When I was introduced to the joys of the bike around three years ago, there was one element of cycling that made my nose wrinkle – maintenance. I avoided anything even vaguely maintenance-oriented for over a year and a half, including (to my eternal shame) washing, cleaning or otherwise giving any thought to the condition of my poor steed. Instead, I relied on beardy mechanics in local bike shops to do all the stuff I was clueless about.
There was a couple of reasons for this. The biggest one was down to my enduring ability to destroy mechanical things. I am adept at breaking just about anything you put in my hands. For example, last week I broke a brand new reflector BEFORE I even got it on the spokes.
The other reason was mostly to do with my lack of knowledge. I knew less than nothing about bikes. My understanding was so dismal I made up words for different bike parts and would reel them off to bemused mechanics before waltzing out the shop (I’m pretty sure I’m known throughout Edinburgh as the “curly handlebars” girl).
However, that all changed last weekend when I went through to Stirling as part of Belles on Bikes Edinburgh and got myself a Velotech Bronze qualification. Blimey. How the tables (chainrings?) have turned. I now have considerably more knowledge and skillz when it comes to fixing stuff, tackling weird noises and spotting all manner of issues with other folks’ bikes.
There’s something eternally satisfying about the mechanics of a bicycle. They are so simple and elegant. I’m impressed with myself that I now know how to adjust v brakes, deal with disk brake pistons, tinker with gears, break and remake chains, fix a puncture (although I could already do that – I wasn’t totally useless…), spot dodgy headsets and frames, grease and lube relevant parts, spy worn chainrings, do nifty stuff with a torque wrench and check wheel rims for damage.
All in all, it was a hugely satisfying day. The trainer, Abi, was part of the reason it went so well. She was patient, easy going and didn’t bamboozle us with technical bike terminology. Descriptions like “sharpy sharpy sharky sharky” to illustrate worn chain rings were EXACTLY the right approach (worn chain rings look like sharks’ teeth and now I will never forget that way to spot them!).
I also learned to try and get rid of this terror surrounding bike parts. For example, the springs on front and rear derailleurs are tough and easily stand up to poking, prodding and pushing around. You can muck about with them and they will spring back into position no problem. Cable adjustments go one of two ways. V brakes screw in and out and if they’re not right you just adjust them. The bike apocalypse will not rain down on me if I get out the size 5 allen key or star screwdriver. So I need to get over the fear.
I suspect a lot of women won’t go near mechanical stuff on their trusty steed because they think all hell will break loose, parts will disintegrate and said bike will be beyond help. Of course, another option is that they just can’t be arsed. But getting stuck in is the best way to learn and understand how your own bike works. Even though I am still convinced I will break stuff, I now feel a bit better about fixing it.
I have an 90s hard tail Giant MTB in the garage that I think could be a good practice bike to get all spick and span again. Maybe it’s time I dug it out to give it a new lease of life… Alternatively, I could pick up one of the several thousand at Recyke-A-Bike?