Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to learn bicycle repair

We get a lot of e-mails and phone calls to the effect of "How can I learn how to be a bicycle mechanic?"

Of course, during the winter months, we offer our Bicycle Maintenance Classes. The winter is the best time for us to have these classes, as the repair shop areas are too busy during the spring and summer months to devote time and space for classes. To be the first to find out when we schedule our classes for the coming winter, keep an eye on this blog, or sign up for our eNewsletter.

The best way to learn bike maintenance skills, like learning anything, is to learn by doing. Even if you take a class, honing your skills takes practice and repetition.

Start by doing the work on your own bike yourself. You'll make mistakes along the way, and maybe even break things, but at least you'll only be breaking your own stuff. Start with the easy stuff, like replacing tires and tubes, work your way up to intermediate stuff, like adjusting shifters and brakes, installing chains, and adjusting bearings, and then the more advanced stuff like replacing the whole drive train, replacing bearings, truing wheels, and so on.

The number-one repair skill that every cyclist should have under their belt is changing a flat tire. We have a web page devoted to this at:

A good way to practice this skill is to do it in your garage at home, when you're not pressed for time and heading out on a ride. Pretend you have a flat even if you don't; take the wheel off, deflate the tire, remove the tire and tube, then put it all back together. This gives you a chance to hone your skill without being under the pressure of being out on the road and having to make sure you do it right to get home. You can find out what aspects of the process give you trouble, so that you know what advice to ask for later.

There are a number of good bike repair books that can help; our favorite (which we sell in our stores) is Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair. Also worth checking out is the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bike Repair. Park Tool is the first name in high-quality bicycle-specific tools, so you can trust their advice when it somes to using them. Their web site is also a great resource; the "Repair Help" section is broken down by areas of the bike, with step-by-step guides and photos.

Speaking of tools, that is one of the downsides in becoming proficient in fixing your bike on your own. Just about every component on a bike requires a specific tool to remove and install, such as bottom bracket tools, headset removers and installers, crank arm removers, cassette and freewheel tools, wheel truing stand, and the list goes on. At the very least, you'll need a good set of metric socket wrenches and metric allen wrenches to get started on basic repairs, but building a full-service workshop requires a significant investment in more tools.

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