For Bike to Work Week, I thought I’d talk to a bike mechanic and ask for some tips on caring for your bicycle—especially for novices.
If you currently have a bike, what are a few symptoms of future problems you should watch out for?
The most important thing is to check that everything is tight—the bolts are tight, your handlebar bolts are tight, the pedals, the crank bolts, no loose spokes.
Everyone should have an Allan key. You can check everything with about three sizes of Allan key, and you should do it once a month, depending on how much you’re riding. You just want to make sure nothing will fall off. You’ll notice if things are loose. If something feels weird on your bike, then there usually is something wrong.
The next big thing is your gears: make sure your chain is lubed. If a chain gets dry, it will be at risk for breaking and won’t shift very well. You can do it two times a week if you’re riding daily. Don’t use WD-40, since it’s too thin. Chain lube is thicker and will stay on for a good period of time. Tri-Flow and ProLink are good brands.
Tire pressure also highly affects the ride. Check every week or two: give your tires a pinch or use a gauge. If you’re on the road, your tire pressure should be maxed out completely. And every tire shows the pressure max and min on it.
What other things can people do to take care of their own bikes?
Don’t leave it outside. Even though most bikes are made of aluminum, all of the gearing, the bolts, and your spokes—those are all steel, and those will rust really quickly. A rusty chain or brake cable is brittle and will snap. If you have to leave it outside, get a bike cover or tarp it.
Other than that, cleaning your bike is a good idea. Make sure your gears aren’t full of gunk or aren’t full of dirt. You can buy gear cog brushes and use a little bit of soap and water. Or rinse it down after a muddy ride. Keeping it clean will make your bike last. But after you clean it you want to lube it up again.
It sounds like a lot of work, but once you get into it, it’s not that much. For example, it takes two seconds to lube the chain. Spin the wheels backwards and put a drop of oil right on the chain. Make sure you get one round on the chain and then wipe off any excess.
What are the common things people bring their bikes in for?
Gears and brakes are the most common. Wobbly wheels, loose spokes, flat tires. People will often get a flat on the road or end up walking or taking the bus, when it’s easy to change a flat tire. A mechanic can show you how to replace them, and can sell you a flat package or a spare tube that you can carry.
Other than that, it’s general tune ups. People bring their bikes in once or twice a year. Unless they feel it’s a problem, they’re not checking things.
What’s your background with bikes? How did you get to become a bike mechanic?
I’ve been riding since I was 15 and I’m 28 now. I started with a course called the Sanctuary Foundation funded by HRDC, and it was to get youth 18-25 in working on bikes and mechanical repair. A mechanic’s training course. I did that in 2000, but I had been working on my own bikes before that, and I raced for a couple years. So I’ve been working in the industry in a job for eight years, but
What would you say to people who are thinking of biking to work?
When I started riding my bike it changed my life, and it’s been the one consistent thing that kept me grounded and in shape. It’s something fun to do, but if you don’t enjoy riding a bike you’re not going to enjoy riding to work.
But the benefits are kind of endless—health, environment, and money-wise—and the more people we get out riding, the better it’ll get. You don’t have to drive a car 10 blocks to get to work. And if you enjoy riding a bike, why not do it as much as possible?