Perfect Your Mechanical Skills This Off-Season

  • By Scott Fliegelman
  • Published Dec 19, 2012
Photo: Nils Nilsen

Next Level Know-How

Swap a cassette. If you train and race on assorted terrain, then you may want to change your cassette based on topography. While a widely spaced 11-28 is nice for hilly rides, you may prefer a tightly spaced 12-23 for rides and races on flatter roads. Your area bike shop will stock the tools you need and carry a selection of reasonably priced cassettes ($50 on up) and can show you how to swap them out.

Master tubular tires. Despite some great alternatives including a growing selection of tubeless systems, tubular tires can still be found on some of the fastest triathletes’ bikes. Tubular wheels are lighter than clinchers, ride quality is noticeably better, and with practice you can change a flat nearly as fast or even faster. Products like Vittoria Pit Stop ($15), which contain a mix of tire sealant and compressed air, can fix small punctures in less than 30 seconds.

Remove a crankset. This surprisingly simple task is critical if you own a crank-based power meter like an SRM or Sram Quarq and like to use it on more than one bike. This skill can also be handy for cleaning your bike, travel and storage. A $12 crank removal tool and a 5mm hex key is all you need to get the job done for many crank types (some require additional tools).

True a wheel. Wheelsets these days withstand quite a pounding and still spin true most of the time, but an out-of-balance wheel can be annoying and slow. Pick up a spoke wrench ($5) at your local bike shop, along with a few tips about how to use it, and make the minor adjustments needed with your wheels still on your bike, using the brake pads to guide your progress.

Tighten the headset. If the front of your bike shutters and shakes when you brake, then you likely have a loose headset. Loosen the bolts on the sides of the stem, then tighten the cap on top by going about as tight as you are able with one hand, and then back it off about a quarter-turn before realigning the bars and retightening the stem bolts.

For video demos of some of these basic mechanical skills, visit  

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