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Hedge-blog: bike maintenance course

12th July 2014

Bike maintenance course at Dalby Forest

Could you point out the chainstay on a bike? Or name the part of the frame that runs from the join with the forks down to the bottom bracket? (the down tube).

Very likely you can, especially if you've worked with bikes. But I'll admit to not knowing the name of all the parts of a bicycle.  

I attended a beginners' bike maintenance course on 20th June 2014. As I reported on 1st May 2014, Welcome to Yorkshire advertised it as part of their Tour de France legacy programme, and it was subsidised, at £36 plus booking fee and VAT, rather than the full price of £99 plus those extras. It was run by CTC at Dalby Forest.

Our course leader, Mike Hawtin, began by asking the course participants (five of us) to take turns to add an essential part of a bike onto the outline drawing he had provided, and name each one. I believe we all learned some new terms. We came up with something similar to the labelled bike diagram on jimlangley.net.

The next part of the course was to learn to do an 'M-check' - a basic quick check of a bike from front to back to identify any problems. It started with the front wheel (but could equally have started at the back), and followed the M shape made by the forks, down tube, seat tube, and seat stays. 

When you close a quick release, it should leave a mark on the fleshy part of your palm - a good tip for knowing that it's tight enough. Mike mentioned that the quick release gets harder to push until it's vertical, then easier for the last bit after that point. That was something I unconsciously knew, from having experienced it, but had never thought about. Mike also explained why you should tighten the quick release in an upwards, not a downwards, position - because if it comes loose, it will then fall downwards, and you'll know that there's a problem.

The M check continued, looking at the front wheel, steering and handlebars, pedals, saddle and seatpost, back wheel, brakes, and gears. This video shows an M check performed and explained by a bike mechanic:

CTC have also produced a video of an M check for a mountain bike.

We then looked at brakes. Everyone had a go at taking a brake cable out at the lever end. 

Mike gave us a tip on cable housing. It's often at the end of the housing that problems occur. That's where dirt or water can get in, and sometimes the cable can stick in the housing, due to dirt or rust. When you change the cable housing, you can use a long enough section, so that if the end becomes dirty or rusty, it's long enough to cut the end off (using proper cable cutters), and re-use what remains.

We'd all brought our own bikes along, and bike maintenance stands were provided. I had a go at taking off a brake block (easy), and putting it back (a lot more fiddly). Mike recommends 'toe in, heel out' - which means that the front of the brake block is slightly closer to the rim than the back. This should avoid squealing from the brakes.

We spent some time learning about gears. A bike maintenance stand is very helpful here. 

To get the gear cable slack, you change down to the largest rear ring, then change all the way back up through the gears without pedalling (so the chain stays on the largest rear ring). Once the cable is slack, you can run the cable through the casing, to see if it's sticking. You can also test the limiters while the gear cable is slack, by pushing the rear derailleur across with your thumb, and see if they are doing their job, without cable tension.

We learnt about chain maintenance. Mike gave us a guide to cleaning a chain. After cleaning, whether you're using dry or wet lube, he recommends using a lube that is not too viscous, as it will attract dirt and grit.

Mike replaces one link in the chain with a 'missing link' or 'power link', which makes it easy to remove for cleaning. He also carries one, as well as a link remover, for use in case the chain snaps.

Discussing the chain, bike maintenance course 

We had a go at puncture repairs, taking the tyre off using hands and thumbs rather than tyre levers, so far as possible. One of Mike's tips was to make sure you know, when you take the inner tube out, where the tyre was in relation to the inner tube. Once you've found the puncture, this makes it easier to find the cause of the puncture in the tyre. (Again, many people will know this, but some may not, and a reminder does no harm).

We discussed what tools and spares you should carry with you.

This was a useful and instructive day. It was billed as a beginners' course, and it was perfect for me, as I ride bikes a lot, but I've only done a very limited amount of maintenance. It was practical, involving bikes and bike stands, and getting our hands dirty. 

Of course, there's only so much you can learn in a single day, and there's no substitute for practical experience. But it was enough to give me a bit more knowledge and a bit more confidence, so I can start putting some of the skills into practice, and learn more. Now, have Aldi got any of those cheap-o bike stands left?

Course leader Mike Hawtin

Mike is a trained cycle mechanic and mountain bike leader, who runs his own luxury B&B and mountain biking holiday company in Pickering, North Yorkshire, GoneMountainBiking. He is also involved with the charity Newbridge Park, developing a quarry and woodland for nature and cycling.

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