I read many blogs by bicycle tourists, and I’m always surprised that they have so many mechanical failures of all sorts. There are lots of reasons for mechanicals, some of them unavoidable, but far to many are the result of incomplete preparation.
Avoiding Flat Tires While Bicycle Touring
The mechanical that occurs the most often, at the most inconvenient times, is both the most mundane, and the most avoidable; flat tires. I haven’t kept records of how many flats we have had in 40,000 miles of touring, but I know 90% of them were in the first 8,000 miles.
Thorn Resistant Tubes
It was somewhere around flat number 20 in Texas, on a 14,000 mile tour around the U.S. that I discovered thorn resistant tubes. Almost all of our 5 or so flats since have been because the valve stem failed, usually after several thousand miles.
Heavy Cheng Shin Tires
I also started buying the heaviest tires I can find. Our best performing brand by far is: this will surprise those accustomed to buying only name brand expensive tires: Cheng Shin from Taiwan. Never heard of them? I’ll bet you’ve seen them in the cheap end of the rack of tires at your bike shop. Assumption, they’re no good. Assumptions are often wrong. In this case very wrong. I’ve had many sidewall cuts/blowouts with Continentals, never with a Cheng Shin. Why? Heavy. Heavy is the only downside to this system of thorn proof tubes and heavy Cheng Shin tires. These tires also have serious side tread which is a great help on the dirt/mud tracks we often find on our famous (infamous?) short cuts. Serious tires for serious touring.
Why Flats are Bad on Tour
Fixing a flat on a tandem bicycle, particularly on the rear with the oh-so-necessary drum brake, is a hassle: the tent, sleeping bag and pads come off the rear rack, the two panniers come off, the drum brake must be unhooked from the bike frame, before you can begin. In the third world/developing world, your flat might just occur in an exposed location, putting you in potential danger, or at the least surrounded by a vociferous curious crowd throwing questions at you in a language you don’t understand. A little pantomime and wide a wide smile usually takes care of this, but it plays hell with the concentration. You don’t want flats. The weight costs you a cog on climbs, gains you same on the downhills, so it all evens out.
Zippy is back together now and in the testing stage. The one bike mechanic I never trust is, me. I always do some fairly serious testing before calling the rebuild good, and moving on to the packing stage.
PS. Note the small piece of inner tube over the valve stem; it helps protect the vulcanization of the stem to the tube. It seems to lengthen the time between stem failures by a few thousand miles.
Claire Rogers writes on cross-cultural adventure drawn from her travels across the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, around Australia and of course, through Iceland–all by bike.
She’s currently traveling by tandem with her husband Bob, through southwest China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Check out NewBohemians.net for more information on their travels.