Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fix it yourself

The clacking sound of stone on metal was unmistakable.

I grabbed my brakes and turned to see if the guy needed help as he continued slamming the grapefruit-size rock on the top of his old quill stem. He was a working guy—battered old department-store mountain bike, jeans, ball cap and a too-warm jacket that had seemed like a good idea hours nine or 10 hours earlier in the morning chill. He had the look of a guy just trying the whole riding-to-work thing. And now his stem was working loose from his old threaded headset during the afternoon commute.

“Need a tool?” I asked as I rolled up.

“Nah, I think this’ll work,” he said. “I’m only a couple miles from home.”

“I’ve got a hex wrench that’ll fix that.”

“Oh, ya do?” he said. “That’d be awesome!”

With so many new bike commuters on the trails this summer, there are a lot of people out there relying on luck. Many of them carry no tools, no spare tube, no pump. One minor breakdown and they’re either walking home, or calling for a ride.

The bike preacher in me wants to climb on a pulpit and give them all a sermon about self-reliance on the trail. I’m thrilled whenever I look up the trail at “rush hour” and see a few riders with daypacks or rack trunks, but it pains me to see someone pushing a bike with a flat tire because they didn’t bother to carry supplies—or learn to use them.

When I started mountain biking 20 years ago, I made a point of knowing trail repairs. Spending a few dollars on tools and reading a couple of good articles on how to keep my bike rolling gave me the mechanical confidence to enjoy riding not only to work, but into mountains and deserts.

It’s a good feeling to stand at a trail junction in the middle of nowhere and make a decision based only on the map and your food supply. That’s no time to suffer doubts because you don’t know how to amputate a derailleur, splice a broken chain, boot a torn sidewall or fix a simple flat.

The same thing applies in town. Riding to work becomes more fun when you don’t need to worry about a 5-mile commute turning into 2-mile ride followed by a 3-mile walk.

If you’ve been riding awhile, offer to show a newbie how to change a flat and repair a chain. Give them advice on buying a spare tube, tire levers, an air pump and multi-tool for tightening loose bolts.

With gas prices so high, this summer is the best recruiting opportunity we’ve ever seen. It’s time to expand the cult.

Let’s get ’em to drink the Kool-Aid.


lemmiwinks said...

I was riding home one afternoon after work along the bike path (I don't normally take the path, but I felt like it that day.) There was a woman standing beside an elderly steel frame 10 speed ladies bike looking slightly perplexed. I circled back and asked if she needed a hand.

Turns out that the "funny handling" she had thought might have been caused by a rear wheel that was out of line, was actually two nearly flat tyres. I whacked 70psi in each one and off she went, delighted.

It's a nice feeling to help out a fellow cyclist, I recommend it to anyone!

Jeff Moser said...

I've often wondered about new possibilities in a biking dominated future. Will people like us be in big demand? Kind of like a roaming OnStar service for bikes? I'd like to think so. And then I could quit working on stupid computers...

Grill Meister said...

A number of years back, Broken Toe Joe, myself and another fellow were on a hunting trip about 11 miles up the Resurrection trail. It was a perfect 4 day biking and camping trip and we came back with our packs full of Caribou.

We were riding back to Hope when we crossed paths with a man and his son that were staying at one of the cabins for a week. They rode in on bikes that I would've been concerned that they might not make it across town much less up Resurrection and without any tools. When we stopped and chatted, the man asked if we had any tools and could we look to see if his derailleur could be fixed. It had been shifted into the spokes and was nearly torn off. Needless to say it was toast.

He was shocked when I whipped out my multi-tool, removed the derailleur, shortened the chain and made it a one-speed, all in about 5 min. When he thanked me he said, "I had no idea you could do that!"