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Thoughts on a Well-Oiled Machine

The weekend went by in a rush, but thankfully the time I stood in front of the Park Tool stand seemed to last the longest. There were lots of things that needed to get done. With the cold weather and the hose long since put away, the bikes were in disrepair, a little dirty and dry from the mud on the trails and the salt on the roads.

Time at the repair stand is time well spent, at least between bouts of uncertainty that is. How do I do this? Where does this go? What does this derailleur screw adjust? I’m still in the learning phase, but that is part of why I enjoy the bikes so much. There is so much to experience, so much to learn.

Doing my own repairs has been a labor of love for me that I started not so long after I purchased my first good road bike. I have come to believe that it’s in one’s best interest to buy the best they can afford, and that quality things can be worked on and fixed. We live in a disposable economy where cheap and working is better than expensive and lasting. It’s important to make things last, and there is no better way to make good things last that by knowing how to maintain them. This comes at the cost of also buying the right tools which should of course be quality ones to ensure money well spent. I’m not even sure it’s okay to buy a cheap tire lever.

My grease monkey education started with lubing the chain and keeping the bike clean and free from mud. I slowly found that less is more, but that you always need enough. Keeping the grime out of the drivetrain keeps your cassettes and chainrings lasting much longer. Neglect costs money in the long run.

I learned over time to wrap my own bar tape, so that the salty, corrosive sweat from long summer days out on the road didn’t ruin the aluminum bars underneath. It took a while, but slowly I figured out how to maneuver around the shifters and not need the extra sticky little bits to cover the gaps. I am a figure 8 guy myself, if you wondered.

From there, I moved on to adjusting the rear derailleur and fine tuning the shifting. I was able to really get the bikes dialed in after watching a few YouTube videos from Saul at Velotique. His oddly thoughtful, slow and methodical narrating style helped me immensely with the learning curve. As my bike collection grew, the adjustments moved on to other brands and even into electronic shifting.

Tires and wheelsets of all sorts found their way into my garage, and I learned how to install just about everything from clinchers, to tubeless tires, to even gluing up tubulars. The stains on the shop floor from the dried-up latex sealant are a constant reminder that I need to mop up and get my act together a little more. That and the growing number of Panaracer tires and inner tubes that are strewn all about are starting to make me think that I have a small problem.

Chains, cassettes, cranksets and bottom brackets came next along with the ultrasonic cleaner and the installation tools. Slowly the tool box became full of useful things, some that have only one purpose and one purpose alone. Occasionally an old friend stops by to have their pedals swapped out or to have their cassettes swapped. The little things.

When I am out on the road at twilight, I worry less and less each season that I will be stranded and not know how to fix something that goes bad on the road. I can adjust the calipers or swap a tire, faster and faster than ever before. I can hear the bike and know where noises are springing from as I hurtle down the road.

I appreciate my local shop. I just prefer not to run to them every time I need something fixed. I save their expertise for when I need a major part installed (like eTap) or something like cables which I can do but hate to mess with. I even learned how to bleed my brakes because I would rather spend $75 on the kit that will last forever than to spend $50 to get someone else to do it for me once.

By learning to work on the bike, I have grown to appreciate the care that each bike deserves. The more I lay my hands on each, the more I see the little things that can eventually lead to bigger problems. As I clean and lube the bikes, I can hear the bearings groaning under load or the discs scratching the disc brake pads. As I turn the pedals and shift through the gears I can hear the little clicks and thumps from the chain. I work on the barrel adjuster until I can hear the beautiful hum of a well-oiled machine.


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