Saturday, October 9, 2010

slowly getting the hang of this bike repair thing

For some reason, I've never done much in the way of working on stuff. I can change the oil in the car if I have to (since we don't have ramps, I usually don't), but I have to take it to a guy for pretty much everything else. We rented our entire adult life until two years ago, and then we bought a new house under warranty, so that hasn't generated much work either. One thing that riding a bike has done is get me fixing something.

I guess I looked at it as a fresh start. I'd never been a serious cyclist, so there was no reason I ought to have known how to work on one. Plus, part of my agenda in riding a bike is that it's a friendlier mode of transportation. It's cheap to operate, cheap to fix even if you do pay someone else to do the work, and relatively easy to learn to do it yourself. So, I'm learning--slowly, but surely.

I learned basic maintenance like greasing the chain and tightening the brakes early on. I think the first real repairs it needed were a bald back tire and a busted shifter cable. More recently, I've had several flat tires and botched almost as many patch jobs. (Maybe it's just not worth it, but the last one was on a brand new tube that I might have punctured while putting it in. I had to try.) One thing I'm getting really comfortable with is taking off the back wheel, which used to worry me. I was always concerned that I wouldn't know how to put it back on, but after so many times taking it on and off, I feel confident that I could change a back tire on the side of the road if I had to.

This time, in addition to the flat tire (which went flat again after the first three attempts), my chain broke the same day. I didn't have a chain tool, and I wasn't sure I'd know how to get the chain back on the rear derailer properly, so I figured this time I'd let the bike shop install it. It was only $10, and I had enough other stuff to deal with (on a weekend when I'm alone with the kids, no less), so I think it was worth it. It wouldn't shift properly afterward, so I had to figure out the adjustment on that (at least, I think I figured it out). Also, for some reason the rear brake was dragging, which wasn't hard to deal with.

I continue to discover advantages to owning a bike that's probably older than I am. ("Old school," I've heard it called more than once.) I went into the shop expecting to get a $35 10-speed chain. The guy looked at it and said, "Oh, you mean a 5-speed." He went and found a chain that cost half as much, which I guess more than covered the installation charge. Also, after reading online about the various adjustments that might or might not need to be made to address my shifting problem, I discovered that my derailer apparently only has one adjustment mechanism--a single screw that moves it closer to the wheel when you tighten it and further away when you loosen it. The shifting is by no means perfect (it never was), but it will hit all the gears now, so I guess it was a success. Maybe it would be possible to get a better fit with a newer, more complicated derailer. But at least I didn't have to figure one out at this point.

I suppose the drawback is that I'm learning how to fix an obsolete bike. If I ever do get a new one, will I have to learn bicycle repair all over again? It can also be tricky finding the parts that I need for it, and something as simple as mounting a water bottle rack becomes more complicated. At least no one seems interested in stealing it, which may be the best feature of all.

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