Choosing the Right Style of Bike Repair Stand

Bike Noob is happy to feature a guest post by Sam Walker, for those of us interested in working on our bikes.

When I first started learning about bike repairs, I began with learning how to fix a tire.  That wasn’t too tough, and all I needed were a few minor tools.  As my knowledge of repairs evolved, so did the tools.

Sooner or later, if you are into bike mechanics, you start researching how to hold your bicycle while working on it.  Turning it upside down is a rather poor option for both your bike and your back.  Many of us make do with something at home in the beginning, but investing in a good bike repair stand sets the framework for all your bicycle maintenance.

A bicycle repair stand is useful for a few reasons:

  • It holds your bike at any height you need
  • It keeps your bike stable while you work on it
  • It allows you to work on your bike without putting pressure on any of your bike’s components

There are various types of bike repair stands on the market.  Which one you choose will depend on the type of bicycle you ride, the type of mechanic you are and how much space you have at home to do your bike tinkering.  In short, there are four main styles:

Racing Stands

As the name suggests, a racing stand is designed for people who are racers and therefore own a racing style bike.  They are also good if you own an ultra thin and light frame bicycle that you want to be extra careful you don’t do any damage to that light frame.

Racing stands are built light.  They are designed to be taken with you on the road or to the track and consequently are extremely portable.  They can also hold your bike without grasping it by the frame tube or seat post so as not to do damage to the ultra thin frame.  They are pretty nifty, but if you don’t fall into the category of owning a racing style bike, then it may not be the best option.

In order to make a stand super portable, you need to sacrifice on some of the stability and you should only do this if you really do need it to be that portable.  With that said, they’re building them better and better these days so that even a racing stand can hold your bike pretty stable if you get a good one.  Of course, you will pay for that quality.

Home Mechanic Repair Stands

This is probably the style that will suit most people.  A home mechanic stand is specifically designed for home bike mechanics that work on the average road cycle as well as mountain bikes.  They usually have a tripod base, and adjust to any height.

Home Mechanic stands are great because assuming you get a good one, they can hold your bike rock solid, rotate your bike 360 degrees and be folded up and put away after you are done with it.  If you buy one with a good wide base, it will allow you to work on your bike outside on uneven ground.  I wrote a comprehensive review of the Park Tool PCS-10 Repair Stand because it was a good example of having all the features that a home mechanic stand should have.

Most home mechanic repair stands have one of two styles of clamps.

Spring cam-style clamp – This is the most popular as it allows you to clamp and unclamp your bike in one swift clamping action.  It is good for all normal bikes and mountain bikes as the clamp is fully adjustable.

Screw-down clamp – This option takes a bit more work, as you need to hold your bike into the clamp while you screw it closed.  However it can be good if your bike is very lightweight and has thin-walled tubes, as you have a lot of control as you adjust the pressure.

Either style clamp will work well, but read the reviews before you buy and make sure you are getting a quality home mechanic repair stand.  They are not all built the same and the quality of the clamp makes a lot of difference.

Incredible Hulk Shop Stands

Okay, I added in the incredible hulk myself to emphasize the point, but heavy duty shop stands are the style of stands you would likely find in most bike shops, but some home mechanics choose them too.  They are for the real hard core mechanics… the handy types that know how to build a bike from scratch and spend a lot of time working on it.  They will generally hold any bike, and they will hold them completely solid no matter how hard you crank on them.  However, they are not portable, and you often need a parking space for it in your garage or basement.

Miniature Stands

These are my least favourite but some people like them.  Miniature stands are small and lightweight stands that can be used for average bikes that don’t have any unusual designed frames or accessories.  This style of stand is chosen by some who are low on space such as living in a small apartment and by those who want  something very lightweight for very minor maintenance or cleaning.  Basically they will only hold the bicycle upright.  They cost less, which is also why some people go for them, and they do the job, but they don’t do the job well.  For normal bike repairs they are not a good way to go.

A better way to go is to get a bench or wall mount stand if you have a place to screw it in, as it also doesn’t take up much space.

Learning to do your own bike repairs can be a fulfilling and worthwhile investment towards our sport. Putting a little love and care into your two wheeled vehicle can also go a long ways to help your bike live a long and healthy life.

About the author: Sam Walker works as a reviewer at Gear Reviews Online where he reviews quality gear for outdoor enthusiasts.

Hot Spots

One of the discouraging aspects of last weekend’s metric century was a recurrence of the hot spot in my foot that bothered me in last fall’s Imperial century. It creeps up on me. At first, I don’t notice it. Then suddenly, the ball of my foot is burning. It hurts to pedal.

My usual remedy for hot spot is to stop, take off my shoe, massage my foot, maybe even take off my sock and let the air cool it. I was lucky Saturday. After I gave it that treatment, I didn’t get a hot spot for the rest of the ride.

Other times, like last fall’s century, I haven’t been so blessed. It plagued me for the rest of the ride, and was one of the reasons I rode slower than I had in that ride in the past.

I’m not alone.

A cursory check of biking online forums (fora?) reveals other cyclists who report much the same symptoms. So now that spring is here and warm weather rides will soon be common, maybe it’s time to talk about hot spots and how to handle them.

The most common advice is to loosen your shoes, move your cleat back — either a little or a lot, depending upon who is giving the advice, and get carbon fiber soles with a wide platform cleat.

In my case, I wear Specialized shoes with carbon soles. My cleats are back as far as they’ll go, and have been for a couple of years. I do keep my shoes fairly loose, because I know from experience that my feet swell up on long rides in warm weather.

But according to cycling coach Fred Matheny, hot spots are a neural problem. The burning sensation is caused by pressure on nerves in the feet, says Matheny. That pressure can eventually cause a neuroma, or swelling of the nerve between two metatarsal bones, as seen in the illustration at right. The coach suggests getting metatarsal buttons. These things are little foam domes that can be attached to insoles just behind the ball of the foot. They cause the metatarsal bones to spread, which keeps the nerves running between them from being pinched by pressure or swelling. You can buy metatarsal buttons in the foot care section of drug stores. Insoles with the buttons already built in are also available.

I’ll have to give them a try. I’m also going to dig around in my dresser drawers and try to find some running shoe insoles that I think I still have.

You might also consider wearing thin cycling-specific socks, and even buying high-end cycling shoes that come in widths. My friend Rick, who doesn’t get hot spots, rubs his feet with Chamois Butt’r before a long ride, and then puts on two pairs of socks — just the opposite of the conventional wisdom.

(Illustration from Synergy Massaging Insoles —


Those T-shirt Rides I’m Not Doing? I Did One

Shortly after posting that I would henceforth be skipping t-shirt rides (organized rides), Mrs. Noob asked if I had registered us for the LBJ 100.

“No,” I said. “And I’m not planning to.”

“Well, I want to go,” she said.

That took care of that.

We did the ride last year, and I performed poorly. I had to sag out after about 55 miles of the 65-mile course — completely out of energy. I was determined to avoid a repeat of that this year. Fortunately, the forecast called for mild (if warm) temperatures, with only moderate wind.

Appropriately, the LBJ Ranch is on Texas Ranch Road 1.

The ride starts and finishes at the LBJ Ranch, the former home of President Lyndon B. Johnson. His daughter Luci is a great supporter of the ride, which raises money for the historical site on the ranch. It’s now run by the National Park Service.

An airstrip behind the ranch house served as a runway for LBJ’s planes when he was president. The big Air Force One couldn’t land here, so he would fly into Austin (then Bergstrom Air Force Base) and take a smaller jet to the ranch. Cyclists drive onto the runway and park. The ride starts at the base of the runway.

The runway, looking toward the start.

It appeared to be an even larger crowd than last year. My friend and riding companion Rick said there were over 700 pre-registered, and they were expecting the total to top 1600. The ride included routes of 10, 30, 42, and 62 miles. Pat did the 30 with Rick’s wife Penny, and Rick and I opted for the 62.

The route out from the ranch is beautiful, and the roads near the ranch are lightly traveled. We didn’t push to leave with the lead pack, but took our time. Rick is a strong rider, and we skipped the first two rest stops. By the time we hit the third, about 25 miles into the ride, we were ready for a refill of the water bottles.

Rick looks over the old Willow City school building, site of our first rest stop of the day.

This is the Texas Hill Country after all, and we were in for our share of rollers. None of the hills is steep. However, some gradual climbs go on for some distance, and those are the ones that really take it out of you. By the halfway point, Rick was way ahead out of sight. I limped into the rest stop at Sandy, the easternmost point of the ride, and took longer than usual to unwind. A hot spot had flared up on the bottom of my left foot, and I could feel my energy waning as the temperature warmed into the 80s. I downed a bottle of Pickle Juice Sport (horrible stuff, but it seems to prevent cramping — I had no issues with that this day), refilled my bottle twice, and had a banana and an orange slice. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich quarters just didn’t appeal to me in the heat.

Most of my riding so far this year has been in the 20-30 mile range. My long ride was 37 miles. Clearly, I hadn’t built the base miles I needed to tackle a metric century.

It’s a little over 20 miles from Sandy back to the ranch, but the first 10 are all uphill. Again, these are mild grades, but they’re probably the most difficult thing in biking for me. I wasn’t the only one having trouble with them. About four miles out from Sandy, two guys were sitting in a shady spot. I pulled over for a rest and a pull on my water bottle. Both of them were in bad shape. One had cramps in both thighs, and could hardly walk. The other seemed to be in the early stages of heat exhaustion. A sag wagon was taking a third guy out — they would send another van back for these two. While I was there, another rider stopped and announced he was done, too. I got back on the bike and started pedaling for the next rest stop.

A little farther on, I was passed by a cyclist going perhaps 6 mph to my 5. “I’m ready to get off the bike,” he said.

“Me too,” I replied. “But a lot of people need sag more than I do, so I’ll just keep going.”

“I saw that. Let’s go,” he answered.

Many cyclists were going no more than 5 mph as they approached this rest stop.

This year, they put a rest stop at the spot where I called it quits last year. The friendly volunteers filled my water bottle with ice before I topped it off — most welcome. I choked down a small energy bar of some kind (a kind I will never try again) and sat in a shady spot to rest. More people were barely limping in under their own power. The sag wagons were busy, taking some folks to the next rest stop, and others back to the ranch. But this was the high point (altitudinally) of the route. We had some great downhills to the last rest stop and the ride back to the ranch was mostly downhill or flat. I rode slowly onto the runway about 15 minutes after Rick arrived.

“You’re right,” he said, as we and the wives sat in the food tent afterward. “This is just a t-shirt ride. But the scenery is pretty good, and the start at the LBJ Ranch is unique.”

Pat nodded in agreement. It looks like we’ll be back next year. And I’ll be a lot smarter — I’ve already decided I’m only doing the 42.

Thinking Rivendell

After a few years of riding, I have figured out some things about my tastes in biking.

I no longer lust after the high-end carbon fiber racing rigs. I’m not joining the Sunday morning ride to hammer hard for 60 miles. I’m not planning to ride for 40 miles without taking a break some where along the line.

But I still love to ride my bike.

I like to ride long. And I do enjoy more intense training, if I’m training with a goal in mind. For example, I try to work in a ride once a week that visits some of our neighborhood hills. These aren’t big hills, but after several repeats on them, they amount to a tough workout.

It appears there are others who share my interests — lots of others. We never hear about them because they’re not the kind who join clubs and do group rides. They just enjoy taking a turn on their bikes.

There’s a bike maker for them. It’s Rivendell bikes, of Walnut Creek, California in the San Francisco Bay area.

Rivendell is all about bikes that put the rider in a more relaxed, more upright riding position. Their A. Homer Hilsen model (Yes, they go in for odd model names, too) is perhaps their flagship bike, and embodies Rivendell’s idea of a good ride.

If it looks a little tall, it is — a 61 cm model.

Notice the handlebars on the Hilsen. They’re roughly even with the saddle, not a couple of inches below it. The steel bike has fenders (with mudflaps), a triple crankset, and a leather Brooks saddle. It can take tires as wide as 38 mm and still fit fenders, although many Hilsen owners probably run 32s.

Here’s part of Rivendell’s philosophy, as outlined on its website: “If you’re a mid-50s rider of moderate fitness, but ride fewer than 3,000 miles per year, and you want to ride longish and steepish hills, the standard road gearing you’ll find on virtually any stock road bike, is too high. Your big ring should be less than 50t, you middle ring should be 36t or 34t, and your small ring should be 24t or 26t. The biggest cog on your cassette should be at least 27t, and preferably 32t. For non-competitive riding, it’s hard to justify tires smaller than 28 mm.”

Yeah, baby. Give me a bike like that, and I’ll scoot right up all those steepish hills in this area. I won’t be nearly as fast as I can be on my current bike, which isn’t nearly as fast as some of my friends’ racing bikes — but I’ll be fast enough for me, and probably a lot more comfortable.

Grant Petersen, who heads Rivendell, has distinctive opinions about what makes a good bike. Poking around on the website will turn up a lot of Petersen gems, like these:

“Go for a one-hour ride underdressed sometime, because it’s good to be really cold on a bike every now and then.The reverse (overdressing in hot weather) is not necessary!

Never blame your bike or your health or anything else if you’re the last one up the hill or in to the rest stop.

If your brake hoods are black, wrap your bars with a different color tape, so it doesn’t look like a one-piece set-up.

Never let your chain squeak.”

It might seem that Rivendell is all about riding slow and easy. While that’s part of what it supports, it also likes a well-designed, comfortable, fast bike. So I suppose for some of us, it’s a matter of having your cake and eating it, too. Laid back — but fast — riding. Riding done for your own satisfaction, not anyone else’s.

My Favorite Hand Position

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of hands going numb on a ride. For some of us, it thankfully doesn’t happen much. For others, it occurs regularly. We keep going, and shake out our hands to get some feeling back into them. We can also check to make sure our hands are positioned to minimize pressure, by putting most of the weight on the heels, rather than the palms of the hands.

Or, we move our hands around on the bar. The nice thing about drop bars is that the rider can ride in a number of hand positions. I spend 80 percent or more of my time on the brake hoods, as I suspect most road riders do. I like to ride in the drops, not so much because I go faster that way, but because it’s a different position, and relieves pressure on the hands from their time on the hoods. And sometimes, I’ll grab the bar on the flat top part, especially going up hill.

But I’ve got another hand position that has become my favorite. I simply move my hands back from the brake hoods by an inch or two. That puts them over the bar just after it has curved forward from the flat part.

This position appeals to me because of one overriding factor: comfort. My hand is still able to grip in a handshake attitude. I can wrap my fingertips around the drops. It’s a lot like the hand position we used to take when riding those cruiser bikes we grew up with, where the handlebars curved toward the rear.

It also puts me more upright. That’s very welcome after being in the same bent-over position for awhile. I can relax a bit, sit back and look around.

Some handlebars are better adapted to this riding position than others. Randonneur-style bars, such as the Nitto Noodle, have relatively long “ramps” up to the brake hoods that give the rider a generous area to place the hands.

The Nitto Noodle bar.

For myself, I’ve found that making sure the “flats” or “ramps” that lead to the brake hoods are parallel with the ground means my hands on the flats will be a little more comfortable.

I’m still on the brake hoods 80 percent of the time, but when I need a break, I just back off an inch or two. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s worth a shot. See if you agree.

Professional Drivers

Since beginning biking way back in 2007, I have had a healthy respect for trucks and buses. Not because they’re big and are a threat, but because they are driven by pros. Pros know the rules of the road, and they’re sharp enough to anticipate moves other drivers and cyclists might make.

During the road part of my Traffic Skills 101 course, we were negotiating the streets of downtown Austin. I had a left turn coming up, and I was keeping my bike as far to the right as practicable, just as a good cyclist is supposed to do. But I had to move left, and a big city bus was approaching from behind.

I signaled my left, started  to move in that direction, and low and behold, the bus let me through. We were able to flow smoothly with no disruption of traffic. I got to make my left turn, and he got to pull up to the corner at his next stop.

I’ve had other encounters with professional drivers that have only increased my confidence in them.

And then, Friday morning came.

Pat and I were out on a ride in the neighborhood. She usually goes 12-15 miles, and I’ll tack on another 10 or so after she heads home. This time, we were coming up to a major intersection of two four-lane divided streets. Some time ago, I taught Pat to leave the bike lane just before it ends, and “take the lane.” That way, right-turning cars have to turn behind her, rather than cut her off and trap her in the right turn lane.

She was quite a way behind me. She signaled, moved left to take the lane, and the light went yellow. She pedaled hard to get across the right turn lane and pull back into the bike lane at the stop. Then she heard it. A truck owned by a well-known food distributor decided he wasn’t going to stop at the light and gunned it to get through the yellow. So here she was — in a traffic lane, braking for the light, and a truck right behind her was speeding up. She dove for the bike lane early and just got out of the way of the truck.

I always wait for her at the top of a hill about a half-mile up the road. When she caught up to me, she was pretty rattled. But I congratulated her for handling it well, and she put the incident behind her.

Until the next morning.

This time, we were climbing a hill on State Highway 45. The bike lane — shoulder really — narrows and disappears as an intersection approaches. If you turn right, a fire station sits nearby. A fire truck coming up the hill didn’t give Pat any room. It stayed in its lane instead of moving left for her (the other lane was clear) and squeezed her into the gutter just before the right turn lane for the intersection.

Two days, two trucks. Pat’s not excited about riding in traffic right now. And my regard for professional drivers is not as high as it once was.

That Fickle Wind

I always look forward to Spring Break. Often, I’m out of town, but this year I had plans to stay home and do a lot of riding. But we had to run up to Dallas Tuesday and Wednesday, which put a hole in those plans. This morning, I was ready to get out and put down some miles.

I haven’t had a lot of decent mileage rides yet this year. Time seems to get in the way, and I usually can’t find more than an hour and a half for the bike. That’s good for about 20-25 miles — a nice ride, but not what I’ve been looking for.

So today, I was ready. Pat would be at some business appointments around town, and I had the morning to myself. It was an almost perfect day: overcast, in the upper 60s, but with a brisk cool wind that forced me to put on my arm warmers for comfort.

I decided to head for a favorite destination of mine — the little town of Creedmoor, southeast of Austin. With the wind blowing from the southeast, I knew I would struggle heading out — but I would have a nice tailwind heading back.

Mostly, when I ride to Creedmoor, it’s on Sunday mornings when the traffic is almost nonexistent. Today, I had to contend with lots of trucks. Mostly, they were pretty good. They gave me room on the right, and often waited behind me if the road was narrow.

I didn’t break any speed records getting to Creedmoor, but I wasn’t trying to, and the wind wasn’t helping. We always stop at a gas station/convenience store to fill water bottles and take a break, and I did this time, too. The few people going into and out of the store were friendly, and almost every one of them had a pleasant, “Good mornin’.”

I finished a Clif Bar, and got back on the bike. The ride back was going to be a good one. Right off the bat, the farm-to-market road I was on pointed down, and with the wind at my back, I easily topped 30 mph, just coasting along. It happened again a few minutes later on another northbound road. And that would be the last time on this ride that the wind would be my friend.

Going west on a narrow country road, I felt a strong cross wind. If the wind was continuing from the southeast, it should have pushed me along, not hindered me. Clearly, it was now coming straight from  the south. I couldn’t depend on that helping tailwind.

I reached a built-up intersection, and saw from the flags flying from some buildings that my suspicions were correct. The wind had shifted. But it had shifted to more than south. Now, it was blowing from the southwest. It would be more or less in my face most of the way home.

As I pedaled, I shifted my left hand to near the center of my bar, and grabbed my water bottle with my right. I nearly fell over. A gust of wind got the bike, and pushed it toward the curb. I got it back under control, but knew I would have to pay attention from here on out.

So it was a bit of a slog. I still got in more miles than I’d done so far this year, so that was good. But it occurred to me that I can’t remember a ride where one leg was so much better because of a helping wind. I’m sure the wind god is saying, “Here comes the Bike Noob — let’s get ‘im.”