The roadside wrench

christopheeugeneFinishing is often more memorable than winning. In the annals of cycling history, few people would know the name of the 1913 Tour winner, but almost every rider has heard the legend of Eugene Christophe. As virtual leader of the race, Christophe had a 10 min advantage on his nearest rivals. Coming down the Tourmalet he suffered a catastrophic mechanical when his fork broke. Instead of abandoning, he walked 10 kilometres to the nearest village where he welded his fork back together at a local Blacksmith.  Race rules specified that a rider is responsible for his own repairs and outside assistance is prohibited. It took three hours for Christophe to repair his fork. He was then penalised another 10 minutes by race officials because a seven-year old boy had helped pump the bellows. While Christophe’s story may be an epic tale, few of us will ever experience the luxury of a team support car to fix our roadside repairs. Like professionals from older times its good to be self-reliant, which is why I always carry a spoke wrench on my rides.

Repairing a puncture during the 1934 Goulburn to Sydney cycle race.
Cyclist A. Graham repairs a puncture during the 1934 Goulburn to Sydney cycle race (Photo Sam Hood, State Library of NSW).

Many of the common mechanical failures involve wheels: punctured innertubes, tyre gashes, buckled wheels and broken spokes.  These problems can be repaired with simple tools: tyre levers, a spare tube and patch kit; a $5 note, and a spoke wrench. On at least 5 occasions in the last year I’ve helped people fix bucked wheels on the side of the road. With broken spokes you can only do so much to make the wheel true, but you should be able to make it good enough to ride home. If you haven’t got a spoke wrench, get one. I like the Park SW-7 which covers most common nipple sizes and fits compactly in my saddle bag. Learning to true wheels is a very simple and you never know when this skill may come in handy.