Wednesday, August 9, 2017

why don't more people learn to fix their stuff?

One of the beautiful things about getting everywhere by bicycle is that the technology is so elegantly simple that most minor repairs -- flat fixes, brake and derailleur adjustments -- can be done at roadside in minutes.
It's very satisfying to be able to fix a flat, hop back on and resume riding.
And if you were to pay a shop to fix a flat, they'd charge you between 8 and 12 bucks for parts and labor.
So why don't more people learn to deal with the small stuff themselves?

We've arrived at a point in the history of consumerism where more people would rather pay someone else to fix their stuff than to learn how to fix it themselves.
Now, I don't think it's wise to try and fix everything yourself, especially if you're inexperienced; I tend not to attempt to deal with my home's wiring, for example.
But so many of the things we own can be repaired at home for far less money than we'd spend to pay someone else to do it.
Bicycles are perfect example of this.

Once upon a time, lots of people were quite willing to fix their own stuff. Because fifty, sixty years ago, more of us had to. We didn't live near a repair shop or we simply didn't have the money to pay someone else. And thrift was considered a far greater virtue than it is today.

The problem with not fixing your stuff is that if you don't learn how to fix it, you don't fully own it.
People used to own their cars more, back when pulling the dashboard and rewiring the ignition switch was easier. Hell, I learned how to hotwire a car when I was seventeen. It wasn't hard once someone showed you how the system worked.
Today, most car dashboards have computers underneath. And hardly anyone works on their newer cars at home because of those computers.

Thankfully, most bicycles have yet to become so computerized. And older bikes abound, on craigslist and at yard sales. So why not learn how to do the basic stuff at home?
Fixing your own flat will save you $8-12.
Adjusting your own gears or brakes will save you $10-15.
And wiping down your bike's drivetrain every 2 weeks (once a month in the summer) and applying a light coating of oil when the chain runs dry will save you a lot of money on replacement parts, because you won't have to replace them quite as often if you do simple maintenance like this.

Depending on where you live, many bike shops offer basic maintenance classes. Some offer open wrenching nights where you can come in a rent their tools for cheap and work on your bike under the helpful eye of a shop mechanic. And if your local shop doesn't offer this, there are lots of good books and Youtube tutorials to help you get started. Here's a few:

Everybody's Bike Book by Tom Cuthbertson. One of the oldest and still one of the best for basic things like flat fixes, brake adjustments and the like.
The Park Tool Big Book of Bicycle Repair. Available at shops or on eBay. Covers the newer stuff including V-brakes and disc brakes, if you're so inclined. Lots of helpful photos along with concise instructions.
Park Tool and hundreds of others have posted videos on how to do all sorts of bike repairs.
Here's a basic idea of how to fix a flat, by the folks at Park Tool.

If you live in the city, you don't need to bring along more than a small pump, spare inner tube, patch kit and whatever tools you need to remove wheels and/or make very minor adjustments on brakes or gears. The whole thing will fit in a small pouch you can strap onto the underside of your saddle (and easily remove when you go indoors, to avoid theft).

 My basic repair kit, wrapped in a cloth roll and small enough to fit in a pocket of my saddlebag.

Below: Homemade patch kit, including homemade patches (from recycled inner tube squares and tin foil), levers and sandpaper, and tube of glue (sold separately at shops). It all fits in a repurposed cough drop tin.
Yes, your hands will get dirty. And you can wash them with soap and water. Really, it's not a big deal.
Own your stuff. Fix your stuff. And save some money.

Happy riding!

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