So Maggie and I signed up for Bike Maintenance 101. For just $55 each, we were promised a full day of hands-on tuition for the seriously challenged. At the very least, I was confident I would know how to pump up a tire by the end of the day. When it comes to technology, my ambitions are nothing if not modest.
That Saturday dawned bright and heat-wavish, and Maggie begged and pleaded to be left to sleep in peace. But I knew I needed her, because she has a better memory than I do, and I didn’t want us to be depending on just my memory when stranded on the side of a trail with a flat tire. So I dragged her kicking and screaming out of bed, and we finally set off on our bikes of choice. Maggie rode my treasured 1990 Bridgestone MB-2, which has not had much TLC in a very long time, while I chose my 2007 Trek 7.5 FX – which has pretty much never been ridden until last month when I bought it.
We took the Bridgestone because it needs maintenance, and the Trek because I have just acquired her and am still too hopelessly smitten with her to ride any of my other bikes. I think I know what polygamists must feel like when they marry a brand-new wife – you still love the other ones, but the new one is just so much more exciting.
We arrived beet red after just a 12 km ride, Maggie not too out of breath to still be whingeing that the “hands-on” workshop was certain to destroy her recent manicure. We found a motley collection of bikes and a friendly assortment of people, mainly women. Barry Kwok was the friendly, chatty and hugely knowledgeable instructor. Kindly sponsors of the event were Bikes on the Drive and Dream Cycles, who subsidize the course and provide freebies such as tube repair kits (those mysterious little boxes we have always taken on bike tours, but until now have had no idea how to use).
It was a tiring day, but I highly recommend such a course to any average cyclist who just wants to know enough not to look like a complete idiot in the event of a bicycle emergency – and doesn’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere. I learned all kinds of useful stuff, and even Maggie grudgingly admitted half way through the day that she was glad I had dragged her out of bed. (It helped that Barry provided gloves that protected her manicure.)
Prestas, Shraeders, and how to pump your tires UP
We learned that the skinny valves are called Presta and the fat ones are Shraeder, and that both Maggie and I have Presta (at last – something in my life that’s skinny!). We learned which is the correct position for the little lever thingy that sticks out of the pump at the place where you clamp it on the valve. I still don’t know what it’s called, but at least I know what to do with it. And within the first hour of the course, we knew how to pump a wheel up (as opposed to accidentally pumping it down, as I had memorably achieved in Victoria).
Beyond that, we even knew how to figure out the correct pressure to pump it up to (it’s written in teeny, tiny type on the side of the tire – the key letters to look for are PSI, which stands for pounds per square inch). We successfully fixed a flat, and unravelled the mystery of what is in those little tube repair kits. And even more dazzling, we removed the wheels from our bikes and then succeeded in putting them back on!
Bike in lonely places with confidence!
In general, we left feeling well set up to bike in lonely places with confidence. We had learned what tools we should carry with us on a trip, and how to use most of them. Basically you need tire levers, tube repair kit, a multi-purpose bike tool, a pump, and a spare tube. And you figure out what size the tube should be by reading more of the teeny, tiny writing on the side of the tire – look for something like “700 x 28”.
How to tell how used a used bike actually is
This was the coolest thing we learned all day. There’s a little tool called a chain wear indicator that costs about $20. You simply rest it on the cogs of your chain, and you can tell by how far it sinks into the chain how much use the chain has seen. I plan to use this next time I buy a used bike. I borrowed Barry’s to verify that the Trek I had recently bought had indeed seen almost no use at all – not that I had doubted the lovely people I bought it from, but it was nice to have a nifty, little tool confirm that the bike was still in brand spanking new condition.
How to clean and lube your chain and derailleurs
As a bonus, by the time we left we had thoroughly cleaned and lubed our chains and derailleurs. We learned that the name derailleurs comes from railway line derailleurs, because they move the chain from one chain ring onto the next. And that there are two of them, one at the front of the chain and one at the back.
More importantly, we learned that cleaning the chains and derailleurs is the most important thing you can do at home to keep your bike running well, and that bike shops will never do this properly for you, because most guys are just not that big on cleaning. And also because it takes a while (and if you’ve ever been in a bike shop in summer, you will know that time is in short supply in most bike shops).
Which basically means that if you want it done properly, you pretty much have to do it yourself. The idea is to get down on your hands and knees – unless you’ve got a bike rack like our great Thule Helium Bike rack (reviewed here) that can double as a bike repair stand. and use rags and Chain Degreaser to clean the chain and derailleurs thoroughly. You’re done when they look all shiny and new, instead of filthy and grungy. You then lubricate it all sparingly with the appropriate oil (there are different ones for wet weather and dry weather biking). Once you’ve oiled it, wipe off all excess oil with a towel, because excess oil acts like a magnet for dirt. It’s not exactly fun, but it’s pretty rewarding once done.
We discovered that the chain and derailleurs on the Bridgestone have apparently never been cleaned in the 20 years since it was made in Japan, and we managed to get it clean (actually Maggie managed, while I watched admiringly and helpfully handed her more rags from time to time).
How often to clean your chain and derailleurs
I had been of the opinion that bicycle chains probably need cleaning once a year, so I was pretty dismayed when Barry recommended once a week, and more often if commuting in winter. Nevertheless, we have now bought Chain Degreaser, and we are resolved to clean our various chains regularly. We haven’t actually started yet, but we will, any minute now …
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