Tool-less Bicycle Repairs?

The other day, Moe and were talking about an article idea: presenting ways to repair common bicycle breakdowns without tools. If you were stranded out in the middle of nowhere without tools, could you fix a broken derailleur, repair a flat tire, reconnect a broken chain? It sounded like a great idea for an article — tips that could be QUITE useful in an emergency.

After some research, though, we found very little to go on…

Take a broken or damaged derailleur — while it might be possible to “massage” a bent cage or hanger back into place without tools, what about if the derailleur is completely trashed, or you snap a cable out in the wilds? If you had a screwdriver, you could turn the high/low adjustment screws enough to force the derailleur to stay in one place, resulting in a rideable (if not exactly comfortable) singlespeed configuration that could get you back to civilization. Without a screwdriver or knife blade to turn those screws, though, you’re dead in the water…

Same with a broken chain — without SOME kind of tool, connecting a broken chain is virtually impossible. You must have a way to punch out the pins in the chain to remove a mangled section or to get the chain ready to lash together with a piece of wire. Back in the old days, before I had amassed a large collection of bicycle tools, my friends and I would use a finishing nail and a hammer to drive the pins in and out. In a pinch, I suppose you could use a nail or similar sharp piece of metal and a fist-sized rock to pound in a pin and bind the two broken ends of the chain with a piece of wire looped through the links’ pin holes. But, this qualifies as still needing tools. Strike two for our great idea!

I did manage to find a couple tool-less wheel and tire repair tricks, though. Master tinkerer, expert ratrod builder and funny guy Gerry Lauzon of Montreal has a nice tutorial on fixing a taco-ed rim on his blog.

Another trick (one which I hope to never have to try) is one I saw in Barbara Savage’s excellent Miles From Nowhere: A Round the World Bicycle Adventure…at least that’s where I think I remember seeing it! Anyway, she got a flat tire out in the wilds somewhere, and she wound up stuffing clothing into the tire to replace the tube. That made the bike rideable enough that she could keep going until she reached a place where she could properly fix her tube.

Finally, a lot of people know that gashes in a tire’s sidewall can be repaired temporarily (or even permanently) by a piece or two of duct tape. Did you know that a folded dollar bill or an empty Powerbar wrapper also work excellently as emergency tire boots?

I guess the moral of this story is don’t travel without tools. At minimum, carry a patch kit and tire levers, a pump, a small screwdriver and a set of hex keys. There are plenty of multitools on the market that have all the tools you might need (including chain tools on several models) to facilitate an emergency roadside repair. If you insist on traveling light and don’t want to carry any tools, at least bring a cellphone with you so you can call for help when (not if) you get stranded.

And, if any of you have had to “MacGyver” any emergency repairs, we’d love to hear about ’em. Leave those stories and tips in the comment section below.


  1. Quinn

    Granted there is no telling when Murphy will rear his ugly head, but Regular maintenence goes a Long why!

    I clean my chain with a rag daily.
    Wash it weekly, minimum.
    inspect cables and housing, shifter and derailleurs when I wash the bike.
    Degrease and lube after the wash.

    by doing this and replacing parts when they need to be replaced, I have broken 1 cable unexpectedly in 11 years of riding.

  2. Ghost Rider

    We did a “regular maintenance” article a couple months back…and you’re right, it does go a long way to keeping everything running nicely. Here’s a link for anyone interested:

    That being said, I am lazy about cleaning the bike (except for the chain — I am religious about that), and I often leave my bikes out in the rain. But, I can proudly say that after 25+ years of aggressively riding geared bikes (road racing and serious offroad), I’ve NEVER snapped a control cable.

    Now I’ve jinxed myself…

  3. Nord

    It’s not a bicycle repair, but in a way it involved commuting…to a party island for labor day weekend on Lake Texoma.

    A buddy had an old (prob. early 70’s) outboard ski boat that was far from seaworthy, but it was all we had. After a day of revelry, we tried to leave but the propeller wouldn’t work. The pin that connects the propeller to the drive shaft had been sheared off.

    Step One: remove contents of broken pin from hole in drive shaft. Accomplished with deft use of a belt buckle.

    Step Two: find suitable replacement pin to hold propeller in place. After much searching and hard thought, I spied the cotter pin holding the seat to the deck of the boat and pulled one out. It fit so perfectly into the hole in the driveshaft, it actually locked into place. Saved we were to, um, commute back to civilization.

    But I guess I still needed tools…

  4. RL Policar


    The only tools I need are these….

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