On Bicycle Maintenance and Limitations

Some food for thought for those who believe that all cyclists must do their own maintenance and repairs: Not everybody has the physical strength for it. I've lately spoken to several persons who have sheepishly admitted this, and were then relieved to hear that I have the same problem. My personal weak point is lack of hand and upper body strength, which can result in difficulties with even routine tasks.  For example, I am not always able to open the quick release levers on wheels. On some bikes it's easy, but on other bikes I simply can't - no matter how hard I pull.  Similarly, tires can be difficult to get off the rim: With some wheel and tire combinations I can work the tire iron until I am red in the face, but it won't budge and the tire refuses to come off. It is frustrating, because with many bicycle repair tasks I can give precise step-by-step instructions to someone else, but just can't physically do the work myself. And it's even more frustrating to watch the Co-Habitant do in 2 seconds what took me 10 minutes of panting not to be able to do.

From the correspondence I get, I know that there are cyclists out there who feel sad when they read unkind remarks on bicycle websites about those who don't do their own maintenance. If bicycle repair is easy for you, that's super. But please keep in mind that it is not easy for everybody. After all, just because knitting and sewing are easy for me, does not mean that everyone who buys their clothes ready-made is "just being lazy." Some people have arthritis, others have a bad back, others still are simply not strong enough - or even not dextrous enough - to work on their own bicycle. In areas where cycling is more common, this is acknowledged as "normal" and people are not expected to repair their own bikes unless they are enthusiasts. But in the US there is often an "oh please!" mentality when a cyclist mentions that they don't work on their own bicycle.

The way I see it, it is helpful to be aware of your limitations and to plan accordingly. If you can't repair a flat, accept it - and be prepared. Buy tires with good puncture protection. Know where all the bike shops are in the area where you travel, in case there is a problem and you need support. Know where the nearest subway, train and bus stations are. Carry a mobile phone, cash and a credit/debit card as a matter of course, in case you are stranded in the middle of nowhere and need to call a friend or a taxi to get you.  And most importantly, please don't feel bad if you can't do repairs on your own - you can certainly still ride a bike! We are all good at some things and bad at others, and there is not a thing wrong with that.


  1. I like working on my bike, but my hands are small and my upper body strength is...lacking. It's something I want to work on, though (well, I can't make my hands bigger), because I *hate* having to hand something over to another person just because I'm not strong enough. Especially if it means that I'm handing it off to a guy. Yeah, I know, it's just the genetic luck of the draw that, on average, they'll have more upper-body strength. But I like feeling self-sufficient.

    (I did learn some tricks for opening jars...I like never having to ask someone to help me open a jar!)

    On the other hand, if I can't get a tire off, and Shawn can't either, then I don't feel too bad, because it's obviously just stuck and it isn't me...I'm currently dealing with a tire that broke a plastic tire lever. I bought a set of steel levers today, I'm a bit nervous about using them though.

    The thing that drives me crazy is trying to get a bike into a work stand, because I have to lift it to shoulder height, and then somehow have a hand free for the clamp. I would really like to be able to do this without struggling.

    I should wait a month and buy some small weights off of someone giving up on their resolutions. Ten, fifteen pounds...that should be enough. :^)

    In terms of cycling around town as transportation, I totally agree with you. Yeah, it's nice to be able to do stuff yourself, but if you're in town you can catch a bus or call a taxi.

    But part of the reason I'm learning to do bicycle repairs and maintenance is for touring. When I'm with Shawn or a bunch of our friends, I know there's going to be someone there to help me out if I have a mechanical issue. But I'd really like to be able to go touring alone, and one of the reasons I haven't is the fear of having a mechanical failure and not knowing how to fix it. I don't think hitchhiking is as dangerous as most people are led to believe, but that doesn't mean I want to do it, especially with a bicycle and panniers to deal with. And if I pick a route specifically because there's not a lot of car traffic, I could be stranded for a while.

    Lastly, I get a kick out of helping other people when there's something wrong with their bike. When I see a cyclist on the side of the road having an issue, I always stop and ask if they need help...sometimes just an extra hand or someone to talk to is just as much help as anything.

    I totally didn't mean to write a novel. Ooops.

  2. First rule for maintenance, keep hair tied back away from moving parts or potential moving parts.

    I carry out my own repairs. I'm an engineer and have always worked on my cars etc. but many people, both men and women are not mechanically inclined. Others have absolutely no interest in cycle repair.

    I feel for anyone who would like to carry out their own repairs but can't, there will always some willing cyclist along who will offer to help.

  3. I not only work on vehicles that weigh 50 pounds or less, but sometimes on vehicles that weigh a ton or more. As I have arthritis, a bad back and lack the upper body strength of the co-habitant I'm obviously not manhandling 4 door Mercedes sedans into the air and then wrenching the tires off the rims with my bare hands.

    Nor do I care to. As there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, at least sometimes the problem with executing a repair is an issue of not having the appropriate tool.

    Take the issue of the quick release, for instance. You aren't lacking in strength, you are lacking in lever length. You are not the problem, the tool is. You can get a longer lever.

    Or with the repair stand issue, what is lacking is something to lift the bike for you. In effect the same issue of just not having a long enough lever. I used to have (before it got stolen from a storage garage) an antique painters easel that could handle a heavy bike with ease, because it did have the appropriate lever.

    In terms of knitting the reason I can't do it Continental Style is because, ummm, I'm lazy.

  4. Recall the alleged words of Archimedes:

    "Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I could move the world."

    If you find yourself low on strength, let science come to your rescue and give yourself more leverage. In the case of tire levers, if you aren't strong enough to use them at their normal length, just epoxy a longer handle on them. Sure, they will be a bit heavier, and you might not be able to carry them in a really small saddlebag, but they would be far more useable. As to quick release levers, if you can't use your foot and your body weight to manipulate them, it would be pretty simple to make a tool to make their use easier, something shaped vaguely like this:


    where you can hook the loop end around the fork and use the leverage of the handle to prise them loose or closed, depending on the direction in which you use the tool. Alternately, you could forego the quick release skewer and go back to a skewer held on with nuts, and just let your foot and a handy pair of vise grips do your tightening and loosening for you.

    With these and so many other things in life, it isn't a question of not being able to do something, it is a question of whether or not you have the right tool for you to do the job, and that tool is sometimes not the same tool that most other people would use.

  5. I have the same problem sometimes, Veloria. My left hand, in particular, is very weak. I find I can wrench apart most things, but I really have to work at it. My BF just drifts by and if I hand him that stuck jar or brake caliper or whatever, he just opens it with ease. It makes me so jealous!

    For me, the worst is opening the tops of screw-off-lid coffee cups. Like the Starbucks type commuter cups. They just don't open for me. Something about twisting with my hand open...

    Nerve damage is so interesting. Mostly I don't notice it, except for the pain/tingling in my fingers, then I go to open something and it's like my brain says "open" and my hands says "huh? What? What did you say?"

    I also get this response from my legs sometimes. Brain says "move" and the leg says "what? Oh, did you say move? Okay." The delay is very odd. This is why I don't have straps on my pedals. I can imagine sending the legs the message and having them say "what?" as I coast to a stop somewhere. Not good.

    Well, I figure I can't do everything, but I'm okay as long as I can do most things.

  6. Most tools are designed for a certain level of strength i.e the length of the QR lever. If you had pieces of tubing of various diameters that could be used slip over and lengthen levers/wrenches then the strength required is reduced. Slip over a piece of tube twice the length of the QR lever halves the force required to use it.

    Putting on/taking off tires? Use a tool like this Var tire lever

    Levers, wedges and pulleys: Brain not Brawn.

  7. I am a qualified bike mechanic, although that's not what I do for a living, but when it comes to overhauling bottom brackets I take my bikes to a shop - not because I don't know how to do it, or lack the tools, or for that matter the hand strength. I've got a very dodgy back, though, have had to have surgery on it, and the last time I went to remove the BB cups - which can take a fair bit of wrenching after a winter's worth of riding - I ended up needing £120 in physiotherapy and was off the bike for a fortnight.

    Somebody else can take that risk...

    Everything else I do myself and always carry a few tools with me in my saddlebag - since my bikes are pretty well maintained, they generally get used to help out those I come across stranded along the road, and I am always pleased to do so; it's just good to see people out there riding.

  8. Well the bike mechanics need to eat too.

    Sometimes it is better/cheaper to have somebody else do the work for you.
    I would have no problem replacing the transmission in my car but, I take it to a shop for an oil change.

  9. april - The gender thing can get complicated. I've never defined myself in relation to men, so I experience no feelings of resentment towards them when they help me with things, and, likewise, no victorious feelings when I help them with things. Men are just like us normal people really, even if they are a bit weird : )

    Anon 4:08 - Working together, the Co-Habitant and I can do most of our own mechanics at this point. We stop short of BB overhauls and (new) headset installations, for precisely the reason you described.

  10. One thing I've learned - I don't have to worry about over-tightening wheel nuts, it's just not going to happen with me at the other end of a spanner.

    This idea that you have to maintain your own bike is just another barrier to bike ownership & one that cyclists are putting up themselves. Why? Sure, one of the beauties of a bike is that you can learn to fix it yourself, but that doesn't mean you HAVE to. And if we want our local bike shops to be there when we do have something complicated to do, it might help if we patronised them the rest of the year (or at least didn't patronise the people who chose to do it that way).

  11. There are some rim/tyre combinations which make fixing a flat tyre easier. I think in general a higher quality tyre is easier to deal with when fixing a flat. For example, Delta Cruisers seem to behave very well, especially when going on and off Westwood rims.

  12. Mr Colostomy said...
    "There are some rim/tyre combinations which make fixing a flat tyre easier. ...For example, Delta Cruisers seem to behave very well, especially when going on and off Westwood rims."

    That combination definitely works for me as well. I can remove those with my hands alone, no tire iron needed.

    "...I think in general a higher quality tyre is easier to deal with when fixing a flat."

    But no, I would not say that. I've had trouble with other high quality tires, such as 28-32mm Panaracer Paselas. I suspect it may have to do with the width of the tire and the form of the rim - regardless of the quality of either.

  13. I am a reasonably strong (though old) person can do my own maintenance. In fact, I even have the tools to do so, but sometimes I just don't want to. And if that's the case, I have no problem engauging assistance of the local bike shop. It's good to develop rapport with a bike mechanic. Although changing tires and fixing flats is something I do, getting a bead over a rim can be very frustrating. I have broken many plastic tire irons on tough tires. That said, I do thing fixing flats is a very important skill for a transportational cyclist . . . even more so before the new, super tough tires came out. But I have had a flat with high quality Schwalbe Marathon tire, though in that case, a huge nail (> 6") went in one side and out the other, and it's likely no amount of patching would have fixed that one. The rear wheels on upright bikes with hub brakes, chain guards and internal gearing would not be fun to remove on the side of the road. I sunny Portland, OR, I have seen AAA-like services for bikes. Wonder how fast they would have come to my rescue at 5AM? Thank goodness for the bus!

  14. Ah, I covered "not wanting to" here.
    It didn't go over too well : )

  15. @Velouria,

    I don't have a lot of experience with especially narrow tyres, but when I think about it, it makes sense that they would require a tighter fit. This would inevitably make them harder to fit regardless of their quality. Some of the easiest tyres I've fitted have been the most voluminous, such as the lovely Fat Frank made by Schwalbe.

  16. Velouria wrote:
    After all, just because knitting and sewing are easy for me, does not mean that everyone who buys their clothes ready-made is "just being lazy."

    Best quote! That's absolutely true and the perfect way to put it into perspective. I'm like the Co-habitant in that i'm wanting and willing to work on my wife's bike. she just wants to ride it. works for us. now, how to get her to start knitting me stuff...

  17. I'll acknowledge that I have large hands but there are times when I require the use of additional leverage. I keep a small length (about 7") of electrical conduit in my tool kit. It easily slides over my tire levers as well as hex wrenches and weighs nothing. Also good for stubborn quick releases on cold days when my hands are sensitive.

  18. On the other hand, a friend of mine is restoring her early 60's Mercedes. (The dreaded "fin-body" of poor access.) It's quite amusing to hear another male friend tell her she will need a special tool or to remove something she has already replaced to take somthing else off, only the watch a small hand and a slim arm reach where no man thought possible!

  19. > the dreaded "fin-body" Mercedes

    My father loves those!

    It's true that there is some advantage to having small hands.

    JPTwins - I've actually never knitted anything for him, poor dear : ( I guess I better start!

  20. My bike mechanic is just better at this stuff, I can and have done most things in the past including taking of the back wheel of my gazelle with chain case to replace the tyre it took me hours and in the end it worked after having to readjust the mudguards brakes but it never seems to run as smoothly and efficiently as when he does it. So I took it in and for fifteen pounds he sorted everything so it runs like new in future I am just going to get him to do it.

  21. There is a lot to what Steve says. For some people, working on the bike is half of the hobby, and I'd encourage continuing to do so. However, as a former bike mechanic with quite a few years of experience, I will say that there are very few diy types who are able to keep their bikes functioning optimally. This includes a lot of people with a high level of confidence in what they are doing. It's not that bikes are incredibly complex, but there is a certain amount of finesse that comes with doing something over and over again. So if your goal is to have fun working on your bike, to foster a new skill set, or even save money, then go for it. If you want your bike to function at its best and spend more time riding, then an occasional trip to the shop isn't such a bad thing.

    As for the whole tire lever thing...there are just some combinations that shouldn't be used. If the tire doesn't come off relatively easily, then the tire/rim combination shouldn't be used. Using a stronger lever, or longer lever arm, is just an invitation for problems, especially if you have to change a tube on the road.

  22. If a person of normal hand strength cannot open a quick release, that quick release is too tight. It's a cam fergoshsake and being less than rock solid at end of travel is fine. Tell your mechanic to stop overdoing it.
    Possibly, conceivably, overtightening QRs can lead to early failure. At least it causes cam wear and it is the cam that keeps you safe.

    Tires is a different story. The aluminum levers Velo-Orange sells are helpful and antique Brooks are very good if you ever find them. Some combinations are hard for anybody.

    The name is John Wilson & I'm only anonymous 'cause I don't get this Blogger protocol I fill out next.

  23. lukeofny- Thanks! from the bottom of my bike industry heart. It's true we need to eat, too.

    I always tell people you should only work on your own bike if you think it's fun or satisfying or you like tinkering. It'll never be worth your time if you don't like to do it.

    If you do like it and want to know more, ask your friendly neighborhood bike mechanic! There are some of us out here who are happy to share the knowledge and love. Support your LBS and we'll support you. (You can't get that from Nashbar/VO/Performance/etc.)

    *steps off soapbox*

  24. I stubbornly insist on doing all my bike work myself! My boyfriend helpfully suggests taking it to a shop and have a professional true the wheel or adjust the brakes, but I KNOW that if I try a little harder that I can do it, and the thought of paying someone $40 that I don't have just kills me!

    Luckily I live near a bike co-op, where there are stands, every tool imaginable, and knowledgeable mechanics on hand to guide me whenever I need help. So doing-it-myself is doable and safe, since I am not a lone wolf trying to figure things out myself.

    I get a kick when people are obviously impressed that I change my tires myself (although it's a pain to get them off!). I built the whole damn bike, but WOW I can fix a flat!

    I do also sew EVERY article of clothing except socks and shoes, and have only recently started buying bread instead of making it. It's a personal challenge that is exhausting, and I wouldn't hold anyone else to my standards!

  25. I have been a bike mechanic for over thirty years, and this is why (among other reasons). Many people do not want to, some people can not, and (truly) most people should not work on their own bikes. It's okay. I (and other fine wrenches) will be happy to take care of it for you. Cheers. Val

  26. I don't do the maintenance on my car, either. As an engineer I understand the fundamentals of how a bicycle works, but as long as I can afford it my LBS does all the adjustments on my bikes. My husband can and does build up his own bikes, but he still takes them to the experts to finish them. We end up saving money and time in the long run because bike mechanics assure that all the parts are working together properly and we know that the bikes are fitted properly for our bodies, decreasing our chances of chronic injuries.

  27. "It's true we need to eat, too."

    And so did my wife and daughter, so when your bike needs a repair, please; think of the children.


    The ruination of what was once perfectly good food.

  28. I *can* do almost all of the repairs I really need to do on a regular basis, but I really don't have any great desire to do them. I can change a flat and patch a tube and even remove cotters and replace them, but with the tools I have available and the space I have available to do it in, it's tedious and I would much rather just walk it over to the bike shop and have them do it.

    The problem I have here, is there are a select few bike shops who, when you bring in a bike with cottered cranks, rod brakes or a full chain case, don't look at you like you just brought in a horse cart or something. We even had one shop break my wife's Electra Amsterdam while trying to replace the tube in the rear tire. That was awesome. Thank God for Clever Cycles - best service ever in the whole world (or at least in Portland). The only unfortunate thing is that they are a couple miles away, so if I have a problem at home, it's a 40 minute walk over there.

    I think this will probably change some as it becomes more common for the "average" person to use a bicycle for transportation. I mean, nobody *expects* to have to do their own maintenance on a car, right? Some people do, because they enjoy it or they can't afford shop fees, but the majority just take it to the shop.

  29. Love your blog!

    All I can say is thank goodness for Bike Assist:


  30. There was a time not to long ago I could field strip any bicycle with a pair of large pliers and medium screwdriver.

    But alas due to failing health I can no longer even change a flat out. It took me a bit to get over my stubbornness to let others work on my bikes so I could at least ride them.

  31. It took me a good ten years to figure out that just because I couldn't manage to fit my tire onto my rim, didn't mean I couldn't do other bike maintenance. My one bike at the time had a rim/tire combination that was very nearly impossible to manage. I've since found that it really depends on the rims and tires.

    I also found out about tire levers, or "bead jacks", which will help provide leverage for replacing reluctant tires. Someone mentioned them above. I keep one in my home toolbox and if I'm on a bike with a tricky set of wheels, I take it with me.

    The other thing that Holly and I find useful is a small visegrip pliers, for opening and closing recalcitrant quick-releases. In our case it's the QR for the seatpost of the Christiania, since we share the trike and have to move the seat up and down a lot. This is the same logic as carrying a small length of pipe, although I like the pliers because they can come in handy for other things too, like adjusting sticky barrel adjusters, and so on.

    I agree with Val that mechanics are a great benefit, and you should be happy to hire them! But I will say that for years, when I brought my impossible tire/rim combination into the shop to get a flat fixed, I would be told that I should learn to do it myself. No hints, no help, no pointing out that Continental tires and Sun Rhino rims were a particularly tough pair -- just that I should "learn to deal."

    I have since found some better mechanics! And some better tire/rim combinations.


  32. Peppy (the amazing opposable thumb cat)January 14, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    I got pretty comfortable with all sorts of rim/tyre related issues. It's definitely technique, and not strength. If you're breaking levers, try a different tool on that particular combination. My fav is the "quickstick," that thing is awesome. Do not force. Never force, think--why is the tyre not sitting/coming off?

  33. I do all my own service and custom work. I was blessed with talent, something I appreciates more now that before. Ive met ppl, men even, who can´t even understand how to fix a simple thing on a bike. Its just not in their nature to figgure it out. I used to think everyone could if they tried, but it aint so! Some are good at this other that! And its no shame in it! Don´t try if u feel you wont enjoy it, then you will do a bad job, and maight end up paying more for it later!

  34. I have Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires on my Raleigh, and the bead is so tight, I can barely get the last little bit on and off the rim *with* tire irons (I broke one of them once). One of the reasons I'm not a big fan of doing something which is theoretically extremely simple, but can be quite a physical challenge in reality.

  35. I have really strong hands, and I still can't get tires off sometimes...some of them just hold on for dear life.

    As far as the quick release levers, if you carry a short length of copper or steel pipe that is wide enough to fit over the release you can get a whole lot more leverage.

    The same trick works for anything you need leverage on, you can slip a piece of pipe over a wrench and the longer the pipe, the more leverage you get.

    Also local bike shops need business so don't feel bad about building a relationship with one :)

  36. Best mechanic I ever knew was George Noyes. Google him, he's famous. George began at age 12, was a full-time shop mechanic at 14, on the road as a team mechanic at 17.
    George was a skinny, spindly, short 12-year-old. Not a lot of strength. And he was the best as soon as he began. Bicycle mechanics is not about strength.

    Bicycle parts are small. Older bikes and cheaper bikes and most bikes use a wide variety of aluminum and steel alloys and many of them are marginal. Please do not use cheater bars, extension handles, "longer levers" unless you have a lot of knowledge about what you are doing. A lot of bike mechanics is about freeing small bits that are frozen, and about deforming or bending lowgrade metal. It is not always easy to know where all the force is going when you start pushing hard. Constantly used service parts, including QR levers, should NOT be set up so they must be forced. QRs are engineered very conservatively, they will take a lot of abuse, and they will also work fine with the force generated by a female hand. Or a childs' hand.

  37. I recommend carrying a white hanky in case you need roadside repairs.

  38. kfg: I learned English-style too. I made myself learn Continental but it feels so awkward, and I feel like I'm going to drop stitches! I know it well enough to teach it to others and do two-handed fair isle, but I mostly knit English-style.

    Mike McLennan: OMFG I have to have one of those. Thanks for the link!

    Velouria: I don't think I "define myself in relation to men," I'm not even sure I know what that means. I mean, I like to wear skirts and dresses, but I like men who wear skirts and dresses, so I'm not sure that counts.

    I do know that most bike mechanics are men, and that it's been my experience that because I'm a woman I'm assumed by many people to not know much about fixing my bike (this is changing in many circles, which makes me happy), and so I resent having to get a man to do something because I feel like I'm reinforcing a stereotype that already affects me.

    I mean, just recently I had a guy assume that the reason I don't use clipless pedals is because my boyfriend doesn't like them. Because after all, I'm incapable of doing research and thinking and making a decision on my own.

    I'm quite pleased to see so many people say, "If you want to do it there's a way, you need better tools." And it's true that the right tool and technique can overcome a lot. For instance, at my old apartment we had a long heavy pedal wrench. I was trying to change out a pedal and it just would NOT come loose. I called a friend, and he had me get a roommate to stand in front of my bike, straddling the front wheel, putting one foot on the other pedal on the 3 o'clock position. On the other side, I had the pedal wrench on the pedal and I stood on the wrench with my foot. Voila! It came loose! It was all a matter of getting enough leverage.

    Other things that help: grease! It is so much easier to get nuts tightened up enough when they're greased. It also makes it much much easier to get it off again later. If I can't get a nut loose, I can put lube in it and let it sit for a while and come back to it.

    For the record: When I drove, I did none of the maintenance on it. It didn't interest me at all. I drove to the local place to get my oil changed when the sticker in my window said it was time. Near the end I learned how to check my oil levels and top them off because my car was both leaking and burning oil, and I had often had to add another quart every time I got gas! But car mechanics hold zero interest to me.

  39. Thank you for this, Velouria. Much like yourself, I have nerve damage in both of my hands that prevents me sometimes from even the most basic of tasks like opening the quick release, getting a tire off of a particularly tight rim, so on. Also have some chronic pain/inflammation and shoulder/back injuries that keep me from doing a lot of my own work these days.

    It's embarrassing to me, because I used to enjoy doing my own work, but I've too often found myself frustrated to tears by my own inability. Just the other day I was trying to get one of my housemates to teach me how to properly tighten down my threadless headset, and discovered I don't have the hand/upper-body strength to test it properly, something my housemate couldn't fathom! I still do some of my own repairs/parts-swapping/etc, but I leave tasks that require strength to more able bodies and hands. Not worth the tears or the aching body, generally speaking.

    I'm a knitter/sewer/writer myself :)

    So enjoy your blog, and have enjoyed your documentation of your journeys thru bicycling (not just physical travels, but expanding your skills/stable, too!).

    Be well,

  40. I wouldn't stop to fix a flat if I were dressed professionally or pressed for time. I'd lock the bike and find a bus stop and return later to take care of it. Yea, besides a phone and knowledge of local transportation, always carry a lock for these occasions.

    But there are the situations when I am by myself and far from home. I do think it is useful to know how to do a few simple repairs and adjustments: fix a flat, adjust the breaks or derailleur (a turn of the screw), tighten the headset. That said, I do not feel compelled to do my own tune-ups or major repairs.

  41. As a bike mechanic - I posted a bit earlier - I would also say that if you keep your bike clean, and clean it regularly, something anybody can do, you are more likely to spot little faults before they become big ones;

    Also, if you go out on a road tour with a well serviced bike, and decent components, you are unlikely to have much go wrong other than a flat - and those really are pretty simple to service. Put Schwalbe marathon-plusses on and you're unlikely to flat.

    Like another poster, I am only anonymous because I too cannot figure out all the blogging profile business - I can field strip a hub, change the bearings, true a tyre between the forks, but I can't figure out the computer stuff; see, we all have our strengths and weaknesses!

  42. John Wilson (anonymous) has it right. You should be able to open and close the quick releases. They don't have to be supertight unless there's something wrong with your bike. Try this -- if someone's been working on your bike check to see if you can open the quick release. If you can't, use a tool like a pedal wrench to pry them open and loosen the nut.
    I think you just need longer tire levers. The Crank Brothers Speedlever works pretty well for me. Give it a try.

  43. Re quick releases: If you are talking about modern bikes with vertical dropouts you are correct, they only need enough clamping force to keep the wheel from dropping out. If you are talking about vintage bikes with horizontal dropouts, as pictured - not so much.

    The quick releases in those old bikes didn't weigh several times more than the modern ones because they didn't know how to make them lighter. They weighed more because they had to to take the loads on the skewer required to keep the wheel from shifting forward on the drive side. No little plastic faces on those puppies to keep from scratching the paint, but steel serrations which need to bite into the steel dropout faces.

    If you marine grease the threads of your BB cup (and everything else threaded for that matter) I have no idea why it would be any harder to take out than it was to put in, even after a couple of seasons of riding all winter.

    But yes, if you do nothing else on the bike yourself, keeping it clean and lubed will save you a ton of money at the shop, as well as save you from having your friendly and helpful mechanic swearing at you behind your back no matter how much he smiles at you to your face. It doesn't take any muscle to work a rag or a drip can.

    April - I come from a long line of skirt and dress wearing men. I consider the last dozen or so generations an anomaly and I'm just setting the record a bit straight again. If it was good enough for Emperors it's good enough for me.

  44. The bikes on which I have trouble with quick release levers are mostly vintage, and it is not a matter of overtightening - just seems to be how they are. My hand strength is below average, so that plays into it as well. Even screwing and unscrewing bolts can be difficult. I have not tried to attach anything to the levers in order to get more leverage, interesting idea!

  45. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheater_bar

  46. Thanks kfg.

    I hope no one reads some of the advice to leave vintage skewers sorta-easy-to-open and then suffers a wheel shift...

    In fact, I hate quick releases.

    They have no business on any bike, except a racing bike that's being raced, and not just ANY sort of race, but the kind of race where there is a company car + neutral support car loaded with loaner wheels. Any other circumstances they are more trouble than they are worth, and I wish-wish-wish the industry standard was not so heavily influenced by race advertising.

    Come to think of it, I think the same thing about derailers. IGH all the way, unless you are (a) racing or (b) can justify needing a 400%+ percent range. :)

    But, yeah, please don't leave your QR skewers too loose.

  47. So glad I'm not the only one who finds the Schwalbe Marathon Plus a "marathon" to get on and off the rim. They are fantastically hardy tires, but, that's just as well. If I'm going to approach them with the right frame of mind I need to be in my sitting room, not on the roadside, with a nice cup of tea, a spare tire iron or two and an area clear of any other life-form so that I can let a few less than lady-like expressions slip!!

  48. Thanks for this very appropriate post. My hands are not as strong as they used to be and I have great problems at times opening jars so I am not the best at repairs. I know my limitations and don't worry about it.

  49. If vintage QRs "just are" stiff, likely they're dirty, galled pitted rusted. Have someone show you how to open the guts and inspect. Clean. My choice of lube/antiseize is beeswax. If you're putting torque into binding parts, that is torque that does not go into wheel clamping. Older cheaper stuff will plain wear out. Safety related parts get replaced - cables, pads, h'bars and yes QRs.
    I would not casually recommend loosy-goosy. It's considered. Worst accident I ever saw was a failed QR. Yes, my riding partner died. That said, my QRs operate with one finger. Bike shops have to send them out tight, people would talk. Guys with strong hands generate lotsa torque and don't notice at all.

    Plenty of women and children do their own and slipped rear wheels are scarce - as in I've never heard of it. Slipped wheels with axle nuts badly tightened - common as dirt. Slipped wheels with wingnuts - absolutely. With QRs not so much. When it does happen it's mostly because the lever was used as a wingnut.

    The Tullio Campagnolo invention is just a great design. It works

  50. As I read Velouria's original post, I realized that i have been a bit of a hammer re: giving ppl a polite&well-intentioned but vehement hassle abut doing their own maintenance, and I'll have to change that. Her post was pretty comprehensive, and many of the examples she offered are common problems that others have addressed with common advice: get the proper tools.

    The thing is, sometimes it isn't feasible to get the proper tool in a timely manner. sometimes, the tool is prohibitively expensive and you won't need it often enough to justify the cost: ever have to re-tap your BB shell?

    Most folks who responded addressed better leverage for the strong, or expressed their opinion that laziness/disinclination trumps any kind of guilty feelings or dread of labor expenditure. My feeling is that repeated rookings at the hands of those hungry bike mechanics will eventually cure the laziness, but few ppl addressed some of the other impediments that Velouria hit in her post:

    Patience. It is a lack of patience that made me give up halfway thru my first wheelbuild, and never try it again. I get the concept, have access to the tools, and i'm plenty strong, so I'm giving it another go. But, for many, a lack of patience keeps them away from wrenching.

    Lastly, we have aptitude. As noted elsewhere, some folks just aren't mechanically inclined. Others face more severe challenges. There are disabilities and disorders beyond nerve damage in the hands that will prevent some folks from maintaining their bikes without assistance. While complicated repair jobs might prevent some folks from fixing their own bikes, there's no reason why they shouldn't enjoy riding them.


  51. Anon above--quite sorry to hear about the QR tragedy. I recently had a discussion with a cycling friend about the merits of routinely exchanging any vintage handlebars for proven new Nitto noodles in hopes of preventing cracks and sudden failures. My one concern is where does that stop? Cables, pads, handlebars, now QRs, maybe stems too, if they aren't that recent? I noticed we routinely replaced all of the above on nearly all of our vintage bikes for one reason or another, except the QR skewers. What you've said is certainly something to think about.

  52. I agree with Screech. All problems with bikes are relatively simple and others have pointed out the right tools will help. It has taken me 10 years to amass enough tools to perform almost all of my own repairs/rebuilds. I am still missing some tools and knowledge. So Patience and a desire to solve some of the impediments means you can always say one day I will perform my own ...(insert repair here). I would say know your limits but constantly try to push beyond to solve problems. I ran into a similar issue with Paselas...I don't use them anymore because I don't want them to snap my tire levers. This fall I rebuilt an entire bike for winter riding and the satisfaction I got and the knowledge I now have about this bike gives me way more confidence in the event of a repair. I couldn't and wouldn't have done this 10 years ago. Now? No problem.

  53. "ever have to re-tap your BB shell?"

    Yes, on a frame I built myself. I took it to the shop.

    What has this got to do with recommending a cheater bar to open a quick release or a jack to lift a bike?

    "repeated rookings at the hands of those hungry bike mechanics"

    I have touched on this issue before. One of the reasons many people take their bikes to the shop is to insure the job gets done right. One of the reasons I do my own work is to insure the job gets done right.

    There seems to be an assumption that the mechanics in shops are highly skilled authorities, surpassing the level achievable by mere mortals.

    Sometimes this is actually the case, but more often than not; it is not.

    Shops themselves are more often than not teetering on the edge of financial disaster and will, at least on occasion, do what "must be done" to achieve a bit more stability. What "must be done" is rarely to the advantage of the customer.

    Caveat Emptor.

  54. kfg: All men are automatically better looking in a kilt (I assume that's what you're referring to, if you're Samoan or something I apologize).

    MDI: I think derailers are great on touring bikes/living in a town with steeper hills. I've thought about putting a nine-speed internal hub gear on a touring bike, but I don't know that it would go as "low" as my current granny gear + big ring does, and I use that gear fairly often, even around town on the steeper hills, and in the part of town I live, I bike up a fair number of hills because it takes twice as long to go around them.

  55. my husband would LOVE if I worked on my own bike and I can do a few things, but I'm so dithery that it's better he do it so it actually gets done quickly. I'm not wired that way, I sometimes go blank at which direction to turn etc... not my forte! i end up getting mad because I can't do it and I insist on being able to do anything and everything myself.
    My dad who is super brainy but not handy just uses being left handed as an excuse! I'm left handed, but not THAT left handed.

  56. April - I'm Samoan or something. :)

    Well, OK, more toward the "or something." I don't care much for those new fangled kilt thingies and prefer the more classical clothing of Greece, Egpyt and Southeast Asia/Polynesia. I can do the Keltic Leine and Brat as well.

    Right now I'm wearing an ankle length shenti (same thing as a sarong) with a chlamys (same thing as a brat) over it; both in black poly fleece (it's cold here). If I put on my black tycoon hat I'd look something like "Zorro: the classical cultures traveling years."

    I also like Japanese, but tend to my own neo versions; like a sarong over a short kimono, or maybe with T-shirt and happi coat. My current knitting project is a happi coat under sweater (did I mention it gets cold here?).

    If you use a Singulator(tm) you can have an IGH in the back and your granny ring up front.

    I have my own reasons for liking derailers when I want to go all gearie and shit (my AW presented me with a box full of neutral the other day. It got better), but if someone came out with a fully modern design, medium range 3 speed I'd be all over it.

  57. I have such bad eczema on my hands sometimes that it hurts to do basic every day tasks (like typing and dialing a telephone) so applying any kind of pressure to my hands, even to loosen a bolt or remove a tire is *unthinkable*. I like to do my own work, but sometimes it's just not in the cards.

    On a somewhat separate note, for those who have trouble with quick releases ("I am not always able to open the quick release levers on wheels. On some bikes it's easy, but on other bikes I simply can't - no matter how hard I pull."), my bike came with these things called Clix quick releases - they're spring loaded, and I find them way easier than the traditional kind of quick release, even on days when my hands are pretty bad. If they're available for sale, I think they can probably be retrofitted to any bike.

  58. I'm an able-bodied young man theoretically capable of doing my own bicycle repair.

    However, I don't. I'm not very good at it, so it takes me a long time, it's frustrating, and it ends up a little wonky anyway. That's why I stopped. Maybe being gay helped me give up on this thing that I "should" do.

    On the other hand, it's also annoying to take a bike in for maintenance. So thank God for low-maintenance bikes! I got mine from Clever Cycles in Portland, and I agree with an above commenter that their service is outstanding.

  59. KFG--I'm sorry to hear that you live in an area so devoid of good bike shops and competent mechanics. Fortunately it sounds like you are exceptional in your ability to quickly achieve the high level of skill that takes many shop mechanics hours and hours of practice to reach. Think about it...most shops that I know have mechanics who have worked ten years or more (X 200 work days/year X 8 hrs/day)...wow these guys must be incompetent if they are still just bumbling along "rooking" the public.

    I am fortunate enough to have worked with and patronized mechanics who do the job primarily out of a love for bicycles, and who gain satisfaction in seeing others enjoy riding.

    (BTW--modern quick releases don't have plastic faces...they are still serrated steel or aluminum at the point of contact, and they still scratch the paint)

  60. "I'm sorry to hear that you live in an area so devoid of good bike shops and competent mechanics."

    Since I've got out of the business (arthritis got too bad. Couldn't even close my hand on a wrench; or stand up) we've only got one good mechanic left, and he's a retired engineer who just runs a "something to do now that I'm retired" shop. It's just him, part time.

    Better frame man than me.

    Ben Serotta's shop was quite good, even after he sold it, but that was traveling for me. They once turned down my application for being "over qualified." Go figure.

    I bought a bike at the shop closest to me a few years ago. Family owned. In business for decades. Watched them do the presale check over on the bike. Rode it home with a crooked stem. Had to take the whole bike apart and do it right.

    At least that didn't almost wreck me like the shop that swapped my brake levers around.

    "mechanics who have worked ten years or more (X 200 work days/year X 8 hrs/day)"

    I might have trained some of them back in the day.

    "mechanics who do the job primarily out of a love for bicycles"

    That's why I did it. That's why I still do it even though I "don't do it anymore."

    But Sturgeon's Law applies and you will find even very good mechanics complaining that their employer won't let them do it right.

  61. I volunteer at a bike co-op, mainly because I wanted to start learning bicycle maintenance/repair (and I get to hang out with people who love bikes as much as I do, bonus!), but there are times when I would rather let someone else do the work.
    As far as comments claiming you're not a real cyclist unless you can do your own repairs goes, many people drive hundreds of miles a week in a car, yet can't change a tire or their oil, let alone transmission overhauls and such.

  62. Thanks for this post as I think bike repair and maintenance is often one of the issues people bring up when considering buying a bike. They say "I won't/don't know what to do if it breaks."

    For novices especially, I would not expect them to know how to perform maintenance or repairs anymore than I would expect someone to change the oil in their car. Yes, there are lots of "wrenches" out there that love to do their own car maintenance but for the rest of us, we take it to the shop.

    In the same way that repair shops offer "while you wait" oil changes, bike shops could offer "while you wait" spot checks, tightening cables, lubing chains, etc. Just an idea...

  63. A short length of copper or even PVC tubing kept in the bike bag would serve when slipped over the handle of quick-release bike axles....leverage increased.

    Sgt. Mustache


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