Posted by: audaxing | August 1, 2013

Common Mechanical Problems On London Edinburgh London

I just spent 3 days at the Brampton Control of the London-Edinburgh-London 1400km event.
This was a main stop off point 550km from the start at London and visited again on the way back to London at the 851km mark. It was open 24h a day from just before midnight Sunday to early Wednesday

I spent some time in the kitchens, cleaned some toilets but mostly I was fixing bikes.

So I saw a lot of them!

Here are the most common problems, plus how to avoid it happening to you!

Dirty Chains

Dirty chains cause poor shifting performance and add a tiny amount of drag
To fix we would spray with teflon oil, wipe clean and then add more durable lubricant
The weather was typical British summer – wet with sunny intervals so the dirty roads made dirty chains

How to avoid this:

You can’t! Carrying your own lube might help!

Gear Indexing

This was a common problem
Some had no adjusters – they got a bit of a shrug! but otherwise we sorted them out. It’s much easier with a nice screwdriver and a workstand. One had an adjuster but it had broken. In this case the indexing was badly out so I “adjusted” it by repeatedly attaching the cable with differing tension until it was nearly right.

How to avoid this:

Fit new gear inners and outers regularly, learn how to use the down tube adjusters

Chain Stretch

Saw a couple of people, it wasn’t common. The chain isn’t actually stretched. The rollers connecting the individual chain links get worn and so the chain gets longer. One of them, a friend of mine, had taken the bike in for a service before the ride. His bike shop will be getting a rocket. We fitted new chains to fix this.

How to avoid this:

Get a chain wear tool and fit a new chain when needed

Loose/Rusted headsets

I did one headset that just needed tightening up. The headset has to be set up so that it is tight with no vertical play but loose with easy left to right horizontal movement. There were at least 2 I saw that needed new bearings and probably hadn’t been checked for months or years, let alone prior to the event. These got packed with grease and sent on their way with a prayer

How to avoid this:

Inspect the headset bearings regularly and replace when necessary

Broken Spokes

This was common. When a spoke breaks the tension applied to the wheels rim by the remaining spokes is uneven and this makes the rim bent laterally. It will rub on brakes, or even on the frame.
I had spokes in only 3 or 4 lengths. These fitted well enough in all the wheels I replaced a spoke on. The exception was a recumbent with 650B wheels. He was already using a Fibrefix however, so it was ok.

Truing up a wheel after replacing a spoke, 1am

Truing up a wheel after replacing a spoke, 1am Tues, Brampton

How to avoid this:

Don’t use cheap low spoke count factory built wheels. Don’t use radially spoked wheels. Try not to hit potholes.

Wheels out of true

Only saw one. This is when the wheel spokes are not broken but have an incorrect (usually too low) amount of tension in them, leading to the same kind of problems as with a broken spoke. I guess that most people could either true it themselves or weren’t that bothered by a little lateral wobble.

How to avoid this:

Check the wheel for this before the event

Luggage not attached

There were enough of these problems. One I fixed was a Carradice Bagman bracket that had lost its grub screw and spring on one side. I put a rubber band around the bolt to hold it in place.

How to avoid this:

Carry a bungee strap, rubber bands, cable ties to mitigate any problems

Rattling mudguards

Not as common as you’d think. As with the wheel truing I would guess that most people just accept that mudguards rattle.

How to avoid this:

Attach mudguards with cable ties

Loose Crank Bolts

Saw one that was finger loose. Most crank systems have a bolt to help hold the interface between the crank arms and the bottom bracket spindle. The vibrational power of riding that far on awlful British roads should not be under estimated

How to avoid this:

Tighten to correct torque and check regularly

Slow Puncture

Saw one, had a defective valve

How to avoid this:

You can’t! Try changing the tube again

Electrical Problems

Saw a couple. One had over complicated wiring to a light and a charger. I disconnected the charger and the light worked.

How to avoid this:

Don’t have complicated electronics on your bike

Worn Out Tyres

This was very common. Worn out tyres always puncture more. Some had started on good tyres but had suffered a sidewall gash but mainly they’d started out on old tyres with not enough life in them to make it round. Our “parts shop” quickly ran out of tyres.

How to avoid this:

Replace tyres with new ones before long events

Di2 electronic shifters

Before I started on shift, the other mechanic guy Richard said he saw a couple of these that had failed due to water ingress. However, we didn’t see this problem later on and it was still wet. I surmise that there is more than one design for the place where the water leaked in

How to avoid this:

Don’t buy electronic shifters for a year or two until they’ve got the problems sorted out

Worn cable outer

We had a couple of cases of this. The cable outer keeps the inner cable in compression, if it breaks (usually through rusting) then the inner cable splays and cannot provide good reliable tension to the gear changer it is controlling. We had no spare outer but managed to improvise to keep the bikes working. After we bought some spare outer on day 2, there were no more problems

How to avoid this:

Inspect regularly and fit new gear inners and outers

That’s my run down of the stuff Joe, me and Richard fixed at Brampton control, working around the clock to keep the riders on the road!

Thanks to Ian and Bill for the Photos


  1. Hi – I was at Thirsk and echo your comments. I also had a sheared off rear mech and mangled chain. This was Ultegra and appeared not to have been bashed from the side – it just cracked in half! No way to avoid that one. Fixed it with a more humble 105.

    Catastrophic failure was a broken Ultegra crank shaft – sheared off at the right crank, outside the BB. This had rotated as it broke forcing the chainset into the carbon chainstay which the chain chewed as well. Rear mech wrapped into the wheel and snapped the mech hanger plus ripping out half the Ksyrium spokes. Determined rider (Italian from Switzerland) carried the bike 12 miles in SPD cleats until I found him on the road. Was most disappointed that it couldn’t be fixed (or ever ridden again!). Can’t see how you avoid that? Maybe it was divine intervention for being Italian and using Shimano…. 😉

    Had one frayed 105 Sti gear cable (as Lee had at Market Rasen) frayed inside the lever body. Hell to get out but got it out in 20 minutes and had it fixed before he had finished eating.

    Overall I would say that riders I saw (and I accept that I saw only those with problems) should have been better prepared – “yea, it wasn’t working very well when I left” was heard too often. Get a new drive train, cable set and brake blocks fitted a month before the event guys and shake it all down for the ride.

    Also, I was the sole mech at Thirsk, having volunteered as a Controller. We set up the kit so that riders could fix their bikes and I could help when I was free of other tasks. A number of riders seemed to assume that there would be a 24/7 trained mechanic and full stocked shop on site! Get a life guys, this is Audax, not sportive riding.

    • George, I am not surprised that the lever you had to fix with the frayed cable inside it was a 105. We had one of them too. The new 105 with the under bar tape routing for the gear and the brake seem prone to this kind of failure

  2. Thank Jamie. A bit disappointed that my snapped Shimano 105 rear derailler snap didn’t get a mention. Was I unique?

    Thanks to you and Richard for the repair.

    • Haha! Simon your 105 changer problem with the cable stuck inside was particularly bad! Richard fixed it with skill and verve. Those sort of problems are tough because the broken bit of cable is difficult to remove from inside the changer mechanism. I think it was the only one like that we saw. Well done on being unique! I hope the rest of your ride was free from mechanical issues?

  3. Thanks for the expertise and tips. I have shared on my local Audax club’s FB page. And as someone who is guilty of not maintaining or replacing my headset bearings in 17 years (out of ignorance), I am off to my LBS on Tuesday to get that sorted. And next time I need wheels I will take your advice about getting a better quality set than my current ones.

  4. Thanks for this. I’m sure it will be very helpful to other riders, audax or not.

    I’ve now got myself a proper road bike in addition to the hybrid commuter and I’m planning some audax riding – first one is Wilton 100k on Sunday. I can only do basic maintenance at the moment, but I can really see how it helps to be prepared and capable of fixing things en route.

    If I may pose and OT question. What do people do about bike security when popping into controls? I’m not keen on carrying a big lock, but from what I’ve seen on TV, those Midsomer villages are rife with crime and John Nettles may not be around to sort it out. 😛

    • James,

      Glad you like the blog post!

      John Nettles is rarely on the case to deal with bike crime, there are so many murders in Midsomer that he really has his hands full.
      Usually I don’t carry a lock on events but when I’d just got my new Roubaix I got a bit paranoid about it, as described here

      Hope this helps

      ps. Bumped into Dan last week, he is back working at DTVL. Sean is still there, and they’ve moved across town.

      • Good to hear they’re doing OK. I take it you’re gainfully employed elsewhere? I’m back at Altran in Bath as a permie doing a little bit of everything.

      • yeah, I’m working in King St near the old vic theatre

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  6. Hi, Jamie, good to meet you at Brampton and have just found this blog.

    Re; Di2, agree with your comments. Myself and Richard managed to get the Frenchman with the damp Di2 going but I gathered later it had failed due to a flat battery, and he hadn’t brought a spare, a charger nor charged the battery before the ride! However, I have one bike with Di2 and so far, have found it very reliable, even in the wet, but, I wouldn’t trust it on something like the LEL. In fact, I’m not sure I’d even use indexed gears – I’d convert my bike to downtube for the event.

    All the best


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    From the ground up 1) tyres – count the number of nicks and cuts in the rear tyre. If it seems worn and the number of cuts are greater than 10 you really should have had a new tyre 2) rims – if you have “rim brakes” (not disk brakes) then the rims sh…

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  11. RE: Loose Crank Bolts
    One new problem that’s recently turned up for me and might be more of a problem in 2017 concerns non-Shimano cranks used with Shimano Hollowtech II external bottom brackets. The left crank is secured with one or two pinchbolts, so the purpose of the crank bolt is to merely preload the cranks against the bearings. So, like the non-threaded headset, this bolt will be finger tight, or 1 Nm at most. Unlike the headset top cap, the cranks are constantly revolving over bumpy roads, so the crank bolt is highly likely to fall off unnoticed. Shimano has fixed this problem by building in a “hook” on its left crank designed to hoild the bolt in place. Cranks by On-One or Rotor have ignored this problem, and as a result I have lost forever the crank bolts for both of these. Replacements are kind of expensive – about $12 for Rotor, or non-existent for On-One. And you need the bolt. The pinchbolts tend to loosen over time, especially over bumpy roads, and soon the left crank will start sliding sideways along the spindle. If not noticed, the left pedal will suddenly feel like it’s bent, and then the left crank will fall off.
    The simple solution to this is to duct tape the crank bolt in place after everything has been tightened. Even if the pinchbolt(s) loosens, it will still stay in place.

    • A missing crank preload cap isn’t a big problem tho. The bike will work without it. I suppose you could borrow one off another bike if you wanted to do up the two bolts that really hold on the cranks

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