This year, I started cycling regularly for the first time since I was a kid. Growing up, I used to spend every afternoon on my bike, exploring the nearby neighborhoods. After a few months back, it’s easy for me to remember what I loved so much about the hobby.
This summer I’ve explored areas of my city that I never knew existed, and each ride I continue to find more. Speeding down the road on just two wheels is an incredibly exhilarating feeling, and every week I continue to push myself to go even faster. It’s impossible for me to be in a bad mood for long while I’m on my bike.
Despite all that, I actually find myself hoping that my bike breaks. Why would I possibly wish for something like that?
Because I’ve discovered that working on my bicycle is nearly as fun as riding it.
Learning Bicycle Maintenance
As a kid, I never learned how to do any bicycle maintenance more complex than adjusting the height of the seat. Even for something as simple as a flat tire, my parents would just take the bicycle to a local bike shop to have a new tube installed.
So, as I started riding a bicycle again this year, I had no clue how to maintain it. Thankfully, there were millions of YouTube videos to help. (I’ve found two popular channels particularly helpful: Global Cycling Network and Park Tool.)
I was beginning with no knowledge at all of how a bicycle worked, so I started by learning the bare basics of keeping my bike maintained: cleaning the bike and cleaning/lubricating the chain. These skills were easy to learn an implement.
For a while, I thought that was all I’d need to learn. Then, I got my first flat. Miles away from my home. It was a long walk back.
The next day, I researched what had gone wrong and how to fix it. I learned that I had been under-filling my tires, which made pinch flats more likely. I also learned exactly how to take off my wheel, remove the tire, and replace the tubes.
I bought two new tubes (one to keep as a spare), and went right to work replacing my flat.
My biggest surprise when I changed the flat was how easy the entire process was. I’m so unfamiliar with bicycles that I just assumed little things would go wrong as I tried to fix the flat. I expected to struggle with removing the wheel from my bike, or maybe getting the tire back on. Instead, every single step of the process went smoothly.
That’s when I discovered how satisfying it could be to do my own bicycle repair and maintenance. As I went on my next ride (this time with a spare tube in my saddlebag), it felt great to know that I had fixed the problem entirely on my own. It’s a wonderful feeling to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
From then on, I’ve actually looked forward to any chance I get to do work on my bicycle, whether big or small.
More Complex Repairs
My biggest repair came just this month. I had gone on a 51 mile bike ride — my longest yet — which formed a giant loop around nearly my entire city. It was an incredibly fun ride, passing through wetlands, following a river, and going through neighborhoods that I had never visited before. I even saw my first muskrat.
As I got to the end of my ride though, the pedals seemed to be getting loose. I was close enough to home that I finished the ride, and then I set to work figuring out what was going wrong.
What had felt like loose pedals was actually the entire crankset loosening. This lead me down a giant rabbit hole of YouTube videos, because there are a variety of different types of cranksets and reasons they could be loose.
The process of researching what was wrong was fun in itself, because it was a chance to learn about all kinds of different bicycles, and not just my own.
I finally discovered that my problem was a loose bottom bracket. It was another easy enough fix once I knew what to look for (and bought the right tool), but it taught me plenty about my crankset through the process. Now I know how to fix a loose bottom bracket, and several other things that could go wrong with the crankset.
For me, learning about bicycles is fun in its own right. In addition to all the obvious benefits that bicycling has provided me, it has also given me a chance to improve my mechanical skills. Instead of dreading my next mechanical problem, I’m actually looking forward to facing it.