Category Archives: On-trail issues

On-trail issues: unexpected loose spokes

Issue: Half way round a ride a rattling sound draws attention to loose spokes.

Damage: Not much in some ways.  The wheels can easily buckle once spokes come loose, and there’s potential for more damage to the spokes themselves and the tyres if the issue isn’t remedied.

Remedial action: If you’re not carrying a useful multitool, not much, although you could try temporarily screwing the spokes back in by hand.  If you are carrying a tool, hopefully it has a spoke key on it, in which case you can screw them back in and tighten them up nicely.  Since spokes should not typically loosen themselves this much, it would definitely be worth investigating the rest of them as well, and making sure that you have an even tension round the whole of the wheel.

Ways to avoid: This is arguably one of the consequences of buying a bike from a bike outdoor chain, as opposed to a local bike shop.  Big chains will have a checklist to follow when building bikes for the their customers, but checking spoke tension is more than likely not on it.  It certainly isn’t for some.  Perhaps a particularly conscientious bike technician with a particularly low workload might think to check them, but this will be the exception rather than the rule.  So, if you buy a bike from a big chain and ask them to build it for you, check it thoroughly before you ride it.  At the very least, ride it first in relatively low-risk places so that any issues come to light before you’re relying on the bike.


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On-trail issues: herniated tyre

Issue: Sidewall of the tyre tears, and inner tube bulges out of the hole.

Damage: Given that the inner tube then clips the forks on every rotation of the tyre, this issue soon results in an explosive puncture.

Remedial action: At the time, not much.  Unless you’re carrying a full spare tyre with you there’s not a lot you can do with a genuinely damaged tyre.  I wondered about maybe wrapping duct tape around it (although sadly I wasn’t carrying any) or even perhaps changing the inner tube when it blew and tying the defunct tube around the damaged bit of tyre.  I have no idea if this would have worked.  It doesn’t seem overly likely.  Equally there’s only so long you can ride direct on an inner tube before it wears through.  Practically speaking all I could do was ride gently until the tube went as well, and then spend the next hour walking back pushing the bike.

Ways to avoid: Preventive maintenance would have been key here.  The sidewall of the tyre looks scored and definitely weakened – I’m not completely sure how that might have happened, but checking the bike over thoroughly before riding should have brought the issue to light.  I suspect that not riding my bike for a long time probably didn’t help the issue.  Obviously, the next step is simply to change the tyre.

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On-trail issues: hedge clipping

Issue: Autumn in the UK means hedge clipping time – local councils and farmers clipping their hedges to keep them nice and tidy.

Damage: Rural roads and tracks strewn with thorns and jagged twigs.  Expect serious punctures, broken hangers, bent derailleurs, bent spokes and general problems with things catching in things and things.  At worst, being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Remedial action: See specific pages for punctures, hangers and so on.  Punctures can be easily fixed at the roadside (although for giant thorns it can be best to leave them in until you’re past the clipped section if the tyre hasn’t already deflated).  Hangers can be replaced if you have a spare with you.  As for larger problems, I once freewheeled off a hill with my chain in my bag and my derailleur in my pocket, and on another occasion removed a section of chain to set my bike up as a sort of singlespeed, although the chain snapped again shortly afterwards.

Ways to avoid: There’s not a particularly good way to avoid the issue.  Manmade trails should be absolutely fine, but since Autumn is likely to be the last time to get in some natural riding before Winter it’s a shame to limit yourself at this point.  On roads you can sometimes do your best to weave between the worst bits of debris, but on tracks this is more difficult.  Punctures aren’t too much of an issue.  Broken hangers are a little more serious, and if you have the ill luck to hit something that breaks your hanger, snaps your chain, and bends your derailleur then you’re basically looking at a walk home.

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On-trail issues: hydraulic brakes locking

Issue: Brakes jam on after a short section of descent.

Damage: A distinct lack of fun.  Pedaling required even when going downhill.  The problem appears to be that as the brakes get hot, something expands and locks the brakes on, meaning that the issue will not solve itself even if I’m not actively braking – because the pads are still contacting the rotor.

Remedial action: At the time, the only remedial action that occurred to me was to break up the descent.  I’d ride for a bit, feel the brakes overheat and lock up, and then take a five minute brake until the rotor was cool enough not burn through my gloves, and then carry on.  This worked fine, but didn’t help the fluidity of the ride.

Ways to avoid: It’s highly unlikely that the rotor or the pads are expanding – they’re designed specifically not to.  This more or less leaves the brake fluid, which also shouldn’t expand much.  Air, however, does expand a lot when heated.  Therefore the solution is bleeding the brakes.  I’ve tried a quick fix for this before where you turn the master piston upright, open it up and jam the brakes on, and leave it for fifteen minutes or so.  This seemed to temporarily help.  However, now it seems like I’ll need to actually bleed my brakes.  See the ‘bleeding brakes’ post (when I write it).  As for the causes of this, I’d imagine that my bike is supplied with fairly cheap parts, which I’d imagine is part of the problem.  Similarly, being stored outside with fluctuations in temperature and sub-zero temperatures no doubt doesn’t help.

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On-trail issues: cable splittage

Issue: Your front gear cable outer frays and splits.

Damage: None serious, but the bike won’t stay in gear, and so realistically that’s the end of your ride.  Best hope it’s within twenty yards of the start.

Remedial action: None at the time.  The bike should stay in the lowest chainring, so if you fancy pinwheeling your way home you could do that.  Once home, replace at least the outer of the cable, and ideally the whole cable.  See the gear cables post.

Ways to avoid: It’s difficult to say what exactly might have caused this.  There are a few possibilities.  Cheap gear cables may be an issue, and what with replacing the things you now have the ideal opportunity to upgrade to better ones.  Cable routing that means the outer hits the frame might exacerbate the issue, although in my case the split was nowhere near any problem areas like that.  Nevertheless, altering the cable routing to carry them away from the frame might help, as well as adding some tape to try to help with any unavoidable contact.  The last, and I suspect the most important, factor is storing the bike outside in sub-zero temperatures.  This will make the plastic of the outer brittle and more prone to split.

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On-trail issues: tiredness

Issue: You start up a climb that you’re assured has some excellent riding at the top of it.  Five minutes later your thighs ache terribly.  Ten minutes later you can’t breathe.  Fifteen minutes later the bike’s barely moving and your front wheel’s wobbling all over the place.

Damage: Feeling like hell.  Giving up.  Being very sore.

Remedial action: Received wisdom says – push through it.  I say – take a break.  It’s not a race.  Supposedly pushing through tiredness like this gets you fitter, faster, but personally I think that riding at all will improve your fitness, and there’s really no point in pushing on until you’re miserable and exhausted when five minutes to look at the scenery, have a drink, and gasp for breath will work wonders.  It’s a good idea to have a break at the top of the climb before the fun bits, too, since otherwise you can miss them or ride them badly because you’re so knackered from the climb.  Take it easy.  Have fun.

Ways to avoid: Quite simply, ride more.  The first climb after a period of not riding always kills me, but a couple of rides later I’m wondering what I was complaining about.  As you ride, your fitness will improve and your body will get more used to doing what you’re asking of it.

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On-trail issues: locked suspension

Issue: Riding a long singletrack trail in January, reach the top of the climb, unlock suspension forks, discover that they don’t compress at all.

Damage: Questionable, depending on the issue itself.  On researching, quite possibly none.  But does then involve riding a tricky descent on a rigid bike.

Remedial action: Pretty much none.  Ride gingerly.

Ways to avoid: Supposedly the forks I have simply don’t work too well in low temperatures.  Rockshox apparently recommends using lighter oil in them in winter.  Turns out without replacing my forks with better ones there may not be a lot I can do to remedy the issue.  Keeping them in reasonable condition might help.

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On-trail issues: impact puncture

Issue: Hit rocks hard enough and the inner tube will get pinched between hard rock and hard wheel rim, and rupture.

Damage: Two punctures, one on either side of the tyre (hence the alternative name – ‘snakebite’).

Remedial action: Replace inner tube, or repair puncture (see ‘tyres and punctures’ post).

Ways to avoid: In some ways, tricky.  It’ll probably happen at some point whatever you do.  There are ways to lessen the chances of it happening though, such as anticipating obstacles and shifting your weight to help the bike to flow over the terrain rather than batter against it.  Lifting the handlebars will let big rocks go under the tyre rather than jarring against it.  If you can manage it, a strategic bunny hop might help with some obstacles.  Sufficient air in the tyres should avoid impact punctures, but will start to sacrifice grip.

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On-trail issues: descending saddle

Issue: Seat post gradually sinks over time, when weight is applied to it, resulting in a climbing riding position closer to a BMX than a sensible bike.

Damage: None, aside from looking silly and lacking much climbing power.

Remedial action: Get off, raise seat post, tighten nicely.

Ways to avoid: My problem here is that when the seat post is loose enough for the quick release to be usable, it’s also loose enough to slip.  Personally I never bother to drop it when I’m descending anyway, so my solution is to bypass the quick release by tightening the hex bolt opposite it as much as I can.  The saddle’s harder to adjust, but doesn’t descend gently while climbing.

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On-trail issues: broken hanger

Issue: Typically a stick getting caught in the derailleur/rear spokes that then hits the derailleur with enough force to tear the hanger in half.  See ‘hanger’ post.

Damage: Rear derailleur detached from bike.  On one occasion a broken chain and bent derailleur cage as well.

Remedial action: Simple version is to remove the chain (this is where a cycle-specific multi-tool with a chain tool on it comes in handy) and remove the derailleur.  On one occasion I freewheeled off a hill with my chain in my bag and derailleur in my pocket (didn’t realise how easily the cable end came off and so couldn’t remove it from the bike completely), and then left my bike for a four mile walk back to my car.  Slightly more complex version is to remove the derailleur, remove a section of chain and set the bike up as a singlespeed in order to get home.  When I did this, the chain broke again halfway back, so I took it off and freewheeled as much as I could back.

Ways to avoid: Use good quality derailleur hanger, avoid riding up tracks with recently clipped hedges, don’t annoy the woodland spirits of Brechfa (since I still have no idea what happened on that occasion).

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