My road bike still scares and intimidates me a bit for a few different reasons. One of the biggies is that I don’t know a lot about how to take care of it. I had an embarrassing moment about a week ago when I couldn’t figure out how to put air in the tires.
You’d think it’s obvious. Put the pump on the thing and start pumping. It worked like that last fall, didn’t it? I posted to FB and tagged a few people whom I thought could help me, including Sam and her partner, Jeff. Jeff came through pretty quickly with, “Did you unscrew the valve?” Me, “What valve?”
I went out and had a second look. Sure enough, road bikes have a little thing on the air valve that you need to unscrew to pump up the tire and then screw back on when you’re done. And I don’t mean the cap. I know about the cap. No, this is a different thing that screws up and down at the tip of the air valve.
Then there were the responses to my query about bike racks for the car. The most popular comment was: you don’t need a rack if you’re just taking your bike and perhaps one other. You can just take off the front wheel and stick the bike in the car.
Take off the front wheel, you say? But I don’t know how to take off the front wheel. [That was then]
So as you can see, my bike knowledge is, let’s just say, limited. This might be okay if I’m just commuting here and there around town on my sturdy commuter bike. I’m never so far from home that I would be totally stranded.
But if I’m doing the bike leg of a triathlon, or riding with a group who I don’t want to hold up, I better know something about the bike. Like how to fix a flat, for example. Until Saturday, I would have been kind of stuck, or at least thoroughly dependent on the good will of others, if my tire went flat while I was out on the road.
This makes me feel a bit more dependent than I like to feel, which is why I think bike maintenance is a feminist issue of sorts. I’m not averse to asking for help, or to accepting it if it’s offered. And I think there are some things that require specialized knowledge and skill, and I’m okay with that. Basic, day to day bike maintenance isn’t one of them.
What changed on Saturday? I attended “Bike Maintenance 101” at our local MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op–love it!). Sam emailed me a link about it a few days after the tire pumping and bike rack queries (she’s subtle that way). Before Saturday, the only thing I ever did to maintain my bikes was to put air in the tires. Maybe, if it was a messy day, I’d run a rag over the frame to get rid of the grit. But I didn’t pay much attention to what’s called the drive train.
On Saturday, I learned that this is without question the most important part of the bike! Who knew? (lots of people, apparently). And it doesn’t just need to be repaired when somethings goes wrong. No. It requires constant attention.
Back in the fall Sam told me she cleans her bike (the nice one anyway; not sure about the commuter bike) after every ride. This struck me as going overboard but I didn’t say anything. But the bike mechanic guy, Trevor, who ran the workshop at MEC also cleans his bike after every ride.
So, first new habit I need to integrate into my biking life: regular cleaning and maintenance of the parts of the bike that make it go: chain rings, derailleurs, chain, and a few other essential bits.
I arrived at MEC to find a semi-circle of chairs set up near the front of the store with a bike up on a repair stand in the middle. We had eight men and five women in our session. Other than myself, who asked a ton of questions, there were a lot of very vocal men, happy to jump in to answer them.
The main lesson was about chain cleaning, which you can do with a rag and oil if you do it every time you take the bike out, or with a special gizmo and chain cleaning solution if you let things build up. I’ve never cleaned or even considered cleaning a bike chain before in my life. Honestly, I’ve never even added lubricant to my bike chain before.
That might have been okay before, when I had a $200 bike. But now I have two bikes that are a lot more expensive than that, so I’m going to do the chain cleaning thing. You use a brush to get the grit off, and a rag to wipe it down. You can use one of those things that you clamp onto your chain. Here’s what it looks like:
Trevor gave us a handout with a detailed anatomy of a bike and a “beginner’s home shop checklist.” It was a very long list that included spare tubes (check — I have ONE spare tube), tire levers (not sure if I have that), a patch kit (got it), a pump with a gauge (got it), various tools and cleaning supplies and three kinds of lube (wet, dry–said to be optional–, and grease).
The clinic was a bit haphazard, truth be told. He kept asking whether there was anything specific that we wanted to know. After the basic drive train maintenance (you don’t just clean it, you also have to lube it regularly to keep it moving smoothly, and not overdo it or the oil will splatter all over the wheel. You’re also supposed to check your chain from time to time to make sure it’s not stretching out — I will leave that to the bike shop when I take the bikes in for tune-ups), and a demo about how to take the front wheel off, I asked about repairing a flat.
For me, that was the highlight. I know there’s a ton of info available on YouTube the shows all sorts of things, but seeing it done right in front of me where I could ask questions demystified it for me. I do think that’s something I can learn how to do. They recommended practicing removing the wheel and loosening the tire from the rim a few times. Not only will that make me more efficient, but it makes it easier to work with the tire after a few times. Only thing is: beware of pinch punctures–that’s when the tube gets caught between the rim and the tire and gets a hole in it.
Yes, this is a very random list of what was taught and what I learned. I feel slightly more independent about my bike. I don’t have a partner who can help me out with this (e.g. when I couldn’t figure out how to put air in the tires Renald said I should take the bike to the shop; he’s a lot better with sailboats). I also feel in a better position to care for my bikes in the way they deserve to be cared for.
I do feel that bike maintenance is a bit of a guy thing. The men at the workshop were more vocal and more hands on than the women. In fact, besides me, only one of the other women even asked any questions. Responding to this tendency for the men to dominate, there’s a group in Toronto called Wenches with Wrenches. They offer bike repairs for women, by women. And they have workshops. I don’t know of anything like it in London, but I can see why it would be a good thing.
After the clinic I took the shopping list in hand and it felt overwhelming. I re-grouped in the clothing section and chose a new jersey. I had no idea what I already had in my patch kit at home, so I thought I should check. I bought a multi-tool, which I turned out to have already in my road bike patch kit. I tossed it into my commuter panier. You never know when you’re going to need a screwdriver or an allen key. I also bought some lube. I will acquire other things based on what I end up feeling I need once I get into maintaining my bike and what others recommend to me as essential tools.
With this basic knowledge in my repertoire now it’s probably time for me to get on my road bike. I’ve not even had it out once this season yet and the clock is ticking towards the Cambridge Triathlon on June 15th.
The bottom line is: my bike will be in good shape between more significant tune-ups at the shop and I will not be a damsel in distress at the side of the road if I get a flat. I can do this.