I love riding my bikes. But I’ve never been a big fan of fixing them.
I’ve been able to fix a puncture for so long I have no recollection of when of from whom I learned to do this. But beyond that I always relied on bike shops until I met my husband – then I relied on him. He has been fixing his own bikes for years.
This worked just fine. Obviously there was the cost involved in paying a mechanic to fix my bikes, and the time involved in my husband doing the work, but it was fine.
However, many of you will be familiar with the concept of n+1, where the number of bikes you ‘need’ is always the number you have…plus one more. As the number of bikes we both own keeps growing, there is always one needing something fixed.
Then we had children and they used up all the time we used to have for riding bikes, never mind fixing them.
For the past few years, keeping my bikes on the road has been an exercise in frustration. My husband struggles to find the time for his own endless repairs and adjustments, never mind mine and even getting a bike to a bike shop for repairs can be a struggle with two small children in tow.
There was only one thing for it. I was going to have to learn to fix my own bikes.
Doing It Myself
Over the past few months I have gradually become obsessed with cables and housing, brake blocks and derailleurs, indexing and shifters.
I picked up second-hand bikes needing work and headed to my garage, armed with You Tube and Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance. The second-hand bikes were great as they allowed me to tinker without the pressure to get the bikes on the road – I still had my own to ride. You Tube clips were really helpful for watching how to do things over and over until I felt ready to try. There are hundreds of folk out there videoing themselves fixing bikes and uploading them. Personally, I found Global Cycling Network (GCN), Park Tool and ‘RJ The Bike Guy’ really useful. It also really helped having someone at home to sound ideas off and check my work.
After all that, last week I completed my Velotech Gold Award, at The Bike Station and I am very pleased to say that I am now a qualified bike mechanic.
What I Have Learned:
Yes, the main thing I set out to learn was how to fix bikes. But I have actually learned much more than that.
- I really love fixing bikes. There is something incredibly satisfying about taking an unhappy bike, working out what is wrong with it, and then making it right.
- Fixing bikes is really not as hard as it seems. Once you understand how the various bits of the bike work, and how they go together, most of the time, what needs done is fairly logical.
- I have learned to speak a whole different language – and knowing how to talk about derailleurs, bottom brackets, headsets and bearings makes me feel much more confident in bike shops.
- There are some really cool tools involved in fixing bikes.
With all those positives, I have no idea why I didn’t learn this stuff sooner.
A Man’s World?
There is no escaping the fact that the world of bike mechanics is particularly male-dominated.
I did feel slightly intimidated by this at first, but I have to admit that any intimidation I felt was entirely in my head. Perhaps I have just been lucky, but not one person has made me feel in any way out of place or unwelcome.
Where To Start
If you have ever thought about learning to maintain and fix your own bike then my advice is to get yourself a bike that needs work but does not need to be on the road in a hurry and just give it a go. Start with the basics, like punctures, chains and cables and take it from there.
Here are some of the useful things I’ve learned over the past few months:
- You really need a workstand to hang your bike on. You don’t need a really expensive one though. Buy a cheap one and see how you get on. You can always upgrade later.
- It helps if you have access to tools, but some can be really expensive. Start with the basics – allen keys, screwdrivers, cable cutters and a chain splitter.
- You Tube videos are a great start. However, as with everything on the internet, be selective and take everything you watch with a pinch (or sometimes a bucketful) of salt.
- Having access to a knowledgeable human is great for when you get stuck or just want to check you have got it right. There are more and more places like The Bike Station which offer ‘Fix Your Own BIke’ sessions when you can use their tools and ask their mechanics for help. If you can find something like this, go along. Even better, volunteer there – you will learn loads.
As for me, I still have a few projects in the garage to work on and my own bikes generally have something which needs doing. I might even start to fix my husband’s bikes in return for all the years he has fixed mine!
I would also really like to share what I have learned and spread the love for bike mechanics. In particular, I would like to encourage more women to have a go at fixing their own bikes. So in October I am starting to run monthly bike repair workshops. Starting with puncture repair I am going to run small, initially women-only groups where you can learn the skills you need. If you are able to get to Edinburgh and are interested in coming along, you can find details on the Active Cycle Coaching Facebook events or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am also really keen to hear what bike repairs you would like to learn to do – basically, if there are six people interested then I can run it! Again, you can email email@example.com with your interests and I will see what I can do.
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