Judging from the nice feedback received on last week's Tech Talk, 5 Basic Bike Repair Tips, basic repair is a popular topic. It makes sense, now that the riding weather is about here (still raining here in Northern California, though). So, let’s keep it going for another week with a handful of additional fix-it hints for budding mechanics.
Keep Your Workspace Well-Organized
Even though a road bike is still a relatively simple machine, it’s possible to forget what you’re doing and then not finish something important. For example, while you’re in the middle of fixing something, you might have to stop working and not be able to get back to wrenching on your bike for a couple of days.
When you come back to it, how do you know where to pick up where you left off? It’s easy to forget and even happens to pro mechanics.
The trick is working systematically. So, for a tune-up, you might work from the front of the bike to the back. Or you could work on the wheels first and then move on to the brakes and gears. The system doesn’t matter so much as having one that’s logical for you that helps with keeping track. If there’s any chance you’ll be interrupted, I recommend keeping a written list of what you’ve completed.
Likewise, for the common task of installing a new component or accessory, the best way to get the job done right is to organize things right from the start. Open the package, find and read the directions. Then remove the individual parts and pieces and lay them out on your workbench, grouping types and sizes together neatly. That way it’s easy to make sure you have what you need and to know what’s what as you install the parts, too.
Have a “Safe” Work Area
A related tip is to find or make a dedicated work area at home where you can leave things all laid out if needed and not have to worry about them being disturbed or, worse, lost. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and it doesn’t have to take up that much space.
As just one innovative solution, I’ve seen tiny bike workshops in apartments and condos composed basically of a portable repair stand and toolbox for the tools on the floor (both easily moved and stored out the way), next to a bookshelf that has a couple of empty shelves. They act as both a safe place for the parts and a work surface.
Make or Buy a Repair Stand to Hold Your Bike Up
I see home mechanics and cyclists on the road flip their bikes upside down to work on it. You can get the job done that way, but bikes tend to fall over, and if you have exposed cables or electronics on your handlebars/stem, they can get damaged from contact with the ground.
Also, it can be more difficult making adjustments looking at components upside down. Plus, with the handlebars inverted, it’s hard to operate the controls.
If you start suspending your bike in a repair stand to work on it, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy working on it much more and do a better job, too. There are many ways to do this, both homemade and bought – and neither needs to cost too much.
If you make your own, such as a wood rack that holds the bike out from the wall, or with ropes hanging from rafters with hooks on the ends to hang the bike from the seat and stem – just make sure there’s room for the inside pedal to turn without hitting the wall.
But before spending money and time making your own, search the usual sources for bike repair stands, because they’ve come way down in cost over the last few years. It’s impressive what you can get for around $50.
Make Sure You Can See What You're Doing
One of the unfortunate consequences of the modern trend for black bicycles and components is difficulty seeing the details of what you’re working on so that you can make the best adjustments. The other day I was helping a guy troubleshoot his electric front derailleur. His model required an exact set-screw adjustment.
Even in bright sunlight, I couldn’t see the black screw deep inside the black derailleur up against the black frame. And it wasn’t just my 64-year-old peepers, because two younger friends couldn’t see it, either.
My top tip for this is to keep a head lamp handy for these situations. Having a beam of light you can aim square at what you’re working on while your hands are free to make adjustments is wonderful. And, speaking of old eyes, I find it super helpful to keep a “head magnifier” handy, too, like this Illuminated Multi-Power LED Head Magnifier, which sells for less than $10 on Amazon.
To Buy, or Not to Buy, Tools?
With electric drivetrains, hydraulic disc brakes, road bike suspensions, power meters and other gee-whiz technologies coming along all the time, home mechanics have to decide how pro they want to go. By that, I mean whether or not to buy the fancy specialty tools to fix fancy parts.
The rule I recommend following is based on how frequently you believe you’ll need – or want – to do the job, versus the cost of what a pro mechanic charges to do the job. Often, it’s much cheaper to pay the pro’s labor rate to have him or her use the shop’s expensive tools than it is to buy the tools. And if you only end up using the tool once every few years, you may wish you’d saved your money.
But this is a decision only you can make. Some folks don’t care what tools cost or how frequently they’re going to use them. They simply want to have the right tool on hand even if it only saves them one time.
Enjoy your bicycle repairs and keep your comments coming with great other basic bike repair tips.
Jim Langley is RBR's Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.