Thursday, January 7

Lowering the Barriers: Doing it Yourself

I grew up what I consider lower-middle class.  We weren't poor per se, but we definitely didn't have a surplus of cash to throw at every problem.  The result was that I learned from my dad to fix things myself and to be innovative and creative in keeping myself going through life.  I wish I could say this meant I am a really handy guy, but the cold stark reality is that I fake my way through stuff until I hit a wall that I must pay a professional to surmount. 
I built my own Xtracycle.  Until I had to install the fork.  I just didn't have the tools and know-how  make it work.  So I took the bike all put together to the bike shop and paid them to install the fork for me.  
I stripped my donor bike down to nothing to get the frame powder coated...

I rebuilt the bike as an Xtracycle...
And later that year I rode the bike I built (save the fork) 53 miles from the plains to Guanella Pass at 11,669'
And back.
A few years ago I bought Todd Downs' Bicycle Maintenance & Repair.  It's been indispensable in getting me through a lot of repairs and maintenance (ironically).  And what the book wasn't able to help me with I have typically been able to sort out between YouTube and Sheldon Brown To be honest, I don't love Sheldon Brown's website.  I think it is a fantastic resource, but in my experience it’s frustrating to have to read three articles for the one you need to make sense.
Anyway, I always at least try to fix or maintain our fleet myself.  When I run into hiccups I always still have the option of begging the Training Partner for help or taking my mangled attempt to the bike shop.  Historically the bike shop has been graced by my truing needs and the aforementioned steerer tube trim.
For Christmas this year I requested bike tools.  And Santa delivered.  I now have a truing stand, a proper chain cleaner, a tool tray for the repair stand I got a few years ago, and replacement chain tool and cable cutters for the ones that broke/were lost.
Fleet maintenance

It's hard to find good wrenches...
The barrier that most people perceive is a lack of knowledge of how to repair bicycles.  But the truth is bikes are fairly simple machines and other than a few specialized tools (such as a cone wrenches and a star-nut setter) most people will have the general tools they need to work on bikes.  And even if you don't a set of bike-specific tools is fairly cheap.  The How-To knowledge is readily available and you don't even have to be tech savvy to figure out most repairs.
And another major plus?  If you screw something up you can just load your bike on the car and drive it to a bike shop.  That's not possible when you screw up an automotive repair. 
It should go without saying that every cyclist should know how to do field repairs such as changing a tube, fixing a broken chain, and making minor adjustments to the bike.  These skills are easily learned and will save you from having to call a friend or loved one to drive miles into the bush to find you and bring you home.  That said, no matter how much you know about fixing bikes you just can't carry enough tools to cover every contingency on a ride.

On the bike carry and know how to use:
Patch kit (for tubes or tubeless)
Appropriate quicklink for your chain

At home here are some basics to start out with:
Tire levers
Chain lube
Standard wrenches or an adjustable wrench
Cable cutters (even if you don't think you'll ever replace your own cables)
Shop rags

And from there you'll decide on more advanced tools as the need for them arises.  It's easy enough to go to the bike shop and ask how much they charge for making a certain repair and how much the tool(s) costs to do it yourself.  Then weigh how often you're likely to need to do said repair and what are the financial and temporal consequences of screwing it up.  I say give it a go and use the bike shop as backup, but you have to use your own judgment based on the resources at hand.
I've successfully swapped a cassette from one wheelset to another because I had the tools.  I've installed disc brakes, I've replaced derailers, and I've replaced cogs and chainrings.  All it took were the tools and the patience to read a book or watch a video online to figure it out. 
I’ve found a great deal of confidence and empowerment through working on my own bikes and keeping them rolling year after year with minimal help from my LBS (Local Bike Shop).  I love to support bicycle businesses, but I can do that through purchasing gear and accessories and keep the wrenching at home for the most part.  It makes me more resilient and keeps me riding more often.

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