When I signed up to be the Bike Library LT, I knew nothing about bike maintenance. I loved cycling, and I loved bikes, but I barely knew how to pump up my tire. WD-40? What’s that? Seven months volunteering in the bike library later… Honestly, I still didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. But as I took stock of what I’d learned, I realized that bike maintenance know-how sneaks up on you even if you don’t realize it (much like chain stretching does!).
Between doing admin and organizational work during my time in the bike library, I got to listen in on Dave (our mechanic) and our volunteers helping our bike library workshop visitors work on their bikes. The team and I organized workshops, which meant I got to go to them, and listened to Dave explain many important parts about maintaining your bike. Over time, I started to pick up the knowledge the team was dropping. The thing about learning bike maintenance, especially by listening in on different explanations, is that there’s so much to learn that when you’re watching Dave replace the ball-bearings in a hub or explain how to replace the housing on the brakes, it feels overwhelming, above your paygrade, and like it’s just going over your head. But because there is so much to learn, there’s no way you listen to a skill once and just get it. You have to build it up, layer by layer, and that’s what I wasn’t seeing. I definitely got about halfway through the year and still felt like I didn’t really know anything… Until a fellow LT asked if I could answer a question about her bike. After my gut reaction of “probably not,” when she asked why her tire kept going flat and how to fix it, to my surprise, I found myself explaining the structure of a bike wheel, what could cause a puncture, and how to get your inner tube out to patch it! Piece by piece, I had picked up that knowledge without even realizing it.
Because many of our workshops are focused on the basics of bike maintenance, and the basic skills were explained again and again in the bike library, I’ve heard the same spiel about how to take off your wheel, replacing inner tubes, lubricating your wheel, etc., a LOT. And it took me each of those repetitions to really understand it to the point where I could explain them myself. There’s no shame in not understanding or absorbing something on the first try – in bike maintenance especially, you have to hear something and physically do it over and over and over until it’s automatic and your hands know what they’re doing.
Although I’m still very much a beginner and have much more to learn, when I look at my bike, all of the individual parts have a lot more meaning to me. I can see how the whole thing works together to create one awesome moving machine, and I know how to approach different problems. Also, maybe most importantly, as Dave says, I know what I don’t know – I know what I need to ask about in order to understand.
So, I hope that if you’re trying to learn more about bike maintenance – which I hope you do – you won’t be discouraged if you feel like you’re not absorbing or learning enough to be able to do anything. It’s a slow process, and it’s a fun one, and I promise you that you’re learning more than you think. And even if you walk away from a session in the workshop only knowing how to change an inner tube, or lubricate your chain, those are valuable skills that’ll serve you well on your journey in bike-riding awesomeness.
If you’re looking to learn more about bike maintenance, please stop by the bike library, and bring your bike with you. We’d love to have you.
Your friend in bike-tinkering,
Bike Library & Workshop TL