The One Bike Repair Skill Everyone Should Learn

Recently, I discovered that Wal-Mart now sells e-bikes via their website (they also now carry a cyclocross bike and an entry-level road bike, both equipped with brifters, thanks to microshift). Part of me felt a little perturbed (now even more people will buy Wal-Mart bikes!) and part of me felt like, well, actually, for people with mobility issues living on a fixed income, that might actually be kind of a great thing.

So, of course, being the obsessive weirdo that I am, I decided to read the reviews. All of them.

All too soon, I stumbled across a one-star review that essentially said, “One of the tires went flat, so I returned it, and I’m mad that I had to pay the return shipping and tires aren’t covered under the warranty.”

That review made me sad — in fact, it made me very sad.

It made me so sad because it reminded me that, all over the United States, neglected bikes are hanging unused in garages and rusting in back yards because people (even some who, presumabl, know how to change a flat tire on their cars) don’t realize that bike tires aren’t like car tires.

For the most part, bike tires still use inner tubes. That means that, when you get a flat tire, you can simply go out (in your car, even!) and purchase another inner tube from your local bike shop — or even from Wal-Mart &dmash; for about $5 – $10. Then you pop your tire off the rim of your bike’s wheel, look for the offending pointy bit, remove it if you find it, install the new tube, inflate it, and you’re ready to roll.

It’s a simple skill, and it’s easy to learn — and yet potential millions of reasonably-smart Americans … Americans who presumably even have internet access … have no idea it can be done.

I have to suspect that forty or fifty years ago every Dad in America — and a sound percentage of everyone else — knew this. If they didn’t know how to change a bike inner tube, they at least knew it could be done — and if they didn’t know how to do it themselves, they probably knew someone who could. They might even have known that it is often possible to patch inner tubes.

Wal-Mart’s e-bike actually gets pretty great reviews. People like it because it adds a little bit of extra freedom to their lives. It was disheartening to see someone who could’ve enjoyed that little bit of extra freedom angry and discouraged because the bike he or she purchased came with a small problem that could’ve been fixed very easily.

Yes, bike tires and inner tubes are generally considered “consumable parts” under manufacturers’ warranties. That’s because they’re cheap and easy to replace. Don’t like the tires your bike came with? You can buy a whole new set for less than $30 if you know where to look. Inner tubes defective? Well, it happens. They can be replaced easily enough.

Being able to ride and maintain a bike is a big step towards the kind of freedom and self-sufficiency that we Americans claim to cherish. In fact, as a competent and fit cyclist, I have a measure of freedom even drivers don’t — I can ride in places cars can’t go, gas prices exert essentially no impact on my life, and if someday we should experience a gas shortage, well … that’s no skin off my back. I can still get where I need to go, even if “where I need to go” is all the way across the country. It just might take a little bit longer.

I’d like to live in a country where people are able to think for themselves well enough to whip out the self-same computers they used to order their bikes from Wal-Mart and google “What do I do about a flat bike tire?” One where beloved family bikes aren’t blamed for ruining the fun just because Bubby or Sissy rode over a nail. One where we aren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and said, “Hm, I wonder what these little screws on this here gear-changing dingus do?”

…Because, in all honesty, that’s how I’ve learned much of what I now know about bike repair, which is enough to fix something like 95% of the problems my bikes throw at me (I don’t build wheels, so I can’t replace worn-out or hosed-up rims — but I do know how to pay someone else to do that).

The one bike repair skill everyone should learn is how to replace an inner tube: because once everyone realizes how easy it is to do, they might feel a little less intimidated about, say, adjusting the brakes a bit, or trying a different set of tires, or figuring out what’s making that insufferable squeaky noise in the pedals.

That, and it’ll get a lot of those neglected bikes back out on the road, doing what they should be doing: providing people with freedom and fun.

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About asher

Me in a nutshell: Blissfully married, ballet-and-bicyle-obsessed gay intersexed boy. Half-baked dancer. Mediocre gravel racer. Learning to live with bipolar disorder. Indiana University Southeast psychology senior (go Grenadiers!). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2012/12/28, in thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. your so right. I have met so many people on the trail walking there bikes do to a flat. I always stop to help and show them how easy it is to fix the flat. most of the time there like omg. when I show them my little kit under my seat with pump patchs.. one couple with flat were gonna walk 2 1/2 to 3 miles to see if walmart would fix it for them. after fixing there tire they I told them how cheep the bag an pump an patchs were. and sent them on ther way..or corse with a million thanks… take a free class help others pass it on.. :)>

    • I think the fact that people who ride regularly are often willing to stop and help someone with a flat is one of the coolest things about the cycling community! I think of it as good cycling karma … if I stop to help someone with a mechanical issue, maybe someone will stop to help me on the day that I’ve blown a tire or broken a chain or something and I don’t have the requisite whatzit to get back underway! :D

      It’s funny how many people don’t own bike tire pumps. I’ve always assumed they were one of those requisite household tools — hammer, adjustable wrench, bike pump (also good for inflating beach balls and the like) — but apparently there are some folks out there who don’t! :D Every now and then someone will balk when I tell them how much I paid for my tire pump ($50), but I make a point of telling them that even the inexpensive ones at Wal-Mart will get the job done, and mine is worth the cost in terms of reliability and self-reliance.

      …Now I just need to get a frame pump that lets me inflate a tire in less than 3 hours… :D

  2. I have a recumbent trike that I love to pieces, and I ride it whenever the roads are a bit iffy after the rains or during wet days, when there’s too much debris on the road for safe riding. There was a time when my husband decided to replace the usual bomb-proof tire liners it has for cheap ones, and on one ride alone, I had to fix my own flats *three times*. It was annoying, but it wasn’t any trouble at all. And passing cyclists always offer to help (though I turned them all down because, yanno, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do).

    Yes, after that, he put the bomb-proof tire liners back. XD

    • Bomb-proof tire liners are … welll … the bomb! I used to use some when I was couriering for similar reasons — I knew lots of shortcuts through alleys and so forth, but the downside was that I was much more likely to encounter broken class or whatever.

      Having to fix flats mid-ride is an awesome skill to have. I am horrible at getting patches to work, so most of the time I roll with spare tubes in my seatpost bag :D

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