Bike Basics: Trip Planning and Flat Tire Repair

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Packed with fun ideas and practical tips on everything from garden pests to preserving food to home energy efficiency to green travel, the Self-Sufficient-ish Bible is for those who "don't have the space or time to be totally self-sufficient, but want to know how to live a more environmentally friendly life."
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Cycling is the healthies, most inexpensive form of travel.
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It's important for cyclists to be able to carry out simple repairs, such as fixing a tire puncture.

The following is an excerpt from The Self-Sufficient-ish Bibleby Andy and Dave Hamilton (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009). An “eco-living guide for the 21st century,” this extensive book includes a variety of fun ideas and practical advice on everything from gardening to home energy to travel that will help you “live in a more frugal way, while still enjoying life to the full.” The Hamilton brothers, known as “the green twins” are the founders of the Self-Sufficient-ish website and bring an engaging, practical and realistic approach to incremental self-sufficiency. The excerpt below is about bicycles –arguably the least expensive and healthiest means of travel — and covers bike trip planning and the basics of repairing punctured tires.

Cycling is by far the most environmentally friendly way to travel; it’s also a great way to stay fit, get fresh air and feel at one with the surrounding countryside. We’ve cycled over much of England, Scotland and Wales, and most of the time it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience, provided you’re properly equipped and sufficiently fit for the holiday you’ve planned.

We try to take a cycling holiday through Britain at least once a year. Climate change means it’s considerably warmer that it used to be, we have spectacular scenery, delightful pubs and a vast number of places of historical interest to visit, scattered throughout the country. Most people don’t have go far to find areas of outstanding beauty. In the north of England, there’s the Lake District, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales. Scotland is so full of naturally stunning places we could write an entire chapter about them (one of our favorites is Loch Ness). In the South there’s New Forest, the Forest of Dean, Cornwall and Devon. The Midlands has Derbyshire and Ironbridge, and vast areas of rural Wales are breathtaking, especially Snowdonia. 

Cycling Practicalities

We learned a lot about cycling over the years, often by making our own mistakes. Here are some tips to help you avoid common pitfalls.

  • Plan your trip carefully and don’t be over-ambitious — 32 kilometers (about 20 miles) a day is a good, steady pace that most people will be able to cope with, although obviously this depends on your fitness level.
  • Buy an Ordinance Survey (OS) map that shows you the contours of the land and plan out the flattest route. A distance of 1 kilometer (five-eighths of a mile) uphill can take longer than 10 kilometers (a little more than 6 miles) on level ground.
  • Eat carbohydrate-rich foods, such as pasta and rice, for at least three days before any long journey and during the trip if you can.
  • Get your bike checked before leaving to ensure it’s roadworthy, particularly the brakes.
  • Pack for all weather conditions.
  • Travel as light as possible. Think about what you would desperately need and what you could buy or forage on the way. The more weight you carry, the harder it is to cycle.
  • Take a pump or puncture-repair kit and a spare inner tube. Learn how to carry out simple cycle repairs.
  • Buy or borrow some bike lights and reflective clothing. Even if you don’t plan on cycling in the dark, your journey could take longer than you think, and you may want to keep going until you find a suitable place to bed down for the night. It’s best to be prepared.
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Carry plenty of water to stop yourself from dehydrating. Try to have at least 2 liters of water with you at all times. More will be needed if you’re not going to be anywhere near civilization for a bit.

Simple Bicycle Repairs

If you cycle you’ll one day get a puncture — it’s inevitable. You can get them fixed at most cycle shops but this can sometimes cost far more than you would expect. Besides, they’re not open all the time and are not on every street corner. It’s much cheaper and more convenient to know how to do the job yourself.

There’s a great invention known as the tire sealant, which helps prevent the most frequent smaller punctures of about 3 centimeters (about 1¼ inch). Many trial cyclists and courier riders rely on this product, as they don’t always have time to fix a puncture properly. It’s pumped inside the inner tube and coats it when the wheel revolves. For more serious punctures, see the instructions below. If you get the puncture while out biking, move the bike to a safe, level spot off the road or cycle path before trying to fix it.

Removal of the wheel is made easier these days with the invention of quick-release wheels. There should be a lever that you pull up and then turn to loosen your wheel. On some bikes, especially older ones, there’s a nut keeping the wheel in place, so you’ll need to use a spanner to take this off. The back wheel on any bike is the trickiest to take off and you’ll need to move the derailleur (smaller cogs for the gears) back and move the brake pads to release the wheel. 

Mending a Tire Puncture

  1. Turn your bike upside down and remove the offending wheel, using a spanner if you don’t have quick-release wheels.
  2. Remove the tire — you can undo the nut that keeps the valve in place with your fingers. In your puncture-repair kit there should be some levers with one flat end and one hooked end. Put the flat end between the tire and wheel and hook the other end onto the spokes. Use another lever to do the same about two spokes up, then another two spokes up again and run this one around the rim of the tire to take it off.
  3. Take out the inner tube and try to find the puncture. Pump up the inner tube until it looks fatter than usual, then hold it next to your lips. You should feel the air coming out. Mark this area with a bit of chalk or the crayon that comes with your repair kit. Once you’ve found the puncture, test for further damage by putting your finger over the hole and doing the same again until you’re satisfied there aren’t any more punctures.
  4. If you can’t find the puncture, immerse the inner tube in a bucket of water or run it through a puddle or nearby river. You should see bubbles coming through the hole. Dry off your inner tube and mark the location of the bubbles. If you still fail to find a puncture the chances are that the valve has gone and you’ll have to replace the whole inner tube.
  5. Rub the area around the puncture with the small square of sandpaper in your repair kit. Pick a Patch of corresponding size to the hole and apply rubber solution around the puncture. Allow this to dry a little, then peel off the patch backing and press the patch into position.
  6. Check the inside of your tire for glass, thorns or anything else that might have caused the puncture. When you’re satisfied that it’s clear, you can start to reaffix the inner tube. Push the valve into the hole in your wheel and work around the tire, tucking the inner tube into place. Pumping up the tire a little will make this easier. Use the tire levers to help get the last bit in place if you need to. Run your fingers around the tire to make sure it’s in place, then attach it back on your bike and pump it up.

Theft of Bicycles

Sadly we’ve both had bikes stolen over the years; bike theft has doubled since the early 1990s, so unless you secure your bike, it could suffer the same fate. There are a few steps you can take to lower the likelihood of bike theft.

  • Bring your bike indoors, when possible, and if it’s stored in a garage or shed make sure that it’s locked and that the bike is secured to something solid.
  • Buy a bike lock, or even two. D-locks can be broken with car jacks and bolt locks with wire cutters, so doubling up can provide additional security.
  • Attach your bike to an immovable object such as a fence or lamp post. One of Andy’s bikes got stolen when he nipped into the pub for a pint, leaving the bike outside locked to itself.
  • Always wrap the lock around the wheel and the frame of the bike.
  • If you have quick-release wheels, take the front off and lock it to the back wheel.
  • If you have a quick-release saddle, take it with you when you lock your bike.
  • Lock your bike in full view of people. Thieves are less likely to steal in front of an audience.
  • Write your name or other identifying information on your bike with a UV marker pen, make a note of the frame number and take a photo of your bike to help in recovery if it is stolen.
  • Try not to lock an expensive bike in the same place all the time as it could be stolen to order.
  • Get decent cycle insurance.

Bicycle Insurance

It’s vital that you report a stolen cycle right away. Some home insurance policies also cover theft of cycles outside the home. However, you’ll need to check with your policy. Most claims will not be insured if you don’t secure your cycle.

Household insurance will not cover you if you are in an accident, and with roads getting busier it would be churlish for the frequent cyclist not to consider a stand-alone policy just to cover liability. Although the risk of being sued as a cyclist is pretty low, it might be a wise precaution. Cycle insurance means that you’re protected against any claims and your insurance company may even provide someone to help you out with court proceedings.

To avoid the likelihood of being sued, cyclists should observe traffic laws at all times and try to use paths whenever possible. Cyclists can be deemed at fault if they ride too fast, undercut traffic or have drop handle bars and are in the crouch position, because they’re considered not to be looking at the road.

Reprinted with permission from The Self-Sufficient-ish Bible by Andy and Dave Hamilton (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009).