Jimmy used a pair of 3M Safety Glasses for an entire 1,500 mile tour… and then never took them off.
Ironically, Jimmy managed to lose the traditional glasses in this picture. Through bike trips, backpacking trips, and everyday use, a simple pair of $10 safety glasses from the hardware store seems to persist— he’s always wearing them.
I’ve found hardware stores to be the best-kept secret of the touring cyclist. A hardware store can save your butt on the road, and is a great place to stock up on essentials and tools.
3M Safety Goggles
The safety goggles from 3M are a great starting point. Most people have cycling sunglasses, so we don’t all get to look quite as good as Jimmy. What a lot of cyclists don’t carry are glasses for dusk and night riding. Clear glasses are an essential part of a tourist’s kit; riding in the rain with dark shades on can be a nightmare, so I always carry a pair of lab glasses in my cycling bag for unexpected use. These things are light, cheap, durable, and more shatterproof than your $150 impact-rated Oakleys.
They’re also aerodynamic because they’re designed to hug your face to prevent chemical splashes, and the lenses extend far enough to the sides, top, and bottom to prevent obstructing your vision when you’re looking over you shoulder. The flexible materials make them very comfortable, even for huge heads like mine. What’s more, the hinges seem to out-last all of my sunglasses. Someone tell Ray-Ban…
I think I paid $6 for my 3M glasses.
Stainless Steel Bolts
I long ago replaced all the bolts that held on my racks, stem, and water bottle cages with stainless steel equivalents. They discourage rust and look nicer to boot. You can get bolts that have the same hex heads that your old bolts used, only they’ll be a bit more resilient than carbon steel.
There’s some talk about stainless being more brittle than carbon steel, and there is some validity to it, but in my experience, a graded SS bolt from a hardware store is usually a higher quality steel than the stock ones that come with your bike, leading to longer life and better resistance to shear.
Jimmy sheared a rack bolt on our tour- it was carbon steel.
Loctite and Gorilla Glue
One thing that has happened to me about every 500 miles is a loose bolt. Loctite fixes this nicely, because it’s designed to do that. When I thought of this for the first time, I felt silly that I wasn’t already treating my rack bolts with a drop of the stuff.
For general adhesive, I’ve tried Krazy Glue, Loctite Gel Adhesive, and Gorilla Glue, and I find Gorilla Glue to be the most useful in a pinch because it dries the fastest and seems to be the most resistant to heat. The #1 repair I use Gorilla Glue for is mending the soles of my camp shoes.
Duct Tape and Zip Ties
Make a small roll of this by wrapping a section around something like a piece of straw, or a pencil. You can fix a ripped tire, a ripped seat, ripped clothes, or ripped skin with duct tape, so there’s no reason not to have 3 or 4 feet of it in your cycling bag.
We used three zip ties to secure a full Ortlieb with a broken mount for 500 miles on our tour in 2012. Plastic zip ties are the real deal, and are readily available at your local hardware store. Always carry a few- you’ll solve problems you never knew you had.
A $250 mechanic kit from Park Tool will turn your garage into a bike shop, and the tool quality is top notch. However, almost everything in a professional’s kit except (to my knowledge) the cassette socket and the chain whip is a universal tool. Your local hardware store will have full sets of hex wrenches, spanners, wire cutters, locking pliers, heavy-duty brushes and anything else you might need to start doing simple repairs and maintenance yourself.
Don’t use these while riding, obviously. Reusable earplugs stay in your ears much, much better than disposable foam earplugs, and are better for the environment. You can keep them in your touring kit if your campsite is too close to a highway or rail-yard. I can sleep through an atom bomb without them, but I carry these anyways to tune out distractions in coffee shops. They come with a nice little carrying case the size of a Blistex container, seen above.
Chamois Cloth, Grease, and Cleaning Solvents
Your bike deserves your love and respect. What better way to show it than with a good cleaning? Chamois wipes are microfiber cloths that won’t take the shine out of your paint, and are standard at hardware stores alongside some great biodegradable citrus degreasers and some serious rust-eating solvents for neglected drivetrains. You can also buy grease for your chain; I suggest Tri-flow. Don’t default to WD-40, since it’s not really a great lubricant.
These super-durable faux leather work gloves are one of my favorite hardware store “discoveries.” Lots of people use them, especially in the military, and they’re inexpensive and widely available. I personally use the “fast-fit” versions because they’re lighter than the full velcro strap. These let you grab your chain and man-handle a cassette without shredding your fingers and coating yourself in oil. They’re also reasonably windproof, so they’ll work in a pinch for a cold spring morning.
If I had a mechanical failure on tour that I couldn’t fix myself, my first stop would be a bike shop. However, I’ve been hundreds of miles from the nearest shop on almost every tour I’ve been on. Hardware stores are a perfect replacement for the experts; the staff at these stores often includes a general manager who has a lot of experience making home repairs. A broken crank might be un-fixable, but an un-trued wheel or a loose rack is something your local hardware store may be able to help you with.
I’m no encyclopedia for inventory in hardware stores, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were solutions to bike-related catastrophes buried in there that a hardware store expert is dying to dream up. I think 90% of traditional hardware store projects are improvised solutions to problems; it’s inherent in the business model. They’ll brainstorm solutions with you if you ask nicely, and can often connect you with locals, too.
Maybe there’s something else at your local place I’ve missed. For people more Macguyvering than myself, you can use a hardware store to repaint a frame, build a rear rack, build a bike hanging kit for the garage, or DIY some studded tires. Hardware stores are a staple of modern society, a place where independence and ingenuity prevail. I feel like a stronger person just stepping inside the door.
Fix it yourself!