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Bicycling Magazine Tool School Oct 2003
Back in 2003, we gave a repair class attended by a reporter for Bicycling! Magazine. As always, we had as much fun teaching the class as he had by attending. I do remember that he kept saying, "Just a minute while I write this down." Here's a transcript of the article published October 2003, on pages 58-59.
A MECHANICAL IDIOT GETS HIS HANDS DIRTY AT ONE OF THE WORLD'S BEST BICYCLE MAINTENANCE SCHOOLS.
I don't touch any part of my bike except the seat, the handlebar and, on rare occasions, the gear shifters. In high school, I bought a bike-repair kit and, in a fit of overexuberance, changed my own flat. I even put the tube under water, although I have no idea why.
Since then, I get my flats changed at a bike shop. And I make sure they put the wheel back on for me.
So it's not so much that I wanted to take a bike repair class as the BICYCLING editors thought it would be funny to have me make a fool of myself. You're pretty desperate for entertainment when you live in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
I signed up for a class on wheel truing with the Park Tool School, a program certified by the famous tool company and run at bike shops across the country. My class was at the Pedal Pusher Bike Shop in Manhattan. Store owner Roger Bergman, a very nice 59-year-old man in glasses who looks a lot like the professor in Fraggle Rock, has been teaching repair for 20 years. Roger, who said we would be "seekers of trueness" and referred to himself as a "spokes-person" has, unfortunately, been punning for even more than 20 years.
I showed Roger my 10-year-old Specialized Crossroads and he told me it was in good shape. Roger is a really nice guy. Then, in the moment that made the entire experience worthwhile, I got to go behind the wooden divider in the back of the shop that separates the pathetic customers from the all-powerful mechanics. After putting my bike on something he called a "repair stand," Roger took out a pair of pliers and clipped one of my spokes in half. Fixing bikes, I was learning, is very counterintuitive. "They don't tell us to do that in tool school," he said. I feared they also didn't teach puncturing my tires and sawing my frame in half.
Without the spoke, the wheel spun all funny. Roger showed me how spokes work in pairs, and how each spoke crossed other spokes three times. This makes wheels strong, which must be true because even after 10 years of crappy treatment the wheels on my $300 bike were fine until I took them to Roger to fix.
So that I could change the spoke he broke, which seemed more than a little unfair, Roger got me to remove the back wheel. This took a while, thanks to the chain and the thing with the French name and the stuff the chain goes around. I really wished he'd cut the spoke on my front wheel.
Once I'd worked up a good sweat and got the wheel off, Roger told me to deflate the tube. Having never seen a tool to take air out of a tire, since no one would ever need one, I asked him what to do. He suggested I use my fingernails. When I made a face, he gave me the pointy end of a wrench. He then put the wheel in a vise to take off the flywheel, which he told me the cool kids now call a cassette. "It's the method I go with because I have a vise and we all have vices," Roger said. There was no stopping this guy.
We took apart the cassette and lined up the pieces on the bench in the order they came off so I would have a fighting chance of putting it back together. While we were doing this, Evan Blackwell, who works at the shop, did an entire tune-up. Evan is a show-off.
I cannot stress enough how absolutely filthy my hands were at this point. There was literally no flesh-colored part showing. I asked Roger what kind of soap he used, but he said he'd show me at the end. I thought a hand-washing break would help us focus, but that wasn't going to happen. We searched for a spoke that was the perfect size and I strung it through the hole and over and under the other spokes, which, for me, was like trying to solve that peg IQ test they used to have at Howard Johnson's. Once the spoke was on we spun my wheel, which wobbled like Jan Ullrich after a night out. I love making cycling jokes.
Roger spun my wheel again while holding a red grease pencil lightly against the rim to mark where the wheel leaned toward him. The Park Tool School recommends putting a tie-wrap around the frame and pointing it toward the wheel so there's a noise when it hits, but that doesn't leave any mark to refer to. Those Park guys are all book-learnin'.
To true the wheel, which is just a really pretentious way of saying "straighten it," we had to turn some of the spokes. Although Roger explained the physics to me, I think it basically works like this: If the wheel leans left in a spot, you tighten the closest spokes on the right side of the wheel and loosen the closest ones on the left side. (I'm hoping the BICYCLING people fact-check that last sentence.) Even more confusing, you have to turn something that is, I swear, called the spoke nipple, which is really a bolt that you have to screw in the opposite direction you would screw a screw. This is why I drop my bike off at the shop.
Nevertheless, I did as Roger told me and never turned one spoke more than a quarter of a turn at a time. I turned the ones in the middle of the grease-pencil mark one-quarter turn and the ones on the outside just one-eighth. I was pretty sure this wasn't doing anything, but I was really more focused on how dirty my hands were getting.
I asked Roger why wheels become untrue in the first place. "That's one of the mysteries of bicycology," he said. I think Roger wanted to get me out of his store. That wasn't going to happen anytime too soon, because I had to reinstall the cassette, tighten it down with a huge wrench, fill my wheel with air and somehow get it back on. I eventually did all this but, unfortunately, forgot to put the chain back on and had to try again. I thought we were all done but Roger told me we needed to stress the spokes. He grabbed sets of four and squeezed them really hard--to make sure they didn't pop, he said. This made some sense, but I think Roger likes to break spokes.
Finally, we got to go to the bathroom sink, where Roger showed me the greatest trick of the day: a giant tub of Gojo Natural Orange Pumice Hand Cleaner. He admitted that one of his employees, whose name I will shield for his own sake, uses yellow rubber gloves when working on bikes. But the Gojo, which smells citrusy great, worked like Lava on EPO. It is clearly not made of anything "natural." With just the soap and a nail brush, my hands were completely clean in one minute. I kept scrubbing, searching for tiny bits of grease near my cuticles. I was the Lady Macbeth of bike mechanics.
I guess I learned how to fix my wheels, which is just about miraculous. But I also learned that I'm an incredible wuss. Sure, there was some joy in figuring out how my bike works, but not nearly as much as in riding it. I can't take apart my computer, my cell phone or hard-core pornography, but I enjoy them. For some of us, bike fixing is best left to the experts. But I'm still buying the Gojo.
If you thought this article was interesting, you may want to read the article Roger wrote for Bicycling! Magazine in the May 1979 issue. (Click.)
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