Learnings From Fixing My Bike

By Eoin on 22 October 2016.

Views of bike commute

View from the bike commute. Along the River Shannon.

Commuting to work by bike is something I’ve done since 2009, making it a seven-year habit at this point.

A bike needs a bit of care, just like a car. Thankfully it’s way simpler than car maintenance.

It’s also less risky than car maintenance. If you get something wrong with your car brakes, as they say, you’re in for trouble.

I had a bike crank with its pedal fall off my bike after I didn’t assemble it back properly. The crank is the metal arm that the pedal is attached to. I was pulling my sons with the bike trailer at the time. As soon as it fell off, a driver drove their car straight over the thing. It survived, and back it went on the bike. A local man passing with his dogs noted that it was a Monday morning, and it must have been that I was doing some weekend work on the bike, which he got absolutely right!

After seven years, the bike was in need of some love. It was more maintenance than just replacing the brake parts. Some metal parts were worn and needed replacing.

It came to a decision of “leave it at the bike shop overnight” or “spend hours learning over weeks of how to fix this thing”. Of course, I went with the second, harder, option 😃

Things I learned from taking on this several-months maintenance project:

  • You can learn the terminology to help you learn a new concept. Now I know what a drivetrain is, what the bike’s chainrings are, and what the cassette is. It’s good to have a crank extractor if you want to take off the cranks. Before this project I wasn’t hip enough to understand Bike Snob NYC when he talks about 1×11 drivetrains. Starting off this project, not having the terminology was a blocker. It just took a bit of time to look up explanations each time I came across a word I didn’t understand.
  • Explaining terminology to others is important. On a related note, even simple YouTube tutorials explaining how to change your chain throw in terminology that the speaker takes for granted. These videos are aimed at novices. So they should assume you don’t have any inside lingo. It reminds me of Derek Sivers’ Obvious to you. Amazing to Others. video. Explaining a concept to others with simple words might feel like you’re dumbing it down, but using niche terms without explaining them can put off learners.
  • Break a big project into small chunks. Wow, I didn’t know where to start. The chain kept falling off if I pedalled hard. It was a little dangerous, or at least a pain, when it happened in traffic. I posted a question on Bicycles on StackExchange (obviously, being a programmer…). The answers I got back had all types of implications of tools, and measurements, and standards that I’d have to get right. I started shopping online for parts, and it was all too much with so many options. After a while I thought, “wait, I can do this in stages, let’s break it down”. It came to replacing the most worn parts first, which were the chainrings. Chainrings are those spikey cicles that the chain runs along in the middle of the bike that the pedals are attached to. Even picking chainrings online wasn’t easy. But after some research I was able to pick which ones I wanted to buy online. Actually, even this explanation is a simplicification. I bought a tool that helps you take apart the three chainrings so that I could measure each chainring. It turned out that the ones on my bike were cheap enough and couldn’t be taken apart. They were riveted together – as rivetting as this blog post is 😆 So it took a second round of online shopping to buy the chainrings after first buying a couple of tools.
  • Mind maps help me map out a project. I’ve been using Freemind on and off for the past decade to create mind maps. I keep coming back to this thinking-support tool. You can branch off a thought or a new understanding, and record it for later. I had a simple mind map for this project. I was able to add explanations of what to buy, with “child nodes” for implications of buying whatever size of the part I’d buy. I had links to products I was going to buy online to do a specific part of the project.

I shouldn’t describe this as a job-done either 😉 It’s an on-going project. The next step is to replace the cassette, which is the part with spikey wheels on the back wheel of a bike where the chain runs along. A couple of months ago, it’s something I would have leaned to giving to a shop to do. But at least now I have the mental tools to replace it myself, even though I don’t know right now how to do it.

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