How To Salvage Your Ride


As I am sure this is the case for most, a bicycle can be tremendous relief from the struggles we all faced. Last year this seemed more relevant than ever. Mountain bikes can take cyclists on explorations while helping them maintain their mental and physical health. While we are aware that not all of the world’s problems were solved with a mountain bike in 2020, pedal time made the year a bit more manageable. No matter the tough moments, there are always steps to help stay “on the bike,” so to speak.

With a spike of new riders getting involved, the crew here at MBA thought that it was important to cover some trailside hacks that could help salvage a ride. These tips may require some practice, but they are to help offer clever solutions with some of the most basic repair tools on the top breakdowns that can occur while out on the trails. Whether you are an amateur or experienced rider, some of these problem-solvers may come as a surprise. With that, we have a bit of a disclaimer that some of these solutions should be a last resort to get you back on track.


Being in the mountains and getting a flat tire can happen. Having the proper tools to repair a flat is important; however, there is a solution to help get you home if you are missing a few of the essential repair items. This problem-solver can work as long as you remember to carry a hand pump with you at the very least. With none of the other tools on hand to repair a puncture in a tire, the tube can be tied in a knot right by the puncture to prevent air from leaking out of the hole. Once reinstalled, it is best to add air slowly while making sure the tube is not protruding from the tire bead. The aim is to keep a decent amount of air in the inner tube and get you back home. Not wonderful, but it can save you in a pinch flat!


Unfortunately, there are times when a tire slice is too large for the sealant to reseal the tire airtight. If tire plugs are not handy, even inserting or replacing a tube will blow through a gash. The most reliable option to take this on is the TB-2 emergency tire boot from Park Tool. It is easy to carry and place in a pocket or trail pack. If the TB-2 is not on hand, a flimsy business card, cash or even strips of duct tape can be applied before a tube is inserted.


You may be able to uninstall the broken cable and use it for this trick, but we prefer to think ahead. Carry a small 10-inch length of cable with the nipple still at the end wrapped in your repair bag. We put tape around the cable ends to avoid cutting the material of the bag. From there, the cable can be used to set the derailleur to whatever gear is needed by just tensioning the derailleur itself. Remove the cable that is broken and then have the nipple end of the cable sit in the rear derailleur.

Then, pedal a bit while pushing the rear derailleur knuckle into the gear you want. It is useful to have a buddy for that last step if available. Finally, feed the cable through the anchor bolt and tighten while keeping tension on the cable. This will hold the derailleur in your gear of choice to get you back for supper. No cutters? Coil up the cable and use the tape that was removed to keep the cable from poking into a pack.


This is a very tough step that is a last resort. Some tools are not equipped with the proper size to tighten a bolt on your bike. For example, we’ve seen tools on the market not equipped with an 8mm Allen key size. It’s possible to use a 6mm and a 2mm Allen at the same time, but as we warned, this is not a perfect fit and does take some finesse. We recommend getting the fastener snug, but do not torque it tightly with this method. Check periodically on the ride back to make sure nothing has rattled loose until the proper-size Allen key needed for the fastener can be used.


Bent rotors are a pain to manage without a rotor truing tool or a pair of pliers. This tactic utilizes the gap in between each bit of a flip-out multi-tool. Open the tool and find a gap that is roughly the width of your rotor. Next, the tool can be a helpful vise for the rotor to be trued as best as possible. When back safely, it is usually best to stop by the local shop and get new rotors installed after this last-option fix.


Running out of steam on a ride is never fun. Planning is key to know how much nutrition will be needed, but there are occasions when you go through even what was organized. Sometimes a trailhead will have nearby areas to refuel or grab a snack. In other cases, it could be a post-ride cruise for a cold beverage where you forgot your wallet. Stash cash in your bars! Take a thicker rubber band and wrap it around some bucks before placing it in the handlebars.

You may have to remove your lock-on grips completely or you may have simple end caps that can be removed. If you have plugs, the bills can be held secure when rolled up into the end plug. The band helps keep it from sliding around if you need to take your grips completely off. Another option is setting up your smartphone with your credit card information just in case it is accepted at the local trailhead handy market.


This is a great problem-solver taken from some bikepacking experience. Taping extras spokes to your seatstay before you go out for an adventure can solve the problem of a broken spoke. We’ve used electrical tape and also thin rubber strips to help protect the bike frame. Riders won’t even notice they are there until you need them.


Sometimes, bolts can vibrate loose. It is important to check all bolts on your rig and make sure they are torqued to spec and have the proper amount of grease or thread-locker applied. Your local shop should be taking these steps, but there are some bolts to consider that are off the bike. We have had the unfortunate event of a clear bolt rattling off during a ride.

Before trying to flat pedal, a rider can try and use a bolt off their bike or plan ahead by keeping an extra cleat bolt in a tool pack. As a last resort, we’ve had test riders use a water bottle cage bolt or one of the six bolts off one of the brake rotors. Of course, this meant we had to be especially careful when going downhill, yet we could pedal up the climb without coming off the pedals.


Although tedious for some riders, a pre-ride inspection before every ride and a thorough review of the bike when it is cleaned post-ride could mean the difference in your safety. As we touch on briefly, it is important to check that all bolts are torqued to the requirement, as things can get loose with vibration. While cleaning, examine your bike’s components/frame by starting at the front and then working towards the back of the bike. It is important to remember to map ahead by packing to the best ability possible for when mountain bike parts break.

We hinted at day packs and saddlebags as a few options, but it is vital to pack appropriately. At the very least, investing in a basic flat repair kit, handheld pump, multi-tool and simple maintenance from a local bike mechanic could salvage a ride. After all, what rider doesn’t want to keep mechanical intervention time at a minimum when out for a ride?

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Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun.

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