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Money's been a bit tight lately for a number of reasons and I commute 2 hours a day on my bike for work. Slowly, but surely my bike has taken a toll and I REALLY need to do some light maintenance on it. At the moment now, my bike wheels (rims?), due to a crash, are bent and it looks like it's unnaturally pressing against my tires. They wobble and it's much more noticeable when going fast, but other than that I do not see any issues with it. The other major repair is my brakes are completely out. The do not work at all. The method I use to slow down is to put my feet out and drag them well into advance if I even think I need to stop. The problem with this, is very obvious as it is rather dangerous and it is quickly eating the soles of my shoes which I cannot replace those either at the moment.

As much as I would like to take public transportation or get a ride, that is out of the question. I am too far out and none of my coworkers are willing to drive roughly an hour out for me. There is no public transportation near my home, so I have to actually ride a good distance to a bus stop inside of the city.

I managed to sell what little I own as I only need to survive for less than two weeks to get paid and have proper repairs done, but in the meantime, which one of the two repairs should I have done, wheels or brakes?

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    Do you have pictures of the wheels and brakes? – Batman Feb 22 '17 at 3:33
  • What's the traffic situation in your area? I'd argue if there's a chance to die due to a brake failure, it's the most reasonable option considering "survive for ... two weeks" requirement. – Klaster_1 Feb 22 '17 at 3:35
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    I would say that your bike is very unsafe. If you were at all mechanically inclined I'd suggest that you do your own maintenance, attacking the brakes first (very likely they can be fixed cheaply) and then roughly "truing" the wheels. But I gather you're not very good with tools? – Daniel R Hicks Feb 22 '17 at 4:04
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    What city are you in ? – Criggie Feb 22 '17 at 6:41
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    Indication this is a troll workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4410/… – paparazzo Mar 20 '17 at 9:55
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Both. It's a bit like asking whether you should fix the brakes or balding tires on a car - you need to fix both to be safe on the road.

But you don't need to shell out a huge amount of money. See if there isn't a bike coop or community repair station in your neighborhood:

  • Truing your wheels requires some elbow grease but shouldn't require any parts (unless your spokes are broken). In terms of tools, at minimum you need a spoke wrench ($5) and ideally a truing stand, but you can do a fair job truing against your brake pads. The coop will definitely have spoke wrenches and may have a truing stand.

  • Repairing your brakes at most would require new pads ($5-10) and maybe new brake cables ($10-15). Replacing brakes and cables requires just an assortment of small hex wrenches and allen wrenches, which the coop will have.

The true cost is in the labor and if you can do it yourself with youtube and human help, you should be able to get it in at least running conditions. For the wheel truing, I'd try to go for just "good enough" and not perfect -- and try to get someone to supervise you -- as it's easy to mess up truing if you go too far.

If you don't have a coop in your location, the spoke wrench, Allen wrench, and small hex wrench should all cost less than $25 total for cheap ones or for a multi tool that has them all. The real value of the coop is someone looking over your shoulder to help, especially with the wheel truing.

Given that an accident on your way to work will cost you lost wages, maybe losing your job, and perhaps a hefty hospital bill, spending $25 for a self-tune or around $100 for a bike shop to do it is money well spent.

  • absolutely right. If you have to buy a spoke tool (if you can't borrow one) that's only a few dollars as well. Just make sure you get one that can do a range of sizes. There are a few very cheap ones that do one common size badly. – Chris H Feb 22 '17 at 6:53
  • Outside of major cities, I've only lived in one place with a bike coop. – Batman Feb 22 '17 at 17:22
  • Most major cities have them but we don't know if the OP is in a major city. – RoboKaren Feb 22 '17 at 17:35
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Answer: Both

Brakes are absolutely critical number 1 top priority to have working on your bike.

The wheels being out of true will impact on your ability to fix the brakes properly.

What tools do you have available? I would expect you will require:

  • definitely a Spoke nipple wrench. You might get away using a medium flat-head screwdriver if you take the tube and tyre and rim tape off, but the spoke itself often gets in the way
  • maybe 8/10mm spanner or small adjustable wrench/crescent
  • maybe 4/5/6 mm hex key/allen key

Sizes depend on the fasteners your particular bike has.

There's a chance the required tools are on a bike multitool, if you have one then look closely at it.

Stopping by dragging your feet is better than stopping with your face, but its a last resort. Footwear isn't cheap, and neither is medical attention.

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Other answers already explained that both repairs are necessary. This answer suggests a few ways you might get help to fix it all yourself.

At many places in the world are bicycle cooperatives or similar forms of volunteer bike shops. Basic repairs, especially those concerned with bike safety, can be done with the help of other community members. Parts are often available as second-hand spares or at discounted prices.

To locate one, have a look at a list of community bicycle organizations, contact your country's cycling organisation, or post your location in comments/as a new question. You might find repair cafes, or hacker spaces that could help you.

Lastly, most cycling enthusiast are more than happy to help other cyclists. Do you know any cafés or pubs where cyclists meet after their weekend runs? Go there and ask if they know community initiatives that can help you. (Hearing your plight, some might help you themselves right away.)

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