Guest Article: What You Don’t Know Will Eventually Kill You
@prowrench is throwing down the greasy gauntlet. There is truth in his words. We already understand the gap between the professional cyclist and us civilians extends somewhere over the horizon. We can ride the bikes, wear nice kit and ride the race routes but that’s about as close as we can get. No one is paying us to ride. We are not Pros. But we can work on our own bikes can’t we?
Please also see the required supplemental reading, All You Bike Pricks.
You got a new bike a few years ago and something magical happened. You realized that when your legs aren’t languishing under a desk at the office or basking under the blue glare of the television that, by some unknown miracle, they can propel you to astounding speeds on your bicycle. You took heart, rode some more and you got quick. You joined a club, subscribed to every magazine and every blog, you learned The Rules and quickly ascended to the ranks of the initiated cyclist. Good for you!
You, the tinkerer, are one savvy fellow. You have examined the simple steed beneath you and with your god given mechanical prowess turned a few screws, fiddled with some barrel adjusters, squirted some lube here and there and tamed a few squeaks and calmed the wild mis-shifts that embarrassed you in front of your friends. You maintain your bike, your brother-in-law’s bike, your neighbor’s bike and the kids’ bikes from the neighborhood. Fueled with a few small successes and powered by the unlimited knowledge bestowed upon you by YouTube University and several forums you are now an expert mechanic. You can turn a wrench with the best of them…right?
Let me introduce you to an idea that may not have crossed your mind: You can’t.
Before you take offense, lend me your ear and I will try to help you to comprehend the vastness of all that you don’t know. As a professional mechanic of 12 years, I would like to introduce you to the subject of bicycle maintenance repair from the point of view of the greasy handed elitists who you have come to defy and will avoid paying at all costs.
Every morning I wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed and go to work; just like you. When I get to work, however, I am greeted by the aroma of tires and a spacious shop filled with expensive specialty tools and all manner of bikes. From the wobbly beginners’ bike to the bike you wish you had but probably never will, I work on them all, every day. Your hobby is my bread and butter.
I have installed thousands upon thousands of tires and tubes and threaded countless cables through more shifters and brake levers than you can begin to imagine. I have turned a million spoke nipples and skillfully negotiated the careful equilibrium of the perfectly trued wheel more times that you have tied your shoes. I remember to meticulously check the tension of every nut and bolt on your bike with precisely calibrated torque wrenches: a thought that you wish had occurred to you and a tool you wish you had. I wrap handlebars with confidence and great care so that the tape overlaps with an even, artful twist and tightens as you grip it instead of unraveling after your first few rides. I obsessively position every component just as it ought to be because every bike deserves to be in tip top shape and it is my livelihood to make it so.
I know you think you understand how your bike works. How hard could it be right? There is nothing hidden. Your bicycle sits before you baring all and yet you could take your bike to your neighborhood shop right now and they could find a thousand things wrong with it and just as many ways to charge you in order to fix it. There is a reason for that and the explanation is on its way.
It has taken me years to hone the skills involved in my craft. I can hear when your rear derailleur hanger is out of alignment by a degree or two and that has only come after listening to thousands of derailleurs ticking away in my work stand. You may as well be stone deaf when it comes to that. I know that dropping your front derailleur a millimeter or so and twisting it out just a hair will help it decisively slam and lock your chain to the big ring in the blink of an eye. You might as well be trying to pilot a spacecraft through an asteroid field with a blindfold on. The mechanics at your local shop have paid the price for the precious knowledge which you have supposed could come so easily. Rather than beleaguer you with further examples of how I am right and you are wrong, I will endeavor to make the process of outsourcing the sacred task of maintaining your bike a smooth and painless one.
Bridging The Gap
Successfully communicating with your local mechanics will be key to finding happiness in this process. Mechanics are a fickle bunch and if you haven’t figured it out by reading thus far, some of us might be a tad egotistical and maybe a touch insecure. I will do my best to set you up for success as you repent and and take your bike in for its first much needed, legitimate service.
First, take everything that you have come to know about working on bikes and stick it in your pocket. Mechanics know how to work on bikes and they don’t care much for hearing what you think it entails. From the moment the mechanic lays eyes on your bike, seeing your terrible attempt at wrapping bars, your grossly over lubed drivetrain or the hack job that you did running and ugly web of too long or too short cables and housing all over your bike, he will know, and it will go without saying, what it is that you have been up to. Don’t be too proud of your work because it will only result in heartbreak.
Second, bear in mind that time and expertise are never on closeout and it will cost you to have the pros lay their hands on your beloved bike and resuscitate it to full health. It will be important for your mental well-being to consult with your cohorts and settle on a mechanic that everyone can agree bills repair work fairly and is worth the money that you’ll spend. Since you have been maintaining your bike, you have been letting basic things go through the cracks. The mechanic will want to fix all of these before you get your bike back so your first visit could cost a small fortune. Take heart though, because once this is out of the way, subsequent visits will consist of simple adjustments mainly and will be relatively inexpensive.
Thirdly and most importantly, be kind. I provide whatever service is due to every customer based on what they pay, even if they treat me like scum. For the nice customer however, I always go above and beyond. As the owner of my shop always says, “It is nice to be nice to the nice”. Kindness is currency but even more importantly, currency is currency. A little gratuity goes a long long way at the bike shop. Cash or beer are customary.
Taking your bike to the shop can be a hard step for the committed and self-assured home mechanic. Before the sum of what you don’t know piles up and results in your untimely mid-club-ride death, consider my words and come to the light! Hang up your mail order toy toolset and take your bike to the pros. You deserve it. Your bike deserves it. A-Merckx.