I have always known that I am not a person possessed of great ability or patience when it comes to completing practical tasks.
This is increasingly evident the more I try to master the art of bicycle maintenance and borne out in a surprisingly creative catalogue of errors and misdeeds.
Prior to embarking on the job at the local bike shop, my approach to cycle repairs, as to most practical tasks in life ran simply as follows:
Is it badly broken…?
No – fix with duct tape or zip ties
Yes – add super-glue to the above
Did that work…?
Yes – continue using bicycle, picture hook, curtain rail, cupboard door until part breaks again.
No – stamp foot, employ expletives, re-apply tape, ties, glue.
Is it fixed now…?
Yes – See above.
No – Can I live without object?
If the answer is….
Yes – Consign broken item to the back of cupboard/shed
No – Take to repair shop!
The downside to the above, usual approach, is that I am now the person at the end of this process. I work at the repair shop….And it seems they don’t countenance the liberal use of duct tape and glue as acceptable.
In an earlier post (Handlebar Dyslexia) I examined my lack of spatial awareness in dealing with machinery.
After managing to put on a fair few sets of handlebars the wrong way round, I mused whether this was a case of genetics, upbringing, gender expectations or just plain lack of experience.
A few more weeks down the line and I’m leaning towards the genetics!
Since then, despite getting to grips with handlebars (excuse the pun), I’ve still, embarrassingly managed to put several pedals on the wrong sides (despite being clearly marked left and right). In my defence the bikes were upside down at the time.
I’ve also managed to install stabilisers on a child’s bike that left the back wheel inches from the ground, spinning in the air.
Again, the creative part of me saw this as an opportunity for the first turbo trainer/exercise bike for kids. It also caused my colleagues to collapse in fits of hysterical laughter.
On the positive side I’ve more or less mastered the art of adjusting brakes, however there is one particular nemesis still looming large.
When it comes to setting gears, these tricksy pieces of componentry are, quite frankly, out to get me.
For the uninitiated there is a mechanism which shifts the chain up and down the gear cogs called a derailleur.
One of the first jobs when setting up gear system is to set the limits of this, basically so the chain doesn’t drop off either end.
It’s then a case of fine tuning via various adjusters to make the whole process run smoothly.
Sounds simple right? Don’t be fooled.
The derailleur comes with a pesky set of screws (Limit Screws), to set it in place. Tightening and loosening these devilish pieces of metal produces the correct placement of the derailleur.
Honestly though, the turning of these screws and the movement of the rest of the machinery has no logical connection.
For example, the top and bottom screws turn in opposite directions for the same action.
High gear is the smallest, low the biggest. This is all then reversed for the front gear mechanism.
Different brands of derailleur also have the opposite action and high/low placement.
Add into this the cable adjusters which always seem to pull/push things in the wrong direction and I need to lie down in a darkened room for a week.
I know the theory(ish) for each component, but putting it all together, visualising it, and making it work remains as mysterious as deciphering quantum theory, in Chinese.
When faced with the whole set-up, the part of my brain which connects the turning of screws with the movement of metal seems to short circuit, theory drops out of my head, to be replaced by a dense, impenetrable fog.
Inevitably, this means I’ve been avoiding gears and cogs somewhat.
I hate not being competent at something. Usually, if I can’t learn a task quickly I’ll have a tantrum and walk away.
An inherent lack of patience and the concentration span of a gnat are also not conducive to learning.
But equally, I’m annoyed with myself that I can’t get this seemingly simple task right. It’s not helped when the mechanic I work with saunters over as I’m having a gear-induced meltdown, tweaks a few bits and pieces and hey presto, the thing works perfectly. Murderous looks abound.
But watching is no substitute for hands on experience, even though it’s easier to let someone who knows what they’re doing take over.
I’m here to learn, I need to swallow my pride a bit, grit my teeth and carry on making these mistakes until the fog lifts and Chinese quantum mechanics (aka the limit screw conundrum) falls seamlessly into place.
30 January 2015 at 8:31 am
I think fixing anything (even if you’ve done it a hundred times) often involves forgetting exactly how bits go together or which way to turn that screw. So there’s one crucial piece missing from your bicycle “repair approach protocol”. Go on you tube and check a repair vid. Or Google for that matter. This pulls me out of the weeds on a regular basis! =)
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30 January 2015 at 3:21 pm
Thnaks, that’s always a good idea – and one I should remember more often. I always think it would be great if You Tube were interactive as I always want to stop the presenters and ask questions! Maybe there’s a business model there somewhere (just not by me!)? 🙂
30 January 2015 at 4:04 pm
Great piece–I was laughing several times as I have certainly been in your shoes. What helped me was when I took a perfectly working bicycle and started messing around with the limit screws–it helped me understand what they did and how to rectify things when they were not working properly. One problem is that the limit screws differ based on the manufacturer and model of the derailleur. Practice, practice, practice!
One burning question (please don’t take offense): Why on earth did they hire you as a mechanic?
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30 January 2015 at 4:14 pm
No offence at all, your comment just made me laugh out loud! Rest assured I’m not the mechanic in charge at the shop, just a learner. I was taken on to build/assemble bikes and work in the shop on occassion. Whilst I’m still very much on a learning curve when it comes to fixing, I do at least cycle an awful lot, touring, road, MTB, so on a good day, I know what I’m talking about with customers! My aim is to be competent enough to fix the main parts of my various bikes, especially to make life easier when I’m touring on my own in the middle of nowhere. I do like a challenge!
31 January 2015 at 10:34 am
Had me giggling away as well. I’m reasonably competent mechanically but gear adjustment sometimes drives me bonkers, even the bike shop didn’t. Quite get it right last time. Occasionally I’ll put up with overcompensating for slightly wrong adjustments because I can’t face making it worse too!
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31 January 2015 at 10:58 am
That does make me feel better! Can completely empathise about just putting up with wonky components in lieu of making things worse.
When touring last I rode for days with a broken front gear cable. The only way I could change up through the front cogs was to lean right down and pull the cable against the frame. Not great, especially if you miss and pull the brake cable instead!
3 February 2015 at 10:08 pm
If I ever get the idea that I might take up cycling again – I will revisit this Blog post!!! It cheered me up no end!
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4 February 2015 at 12:32 pm
It always makes me smile when I think that cycling is one of the simplest activities…. is just the fixing things that’s complicated! Hope you do get back on the bike 🙂