Cycling, particularly cycle touring and bikepacking, requires learning how to use a diverse skill set, from navigation and bike maintenance to communications skills and financial planning. One skill I’ve found to have paid particularly big dividends that may not seem like an obvious top pick has been using a humble sewing kit. It’s pretty crazy to think that humans have been sewing stuff for millions of years, and the technique is really very little changed from when our ancestors were making their rudimentary mammoth cardigans. I’ve written this short article not as a technical ‘how to’ – not least because I’m absolutely no expert! Rather, an insight into how sewing has helped me out and why I think it’s worth learning to do.
I’m definitely not a super-sewer by any means – but I am confident in taking something in disrepair, from a bikepacking bag to a tyre to a pair of socks, and putting it back in order. You might be surprised how effective a few minutes of sewing can be!
To start with the most novice-friendly things to sew up, holes in clothes are normally very straightforward to repair. Holes can come up for all kinds of reasons – from small thorn stratches to more problematic damage, as happened with a set of gloves that once protected me in a crash (imagine what the state of my skin would have been if I hadn’t had them on – yikes!). These are obvious candidates to start perfecting your sewing with. You can nearly always get a sewing kit from a newsagent’s/corner shop with some spare change, which will be more than enough to do some light repair work to start with.
The best way to make your sewing as easy as possible is to spot a problem and repair it sooner rather than later. ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ is absolutely true – the longer you leave a sewing job on the to-do list, the more work it will be to put right, so get the kit out, turn the radio on and get it sussed.
Beyond repairing soft fabrics, you may need to invest in some slightly more heavy duty gear. Waterproof bikepacking bags are ideally very strong products but you may find that some straps and stitching become worn out. However because they’re made from robust fabrics such as PVC, the itty bitty kit from the newsagent’s is not going to make much inroads, nor the line be up to the job of doing the repair.
The good news is that you can get very good tools for a good price; a leatherworking or sailmaking kit can be had for not a lot at all, and really turns the tables on a stubborn sewing job. For line, waxed cotton (the sailmaking classic) is very good, but I’ve also used fishing line for repairing tyres with great success. I’ve also read that dental floss is also great sewing line. I suppose that you could even clean your teeth with it to boot.
I’ve repaired a few slashed tyres with sewing. The ‘get home’ fix has been an inner tube combined with a ‘boot’ (usually a bar wrapper) to stop the butyl herniating through the hole, but once home I get the sewing kit out, and combined with a rema tiptop tubeless patch on the inside, the tyre is back to regular service, and so long as the bead is intact, works fine tubelessly. Obviously you’d ideally not set out on your attempt on the Raid Pyrenean on a sewn-up tyre, but you really don’t need to immediately crack out the credit card for the rubber barons upon getting a slashed tyre either.
Lastly, sewing is a really fun way to customise your stuff for not a lot of money. Clubs such as Audax UK and the Rough Stuff Fellowship sell patches to mark your adventuring achievements, and of course if you crack the upcoming Rapha Festive 500, you’ll get a free patch to celebrate your hard work in the post.
I hope this has inspired you to take some interest in sewing – my sewing isn’t neat but it does the job, and I really encourage you to give the art a crack. It can save you lots of money, it’s good for the environment, and look pretty cool too! I would like to take this a bit further in future, and actually fabricate my own creations, that’s a whole new level of skill and experience. But never say never…