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We have had various problems with our bikes however, so far, they have all been relatively easily repaired. The main problem with any unexpected failure is the delay it causes which has often been a full day or more. The time factor and our schedule to catch our flight home has meant that we are now carrying quite a selection of spare parts. The catch is that the added weight of the spares may well lead to additional bike problems! The following is a summary of the various significant problems that we have encountered so far.
Spokes - Broken spokes were a regular occurrence on Jeremy's bike in the first month. This was partly due to the chain coming off and gouging a number of spokes but it became clear that the original thin black spokes were simply not sufficiently robust for the weight being carried on Jeremy's bike. We were fortunate to find someone in Tok (Alaska) who was able to supply us with spare spokes. In Dawson City we were able to buy the tool with which to remove the cassette from another guy (Tim) also operating from his garden shed. As we headed through British Columbia on many stretches of dirt road both bikes suffered a number of broken spokes and at Prince George we visited Koots Cycles (an excellent bike shop we had been recommended). Koots rebuilt Jeremy's back wheel with a new Sun Rhino rim and DT spokes. Since this very few spokes have snapped on this wheel although we have now had to completely rebuild the wheel due to Jeremy's original hub braking (see below).
Rim - The original Mavic X rims have not as yet failed in any way, however we have replaced Jeremy's rear rim with a Sun Rhino rim. The reason for this was that the original rim was slightly distorted, probably due to too much riding with broken spokes, but also purely because we believed that we should have a heavier duty rim for Jeremy's rear wheel. The Sun Rhino was recommended to us by Koots Cycles on the basis of what they had in stock. I am unsure what the ideal choice might have been. The Sun rim is still holding together, however, it does now have a number of hairline cracks radiating from many of the spoke holes. To look at the Mavic X range does not have any reinforcement around spoke holes and is a narrower gauge rim and these two factors influenced our decision to go with the Sun rim - whether or not this was sensible I do not know.
Tires - Jeremy's rear tire at the start was a Specialized Crossroad. This has a smooth centre ridge but plenty of traction for dirt roads. However it became badly cut by glass and, although we managed to continue having patched it with a piece of rubber, we replaced it at Koots with a Continental Goliath tire. In general the tires have lasted well, particularly on Beth's bike. However, the Sun rim on Jeremy's rear wheel combined with the weight on the tire caused the Continental Travel Contact tires to wear through on the tire wall where it presses against the rim. We have tried a variety of different tires on Jeremy's rear wheel, some have only lasted a day whilst others have lasted for two months. The Travel Contact was one of the better fairing tires. In Mexico, Jeremy was given a used Schwalbe Marathon XR tire to use by a German couple we met cycling on the road to Oaxaca. These tires are clearly of a superior quality and ideal for touring. We have now managed to have a couple of Marathon XR tires posted out to us from Europe. We hope that these will not need to be changed again before we finish.
Racks - The racks themselves have not been the cause of any problems. The problem is simply that the fixing points on our bikes are such that the ends of the fixing bolts at the base of the rack sit within the frame of the bike as opposed to passing through the frame. Thus, as in our case, when these bolts shear off under the ongoing strain the remainder of the bolt is left in the frame and is near impossible to remove. This was discovered by one poor gentleman in a bike shop in California who having failed to remove the bolt with an 'EasyOut' tool tried to drill it out then re-tap the hole. Unfortunately, his tap snapped off in the hole and part remains embedded in Jeremy's frame. The bolts snapped off in this way on both sides of Jeremy's bike and so far on one side of Beth's despite regularly renewing the bolts. Beth's rack is therefore fixed on one side by a loop of metal around the rear of the frame. Jeremy has changed his original rack for one that is intended for a bike with rear suspension . This conveniently fits onto the rear axle by way of an extended quick-release bar. The upper part of the rack attaches to the brake mounts. So far this rack has proved very effective although it does reduce the ease with which the rear wheel can be removed. Our other concern with this system is that, if the extra long quick release bar were to break, we are unsure how we might replace it.
Front Derailers - Jeremy's chain snapped and as it did it wrapped itself around his front derailer and ripped the outer plate off. This did not cause much of a delay as once the chain was fixed it was possible to continue and with some practice the chain can be shifted onto the smaller chainwheels by a small nudge of the foot and the opposite shift still remains possible without the outer plate of the derailer. Anyway a couple of days later we found a friendly Mexican welder who was keen to help and reluctantly accepted a small tip for a perfect welding job which continues to hold strong.
Rear Derailers - Whether the cause was the chain breaking or something else we do not know, however, Beth's rear derailer managed to become entwined in between her bike frame and rear rack, the derailer hanger having snapped. This happened a short distance from the centre of Santa Martha, Columbia and fortunately did not cause much of a problem as we were able to find a pick-up taxi to take us to a hotel. The derailer itself suffered only a few slight bends however, whilst we are now carrying a spare derailer, we do not have any spare hangers which are specific to the make and model of bike. Fortunately we were able to find a different hanger which is sufficiently simple as to be possible to clamp to the frame using the quick release bolt on the rear axle. Jeremy's derailer hanger has now also snapped and thus the derailer is fixed in a similar way to Beth's. We have had two sets of new hangers sent out to us in Brazil however neither sets have arrived - we think that the Brazilian post is to blame.
Gear Cables - We knew these should be changed, however the rear gear cable broke on Jeremy's leaving a awkward end within the gear shifter and necessitating a long lunch break whilst Jeremy fitted a spare. Shortly after this Beth's gear shifter broke and on inspection the cable was also badly frayed in the same location. They both had held out for in excess of 7,000 miles, but probably should have been changed at 5,000 miles or maybe less.
Gear Shifters - The shifters for the rear derailers clearly get more wear and have had to be tightened on both bikes but only after about 7,000 miles. Beth's rear gear shifter broke and we temporarily replaced this with a locally made shifter lever. Jeremy was able to fix the shifter, the problem being a small spring on the ratchet arm had snapped. It seems to be continuing to function for now.
Hub - A broken hub on Jeremy's rear wheel has without doubt been our most awkward bike problem so far. The problem started with the freewheel completely giving up roughly halfway between Mexico City and Oaxaca. Although we had noted odd noises and an uneven rotation as early as San Diego we had not expected the final failure to occur over so few miles. Fortunately we were only a few miles from a small town served by regular buses. After checking all local bike shops for a suitable replacement and failing to dismantle the freewheel housing, Jeremy caught a 2am bus to Mexico City (5 hours) and visited the central distribution warehouse of Benotto. Although they initially explained that sales to individual members of public could not be made they made an exception to this rule and he was able to buy an exact replacement together with spare chain and other small spares. Having obtained a new hub Jeremy made what he believes in hindsight to have been a mistake by only replacing the freewheel so as to avoid completely rebuilding the rear wheel. We were particularly reluctant to respoke the wheel as Jeremy had been pleased with the spoke tension which had not needed adjusting since the wheel had been built in Prince George, Canada. Anyway the secondary problem occurred some weeks later, a day or two after we had passed through Guatemala City. Essentially the hollow bolt holding the freewheel to the spindle must have worked loose and had been grinding in the bearing at the same time as destroying the thread within the spindle part of the hub. The outcome was a 3 hour lunch brake whilst Jeremy respoked his back wheel this time incorporating the entire replacement hub and taking additional care to achieve a suitable torque on the freewheel attaching bolt.
Front Forks - Following the unpacking of Jeremy's bike on arrival in Cartagena, Columbia we noticed that the aluminium bridge between the two lower sections of the front fork had a substantial crack in it. This we suspect was due to mishandling on the flight. We were able to buy a Suntour fork of similar dimensions which so far seems to work well.
Seats - The metal bars in Jeremy's seat have snapped on both sides following our latest stint on dirt roads. The problem has been resolved by repositioning the bars within the clamp of the seat post.
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