Avoiding Bike-Related Intimidation [from BA 42-300]

Woman riding.JPG

"Something about getting on the road while being more exposed to the elements among much larger, faster, metal-reinforced vehicles can feel threatening."

by Rachael Spiewak Lualhati, Co-Founder, Sopo Bicycle Cooperative

Raise your hand if you have a bike. That’s probably everybody. Who’s been riding lately? Of the hands down crowd, how many people WOULD ride if:

1) You could fix that minor repair issue that you wish you could do yourself, you think you can’t afford, or you would have taken care of by an ordinary shop if only you had the right vocabulary to confidently describe it?

2) You weren’t so worried about the cars zooming by, the potholes looming on the horizon, or finding your destination with enough time to spare to freshen up?

Both issues boil down to a feeling of intimidation. Something about getting on the road while being more exposed to the elements among much larger, faster, metal-reinforced vehicles can feel threatening. Likewise, bike repair can be overwhelming. What if you try it at home and you mess up? What if you have to explain what you did to a bike mechanic at a shop? Sometimes it’s hard to talk to someone who knows more about something than you do.

Here’s the good news. You can overcome feeling intimidated. Good old self-empowerment will save the day with a little help from resources you can find in your community.

Step one is making sure you have an operational bicycle. Before you do anything else: clean and lube your bike, pump up your tires, and try to locate your repair issues. You’d be surprised how many little issues get resolved with a good dose of degreaser and chain lube, so let’s eliminate as many problems as possible before you take your bike anywhere. Get a spray bottle of Simple Green or any degreaser from a hardware store, spray your whole bike, get a rag, and wipe all the gunk off. Do not stick your fingers in any part of your bike while said part is moving (trust me, not fun). Get a bottle of chain lube and a floor pump from a bike shop. You should always have these things at home anyway. Read the chain lube directions and check the side of your tires for the amount of air pressure they need (it’s a number followed by “PSI,” which means pounds per square inch). Now take your bike for a test ride somewhere safe where you don’t have to pay attention to traffic (like an empty parking lot). Try to figure out what problems remain. What sounds funny or doesn’t turn quite right?

And now you’ve done quite a bit of work for yourself! Go ahead and feel empowered.

Assuming you’ve got more repair issues to resolve, you have two options:

1) Take your bike to your local bike shop.

2) Take it to your bike co-op.

In either case, you’d probably feel better if you could describe your remaining problems or if you could name the parts of your bike that need a little love. Try this: Google “bicycle and anatomy,” and you’ll find tons of images and a particularly fun video called “Bicycle Anatomy for Beginners.” Five minutes later, you’re talking shop.

If you’ve figured out the name of the parts that are giving you trouble, and you can describe what they’re doing or not doing (slipping, getting stuck, feeling crunchy, squealing, etc.), try another Google search and see what comes up. You might nail it on your first try, or you might find some potential diagnoses to bring with you when you venture off to...

Your Local Bike Shop

If you have several in your town, try to pick the one that will best suit your needs and personality. Each shop caters to a special kind of clientele, and each will have it’s own social atmosphere. Know that during the warmer months, there will be a longer wait. Don’t be surprised either if there’s a two-week backlog of repairs. And know that retail is hard. Your local bike shop staff members are probably overworked, underpaid, and a little stressed out. If they say your repairs cost more than the value of your bike so you might as well get a new one, you don’t have to take them up on it, but do realize that it’s an honest answer based upon what THEY are set up to do. If it comes down to that, thank them for their help and take your bike to...

Your Bike Co-op

Bike co-ops are strange and wonderful places where you can work on your own bike, get help from someone who’s there out of the goodness of their heart, and find all sorts of weird old parts. Co-ops come in different flavors—from church basement styles to fancy storefronts—but generally, be prepared:

  • For a very busy and chaotic scene. Most are operating under the normal nonprofit conditions of having too few volunteers and not enough space. Just ask around for a volunteer or staff person who can help you get oriented and situated.

  • To do the work yourself. If you’re not interested in getting your hands dirty and spending a few hours working in a tool shop, bike co-ops are not for you. Bike co-ops are great places for trying new approaches, breaking things, and building stuff. Co-ops do their best to provide you with as much volunteer support as possible, but you may have to be patient or work on your own for a little while. Co-ops may not be able to help you or provide you with everything and may end up referring you back to a local shop for a new part that they can’t get donated. At least you won’t have to pay for labor, and if it comes to that recommendation, it’s because it’s something you need, since co-ops don’t profit from your repairs.

  • To work among a diverse crowd of people and personalities. Bike co-ops attract a great cross-section of the local population, which makes for a fun party most of the time. Misanthropes should probably stay home, though.

Now your bike is in great shape! You took care of some basics at home, learned about its parts, figured out your repair issues, visited a local bike shop or co-op and took care of the bigger repairs. You feel like a champ for learning new things and for confidently rolling into situations armed with knowledge and the willingness to do the work yourself. You can even explain how to do some of those repairs to someone else, which you’ll have ample opportunity to do if you visit your bike co-op again.

Evan P. Schneider