Veteran mechanic trainer Alf Webb of The Bike Inn asks whether anything can beat simply getting your hands dirty in order to become a top mechanic

Bicycle repairs: DIY or pay others to do it?

Words by Alf Webb,

"You must have the tools of the trade to do the job”

“Bicycle maintenance is for the experts”

“Sorry Sir, we are fully booked for cycle repairs so it will not be ready until a week from now”

“Please understand that we have large overheads and the high costs of tools force us to make the charges we ask for repairs”

The above comments are genuine and some of the reasons for the high costs of cycle repairs and the running of a bicycle workshop. Having said that, the costs are not high in comparison to many other trades. We gladly pay ten times that to have our cars fixed, thinking it must be a highly skilled job. It takes no longer to change your engine oil than it does to change a bicycle brake cable!

Bicycle maintenance is not a highly skilled job. There are good and bad mechanics, for sure. The difference is that the good mechanic utilises his/her experience with sound common sense, diagnosing and determining faults quickly from what he/she sees on the bike and from his/her questions of the rider. The bad mechanics, unable to diagnose properly, expects the fault to jump out at them saying ‘Here I am, I’m the problem!’ All too often components are changed (at cost) simply because the mechanic cannot determine exactly what the problem is and takes the easy way out. They will often offer comments like: “Let me know if you have any more problems.” In other words, he didn’t really know – he’s just hoping!

So what is the answer? The home DIY mechanic has a number of ways of learning. He/she will not need the heavy duty work-shop tools one will find in a cycle workshop, but will need some basic tools to enable them to change brake and gear cables, brake pads, chains and sprockets, etc. Removing and re-fitting chain-sets and rings is not difficult with just a few simple tools. Fit new pedals? – easy when you know which way to turn the spanner!

There are many books on the market giving instruction on cycle mechanics. Some good and some not so good. But there is a drawback to these, in that one may have difficulty in trying to understand what the author is saying. There are no ‘bad’ books, but some are better than others. You have to pick out the books (how many do you purchase before you think you have found the best?) that are written by budding journalists from the ones written by experienced bike mechanics. Even then, there is the difficulty of not knowing who or what to take notice of.

There is a lot of nonsense written in books and magazines by writers thinking they have the answers when, in fact, they do not have an honest ‘in-depth’ understanding of what they are writing about. Too much emphasis is placed on what little they know of components and manufacturers. It is very wrong to promote one manufacturer’s name against another, but some do it simply because of limited experience. Others do it because of prejudice and/or payment!

Instruction on bicycle mechanics comes best on video, because one can actually see what is to be done and how to do it. You have a clear indication of what to fit, how to fit, and the tools required to do so. There are not many on the market, but those that have been produced do tend to be good. The cost of a cycle maintenance film may be more than a book, but they are very much quicker and easier to follow.

The last and undoubtedly finest way to learn bike mechanics is to attend a good evening or day class with good, experienced instructors. With ‘hands on’ experience and the opportunity to use the correct tools for the job, covering all aspects of bicycle repair and maintenance, what you learn will be more than sufficient to recover any repair costs you might have paid for some-one else to do it for you!

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