I spend a lot of time working on bikes. Even so, it is neither as much time as I would like playing with bikes and wrenches, nor as much time as I need to. There is a bike to assemble with the new Dura-Ace, tubulars that need gluing, a review bike that needs to be adjusted to my fit, wheels to be packed … the list, like all lists, ends not.
With two young sons, I probably shouldn’t be spending any time in the garage at all. They would be served by me playing with them. So, admittedly, I’m torn. I’m torn because I honestly love that garage time. It used to be my chance to listen to music no one I lived with could stand. Of late, I’ve been listening to podcasts. This American Life, Fresh Air and On Being are in constant rotation, but I’ve been trying a few other cycling podcasts and branching out into things like Radiolab.
As a reviewer, I find it useful to assemble and work on all the parts that I review. I’ll also admit that because of my years as a shop wrench, I take a certain pride in being able to work on everything I encounter. If I walk into a shop, it is usually because I lack a tool, but there are, on occasion, those instances where something has stymied me, like the time a bike arrived without the crown race for the headset. It turned fine in the stand, but wouldn’t turn at all the moment you put any weight on the front wheel.
More and more riders I know don’t work on their bikes beyond lubing the chain or mounting new tires. On that, I’m fantastically ambivalent. I see a real value to knowing how your bike works and being able to step in and perform repairs while on a ride. Knowing how the bike works also makes a rider a better customer because it’s easier to have an informed conversation about service if you’re not arguing over whether or not dirty cables are contributing to lousy shifting. On the other hand, it’s in service that a shop lives or dies and given the transformation that bicycle retailing is undergoing, the one revenue source that can realistically continue unabated is service.
But how many and which tools does a home mechanic need to own? I went many years without owning a headset press. Just at the point I was ready to invest in one internal headsets became a thing and owning one became, for a while, much less necessary. Then I started riding steel and ti again, and these press-in bottom brackets became a thing. As a result, I’ve used a headset press five times this year, which isn’t a lot in the grand scheme, but I went more than 10 years without needing one, so this is a big change.
I find myself thinking about where I would draw the line between work I perform myself and work I’d rely on one of my local shops to do if I didn’t justify doing work myself as part of my job. Just what would I want to turn over? I like tuning drivetrains. I hate truing wheels because I no longer have the fluid feel for it I once did. I find great satisfaction in adjusting disc brakes—when I get the desired result. I hate it when I need to deal with a warped rotor. I love getting a bike ready for a big ride, but I hate switching out any part that might affect my fit.
My sons like bikes. They seem, like me, to dig bikes as mechanisms as well as for where they might take them. The Deuce, who is not yet four, has a sense of bike maintenance and wants to pump up the tires on his tricycle before every ride. He is adamant about this step. Professional needs aside, I plan to keep up my skills and knowledge so that I may teach my sons. It’s my hope that as they learn to work on their bikes they will gain an appreciation of what it means to care for a machine, how caring for it reflects your regard for a thing and informs your sense of what it means to invest yourself in a pursuit.
Taking care of my bike taught me deep lessons about how to take care of myself.
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