chain to the second or third sprocket. If you still need an easier gear, here's what you can do:

  • Totally remove the gear cable.
  • Remove, and save, the barrel adjuster.
  • Re-install the gear cable through the hole where the barrel adjuster was located.
  • Move the derailleur manually to the sprocket you want to use.
  • Tie the cable into a knot, as tight as possible so it won't slip.
  • Tighten the pincher cable so the cable won't slide.
  • Either cut, or coil and secure the remaining cable so it won't get caught in your spokes.
  • Ride home.

Broken Front Brake Cable

If you check your cables regularly this should never happen. But, if it does you can use your front derailleur cable to replace it. However, because the nipple on a gear cable is quite small, you will need to tie a knot just after the nipple to make that area thicker so it will hold. Obviously, now you won't have use of your front gears, so use the limiting screws to adjust the derailleur to where you want it.

If your rear brake cable brakes, because of the cable length, you can only use the rear derailleur cable in its place. Because the rear brakes are not as important as the front brakes, you're probably better off not doing anything and just riding carefully to avoid emergency braking.

Cable SpokeCable Spoke

Broken Spoke

A broken spoke can immediately cause the wheel to warp so much that it rubs on the brakes. If you have disc brakes this won't be an issue, but if you have rim brakes:

  • First remove the broken spoke.
  • Then, use a spoke tool to tighten the spokes around the broken one, just enough to straighten out the wheel enough to ride home.
  • You may have to release the brakes so they won't rub. Obviously avoid situations where sudden braking will be needed.

Another option is to carry an emergency cable spoke. This is specifically made to be attached to the rim hole and onto the hub flange and it can be tightened. It's not a permanent spoke, but it's easy to carry and will be good enough to get you home.

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