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The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: The Single-most Important Lesson in Wrenching on a Bicycle

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I’ve done my fair share of wrenching on my family’s bikes.  Just the other day I replaced a headset bearing on my wife’s gravel bike that had fallen apart after months of riding in gnarly conditions (just how gnarly was unbeknownst to me).  It took all of ten minutes, if that, all the while carrying on a conversation with my wife about the cycling club.

Loosen two bolts, take the stem cap off, slide the stem and handlebar assembly off, rest the assembly on the wheel/tire, remove the spacers, remove the bearing lock washer, pull the pieces of the bearing out, lube the new bearing and put everything back together in the exact same order it came apart, tighten up the headset using the stem cap, tighten the stem bolts.  Bingo.

There were about twenty things I could have done wrong in that simple process that would have resulted in horrible problems with the headset that would have had me taking the bike to the shop, begging for help to put it back together properly.

Another example; a very good friend and riding buddy of mine has a bike stand at home.  He liked to clamp his bike in by the top tube.  Now, with a steel or aluminum bike, that’s not such a big deal.  Here’s that second sentence in full:  He liked to clamp his carbon fiber bike in by the top tube.  He crushed the top tube, not to put too fine a point on it.  Now, because carbon fiber is freaking awesome, it was fixed with a minimal amount of trouble, but my buddy was lucky.

A third example; I can remember the first time I tried to index the rear derailleur on my first mountain bike.  The owner of the local bike shop had encouraged me to tinker with my bike, saying I probably couldn’t break it bad enough he couldn’t fix it…  Well, I challenged that.  I messed up that derailleur so bad I almost took it to the shop to get it straightened out.  I adjusted the set screws (a big no-no unless you’re installing new parts/wheels), then got the barrel adjuster out of whack…  It was so bad I lost the top and bottom gears on the cassette.  My seven speed became a five.

When I was good and thoroughly confounded, I looked up the proper procedure.

Ten minutes later my bike was shifting like it was brand new.  All 21 gears.

 

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My friends, the single-most important lesson in wrenching on a bicycle is this:  Follow the proper procedures.  A companion to that lesson is, if you don’t know the proper procedure, learn the procedure before you attempt anything.

A bicycle is a ridiculously simple machine.  Unlike cars, bikes are (usually) engineered to be simple and easy to work on (with a few notable exceptions).  In fact, in a rare reversal of the automobile industry, the more expensive the bike, the easier it typically is to work on.  The only caveat is that one must know and follow the proper steps in order to fix one’s bike.  Skip a step or try to complete steps out of order, and you’ll either end up on YouTube or Google, searching for the fix to what you did wrong – or at the LBS asking them to fix what you did wrong.

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