bike month graphic A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Graphic: Anežka Gočová

After a season of navigating the wintery roads or being stationed in the garage, your bike could probably use a little TLC. Or you might be in the market for a new set of wheels. In this first post of our Bike Month blog series, Gear Up with A\J, we’re sharing some key things you need to know for maintaining your ride. 

Here are three things you can learn to do at home:

Cleaning your chain

  • Shift your gears so that the chain is on the largest ring at the front of your bike and smallest socket at the rear
  • Lean your bike against a surface (so you can work hands free) and laydown newspaper under your bike
  • Slowly turn the pedals backwards and wipe down the chain with a rag saturated with solvent, such as WD-40 or isopropyl alcohol. Do this until grease no longer comes off onto the rag along the length of the chain.
  • Wipe down the areas that come in contact with the chain. You can dip a toothbrush in solvent to get at the hard to reach spaces.
  • Wipe down your chain with the solvent soaked rag one last time.

Lubricating the moving parts

  • Use bike-formulated lubricant and add a few drops of oil to the areas of your bike where there’s friction between metal components. This includes your derailleur and brake assemblies, brake and derailleur cables, brake and shifter levers and pedals.

Checking your tire pressure  

  • Look for the recommended tire pressure on the sidewall of your tire.
  • Use a tire gauge to check the pressure as you inflate your tire and adjust accordingly.

Using bike shop resources:

Community bicycle resource centres, such as Recycle Cycles in Kitchener, Ontario, are a good place to have your questions answered about more complex bike issues. The Waterloo Public Interest Research Group launched Recycle Cycles in the mid 1990s and it became a Working Centre project in 1997. In 2012, they repaired 4000 bikes and logged 5000 volunteer hours. While at commercial bike shops you drop your bike off and a mechanic works on it in exchange for money, at Recycle Cycles you work on your own bike with the help of volunteers. But unfortunately, not everyone feels comfortable or welcome in bike shops. “They’re like the cool kids’ table in high school,” joked one of the A\J staffers. To help break down these barriers, Recycle Cycles hosts a Women’s and Trans Bike Night every Tuesday.

“Bike shops can be intimidating because they are typically male-dominated environments," explains Fig, a volunteer at Recycle Cycles. "There’s different gender dynamics that can play out, whether people are conscious of it or not. More often, men are socialized to learn hands-on skills and this can create a gender divide regarding who feels comfortable accessing bike resources."

“Knowing basic bike maintenance can make you more self-sufficient if you rely on your bike a lot. It also enhances your mobility – you don’t have to get bummed out about a flat tire.” She suggests flipping your bike over and getting to know it by having a good look at it and see how things move. She also recommends picking up a copy of Chainbreaker Bike Book: A rough guide to bicycle maintenance (see below for how to win a copy of Chainbreaker!)  

While she faces issues of sexism, Fig maintains that challenging stereotypes and stepping out of your comfort zone can be very rewarding. She maintains that you shouldn’t be embarrassed about asking questions and that bike shop staff are there to help you in your learning process. But it’s also important to be courteous, especially when tool sharing. Fig reassures, “Just don’t take tools out of people’s hands and you’ll do great!”

Next week we’ll share the basics of bike safety and feature an interview with a CAN-BIKE representative.

To be entered to win a copy of Chainbreaker and other great bike books, tell us your favourite place to bike in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter throughout Bike Month (May 27 – June 30). Visit our cycling page for more bike-related content.

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

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