Many of us are embarrassed to admit it but, despite many years on the bike, our basic maintenance skills aren’t quite up to scratch. I have to confess to struggling when putting a tyre back onto a wheel with numb fingers after a puncture on the roadside. More than once I’ve reverted to using a tyre lever to get that last bit over the rim. Shocking, I know, and I’ve suffered numerous pinch punctures afterwards as a result. And, as for gear indexing and replacing brakes, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve usually left this for the bike shop pros.
So it was that Ride Velo headed down for a basic bike maintenance course run by Cycle Confident one cold and rainy Saturday morning when, quite frankly, I’d definitely have preferred to have had an extra hour or two in bed.
Our lovely instructor for the day was Anna, hailing from the Spanish Pyrenees. She had that particular South London accent that she’d picked up from working as a mechanic in bike shops over here. She was patient, clear and understanding of our ignorance and fat fingers all day and I think we all came out of the experience wiser and determined to have more ownership over our bikes by dong the basic work ourselves in the future.
Joining us was an assorted collection of six other cyclists from all walks of life along with a diverse array of bikes. Rosalind (names have been changed) had a rather political looking touring frame covered in militant stickers. She was a middle-aged woman wearing an unlikely pair of cowboy boots and flared jeans who professed to have a growing collection of bikes (her “babies”) but little knowledge of how to look after them. It seems she wasn’t too good at caring for her loved ones, though, as her chain turned out to be worn and her cartridge in need of replacement.
Russell, meanwhile, was a lovely man from Clapham who had recently retired and was enjoying his new found freedom by setting off with his wife on various touring adventures, including Lands End to John O’Groats. He had a classic and sturdy Dawes Tourer.
Dave was a bit unfriendly and didn’t talk to anyone really. Nice vintage Peugeot frame though. Steve was a lovely young lad who’d just moved down from Manchester and had recently signed himself up for the Etape du Tour this summer and he was very proud of his Specialized road bike. Like many of us, he’d relied on riding partners to fix up his punctures until now.
Step 1 was how to remove and replace an inner tube with strict instructions NOT to use a tyre lever for the putting it back on bit. Now someone’s shown me how to do it, it’s easy and I vow never to use brute force again. Anna showed us a great technique of slowly, gradually, working your hands around the tyre, bit by bit in a kind of massaging motion that, hey presto, actually worked! I hope it’s the same next time I get stranded on the side of the South Circular on a cold and dark evening on my commute home.
Next was puncture repair. How many inner tubes have I blithely discarded without thinking of fixing them? But now I really know what that yellow crayon is for (marking the tyre where the valve was so you can go back to it after you’ve discovered where on the inner tube your puncture is, thus allowing you to easily find the stone, shard of glass or whatever it was the caused the problem), how you really need to scratch a rough surface out on the inner tube with sandpaper, that the glue isn’t actually glue, and that you need to use the chalk to neutralise the effect of the adhesive afterwards. Hey – turns out this is actually good fun!
Next up was replacing and adjusting brakes which, once I’d got over the panic of six washers pinging across the workshop floor, turned out to be quite easy. It’s all about staying cool, calm and zen-like. Then it was on to indexing gears and the point where I felt rather silly for turning up with a fixie. Further admonishment came when I was told what a cheap, Taiwan-manufactured bike I was the owner of. Well yes, that’s point. I can cycle into town, chain it up, and not worry that my beautiful De Rosa will be nicked. Anyway, I was able to tinker with Ellie’s Genesis. Ah, so that’s what that little screw does! We finished up with a few tips of how to clean the bike correctly, checking for a worn chain and what to look out for before the lovely machine falls apart.
What a useful and enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a Saturday! Hopefully this will now save me heaps of cash and I can enjoy tinkering with my bike of an afternoon. These courses are available through local councils up and down the country and are either completely free, or heavily subsidised. The really great thing is having a greater feeling of ownership over your trusty steed and the confidence to do more than just change a puncture. Bring on the full restoration job! Eroica Brittanica here we come…