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How to Become a Decent Bike Mechanic; As A Cycling Enthusiast, It’s Imperative…

July 2019
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I could make this post short.  Very short.  One sentence… heck, one word:  Practice.

At the One Helluva Ride a couple of weeks ago, I hit a pothole so deep I think I saw a kangaroo at the bottom of it.  Dead nuts’ed it, too.  That happens in a pace-line from time to time if you’re not looking up the road like you should be (ahem).  Amazingly, I didn’t pinch flat and I didn’t bottom out the tire on the rim, which surely would have wrecked the rim (thank you, Serfas, for the awesome prototype tires).  I did, however, develop a little bit of a knock in the headset whenever I hit a decently sized bump thereafter.  When I got home I took a 4mm Allen wrench, loosened the three bolts in the proper order, and tightened down the headset.  It took, literally, two minutes.  My Venge is just as quiet and smooth as ever.  How many cyclists would either not recognize there was a problem, or take the bike in to have it looked over, taking it out of the stable for up to a week – for a two-minute solution.

VengeSerfasPrototype1

Two weeks ago I developed a creak in the headset of my 5200.  This one was a bit more troublesome because it’s a dreaded threaded headset.  If they’re not kept clean and lubed, they creak.  So I took my wrenches in hand and went to work.  Sadly, I made a rookie mistake.  I tried to tighten the lock nut (the top one) by pulling down from the right side of the bike, instead of standing at the front of the bike and pulling toward me from the left side of the bike.  The wrench slipped and took a nice chunk of paint out of the top tube.  I got the headset to quiet down but my pristine refurbished 1999 5200 had a gnarly top tube paint problem.  Into the shop it went – some things are better left to the pros, like one who has a airbrush paint setup, not a novice with a can of spray paint.

I picked it up the other day, along with a glorious new Bontrager Montrose Pro saddle.  At the beginning of the season I’d tried out a friend’s Selle Italia SLR minimalist carbon saddle.  I thought I liked it on the Trek.  Unfortunately, that was in March – way early in the season when I don’t have 4,000 miles on my tuchus.  Fast-forward to July and that little hunk of carbon, as light as it was, was far from comfortable after 50 miles – and my Trek is my long-range bike.  The Montrose Pro is 50 grams heavier than the svelte 110 gram Selle, but that fifty grams all goes to padding.  It’s also contoured to match my aggressive bike setup and my lack of flexibility.

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So, on went the saddle and figured I’d run my random orbit polisher over the repair on the top tube.  While I was at it, the rear brake cable was a little ratty from collecting a year’s worth of sweat.  May as well take care of that too.  And come to think of it, it’s big miles season here in Michigan, so maybe some new shifting cables were in order… as long as I was doing the brake cable anyway, right?

Exactly.

Well, to thicken the plot, my buddy, Mike called me while I was on the way home Thursday and said we should go on a road trip up north next week for a couple of long days in the saddle.  I had planned on taking my sweet time on the Trek, but now all of a sudden I only had a weekend to get it done.  I love my Venge, but it’s not my climbing bike.  My trek is set up for hills, and our “up north” has plenty of hills. I tackled it after work Friday.  Three hours, bike polished (the whole bike, not just the repair), new helicopter tape for the cable housings, new rear brake cable, new shift cables, dialed in, and ready to ride.

I took the bike out for a 100k yesterday, and my repairs were flawless.

Now, I’m fortunate.  Or blessed, or lucky, call it what you want… to have two bikes.  I have a level of freedom to tinker that many don’t because if I mess something up and have to look to the local shop to fix it, I’m not taking time off to have my bike fixed.  I could have easily taken the Venge up north next week.  Without question, it would have been fine, even on the hills.  I would have simply had to work a little harder with fewer climbing gears.  Instead, I’ve got both bikes sorted out and I get to pick and choose.

My first answer to my Title is, if you want to become a decent bike mechanic as a cycling enthusiast, buy a second bike.  A rain bike, if you will.  A backup.  Have a bike waiting in the wings, just in case, frees one up to tinker with impunity.  My wife has her gravel bike that she absolutely loves.  I’ve got my Trek and my gravel bike.

The second answer, the real answer, is practice.  It makes perfect.

The third is patience.  Have some.  You will need it.  The first time I tried indexing the shifting on my Trek 3700 mountain bike, I messed it up so bad I almost had to take it to the shop to have them fix my mess (don’t mess with the set screws on the derailleurs unless you REALLY know what you’re doing!).  The three minute repair took three hours.  Once I looked at Sheldon Brown’s detailed instructions, I had it fixed in 15 minutes.

The fourth is buy the Bike Repair app.  Pay the Four Bucks, it’s worth it.  Wrenching on a bike is a specialized talent.  Not only do you have to know what to loosen and tighten, you also have to know the proper order of the process steps.  Do the steps out of sequence and you’ll likely make your bike worse.  Having all of the steps in front of you will help immensely, and speed up the process.

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2 Comments

  1. Hahaha yes I’ve messed up one bike so bad that I put it away and just rode the other for a while until I could figure it out. The beauty of having a stable of machines to choose from! 🙂 Having assembled my current bikes from the framesets, done all the servicing and upgraded most parts along the way, I’m pretty handy now – but it takes time (still suck at bar tape).

    These days, there’s a YouTube video to help you with pretty much every service job, adjustment, repair or upgrade you could imagine.

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