A helpful guide to preparing and fixing your bike for those unexpected breakdowns.

What’s your biggest fear? Taxes? Bears? How about you bike breaking down in the middle of a six-hundred-plus ride across Korea.

Bike shops and pop-up vendors litter the cycling paths in cities like Seoul, Daegu, and Busan. So, you’re never too far away from help.

However, once delve deep into the wilderness of Mungyeong or Namji, parts, tools, and a pair of mechanic’s hands might be out of reach. 

Preparing your bike and learning bike repair techniques can save you a couple anxiety filled hours.

Let’s get started with our bike maintenance checklist for your cycling trip across Korea.

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Bike maintenance checklist

You don’t have to be a mechanic to make your machine reliable. A quick once over can spot the gremlins lurking in your gears.

Here’s a list of things to check before you go on a ride.

Tire Pressure

A picture of a floor bike pump to which should be on your bike maintenance checklist

Why does my bike feel so sluggish? Often the answer is low tire pressure.

It’s physics. The more tire on the road, the more friction. It’s harder to pedal. If you want to get your bike into shape, pump those tires up. You’ll feel you’re riding on air.

But, stay away from the max. First, check the psi (pounds per square inch) on the side of your tire. Narrow road bike tires need more psi (80-130 psi). Thicker mountain bike tires need less pressure (25-35 psi).

The more pressure in your tires, the less the rolling resistance. However, your hardened tires will pass on every bit of uneven, unfriendly pavement to your hands and butt. Pumped up kicks also increase your chance of a puncture.

Less air smoothes out your ride and lowers the chance of a puncture. In the rain, a slightly deflated tire grips damp roads better. However, don’t cheat yourself out of easy speed.

So, what’s the lesson: balance. Don’t push it to the limit. Don’t walk along the razor’s edge. Just stay a few pounds below the … psi limit!

For further informatino, Check out this guide to pumping up your tires.

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Lube the Chain

A picture of chain lube.
Make sure you keep your chain running smoothly with lube.

A wet bike chain is a healthy bike chain. Like oil for your car engine, it’s better to keep metal parts that rub together well lubricated.

There are two types of bike chain lubricants. Wet and dry.

Dry lubricant (for dry conditions) is the consistency of water. It is the best lube to reduce friction between your chain and gears.

However, because dry lube is a low-viscosity, rain and regular use will wash it away. You need to apply wet lube every 80-150 km (50-100 mi).

Wet lubricant (for wet conditions) is stickier than the dry lube. It won’t wash off in the rain. It’s great for all weather. However, dirt and grit will stick to the lubricant. All that extra dirt and rocks will wear out your gears faster.

Always apply lube to a clean chained. However, life doesn’t always allow “always.” If you’re in the field and need to lube up, wipe the grit off with a towel and apply. A dirty lubed chain is better than a dirty dry chain.

Check out this tutorial for how to apply lube to your chain correctly.

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Check the Brakes

A photo of rim brakes on a bicycle.
The brakes are the most important part of your bike. If they don’t work, trouble will follow. Check them before your ride.

Hands down the brakes are the most important part of your bike. You’ll understand when slaloming down the 500-meter peak near Mungyeong. If you can’t brake, you can’t stop.

Test Your Brakes

Hold the front brake and push your bike forward. You rear wheel should lift off the ground. Then reverse. Pull the rear brake and push your bike backwards.

If your wheels won’t rise in the air, you have one of two problems. Your brake cable tension is too loose. Or, time and use wore your brake pads to the bone.

Adjust Cable Tension

For small cable tension adjustments, screw the barrel adjuster. You can find the notched adjuster near your shifters or on the brake clinchers.

Screw the barrel adjuster half a turn. This should tighten the cable and pull the brake pads closer to the rim of the wheel (with rim brakes) or disc rotors (with disk brakes).

Hold the brake and try the wheel lift test. If it isn’t tight enough, repeat until your wheel firmly lifts off the ground.

Next, lift your wheel and spin. Watch to see if your wheel rubs against the brakes. If they do, the cable might be too tight. Back off the tension.

Or, if you have rim brakes, you might have an alignment issue.

Aligning the Brakes

You can force rim brakes into alignment by hand. Nudge the brakes so there is equal space between the brake pads and the wheel. Then, pull the brake lever. If the brakes fall back into misalignment, break out your hex wrench.

Take a 6mm hex wrench and loosen the bolt that attaches the brake to the bike frame. Pull the brake lever and firmly tighten the bolt. Let off the brake. The pads should be perfectly aligned.

Brake Pad Alignment

Since you’re already down there, if you have rim brakes, check the alignment of the brake pads on the wheel. Make sure the brake pads align with the metal rim. They shouldn’t touch the rubber on the tire.

You can reposition the pads with hex wrench. Loosen the bolt that holds the brake pad and lightly pull the brake. Position the pad on the squarely on the metal rim. Re-tighten the bolt.

Replace Brake Pads (if needed)

If your bike has disc brakes, check the wear on the pads. If there’s about a millimeter or two of pad left, replace them.

Rim brake pads have grooves on the surface. If the pad is as flat, replace the pads.

It’s usually a one-tool job. Unscrew a little bolt. Slide the old pad out and the new pad in. Re-tighten the little bolt. Finished.

Check out this detailed guide to inspecting your brakes.

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Check the Shifting

If you ride a fixie, you’re probably smugly laughing into your IPA. For everyone else, gears will save you from the hill hell.

If you’re front derailleur won’t shift up, you’re walking anything with a slope. If it won’t shift down, you’ll spin, spin, spin at a snail’s pace on flats.

Check the reliability of your shifting before your cycling trip.

Front Derailleur Adjustment

A photo of a front derailleur on a bike.
Check your front derailleur before your bike ride. It should easily push your chain up and down the bike’s larger and smaller chain rings wthout falling off the crankset.

First, find a good place to hang or prop your bike so your rear wheel hovers. You can flip the bike over. But, this will reverse everything. It also makes shifting difficult.

Next, turn the pedals by hand. Shift the rear (right hand) gear shifter in a middle gear.

Now, run the front (left hand) gear shifter through its gears. This will push the chain up and down the crankset.

If the chain doesn’t jump smoothly between chain rings, adjust cable tension with the barrel adjuster. This controls how far the front derailleur pushes the chain.

Add more tension (a quarter turn clockwise) the chain won’t jump into the largest chain ring. Release tension (a quarter turn counter-clockwise) if it won’t fall onto the smallest chain ring.

Always put the front gear shifter in its lowest gear before adjusting tension.

If you still have issues, check the front derailleur’s limit screws. The limit screws make sure that the chain doesn’t stray off the chain rings. They could restrict the chain a little too much.

Check out this video on how to adjust your front derailleur here.

Rear Derailleur Adjustment

A photo of a rear derailleur on a bike.
Check your rear derailleur smoothly pushes your chain up and down the bike’s cassette. Make small adjustmets with the barrel adjuster.

If shifting is a little screwy on the rear cassette, adjust cable tension with the barrel adjusters on rear derailleur.

First, shift into the smallest chain cog (highest gear) on the cassette and the largest chain ring on the crankset.

If you can’t get the chain into the smallest cog, twist the barrel adjuster towards you (counter-clockwise) until it pops into the lowest gear.

Now, shift down one gear. If the cable doesn’t jump into the second cog, twist the barrel adjuster one-quarter turn towards the wheel (clockwise). Twist incrementally until the chain hops into the next gear.

You’re almost there. Shift through the remaining gears. Twist the barrel adjuster incrementally until you can easily shift into the largest and smallest cogs.

Now, shift into the smallest chain ring on the cranksetRun through all of your gears again. Make sure everything shifts like butter.

Check out this instructional video to see how to adjust your rear derailleur.

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Check the Ride Position

A picture of a bike saddle.

A hundred kilometers (62 mi) has away of amplifying pain. Any slight misalignment can brew trouble in your arms, your knees, butt.

You can minimize your aches and pains by changing your ride position.

Saddle (Seat) Height

The quickest way to comfort on a bike is to adjust the height of the seat. No matter which type of bike you ride (road, MTB, city cruiser) your knee should be slightly bent when fully extended on the pedals.

If your seat is too low, you’ll soon learn how grandpa’s knees feel when getting out of his lazy boy. If your seat is too high, you’ll find out how grandma feels after her hip replacement surgery.

Some seats require a hex wrench to loosen a bolt. Some have a quick release. Either way, undo the clasp on the bike frame and lift or lower the seat post.

Shift the post incrementally. Lock it down, climb aboard and test it out.

Once you find the correct height, make sure the saddle points directly forward before you lock it in place.

Seat Tilt

If your tender bits feel sore, your seat might not be level.

First, whip out a bubble level or phone app. Plop it atop your saddle. If the middle bubble lines up in the hash marks, your golden.

If your seat tilts back, your reproduction factory might suffer. If it tilts forward, you’ll slide forward when riding and put pressure on your arms.

You can adjust the tilt by loosening a hex bolt under the saddle. Level it up and re-tighten the bolt.

Fore, Aft Positioning

While you’re adjusting the tilt, check the forward and backward (fore, aft) positioning of the saddle.

Ideally, your knee should rest directly over the ball of your foot when the pedals are parallel to the ground.

You can check this by dropping a pair of headphones (or plumb line) from your knee. If it dangles over the center of the pedal, your everything is a-okay.

Adjust the fore aft positioning with the bolt under the saddle used to change tilt.

Check out this video for more help on getting the perfect fit.

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Quick Bike Fixes

Once your get you bike in tip-top shape, you can feel confident to set out on your cycling journey. But, the unexpected always happens.

Here are some quick fixes to help get back on the cycling path.

Changing a Flat Tire

Ghosts haunt houses. Flat tires haunt riders. If you have a traditional tube and tire wheel, you need not fear. Fixing a flat tire is a simple exorcism.

First, you need the right tools and gear.

Once you spot your flat tire, flip your bike over and take the wheel off.

Most wheels are have a simple thru axle. Just flip out the locking lever and twist until the wheel is loose. If you’re removing the rear wheel, lift the (greasy) chain off the cassette and pull the wheel out.

Now, inspect the outside of the tire. Look for obvious signs of a flat in the rubber. A nail. Piece of glass. Rock shard. Take it out.

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Tire, Tube, & Wheel

Tire, tube, and wheel may be interchangeable in the layman world. But, they have specific meanings in the bike world.

Tire (tyre) refers to the rubber that meets the road. The inner tube is the tube stuck between the tire and wheel. This is the part inflated with air. The wheel is all of the metal parts: the spokes, hub, and rim.

Get That Tube Outta Here

Next, lets get that tire off.

First, unscrew the plastic valve cover on the tube. If you have a Presta valve, simple unscrew the metal head and locking nut. Push down.

If you have a Schrader valve, remove the cap and stick anything pointy into the valve. Your tube should take its last breath.

A picture of tire levers.
A set of tire levers will help you get your tire on and off your wheel.

Now, get your trusty plastic tire levers (never use a metal substitute). Jam the lever between the rim and the tire. Get under tire bead and pry up.

Work your way around the tire until one side of the tire is completely off the wheel. Now, pull out the tube’s guts and stuff it in your bag.

If you’re nervous that the puncture culprit is still inside the house, take the tire completely off the wheel. Run your fingers along the inside the tire and feel for sharp bits. Wear a pair of gloves or use a piece of paper to protect your fingers.

New Tube Time

Now, let’s break out a fresh inner tube.

A picture of bike inner tubes.
Keep at least two bike inner tubes with you in case of flat tires.

Remove the valve cap and locking nut (for Presta). Puff a little air into the tube with your mouth or pump. Just enough to give it form.

Next, wedge one tire bead back on the rim of your wheel. Slip the tube’s valve stem into the valve hole and stuff the tube under the tire.

Place the wheel on the ground in front of you. Starting at the valve, use your thumbs to slip the second bead over the rim.

Work both sides at the same time. If you use one hand, you’ll find yourself in an endless loop: tire bead goes in one side. Tire bead pops out the other side. (It’s only funny for the first hour.)

The last bit of the tire bead will test your grit. Whip out your tire levers. Stick one between the rim and tire. Use the other to lever the last stretch of bead over the rim.

You can use your bare hands to reinstall the tire. But, you’ll come out the other side a different person.

Pump, Pump, Pump It Up

Next, take out your portable pump. Attach it to your valve and pump once. Pump Twice. Stop!

A picture of a portable bike pump.
You can’t fix a flat tire without a portable air pump.

The quickest path to another flat is a pinch flat. This is when your tube gets caught between the tire bead and the wheel. When you inflate the tube and ride, the ensnared tube will rip when jostled.

Therefore, pump the new tube a few times, then rock the tire back and forth in the wheel’s rim. This will free any flabby tube bits from the clutches of your tire.

Now, pump, pump, pump it up. But, not too much.

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The tiny slit from a piece of glass won’t make a difference. However, a dime-sized hole from a blowout might mean serious trouble.

You can fix it. But, it might cost you. Literally!

Before you pump up your new tube, stuff a three-times folded ₩ 1,000 bill between the tube and the hole in the tire. then, pump the tire till it’s minimum psi.

Instead of money, you could also use a vinyl candy wrapper or rugged leaf. But, what’s the fun in that?

This is a temporary fix. Replaced your tire ASAP.

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Broken Chain

A bike lays against a pole near the I·SEOUL·U sign in Seoul. It's bike chain lays on the ground.
A bike leans against a pole near the I·SEOUL·U sign in Seoul. The chain of the bike lays broken on the ground. This can be a quick fix with the right tools.

Let’s classify two types of bike riders. Spinners and crankers. Spinners stay in a low gear and pedal with ease and efficiency. Crankers stay in high gear and pedal with power and force.

Being a cranker puts a lot of strain on a bike chain. Sometimes too much strain.

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From Personal Experience

My first day riding across Korea. After a few pics of the I•SEOUL•U, I hopped on my bike and cranked down. Pop! My chain split in two. I found a shop quick and was back on the road in an hour.

My second break, however, was on a mountain in Mungyeong. My bike trip suddenly turned into a walking and coasting trip.

If your chain breaks, you need only one tool and one part to fix it: a chain breaker tool and a quick link.

Once your chain pops, remember this: chains are grease covered filth machines. Wear gloves or just embrace the dirty.

A picture of a chain breaker, chain, and quick links.
A chain rests in a breaker tool. A pair of quick links sit next to them.

Turn the bike upside down or lean it against a pole. Find the broken link.

You can take the chain off the bike. However, remember how the chain threads through the rear derailleur cogs. It can get tricky reinstalling.

Find the link you want to punch out. Rest the chain on the tines of the chain breaker tool. Line the metal probe up with the pin you need to remove. Now, turn the rivet tool until the rivet punches out pin to the broken chain link.

Take out your quick link.

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Quick Links

A quick link is a single link chain link you can easily pop in to reconnect the chain.

We cannot undo some quick links (10, 11-speed Shimano) once they’re in place. We can remove some quick links to help clean the chain.

Check that your quick link is the correct speed. A ten-speed chain needs a ten-speed quick link.

You can mix-and-match brands. A SRAM quick link will work with Shimano chain. However, a wider eight-speed quick link won’t work on a narrower 11-speed chain.

Quick links will replace an outer (wider) chain link. That means you need to connect two inner (narrower) chain links, not two outer chain links.

Now, if you took the chain completely off the bike, thread the chain through the cogs of the rear derailleur and front derailleur‘s cage.

Stick the quick link pins through opposite inner chain links holes.

Bring the quick lengths together. You should feel tension in the chain. If there’s no tension, you might have missed threading the chain through a cog.

Stick quick link pins through each others’ slotted holes. The divots at the end of the pins will catch on the slots.

If the quick link is a permanent, it’ll take force to push the pins into the back of the slotted holes. However, once they’re back there, they’re fixed. No redos.

Now, pedal the chain. Check that the chain runs through the gears smoothly.

If you lost more than one chain length, you’ll have trouble getting into the largest cogs. Your chain fits your bike’s gears. A shorter chain has less room to stretch.

You can finish your ride with a short chain. But, stay away from the larger gears. Visit a bike shop to resize your chain.

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