By Maggie LaCoste
Nothing can ruin a perfect day of cycling through the peaceful French countryside more than tire trouble. In the last 15 years of cycling overseas with my husband and our children, we have never encountered any major bike trouble on the road, other than routine repair issues that could be taken care of with a pocket bike tool kit. That is up until our recent trip along the Burgundy Canal, one of my favorite cycling itineraries in France.
In a period of less than 24 hours, we had a tire blowout, a tire so tread bare that it disintegrated from the roughness of the canal path, and two flats between the two of us.
There were so many lessons learned from the experience along the Burgundy Canal, I hardly know where to begin:
- There can be a very big difference in bikes rented from a bicycle store and those rented from a bicycle tour company or local tourism office, particularly in the maintenance/servicing of the bike.
- Just as there can be a big difference in the maintenance of the bikes based on where you rent them, there also can be a big difference in the tire repair supplies: neither of the emergency bike tubes we were provided with our rentals were new, both of them had been previously patched, with both patches leaking. In addition, the tread on one of the tires was so badly worn that it literally started to tear apart on our second day of riding. Neither of these would have been an issue if the bikes had been properly serviced.
- Riding on cinder/gravel paths along canals like the Burgundy Canal, the Canal du Midi and the Ille et Rance are very hard on bikes and tires, especially with the added weight of panniers. Bikes used on these routes require much more maintenance on the tires and the bikes.
- It’s really important to have a “cheat sheet” in your phone of important bike repair related terms, it makes communicating in an emergency much easier.
- Always know what towns on your route have bicycle repair shops and/or train stations. In the event of trouble it could be the difference between making it to your destination for the night or not.
- Remember that when all else fails, creativity, ingenuity and determination can help you get through almost any emergency.
- If you don’t know how to change the tube in a tire, be sure that you review how to do it before your trip. My favorite tutorial is from REI, it’s easy to understand and includes a video as well as written instructions. While it’s great for me as my husband is a real pro at changing tires, I have downloaded these instructions on my i-phone in case I ever need them when traveling alone.
- You meet the nicest people when you least expect it. We met three “angels” whose help enabled us to continue our journey.
Although I would not want to go through our experience again, it gave me some great material for my blog and my new French bicycling guides. When you are cycling in foreign countries, you are going to have unusual experiences, and you may, at some point in your travels need to do some basic bicycle repairs. The best advice regarding this is to be prepared. So here are my suggestions for a basic emergency tool kit for overseas bike trips.
Emergency Bicycling Tool Kit
- Multi-purpose bike tool like the Topeak Alien series, the single most important and useful tool for any bike trip, put in checked luggage
- Individual packets of wet wipes for cleaning your hands after bike repairs
- Small roll of electrical tape
- Assortment of zip ties which can be used in many different ways to hold things together in an emergency
- A pocket knife, just remember to put in checked luggage
- A good tire repair kit with patches, glue and tire irons to help in the removal of the tire from the rim in the event of a flat. Once again, if you don’t know how to change/repair a flat, be sure to watch an on-line video how-to. My favorite can be found on the REI website. If you are renting from a professional bike shop, this should be included with your bike rental. Just be sure to check that the replacement inner tubes are new and have not been patched before.
- A small lightweight hand towel, something similar to a swimmer’s or sports towel
- A tire pump that works on the bike stems on your bike. If you are renting a bike from a reputable bike shop, you should be provided with one. Make sure that it fits the stems on your tires.
- An assortment of bungee cords in different lengths
- Crazy glue or similar instant bonding glue
All of these items should easily fit in a small-medium sized baggie or cosmetic-type bag. They will give you the peace of mind of knowing that regardless of any mishaps you encounter on the road, you will be prepared to take care of them. If you have this kit with you, odds are you will never need it!
One final word on bike rentals. A bike shop has full time mechanics on staff who carefully inspect each bike before and after each rental. Brakes, gears, tires are all carefully inspected after each rental. If you are renting a bike from a local tourism office, local cafe or bike touring company, you should not assume that the same careful inspection has occurred prior to your rental. Regardless of where you rent your bike from, it is a good idea to always do a quick pre-trip check of your rental bike: take a quick ride around the block to check the gears and the brakes. Check the emergency repair kit to make sure that you have new inner tubes, glue and a tire iron. Last but not least, check the tire treads and make sure that they are good.
This information will be included in all of my new Cycling in France e-itineraries.
If you have any suggestions for items that you carry in your emergency bike repair kit, please send me a note!