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Perfect Your Bike Mechanic Skills This Off-Season

  • By Scott Fliegelman
  • Published December 21, 2012
  • Updated December 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

You’ve got your training and nutrition strategy dialed. But there’s another element to being a successful triathlete: mechanical skills. As you prepare for your season, work on improving your wrench skills in the following areas.

The Basics

Fix a flat. It’s every novice (and sometimes experienced) triathlete’s nightmare, but it doesn’t need to be. Ask your local bike shop when they are offering their next flat-changing clinic, or tap an experienced fellow cyclist to show you how. Then practice in the comfort of your own garage before your luck runs out far from home or during an important race.

Adjust rear derailleur. Most bikes have a small barrel adjuster where the cable housing meets the rear derailleur. If your shifting is not spot-on, shift into the middle cog in the back, then try turning the barrel a quarter-click at a time in either direction until shifting improves. If you’ve tried a full rotation in both directions and shifting is still subpar, ask your go-to mechanic to fix it while you watch on.

Remove pedals. If you plan to travel for a triathlon, you should know how to do this. Many pedals can be removed with a simple Allen wrench, while others may require a specific pedal wrench (most cost about $20). Again, ask your local shop which tool will work best and to show you how to remove and reinstall your pedals. Be sure to use grease on the axle and don’t over-tighten them.

Change bar tape. This simple upgrade should be done regularly so that your sweaty hands do not lose grip during sharp cornering or when hitting a bump in the road. New tape is also one of the cheapest ways to keep your bike looking spiffy and new, and clean is fast!

Tune brakes. Triathletes who use different wheelsets for training and racing should learn how to adjust their bike’s brake calipers to account for different rim widths. Although some newer tri bike frames hide the brakes from plain view, you should still be able to access them and simply turn the barrel adjuster to widen or tighten the brake pads.

Next Level Know-How

Swap a cassette. If you train and race on assorted terrain, then you may want to change your cassette based on topography. While a widely spaced 11-28 is nice for hilly rides, you may prefer a tightly spaced 12-23 for rides and races on flatter roads. Your area bike shop will stock the tools you need and carry a selection of reasonably priced cassettes ($50 on up) and can show you how to swap them out.

Master tubular tires. Despite some great alternatives including a growing selection of tubeless systems, tubular tires can still be found on some of the fastest triathletes’ bikes. Tubular wheels are lighter than clinchers, ride quality is noticeably better, and with practice you can change a flat nearly as fast or even faster. Products like Vittoria Pit Stop ($15), which contain a mix of tire sealant and compressed air, can fix small punctures in less than 30 seconds.

Remove a crankset. This surprisingly simple task is critical if you own a crank-based power meter like an SRM or Sram Quarq and like to use it on more than one bike. This skill can also be handy for cleaning your bike, travel and storage. A $12 crank removal tool and a 5mm hex key is all you need to get the job done for many crank types (some require additional tools).

True a wheel. Wheelsets these days withstand quite a pounding and still spin true most of the time, but an out-of-balance wheel can be annoying and slow. Pick up a spoke wrench ($5) at your local bike shop, along with a few tips about how to use it, and make the minor adjustments needed with your wheels still on your bike, using the brake pads to guide your progress.

Tighten the headset. If the front of your bike shutters and shakes when you brake, then you likely have a loose headset. Loosen the bolts on the sides of the stem, then tighten the cap on top by going about as tight as you are able with one hand, and then back it off about a quarter-turn before realigning the bars and retightening the stem bolts.

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