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Advocacy / Tips - Safety

The Case Against Bicycle Repair Nihilism

Adjust that clicky rear derailleur

You need to take care of your bicycle!  I know that not caring about anything is cool, but you’re not an angsty high schooler anymore, and your apathy is more lazy than hip.  Also, you’ve seen The Breakfast Club enough times to know that even Judd Nelson cares in the end.  So pretend your bicycle is Molly Ringwald, and give a damn.  Even if it’s in secret and with an angry look on your face.

I see and hear bicycles in varying states of fixable disrepair everyday, and it drives me crazy to know that people can be so disinterested in the fast moving machinery between their legs.  Your bicycle makes your life so much easier, so why are you making your bike’s life so much worse?  That grinding noise is your bike’s cry for help, and you’re ignoring it, you sadist.  And an ungrateful sadist, at that.

Two recent events really got my lycra in a bunch over this lack of care riding rampant through the streets of Philadelphia.  The first was my roommate telling me that she needed a new bicycle because hers was too slow.  After spending an hour or so adjusting the front fender so it wasn’t pressed firmly against the tire, removing a rust-frozen chain, replacing some cables and housing, and thoroughly lubricating all moving parts, I asked her how the bike felt.  She said it was like new.  That was $20 worth of parts and an hour’s worth of work to save the bike from Craigslist.  Would you throw away your laptop because you’ve spent too much time on questionable websites and now it’s slower than a fully loaded Long Haul Trucker in the Black Hills?  Almost all of the slowness on your bike is your fault, much like all of the sketchy malware on your laptop, and all you need to do to fix it is take it to a professional for some typically inexpensive work.

Adjust that clicky rear derailleur

Later that very same day, while riding on Spruce, I could hear a loud grinding noise coming from the bicycle that was half a block ahead of me.  I knew what it was well before ever catching up with the rider.  It was the sound of a bicycle chain violently rubbing up against a front derailleur.  The fix for this issue is usually as simple as moving your left hand ever so slightly, adjusting the front derailleur out of the direct path of the chain.  It is basic bicycle usage, not maintenance, and is one of the most common sounds to come from a nihilist’s bicycle.  How could someone ride a bike with a loud grinding noise following them the whole way without stopping to see what was wrong?  Would that same person drive a car while smoke poured out from under the hood?  Seriously, just move your left thumb and it’ll stop.  How are you just ignoring that???

If left unaddressed, any bicycle issue is only going to get worse.  If caught early, most common problems, like brake, derailleur, and chain issues, can usually be resolved for $15 or less.  When ignored, quick, minor repairs can turn into major problems that involve new components and costly work that lands your bike in the shop for a week after it gets added to the bottom of the repair list, behind all of the other people that heard that clicking noise but didn’t think anything of it until their chain snapped, they flew over their handle bars, and misaligned their whole bike.

There are plenty of great bicycle shops in Philly that would love to quickly make minor repairs on your ride.  Regardless of your neighborhood, you’re seldom further than two miles from a qualified professional.  Who knows, you may even live on the same block as a mechanic, and if you’d just be more social, you’d be able to trade a six-pack for a tune-up.

That pedal is tight! (but not too tight)

But maybe you’re not a nihilist; maybe you just don’t know any better.  That is completely fine, and likely not your fault!   How are you supposed to know about bicycles if none of your friends know about bicycles?  Well, if that’s the case, and you would like to know better, there are people out there to help you learn!  Many different bicycle shops and organizations offer bicycle repair clinics (some free, some not) that will set you on your way to self-reliance.  Within a few classes, you’ll be able to handle flat fixes, chain snaps, brake adjustments, and more.  Here are just a few links, so be sure to walk into your neighborhood shop and ask if they have classes:

  • Neighborhood Bike Works: Adult Bike Repair Classes (West Philly)
  • Fairmount Bikes: Bicycle Repair Classes (Fairmount/Art Museum)
  • Bicycle Therapy: Bicycle Repair Classes Are Back (Graduate Hospital/South St)

(If you’re crippled by social anxiety, maybe in-person classes aren’t for you.  In that case, you can always search through YouTube or go to one of my favorite bicycle sites, SheldonBrown.com.)

Remember, DIY is just as punk as nihilism, so turn that uncaring anger into caring anger.  Then direct it at all the people around you that don’t properly maintain their bikes.  Now go put some air in your tires; you’re going to get a pinch flat.

Pump it up or blow it out

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