The best medicine is often preventive and the best way to avoid mechanicals on the trail is to ensure your mountain bike is in working order before you hit the singletrack. Despite our best efforts, stuff happens. When it does, you should be prepared to rise to the occasion and save your ride.
I’m not going to give you half-baked advice, such as how to use a tree branch in place of a handlebar if your handlebar snaps, or suggest that you stuff your tyre full of leaves if you get a flat. Instead, these are practical solutions to common mechanicals that you or your riding buddies are likely to encounter
1. Know how to pump properly
Picture this: you flatted and have just installed a new inner tube. You’re pumping like mad with your hand pump so you can get riding again only to shear off the valve stem. No patch is gonna fix that. So you’d better have a second tube or it could be a long walk home.
There is a right and a wrong way to use a hand pump. The wrong way is to rest the wheel against your thigh and pump like crazy. While effective, this puts undue stress on the valve stem, increasing the likelihood of damage.
Try resting the wheel against the ground and propping up the pump with a log or rock, so the head of the pump is in-line with the valve. Now you’ve got a firm surface to push against and gravity working on your side.
Even better, use a hand pump with an extendable hose to lessen stress on the valve stem.
2. Give sidewall tears the boot
Tubeless sealant does a good job of stopping small punctures from ruining your ride, but cuts larger than a quarter inch often require the use of a tube and a tyre boot.
If you simply install a tube without bothering to cover a torn sidewall you may notice the tube starting to bulge through the tear, soon to be followed by a loud “bang!” and then a long hike out of the woods...
Keep your used energy gel and bar wrappers close at hand, not just because littering the trail makes you a jerk, but also because they come in handy in situations such as this. A wrapper makes a great tyre boot in a pinch.
For a more permanent fix, consider using a tyre boot such as those from Park Tool.
3. Carry the right multi-tool
A broken chain can be one of the most jarring mid-ride breakdowns. It happens under power, usually while you’re really cranking up hill (or shifting when you shouldn’t be.)
While it’s not nearly as common as getting a flat, it does happen and you should always be prepared to fix it with the proper tools.
There are countless multi-tools on the market, but don’t bother investing in one if it doesn’t have a built in chain tool, unless you’re willing to carry a separate chain tool with you.
Be sure to pack a master-link as well.
4. Fix a cleat with your bike’s 'back-up bolts'
Picture this: you just finished a grueling hike-a-bike section, you go to clip in, but something feels sloppy. Then you realize you’re one cleat bolt short of a pair. Fear not, your bike has 'backup bolts' you can use in just such a situation.
In a pinch, a rotor bolt will work as a cleat bolt. Is running five rotor bolts safe? It's safe enough to get you home.
It might not be the ideal, but World Cup XC weight weenies have been making due with less than a full complement of rotor bolts for years. Heck, even downhillers including Steve Peat have been known to use just three rotor bolts.
You are not Steve Peat and I’m not endorsing this solution for weight savings, but it will get you home while allowing you to use both pedals.
To mitigate risk, take a rotor bolt from the rear wheel, and practice clipping in and out a few times before you start riding again to ensure there are no interference issues between the new bolt and the pedal.
5. Trailside singlespeed conversion
Hopefully you pack a spare derailleur hanger. But if you happen to ruin your derailleur hanger and rear derailleur, then this last resort repair will allow you to pedal home.
This repair is easier – and more reliable – if you ride a hardtail. It can be done with a full suspension, but it requires extra steps to work reliably.
- Remove what remains of the rear derailleur by unbolting it from the hanger. Take the rear derailleur cable and loop it around the seatstay so that it won’t get tangled in the drivetrain.
- Open the quick-link or remove a pin with your chain tool. (Using the quick-link is generally preferable, but you're going to be shortening the chain anyway.)
- Attempt to find a workable gear combination with the straightest chainline possible. Use the middle chainring on a triple crankset, the small ring on a double, and, well, the only chainring on a 1x drivetrain. Find a gear combination that will work without too much slack in the chain and splice the chain back together.
- If you have a full suspension, be aware that most suspension designs have some degree of fore/aft axle movement as the wheel moves through its travel. This means that while your chain might appear reasonably tensioned when you’re hacking things together, the chain will become too loose or too tight as the rear suspension compresses. To counter this, lock out the rear suspension.
- If you have a shock pump handy, inflate the rear suspension to the point that the suspension won’t compress in the open position (but be sure to stay below the shock's maximum air pressure, which is usually printed on the shock body.) High air pressure plus the lockout will minimize any rear suspension movement that could compromise chain tension.
Have a trailside repair tip you’d like to share? Sound off in our comments section below.