General Stuff

Page Contents

What to carry when you ride
Personal Identification

How to clean your bike
Brake levers - Moto style
Brooks' saddles - modification, break-in and pics

What you should carry when you ride.

The following info is useful for both road and mountain bikes.  Just analyze what a particular bike in a certain area might need but be realistic.  There's no point in carrying a tool for something that isn't likely to fail and if it did it would stop you riding home.

The question comes up from time to time about what should be carried on a bike ride. Of course many factors are involved when deciding what to carry so we should analyze our own situations. For instance, the remoteness of where we ride means a lot. The risks of riding 20 miles from the trailhead into the backcountry are far different than the trails of local parks and those near the city. Wherever we ride we should always do a "what if?" for each situation. For instance, an unridable bike, 10 miles from your car on a 90 degree day is far more dangerous than the same bike on a 60 degree day in a well-traveled park. You might not even survive the first scenario.

Let my experiences and suggestions be a starting point for you. Here are my ideas.

Tube - You need to carry at least one spare tube, preferably two. Make damn sure it's wrapped in something to protect it from wearing holes in the folded corners of the tube while it jiggles in your under-saddle bag. I had three large holes in mine once. The tube was useless. I wrap mine in an old sock. This sock can be placed over the hand as a glove for dirty jobs (chain fixing, backside wiping etc). Inflate the tube at least twice per season to check for leaks. Maybe replace it at the start of each season.  I now carry two tubes in that sock, separated by a twist of the sock.

Pump - Get a good one. Cheap ones are junk and a false sense of security. Make sure it works and you know how to use it before you have to.  For road riding I use CO2 - and carry two cartridges joined by duct tape.  Use the duct tape to fix boot material inside tires.

Patch kit - With unopened glue! For your 2nd and third flats of the day.

Chain tool - Get a good but small one. Know how to use it! The Park Tool CT-5 is excellent. Practice on an old chain.

Powerlink - Sram Powerlink is far easier than joining with a chain tool. Get the right one for your chain. A chain tool is needed for removing the broken chain pieces, or shortening your chain to make your bike into a single speed when you rip your derailer off.  If you have a Shimano chain it might need a special pin. I carry 9 & 10-spd Sram links.

Tire sidewall boot material - This is a must for torn tire sidewalls. You can't ride with a 1/4" slit unless you boot it. I've used it a few times to save others a LONG walk. I use thin suede leather but many other things can be used - law chair webbing, Tyvek envelope material, powerbar wrappers, a dollar bill. Wrap 2' of duct tape around the pump. This is for taping the boot in place plus other emergency jobs. I've used this many times to help others too.

2, 4 & 5mm allen wrenches - Tape 'em together. I almost never use 'em but they're there. A small multi-tool is ok but for me, there are surplus tools on most of them.  All I need is a chain tool and 2, 4 & 5mm allens.

Self-help stuff -

Identification and a plastic whistle - see next topic below.
Cellphone - I used mine to get a ride home when I t-boned an effin' loose dog on the trail and broke my fork and my face.
First aid kit - I carry nothing but you might want to.
Sunglasses - a whack in the eye with a twig or a large bug can wreck your day.
Bug cream - a must in Mosquito country. Ever tried fixing a flat in the bush on a hot steamy day while covered in mosquitoes, blackflies and deerflies? You'll only ever do it once.
The ability to make a single-speed bike out of a geared bike - what if you snap your derailer off and you're 20 miles from the car and it's 95 degrees?  Figure out what you need to do to make a single speed drivetrain before you need to do it.
The knowledge to use all the above in the worst conditions you ever ride in - trying to fix a broken chain in 95 degree humid weather in the middle of a swamp is NOT the place to practice.

The further you get from civilization, the more you should consider what's needed for survival.

When deciding what to carry, ask yourself what are the
likely mechanicals you're likely to encounter that will stop you from riding the bike (I'll tell ya - they're flats and broken chains) and how far are you willing to push your bike if you can't fix the problem. That's no more than a 1/2 mile for me. Ten miles on that 95 degree day could be deadly.

As a retired emergency response worker I know for a fact that the best thing you can do is to think about what can happen to you and your bike and to decide what you would do about it. Emergency workers do this all the time and it's called Pre-Planning. Of course you can't think up every possible scenario and neither would you want to prepare for them (you'd need an emergency response helicopter following you if you did) but there are some things that are more likely to happen and their results be more dangerous.

For instance, I don't carry many tools as I keep my bike well-maintained and rarely need any hardware. There's isn't much that can't be fixed with 4 & 5mm allen wrenches
and what can't be fixed probably isn't going to stop you riding back to civilization. I won't carry a 6" adjustable if there is only one nut on the bike and its coming loose won't stop me riding.

This is the stuff I carry for the road bike -

In the left black microfleece bag (goes in jersey pocket) -
Cellphone.  Waterproof sandwich bag for the phone.
$5 bill.
Pencil & paper (for license numbers, loose dog addresses etc).
Mini reading glasses.

Round the neck -
Vial with all relavent ID info inside.
Plastic whistle.

To the right of the neck cord - 
Two tubes (valve caps on to prevent chafe!).  They go in the sock to prevent chafe.
CO2 head and two cartridges.  Wrapped in duct tape and electrical tape
1 tire lever (I rarely need any lever to get any of my tires off & on)
Small chain tool.  Park Tools CT-5.
Spoke wrench.
Tire boot material.  Tyvek and thin suede leather.
Schrader to Presta valve adaptor (for using gas-station or farm air)
2, 4 & 5mm allen wrenches.
Various 9 & 10spd Sram chain connectors.
Not shown - a bandana.  They are useful for many things - a do-rag when it's cold or a soaked do-rag when it's really hot, a tourniquet, a loin-cloth - for protecting the Family Jewels when the weather is freezing, emergancy TP, a washcloth for road rash.

Two tubes in an old sock.  Don't ket the tubes touch - twist the sock to separate them.

Everything that goes into a very small under saddle bag.  Just.



Personal Identification

I'm a retired emergency first-responder (firefighter) so this way of thinking comes easy to me - some day you might be in an accident and the emergency care workers will want to know about you and who to contact on your behalf.  You might not be in a condition where you can help them with this (I've been in this situation 3x myself and have dealt with many others in this boat).  Here's how to help yourself -

Carry a cord around your neck that holds your ID.  I use an aluminim vial like this -,104,53221&ap=7

Or - a laminated business sized card on your cord with your info written on the back.

In my vial is all the contact info that the paramedics & police will need - name, home address, phone, contact person, their phone, any special alergies, needs or problems.    On my cord is a plastic whistle also.  If you're out of sight and hurt, you can blow a whistle longer and much louder than you can shout.

Your ID is no good in your under-saddle bag as the bike won't accompany you to hospital and no-one will check there before you're whisked away.  Same with jersey pockets - if you're badly hurt then your jersey probably won't accompany you either.  It will be back at the scene.  You can be fairly certain that your head and neck will make it to the hospital (I'm not sure about wrists so don't put it there).  It's no good rubber-banded to your cellphone either.  Around your neck is the #1 best location, trust me.  If you're badly hurt the medical people WILL see your neck and chest.

Plus - if you're away from home, just think about your current situation.  Maybe you live in NY state and you're on vacation in UT and staying at the Shady Glade Motel and your wife is reading by the pool while you're out riding.  Your NY identification isn't much good is it?  You need your current info around your neck.  If I drive to a ride I carry my car's ID there too - its location, color, make, license #, location of its key).  Make it easy for people to help you.


How to clean your bike.

How to do this depends on how dirty it is.  If it's not really dirty just spray Lemon Pledge (yep) on a rag and wipe it down.  Another great method is to use WD-40 instead of the Pledge - the WD-40 is my fave now.  To clean a not-too-dirty chain, spray a rag with WD-40, grab the chain on the lower run and backpedal by hand.  Then lube the chain with a drop on each roller and wipe as much off as possible when you're done.  For brake pad gukk on rim sidewalls use green 3M Scotchbrite pads.

If the bike is really dirty then you have to get serious.  I hang my bike under the eaves of the garage with rope loops, or if you're rich use a real bike stand.

I use a wash kit as shown with the addition of a pail, a hose, Dawn dish detergent (cuts grease!), rags, WD-40, chain lube, Pledge, solvent.

1. Remove both wheels.  With the Park gear brush or an old toothbrush dipped in solvent, scrub the cassette cogs.  Use the ratcheting action to help you.  Let sit & soak.
2. Gently rinse the whole bike with the garden hose.  Noooo it won't do any harm if you don't drill a stream at any bearings!  Just use a raindrop type effect.
3. With frame brush dipped in the suds and not the water, wipe down the whole bike & fork.  Use the bottlebrush for all hard to reach areas.  Rinse with the hose.
4. For really dirty chains and derailer pulleys you're going to have to clean with the solvent.  It's better with the chain off the bike (more on this later).
5. Back to the wheels.  With the stiff brush dipped in the suds, scrub the tire sidewalls and rim at the same time.  Use the soft frame brush on the spokes.  Use the bottle brush for the hubs.  Use the stiff brush for the cassette using the same ratcheting motion.  Use the claw on the Park gear brush to remove crud from between the cogs.  Rinse the wheels.
6. Use the Scotchbrite on the brakepads.
7. Replace the wheels and check the workings of the brakes and gears.
8. Wipe everything down with a rag to dry it.  Let the bike sit to dry.
9. Wipe most things down with the lemon Pledge.  WD-40 is great for this too.  It's my new fave.  Nooooo not the rim sidewalls!

For really dirty chains - remove the chain (it's simple if you have a SRAM chain with Powerlink) and drop it into an old large plastic coke bottle.  Use your favorite solvent.  Do NOT use gasoline!!  Shake the bottle vigorously, clean yourself up, put the top on the bottle and do it again.  Fish the chain out of the bottle with a bent steel coat hanger and let it drip dry.  Wipe with rag.  Replace chain and lube it.

Brake levers and the brake they're attached to - road or mountain bike

To which brakes are your levers attached?  Do you know?  If you know, did you ever think why they’re attached to the levers they are? 

 Most biker riders are aware of which lever operates which brake but not many have ever thought why they’re connected to where they are or even whether it’s correct for them.  Maybe by reading this you’ll think about what’s happening and maybe you’ll even think of making a switch.

 Bikes in N. America (where I am) always seem to come with the left lever attached to the front brake.  Even though a few people have offered opinions of why this is so, none of them have convinced me that it’s right.  Nothing has ever made sense to me. Rather than dissecting those reasons I’ll give you my reasons for going against this and even if you don’t make a switch at least you’ll make your decision with some thought.

 I think that the bikes in N.Am are all wrong and the left brake should be connected to the rear brake and not the front.  This is usually called “MOTO”.  Let’s see the reasoning for my opinion.

 I’m right handed so I’ll base the following on that.  If you’re left handed then do the necessary mental switch for your dominant hand.

 What’s the worst thing that can happen when you’re braking?  Yeah I know that going over a 1000’ cliff is the worst but normally the worst thing that happens is that you go OTB (Over the Bars) right?

 Most people go OTB because –

 1 – Their weight is too far forward for the present situation.

2 – They use too much front brake for the present situation.

 When I ride my bike and have to do something like scratch, wave, drink, eat, point or adjust, I do it with my dominant hand – the right one in my case.  This leaves the other hand still on the bars and ready to use the brake lever that’s just a fraction away.  If, when the dominant hand is off the bars a sudden incident arises that needs some braking, it’s natural to apply the brake that’s most handy, correct?  That brake, on all factory assembled bikes, in N.America, is the front brake.

 Usually when we’re riding one-handed, our bum is planted firmly on the saddle which makes our center of gravity quite high and far forward.  This, combined with the application of the front brake is a recipe for an OTB trip.

 I much prefer my non dominant hand to be in charge of the rear brake.  When doing all the one-handed activities outlined above, the rear brake can be dragged slightly and if the need arises, that brake can be applied as hard as possible with the only negative being that a rear wheel will skid.

 So there you are folks – if I have one hand on the bars and in charge of a brake it’s going to be a brake that doesn’t have the ability to launch me over the bars.

 Ok, now it’s your turn, unless you’re left handed, give me a good reason for left/front braking!  Go!  And “Uhhhh my bike came that way” doesn’t count.

** It's quite simple to switch over your cables or even hydraulic lines.  

Brooks saddle modification

Recently there was a thread on the Internet about modifying Brooks saddles. As a 25+ year custom leatherworker - almost exclusively making sheaths for hand made custom knives - I thought it was about time that I modded one of my own Brooks and leave a few tips behind.

I've got a ton of experience cutting thick, heavy leathers. The Brooks is a pussycat though as I do lots of cutting through multi layer stacked sheath edges and here's one that was 5 layers thick and measured 50/64ths of an inch or 3/4" - five times thicker than a Brooks saddle.

The nose of the saddle I modified as soon as I got it a couple of years ago as I don't like Brooks nose shapes.

My mod isn't a radical one as I didn't want to cut into or cut off the Brooks Pro embossing.

This is how I went about the mod -

First remove the Brooks nameplate on the back - this should be removed if you're trimming the back apron.  About a 1/4" of leather can be removed here.  Use about a 3/16" drillbit preferably in a drillpress.  A hand drill is ok too.  From inside the saddle just drill off the peened over shaft of the rivets.  From the edge of the leather you're going to cut off, pry off the Brooks nameplate with a screwdriver.  Mark up the piece of leather you're going to cut off  NOT the main part of the saddle!  I draw my cut line to travel just along the tops of the old rivet holes.

1. Pencil the outline of the mod on the leather. When you're happy with it, make the pencil line heavy. Go over the pencil line with a Sharpie marker.  On a black Brooks just use the pencil.

2. As a saddle is not easy to handle on its own I clamped a seatpost on to it.

3. Using a thick Xacto handle (a fist-full for a good grip) outfitted with a hooked blade, pull the blade towards you while following the line. Do it lightly first just to leave a light cut-line for subsequent cuts.  A normal boxcutter with a new blade should be ok for the job too but the Xacto with its narrower blade will go around corners better.

Let's talk about cutting heavy leather. I've cut myself once in 26 years of cutting heavy leather so I have some experience and success here. You have FAR more control if you're pulling the blade towards you. Always pull straight back with your elbow in tight to the body - move the saddle to let the blade follow the curve; don't let the knife follow the curve as then you'll be cutting off at an angle with your elbow flopping around and you won't have total control. Hold the saddle in tight and close to you so that the length of your cut stroke is about 1" maximum at a time. This way, if you DO slip off, your arm moves no more than 1" straight back. Tough to slice your vital organs while doing that eh?

4. While cutting down, pulling the blade towards you, cut a light line just through the top skin of the leather.

5. Re-trace this first line using the same pressure. This will now result in a cut 2x as deep. Repeat until you're through the leather. This will take about 3-4 passes with the knife. Don't rush this part as a slip can ruin the saddle.

6. As you didn't have to exert too much pressure and because you were only allowing movement for about 1" of forearm travel there wasn't much chance of severing a limb or other appendage was there? Keep ALL fingers on the non-cutting hand on the other side of the blade.

7. Check your work and clean up the edges with the blade if you left any rough uneven spots. Use a "paring" cut as though you're shaving a carrot - short, controlled strokes with the blade pulled towards you.

8. I now used a leatherworker's "edge beveler" to take a 45 degree cut off the outside and inside edges.
You could use a knife or sandpaper for this step.

9. Next I sand the leather smooth with about 220 grit wet & dry sandpaper. Major tip - dampen the leather but use the paper dry and stapled to, or wrapped around a small wooden block. Use water but I use........saliva! It works much better.

10. I then use a "bone folder" to slick the damp edges. You can improvise.
Wet the edges and rub hard with something hard and plastic - like a Sharpie marker maybe or a kitchen knife handle. Rub and round the edges until they shine.  Keep 'em damp while doing it.

11. I dyed my edges with Feibings Tan color spirit based dye available from Tandy Leather.  I put on a vinyl glove and push my finger into a rag.  Dip the fingertip in the dye and apply it to the cut edges.  Don't get the dye anywhere you don't want it (your clothes, momma's table, the carpet, the rest of the saddle etc) as it's there forever if you do.

12. The last step was to lube the edges with lanolin cream and to buff very hard with a rough cloth.  Brooks Proofide would be fine or even clear shoe polish.

Here are the before and after shots. You can just see my pencil lines -


The nose which was modified earlier -

Here it is finished -


For full size pic of this finished saddle click here.


Here is my curved blade Xacto knife -

Breaking in a Brooks saddle.

When Brooks saddles are new they are as hard as solid wood and you need to mold them to your backside for them to be comfortable.  As a wet-molder of much leather over the last quarter century I'll tell you how I broke in the saddle shown above.  This is what worked for me but I'll make no guarantees of how it will work for you.

Leather is very moldable when wet.  That's how your new Brooks got to be the shape it is in the first place.  But molded leather is stretched leather and it never un-stretches.  Our goal is to mold the saddle to the shape of our bum and no more.  A saddle that was too wet would just keep stretching and stretching until it was like a sway-back mule.

The Brooks' official method is to apply their Proofide to it and ride many miles.  Of course this works but it is a slow process.

Here is my method - I took a washcloth, soaked it in water and wrung it out.  Then I placed it on the saddle and bound it in place with an old towel.  Next I placed the bike in the trunk of the car and drove 40 minutes to the track.  When I arrived and removed the washcloth, the saddle was nice and evenly damp without being too wet. 

Next, I rode the bike on the track for about twenty minutes.  This allows your sit-bones to wet-mold the leather to your shape.  In actual fact, you are stretching the leather to accommodate your shape.  Check the saddle often to make sure it's not stretching too much.  Leather that is stretched too far is ruined. 

After about an hour of riding (three 20 minute sessions) it was molded perfectly to my backside and very comfortable.  It was also dry by now too.  I quit for the day and returned home.  Damp leather must be allowed to dry naturally (usually overnight is long enough) and then its fibers must be lubricated.  There are many leather treatments on the market, most of them expensive and all of them claim wonderful things.  My favorite leather dressing is Lanolin cream.  It's simple, inexpensive and very natural.  I bought a tub of mine from a Pharmacy.  Get the unscented kind with no extra additives.  Lanolin cream is extracted from sheep's wool.  It's a great hand cream too.

Leather oils - oils like Neatsfoot Oil (boiled from cow's hoofs) - is great for leather but it softens it.  This is not good for a saddle as it will continue to stretch.  I would suggest things like Lanolin, Proofide, Sno-seal or natural shoe cream.  The Proofide and Sno-seal will waterproof the saddle if you intend to ride outdoors in the rain.  They probably contain beeswax.

I've applied my Lanolin using a few methods -

1.  Put the saddle out in the sun to warm up.  Apply a liberal coat of dressing and let it soak into the opened pores naturally.  Buff with a clean rag when dry.

2.  Warm the saddle with a hair dryer then do as above.

3.  Just massage in a coating of dressing with the saddle cold.  Let soak in and dry.  Buff.

I apply my Lanolin a few times per year (maybe 4).

Have fun!!


Brooks' Proofide Ingredients

This is from the tin of Proofide - Tallow, Cod oil, Vegetable oil, Paraffin wax, Beeswax, Citronella oil.

Brooks' Nostalgia

Mike T. remembers Brooks saddles from his early days of riding in the UK.  Plastic saddles (Unicanitor were the first - see below for a very special one!) were in their early days and Brooks were the prevalent saddle. The pro riders of my native northern England had the best ones.  Their thousands of training miles broke-in their saddles beautifully and they were prized possessions.

One of my local bike shops in the4 UK in the 1960s (and a very famous one) - Harry Hall Cycles in Manchester - used to remove the leather covers, soften the leather and re-apply using oversized hand-hammered copper rivets.  They were things of beauty and, as far as I can gather, the motivation for the Brooks factory switching to large rivets for their Pro series saddles.  I'm still trying to find out what Harry used to treat the leather.  As he died in late 2007 ( he won't be divulging his secret.

Large copper rivets
The famed copper rivets were introduced in the 1950s primarily to complement the brown and honey colored leather that was being introduced at the time. Corrosion resistance was also a plus, but it wasn't the reason. And, contrary to popular belief, Brooks could not confirm the story that the large rivets of the Team Professional model came about as a result of team mechanics ripping off the Pro model leathers to pre-soften them, and then requiring a larger size rivet to cover back over the existing holes. While this may have happened, Brooks says the larger rivets were simply more cosmetic, and added to a high quality, hand-finished look.

Plastic saddles

Here is the early plastic saddle that started the modern trend of synthetic saddles that have taken over today's market from the leather saddle.  This is a Unicanitor.  The saddle company Unica started the trend and was bought out by Cinelli in 1962 who re-labeled them as Unicanitor.

This one is owned by none other than the famous guitarist Eric Clapton.  Mike T. also had this orange version back in 1962.


Resources -

Lanolin -

Neatsfoot oil -

Brooks' official saddle care -