Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bike tune-up

In my teenage and college days, I went everywhere on my bike, so of necessity I got pretty good at bike maintenance and repair. No one taught me, and I had no books or anything; I just got tools and poked at things and figured them out. Bikes are not the most complicated devices; generally, the bits you can't figure out with a basic application of logic are the bits you can't repair yourself anyway (like the inside of a derailleur).

At least, back then. The new bikes I bought us last summer for our birthday/postsurgery gift have some improvements since my teenage days which leave me not always knowing how to maintain them. I was able to assemble them without much trouble, and get them working, but there are a few things I've never quite mastered.

First, there's 21 gears. Back in my day, 10 speeds seemed like plenty. Fact is, the vast majority of the time I only use 2-3 of these 21. I've had little luck with getting the derailleurs calibrated so that it easily reaches each gear without ever jumping off. I can get close enough that given I don't go to most of the gears or change that much I never notice the problem, but I'd like to do better.

Then there's the brakes. Instead of being simple caliper brakes, these are more like scissors, with the pivot point in the middle and both sides moving. When I squeeze the brake handle, they clamp very nicely; but when I release, one side moves away from the tire more than the other, so that one side sometimes rubs on the tire while you're moving. I can't figure out how to adjust this away.

I considered bringing them in for a tune-up at a local bike shop. They'd probably charge me an unreasonable amount, and there's the hassle of bringing them there, but it would be worth it to get the problem addressed. However, the problem with that is they would be very unlikely to also teach me how to do it, so all they could do is get my bike perfect once and then a few months, or at most a season, later, I'd need to do it again.

So this weekend another one of my intended activities is to dig out the owner's manuals and make another attempt to figure them out enough to make the adjustments myself, and learn these newfangled parts. In the past, I found this manual less than helpful. It's one of those manuals that is shared over several models so it's hard to figure out which of the instructions (often written in language that assumes you already know stuff) to follow. But I'm going to make another try. If I put some time into it I should be able to figure it out, and then I'll know for the life of the bikes.

That means next week I can start bringing it to work. Looking forward to that. As much as I like reading books on my Kindle while I ride, nothing compares to a real bike. It's probably also better exercise.

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