My Dirty Secret

I have a confession. I really don’t know that much about bikes. I just like to ride them. For me it’s more about lifestyle.

So when it comes to bike repairs sometimes I get myself into situations. It’s not that I don’t have the ability fix a bike, I just don’t have any experience. But still, how hard can it be? I once changed the spark plugs on my old car to save a few bucks. That worked out fine… the mechanic never actually said that was the reason it died.

But I’m not scared of getting my hands dirty (and luckily bikes don’t have engines.) I like to do things myself when I can. Things usually start out like this:


So I set aside afternoon to spend it with my bike, a couple wrenches, and a romantic comedy (Richard Gere helps me think about gears):


However then things don’t go exactly as expected… parts don’t fit, directions are unclear, the project changes scope. It’s really hard to ask a YouTube video questions.


And eventually I end up going to the bike shop where one of these guys save the day:

My Dirty Secret


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  • Penny November 30, 2011   Reply →

    I saw a TV segment about this bike shop in Cambridge. It sounds like just what you want.
    Broadway Bicycle School

    I’m not a bike person but I’m enjoying your humor, illustrations and sense of fair, fun play.

    • Bikeyface November 30, 2011  

      Broadway Bicycle School is awesome and I’ve been eyeing their classes, just haven’t had time to actually take one.

  • cycler November 30, 2011   Reply →

    I like to do bike work while watching movies too- takes the edge off when I round a bolt head or can’t remove a &$(!# screw or mash my finger.

    The main problem with finding mid- repair that you can’t actually fix it after all is that then you can’t ride it to the bike shop for an expert opinion- at least without figuring out how to put it mostly back together. This is, of course why you need multiple bikes- to be able to ride one, while carrying the other slung across your back badass style. Of course, that becomes less appealing when the disassembled bike is a 40lb roadster.

    • tad February 8, 2013  

      Yes! You are correct. This is one of the reasons to own multiple bikes.If you’re like me, you get these bikes for cheap or free. If they break or wear out, it’s no big deal. You’ve got backup! The only downside is if you have a female significant other, there is an ongoing nag factor to get rid of some (most) of them.

  • ara November 30, 2011   Reply →

    I have such great local bike shops guys, I just always (usually) take it to them. no beards though, pity!

  • Dan K (@teeheehee) November 30, 2011   Reply →

    From now on I shall think that all flow charts should have one possible outcome involving chocolate.

    • Moopheus December 1, 2011  

      Hmmm . . . I think all possible outcomes should end with eating chocolate. Cake, after all is the best reward for completing your repair successfully!

  • Scruffy Beard Mechanic November 30, 2011   Reply →

    Trust me, sometimes those of us who are supposed to know what we’re doing get in over our heads or simply find out we don’t have the tool/part at home. There are certain mechanics who have on occasion found mys…er him or herself carrying bits of bicycle to the shop on their day off in order to finish the “five minute” repair job on a personal commuter bike that was supposedly going to be done with a wrench and multitool at home.

  • Galen November 30, 2011   Reply →

    I find it’s best to learn by experience, and to figure things out by trying. Even if you don’t know 100% at the start, you’ll learn a lot by digging in and wrenching — just be sure what you’ve got in mind won’t make your bike unsafe in the end… tip: Practice on non-essential bikes/parts first. What you may need is a friendly environment where you can work on your bike with a bunch of bike folks, where you can bounce ideas and questions off some who know what they’re doing (and some who don’t but are willing to learn…). You’re invited to come by Open Shop at Commonwheels on Tuesday nights — — in Allston (temperature dependent at this point however). We have some of the tools you’ll likely need, and a bunch of used parts (literally, as in bunched together in piles all over the place) to fit or retrofit pieces of your bike.

    Learn a bit of mechanics — how stuff works — and you’ll learn a lot about how your bike functions in the world, not just how the world functions around your bike (which you’ve got a great handle on already!)

  • themondaybiker November 30, 2011   Reply →

    Love the thought bubbles!

    You are much braver than I am. At least you attempt the repairs. I’d just bring mine straight to the bike shop. My skills regarding bikes are to ride them and to put air into the tires. My biggest fear used to be what if I break down during a ride. What would I do? How would I get home? Now that I have a folding bike my fears have disappeared…all I need to do is to fold it up and hail a taxi if anything should happen. It would be good to be handy with repairs though.

  • thehum December 1, 2011   Reply →

    My logic exactly, substituting cake for various other sweet and salty snacks, and youtube videos for repair manuals, plus being plastered in bike grease.

  • bikeshopXX December 1, 2011   Reply →

    Don’t forget that there are ladies who work at bike shops. Ladies who don’t have beards (usually).

    • Bikeyface December 1, 2011  

      I know, unfortunately I don’t think any ladies work at my particular bike shop- or not on the shift I’m usually there for.

  • iovsjupiter December 1, 2011   Reply →

    Great post! I tend to do the same thing but luckily I do it in my bike workshop, it’s a nonprofit bicycle repair educational organization, run by volunteers. There is always someone ready to help me.
    I don’t know if they exist in Boston. In Los Angeles there is – In San Francisco – In NY
    Asking your LBS to show you what they are doing would be annoying for them, instead people at bike workshops are eager to help you improve your knowledge.

  • AJ December 3, 2011   Reply →

    I find that it’s good to stay in running shape, for doing repairs. While repairing the axle for my bottom bracket (that’s another story altogether), I estimate I did about four miles. Luckily, I was able to finish it with just enough time to make it to Copley for Critical Mass.

    A friend and I do a community bike repair/maintenance in the street in front of his house twice a year. I’ll let y’all know in the Spring- it’s a good time to learn some bike fixing technique.

  • inspiredcyclist December 4, 2011   Reply →

    I have been pretty fortunate with my bikes needing repairs. But I do think I should take a course sometime, to be on the safe side. Thanks for sharing the entire thought process/flow chart. : )

  • Sue December 5, 2011   Reply →

    Great post and I love the Richard Gere – Pretty Woman references. I have to laugh at this because it’s my exact thought process. If it makes you feel any better though I brought my Pashley to one of my bike shops (we have three) this weekend. I ruled out two of the shops because I thought they would not have much experience with 5 speed Sturmey Archer Hubs. The 1st gear does not work (stick) & it automatically jumps to 2nd gear and sometimes the gear gets stuck when I try and the pedals stop spinning. Not good when i’m climbing hills. So I brought it to shop #3. The mechanic had no clue and started looking stuff up on the Internet. I was having a heart attack because he was pulling and streching the cable left and right. I thought he was going to mess up the whole hub (gears 2, 3, 4, and 5 work fine). He gave up (thank goodness) and I told him that’s ok – I’ll just bring it to Harris Cyclery (I live an hour away and I was trying to save a trip if they could fix it locally). He said, “yeah, I agree, I think you should, they work on these all the time.”

    • Scruffy Beard Mechanic December 6, 2011  

      Sadly most shops don’t get a lot of experience with hub gears, including ours. Ninety percent of my experience with internal gearing comes from my own bikes (and I’m happy to consult the Harris Cyclery web site when I get stuck).

    • Sue December 6, 2011  

      Yes, that’s true and I really appreciate that he tried. He’s a super nice guy and honest And that’s why I decided to give him a shot :).

    • Scruffy Beard Mechanic December 6, 2011  

      Hey, if he’s smart enough to say “I don’t want to break it, talk to Harris Cyclery,” he’s definitely worth trusting on the stuff he DOES know.
      (by the way, if I had to take an educated guess at the problem it sounds like the shift cable is not getting enough slack in first gear, possibly because of a kink in the cable, some friction in the housing or even the cable being a tiny bit too tight, you might just need to replace the cable).

    • Sue December 7, 2011  

      Thank you so much for the educated tip.

  • cyclelogicalgear December 8, 2011   Reply →

    Just came across your blog. Great pictures and content. Glad to find a new blog to read.

  • Tee TeaRose December 21, 2011   Reply →

    hahahah thats exactly ME! i never knew there is sum! like me at all.. <3 u!

  • Cassidy Castleman December 23, 2011   Reply →

    Did you jiggle it??? That is too much! I’m dying with laughter over here. This is one of my favorite posts. Its right up there with the one about your brother. :)

  • Claire Petersky January 19, 2012   Reply →

    The people who tell you you need to learn how to fix your bike? I dk about you, but my experience is that they are 100% men, and they are 100% people who like to fix things. There’s nothing wrong with this – let them fix their bikes.

    You should know basic bike maintenance – how to inspect a bike tire, how to fix a flat; how to keep the drive train clean. How to keep the rims clean enough that you aren’t swapping out brakes all the time and blowing out the rim in less than 10,000 miles.

    Have the shop guys, bearded or not, do the rest. Bake them homemade yummy treats, come in with a six pack of tasty malted beverages, buy things at the shop, and most of the minor work will come for the cost of the parts.

    If certain men didn’t insist all the time that other people should absolutely know how to fix their own bikes before they took up riding, more women would ride.

  • Jean February 24, 2012   Reply →

    I’ve been shown to how change a bike tire flat…several times. But have not yet tried it. (Let me cower in my corner please.)

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