Working on Bikes Makes My Hair Hurt

It’s ok if you don’t know your top tube from your chainstay. Your derailleur from your bottom bracket. And it is certainly ok if you still can’t figure out high vs. low gear cause that one is confusing as heck. “Low” should be for going uphill—and it is—but the chain’s place on the cassette when you are in low is high, so which is it? A bike shop dude recently verified that this is verifiably confusing. I appreciated him. No, let’s be honest. I was flooded with relief and immense feelings of goodwill bordering on love. I’m not dumb! Hallelujah!

That may have been an overreach—both the amorous response and the notion that I’m not dumb—but I bet a lot of you know what I mean. I could by all rights be called an “industry insider” or at least industry adjacent. I’ve been riding bikes of various sorts for over forty years, done some racing, got a few medals. My career is bicycle/pedestrian planning, long-distance trails, bike advocacy, bicycle journalism. Though it scared me on a cellular level, I’ve recently written two bike reviews. That were published. By people who know things. In a reputable bike magazine.

But I hate working on bikes, and I hate it when (mostly dudes) say “so…you like that tread pattern?” or “I see you’re running the 6 mil psy-heron semi-flux capacitor with the extra reinforced chromoly head racket. You like it?” To this I usually respond “I do! It rides like a…bike!” They don’t really know what to do with that and usually stop talking to me which is probably not the best approach for a single gal looking for an adventure partner, but there ya go.

Working on bikes is not my jam. It raises my blood pressure and puts both the bike and the nearby environment at risk of having things thrown at them. This is unfortunate as I could save a lot of money by doing brake bleeds, brake pads, new cables etc. myself. Once every year or two I re-commit to doing my own maintenance.

Me: “Ok, this is ridiculous. You can/must at least do your own brake pad replacement.”

Self: “You know you’re just going to get it halfway done and take it to the shop in pieces.”

Me: “No! This time will be different!”

Self: “Hmph. We’ll see.”

Yup. Bought the brake pads, put it on the stand-that-I-just-spent-$250-on-cause-I-do-my-own-work-now and promptly started to sweat and see double cause I forgot about “exercising the pistons” and I threw the old brake pads away and you need those to do the pistons and then I broke the plastic tire lever I was using to do the thing and then I threw that at the wall and hit my water glass which then shattered upon impact and then I swore and put the bike in the car and took it to the shop.

What is the point of this story? Know thyself. If learning and knowing all the parts of your bicycle makes you happy, do it. If learning how to work on your own bike makes you happy, or at least doesn’t take years off your life or endanger lives/property within a 20-foot radius, do it. You’ll save money. You’ll be a better educated consumer. You’ll be better prepared for mechanicals on the road/trail.

I’m just here to say you don’t have to. You don’t have to know your spoke or tread pattern to shred the gnar on your favorite trail. You don’t have to route your own cables to enjoy the flow-state of 30 mph on glass-like pavement. Have a tool and a spare tire and know how to use them both. For everything else, take it to your local shop if it makes your hair hurt to think about wrenching.

Join the conversation
  1. John Rezell says

    Oh, I’m right there with ya! I’m pretty sure the only reason I even try to work on my bike is to make the issue worse so I’m quite certain that it is really messed up and in need of a trip to the bike shop. Like that time I thought I’d tighten a spoke or two to fix that wobble …

  2. trabri says

    Great advice! I used to do it all (never built a wheel tho) then technology started to get away from me. So I checked my pride and started bringing my bikes to one of my great LBSs. What a joy to have solid work done without the stress that I increasingly felt each new model year.

  3. Seanandmysteed5341 says

    Side comment: I just happened upon this site and it like coming home to like minded friends.

    As a gravel, mtb adventure rider, i can relate to the frustrations of home-mechanickery, from stripping the crank arm bolt head threads on my then legacy SLX 3x from years past – and gouging my park tool BB cups to this day. But nothing comes close to the satisfaction of building your own steed and /or wrenching on it or an off the shelf cycle. There is a lot to be said for self-sufficiency out on the trail, and dreaming of it inside while one tends to their spouse and daughters in my case. All while the world careens towards a self imposed Apocalypse, far away as it may be. These self-taught skills have kept me pedalling in (mostly) silent glee through Covid 2020 and 2021 … and to this day.

    Great article – I enjoyed it immensely.

  4. Maureen Gaffney says

    Thanks Y’all! Nice to know I’m not the only one.

Leave A Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More