Preparing for the Ride

Brian Menkhaus

The trails are finally drying up, beckoning riders to set out upon another season of muscle-straining, shin-smashing, dirt-eating thrills. The self-imposed pains are a small price to pay for the joys and adventures found on two wheels in the wilds of Montana. But, worse than the bodily injuries (which will eventually heal themselves) are those suffered by the bicycle. Try as one might, a rider will never be able to completely avoid a mishap with their means of going into those mountains and, more significantly, coming back out. That poses a major question: Are you ready when it happens?

A certain degree of mechanical ability is required to tackle the problems that arise both on and off the trail. Even for those unable to program a VCR, myself included, this can be addressed. It boils down to practice, familiarity, and preparedness. In a world of computerized cars, cell phones, and cheaply made products, it’s satisfying to be able to actually repair something yourself. Not only that, it may also be necessary on that epic ride you are in the middle of.

Practice and familiarity go hand-in-hand. Get to know your bike not by just riding it but also working on it, even if it’s just minor things. Being able to fix a flat is vital. It may seem silly and unnecessary but, lacking a flat at the moment, try changing a perfectly good tube. This is a great opportunity to put on those new tires that you’ve really been wanting to try out or installing thorn-resistant (thicker) tubes. Roll up the sleeves and get a little greasy. You’ll be grateful that you have that experience if you ever have to do it on the side of a muddy trail in the middle of nowhere. If you are unsure of how to go about it ask the people at your local bike shop. They would probably be happy to walk you through the process. Just ask them nicely.

In addition to fixing a flat (and applying Band-Aids), knowledge of a few other repair essentials would be very helpful. These would include brake repair/adjustment, wheel truing (straightening), chain repair, and shifting adjustments. Every bike is different and knowing how your bike operates is important. Some may require special tools, so be sure to go over your bike thoroughly and obtain the necessary items and know-how to fix it. Don’t hesitate to ask questions when you have an experienced hand nearby. Most hardened bikers jump at the chance to share (and show off) their knowledge. Be prepared, though, to suffer through some long-winded and slightly stretched stories and see the scars that are often an obligatory addition to the tales.

Preparation can ultimately make the difference between an awesome, memorable ride and a miserable day you will always try to forget. Having the required tools and parts will save the day, but don’t overdo it and lug a 26 lb. pack up the mountain. Limit it to the essentials and save that extra space for water and grub. Also check your stuff to make sure your ‘pals’ haven’t added a nice rock or three to add to their entertainment.

There are many things to consider before choosing your items: type of bike, conditions to be expected, length of ride, what other riders you are with will be carrying, and what you are comfortable using. I typically carry a hydration pack, which provides not only room for water but is perfect for that extra tube or two, a first aid kit and a couple munchies. These packs are usually pretty small and unobtrusive, allowing for full range of movement and not bulky or heavy enough to through off your balance. In addition, I use a saddle-bag. These are small bags that strap underneath the back of your saddle (seat). Like the hydration packs, they are small and out of the way, capable of carrying tools and parts.

Tool time. What to bring? Let’s start with the basics. A multi-tool that includes various sized hex/allen wrenches (4, 5, and 6 mm are the most common sizes) and a small Philips or flat-head screwdriver is a must. This is perfect for any adjustments you may need to make (saddle, handlebars, brake/shifter cable tension, and much more). Tire levers are pretty helpful for changing a flat. Of course, a pump might be useful. For those full-suspension bikes with rear air shocks, there are pumps that can be used for both the shock and the tires (two birds, one stone. Yeah!). In order to fix that flat, a tube or a patch kit is handy. I carry both. Fixing one flat is great, but how about that second? A chain tool and an extra chain link are a must. It’s not obvious how to use them, so be sure to find out. Nothing ruins the day more than a busted chain (although there are a few bodily injuries that might hurt more, even to just think about).

There are other items that are very helpful but more specific to the bike and also the rider’s experience. These include, to name a few; spoke wrenches, tire boots, star drivers, derailleur hangers, and bottle openers (I considered putting that last item in the basics list but figured the screwdriver would do in a pinch). Again, some bikes may need special tools or parts, so do your homework.
Now we have it all, right? Well, double-check the list and you’ll notice one item that I haven’t yet mentioned. Hopefully, you guessed it. A helmet. I can’t emphasize the importance of that one thing. Even if you think it’s going to be an easy, gentle ride, just WEAR IT! All it takes is that one little rock jutting out. That’s my 2 cents on safety and I’ll leave it at that, scarred shins and all.
Get it all together, get out there, and get in some saddle time!

Brian Menkhaus is the owner/operator and maintence manager of the Bike Peddler at 101 East Oak Street in Bozeman. 406-587-3737