As a triathlete I’ve witnessed many fellow athletes suffer bike mechanical issues in a race. As a coach I often tell my athletes that they must get to know their bike and learn the basics of maintaining it. And as a mechanic I often forget how long it took for me to develop the knowledge and skill necessary to become a professional mechanic. When reflecting upon my time as a mechanic, I realized that I’ve learned some great life lessons from my time with bicycles. As part of our ‘Bicycle Maintenance Month’ officially beginning November 1, I thought I'd put some of those key lessons down on paper and share them with you.
As far as the government knows the first business I owned was a triathlon store. But my first little business venture really started when I was 10 years old - carving pumpkins around Halloween for my neighbors. In hindsight I probably would have been better off mowing lawns, but I was able to save up enough to buy my very first bicycle – a $300 Mongoose mountain bike in 1992.
For the most part that bike sat around the first few years, but when I turned 15 the Idaho Statesman gave me a job as a paperboy. For the next 8 years I rode that bike every day. I wish I could say that I loved that job, but I really didn’t. That job and that bike taught me lessons the hard way.
When riding a $300 bike every day, things start to go wrong really fast. My 15 year-old self didn’t have the foresight to conduct the small daily maintenance that would have prevented me from waking up to a couple flat tires, or being stranded on the side of the road with hundreds of newspapers at 5am with a broken chain.
This was the first lesson that the Mongoose showed me: if your goals depends upon your equipment, make a habit of regularly inspecting your equipment.
How does this apply to triathletes? Well, it’s easy to assume that your beautiful and no doubt expensive bicycle should run flawlessly day in and day out. Unfortunately, that’s just not how a high end bicycle works - they require a little love almost every time you use them. I’m not saying you need to tune your bike after every ride, but inspecting the basics regularly will go a long way in preventing ride-ending breakdowns or waking up for your 5am trainer ride only to find a flat tire.
Here’s what to do before every ride:
-Check tire pressure
-Check quick release levers for good tension and confirm your wheels are installed straight in the drop outs.
-Check handlebars and saddle - no movement should be found.
Here’s what to do after every ride:-Quick frame wipe down (especially if you rode in the rain or on a trainer - sweat is very corrosive). Running a gentle stream of water from the hose over the bike is fine if the bike is really dirty.
I suspect this would take less than 5 minutes total and would help you recognize any problems before they became critical, thus lowering your maintenance cost when the bike does finally need a tune up. A little preventative maintenance goes a long way!
As part of our Bicycle Maintenance Month we’ll go over many of the basics of maintaining your racing bicycle during a free clinic this Thursday, November 5th from 6-8pm. Please RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay 'tuned' for part two of “Lessons from a Bike Mechanic” as I’ll talk about ‘respecting the bath tub curve’.