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FITNESS / GEAR

Keeping riders rolling

July 14, 2008

At the seven-day, 330-mile BC Bike Race held two weeks ago on the renowned mountain bike trails of British Columbia, Canada, 400 bodies and bikes were breaking down left and right. It was a great testing ground for some of the fastest, most efficient repair tools you can -- and should -- carry in your seat bag. Quick repairs were essential; if we didn't get rolling ASAP, we'd miss the cutoff times and get excluded from the race. Whether you're a road or mountain biker, whether you ride for a couple of hours a week or 55 hours and 21 minutes in one race (as my teammate and I did in our last-place finish; hey, at least we finished -- many didn't), these are the tools that'll get your bike fixed and you back in the saddle fast.

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One-stop pit stop

Topeak Hexus 16: Multi-tool with 16 tools, including chain hook.

Likes: Includes standard multi-tool array (Allen wrenches, a Torx bit, 15/14-gauge spoke wrench, tire levers, Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers and a chain tool. It also includes a handy steel-wire chain hook, which serves almost as a virtual third hand that holds the broken chain together as you work on it. Weighs one-third of a pound (160 grams).

Dislikes: None

Price: $23.95. www.topeak.com.

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Tire repair minus a spare

Park Tool TB-2 Emergency Tire Boot: A credit-card-sized, adhesive-backed vinyl rectangle that serves as a temporary fix for a torn sidewall when you don't have a spare tire along (99.9% of riders don't).

Likes: Cutting a sidewall on a sharp rock (which will pop your now-exposed inner tube as it explodes through the gash) can mean a long walk home if you can't jury-rig a quick fix. The boot, essentially a giant patch made of waterproof vinyl with a fiber weave reinforcement, buttresses the damaged area, allowing the sidewall to firmly hold an inflated tube. Works with road or mountain tires at any pressure.

Dislikes: Skeptical do-it-yourselfers say a piece of cardboard, a dollar bill, a doubled-over PowerBar wrapper, duct tape or several regular tub patches can often accomplish the same thing.

Price: $2.99. Available at bicycle shops, www.parktool.com.

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Working on the wheel

Park Tool spoke wrench: Device for accurately tightening and loosening the spokes of an out-of-true wheel.

Likes: Easier to use than the spoke wrenches included on many multi-tools, whose clunky bodies can be cumbersome while truing wheels. It generally seats better on the spoke nipples, making stripping less likely. Tiny, it fits easily into a seat bag.

Dislikes: None

Price: $8.99 to $9.49, depending on type. www.parktool.com.

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Quick chain-up

SRAM Power Link: A chain link connector you can put on and take off without tools.

Likes: Greatly speeds up repair of a broken chain and regular maintenance. Even with a chain tool, repairing a broken chain can be a real pain since it requires removing the bent links with the tool and then precisely piecing the rest back together; all-thumbs people (like me) can struggle with the latter for 30 minutes or more. But once you get the hang of the Power Link, you just slip it into the holes in the ends of the shortened, broken chain and connect the whole chain in seconds with a brisk tug. Also, the gold color (on 9-speed models) stands out, allowing you to locate it quickly. Available for 8-, 9- and 10-speed drivetrains.

Dislikes: It works only with SRAM chains. If you have a Shimano chain, you're out of luck.

Price: $16 for four links. Available at bicycle shops, www.sram.com.

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-- Roy M. Wallack

Irvine-based fitness writer Roy M. Wallack is the coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." To read about his experience at the BC Bike Race, see his teammate Ed Korb's blog and photos at bloodmudandbeer.blogspot.com.

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