Following my recent travails, I decided I ought to learn something about maintaining my bike. From my research, it became clear that there’s a gap in the market for a short, hands-on course for duffers wanting to do basic stuff, without getting into anything that requires special tools and equipment. There’s a difference between owning a few allen keys and a spanner or two and having the full workshop equipment needed to calibrate, remove and fit certain parts.
So I was faced with a choice between a two-day practical training course for £2-300 and a one-hour Evans Fix-It course, costing £15. As I can’t even hang a picture on the wall without getting out every single tool I own, Fix-It was for me.
Other bike shops are available. I know that Evans have their detractors and they are a chain, but they actually fit in with my philosophy as a trustworthy brand who does something for the mass market that a more “artisan” set-up wouldn’t be able to do. They go with Banette bakeries and Illy coffee in my mind. What I like about Evans is that they do try to put things on for their local communities, and I think these Fix It courses are part of that.
It was due to start at nine (Saturday morning in the Milton Keynes store), but although I think all three of the course-takers were present by 9:15 at the latest, it was a bit after that before the manager of the store came out and gathered us all. This gave me rather too much time to wander around the shop dreaming about the Bianchi Infinito.
Being a man who hates to ask directions, I was apprehensive about being on such a course, but I needn’t have worried. If the manager felt contempt for his audience, it was well hidden. Actually, the two other participants seemed to be of a similar age to me. One guy had recently bought an obviously expensive road bike; the other was riding a hybrid with a wobbly wheel; and there was me, with my entry-level+ road bike.
The course takes you quickly through the basics: fixing a flat, adjusting brakes, cleaning the bike and components, and (the bit I was really interested in) making adjustments to the gears. Like me, you’re probably thinking that much of this stuff would be irrelevant, but I actually picked up some useful snippets even on the tyre-changing side of things. As for the gears, I’ve kind of realised where I went wrong, and I now know my limitations. My recent rear mech disaster may well have had more to do with metal fatigue than anything else. I suspect the state of the roads had as much to do with it as my ineptitude.
It was well well-paced, friendly, and my overall impression was that, far from feeling contempt for the participants, there was a genuine acknowledgement that the modern bicycle is a vexatious beast that it going to be constantly throwing its toys out of the pram. Years ago, my old steel-framed Raleigh touring bike with Campagnolo gears seemed to go on forever, and nothing much ever seemed to go wrong with it. I swapped the front fork when it cracked, and I replaced worn brake pads, and that was it. But the manager/trainer pointed out that modern, lightweight components are not designed to last that long, and that they are in fact engineered to be regularly replaced. He said that Shimano claim their brake cables should be replaced every 30 days (!). Obviously nobody does that, but there are other components that will just wear out over a few thousand miles. This is not the sort of thing I would ever replace myself, as some bloggers do, but at least I know what to watch out for. It’s a racket, sure enough. No sooner do you replace a cable than it starts to stretch and needs adjustment within a few days. As Roy said the other day, you buy something cheap and it’s basically a toy. You only have to watch the Tour de France to note just how often something mechanical can go wrong with a bike, even an expensive bike that has been maintained within an inch of its life, and was perfect when the rider set out on the stage.
As for cleaning my bike and degreasing, I feel sufficiently guilty about not doing it that I will get some degreaser and a brush in addition to the goodie bag supplied by Evans, which included bike cleaning spray, lube, a multitool, and a puncture repair kit. This was a pleasant surprise at the end of the course (which lasted just over an hour), making the £15 it cost really excellent value for money. My bike doesn’t get too dirty, because I only really ride in fair weather, but it’s obvious that the drive train gets gunked up with grit and dirt and I’ll save myself money in the longer term by cleaning it – and not with a pressure washer.
In short, a course like this is not for everyone. If you want a more hands-on experience, you’ll need to book a 2-day Cycle Tech course, or something similar. You’ll also need to invest in workshop kit. For myself, I’ll stick with Velotec and my LBS. As I said, there’s a gap somewhere in the middle where you’d get your hands dirty for a half-day and do some of this yourself, on your own bike, with a friendly instructor to talk you through the process, but the Evans Fix-It course is a great idea and I’d recommend it to all duffers, young and old.
- Back on the old bike (frequentlyarsed.wordpress.com)