You don’t have to be able to repair your bike to enjoy worry-free commuting. Most roadside problems can either be pre-empted or soon solved.
1. Always take your phone
Any phone will do, even an old Nokia that runs nothing more high-tech than Snake. Ensure it has on it the numbers of some local taxi firms prepared to carry you and your bike; ask in advance, not on the day. If your bike doesn’t fold (see below), you or your rescuer may need to remove the front or both wheels to fit it in a car. If you’re not sure how to do this, watch a this video on wheel removal in advance.
If you’ve got a smartphone and 4G, you can even watch such a video while you’re waiting to be picked up. You’ll need to tell the rescuer exactly where you are. Google Maps is helpful for that, although What3words is better if you’re off the beaten track.
2. Sign up for roadside rescue
Most car drivers couldn’t fix their car if it broke down; they join the AA or RAC instead. Roadside recovery packages for cyclists are similar except that repairs are rarely if ever undertaken at the roadside. Instead, you and your bike will be taken home, to a cycle repair shop, or to a railway station so you can continue your journey. Cycle Rescue Cover with ETA costs £24 per year. Alternatively, you can get breakdown cover as part of a wider cycle insurance package – also protecting you against theft and accidental damage. This is an option with Bikmo, Cycling UK, and British Cycling. Whichever cover you choose, don’t forget to keep the emergency contact number and the policy number on your phone.
3. Ride a folding bike
Any folding bike greatly simplifies alternative transport solutions in the event of a mechanical breakdown. Even the bigger-wheeled, fold-in-half bikes that a train guard might refuse without a cycle reservation will nevertheless fit in the back of a car. So any taxi will take you where you need to go. If you’ve got a small-wheeled compact folder like a Brompton, you don’t have to depend on taxis; you can hop on a train, bus, or tram instead, or in London take the Tube. Practise folding and unfolding your bike at home when you first get it so that you’re comfortable with the process.
4. Use puncture-resistant tyres
Can’t mend a puncture or don’t fancy trying at the roadside in the rain? With the right choice of tyres, you may go years without getting a flat. This isn’t a suggestion to use solid tyres. Those will never puncture but they roll relatively poorly, making cycling harder work, and they compromise comfort and bike handling. Tough pneumatic tyres like Schwalbe’s Marathon Plus or Continental’s Contact Plus are what you want. They’re harder to fit – ask the shop to do it for you when you buy them – and they’re also heavier and a little slower. Yet they’re practically impervious to crumbs of broken glass and thorns. Pump them up every week or two for optimum performance. A pressure gauge, found on most workshop pumps, is helpful but not vital; a squeeze with your hand will tell you if the tyre is firm or not.
5. Repair punctures instantly
Patching or replacing an innertube isn’t the only way to fix a puncture. There is a quicker option that doesn’t require tools: a canister containing compressed gas and sealant. You fit it to the tyre valve and press or hold the canister’s operating switch. Compressed gas re-inflates the tyre while sealant plugs the hole. Güp is good example, as is Zéfal Repair Spray. Don’t just chuck the canister in your commuter bag. Watch of video of it being used, either on the manufacturer’s website or YouTube, before you need to use it.
6. Don’t be left in the dark
Today’s LED cycle lights are more long lasting and reliable than the filament bulb lamps of old. Yet any battery light can run flat, potentially leaving you stranded in the dark. Even if you can see well enough to cycle, due to streetlights or moonlight, you’ll need working lights to make you: a) road legal; and b) visible to other road users. The simplest solution is to take a spare set of small but powerful LED lights, like Lezyne’s KTV Drive. While the torch function of your smartphone will likely emit 25-50 lumens of white light on its brightest setting, you’ll need a handlebar mount of some kind. It still won’t be ideal and, hey, it’s a phone: why not use it as intended and call a taxi?
7. Flag down a friendly cyclist
Cyclists are a helpful bunch, by and large. If you’re stuck, the odds are good that a passing cyclist will stop and help. So it’s worth carrying on the bike essentials such as a multitool, pump, tyre levers, and a suitable innertube. Even if you don’t know how to use them, your Good Samaritan will. The greater the concentration of cyclists on your route, the more likely one of them will stop and help. So Sustrans’ cycle tracks, London’s cycle superhighways, and signed backstreet cycle routes are better choices for your commute than busy A-roads that cyclists avoid.