Bike Issue 2016
AFTER BECOMING a fair-weather bike commuter last year, I was sidelined completely one day when the chain came off my bike, leaving me stranded by the side of the road, at the mercy of strangers, and vulnerable to kidnapping. Luckily, a friendly fellow cyclist caught up in moments, assessed the situation, popped the chain back on, and sent me on my way.
It wasn't until the same thing happened again—identical scenario: thanks, friendly bike-riding lady at 41st and Clay!—that I realized it might be useful to know how to put the chain back on myself. I take pride in my self-sufficiency, and genuinely enjoy chores like bringing my car in for an alignment check or learning how to snake a toilet, and yet I'd been denying myself the satisfaction of bike maintenance! Even more horrifying, I had never even pumped up my own tires.
Enter the free monthly basic maintenance class at Gladys Bikes (and our copy chief, Courtney Ferguson, who gamely taught me how to fill a tire in our office bike room; turns out it's stupid easy). I chose Gladys because the shop is named after the bicycle of a famous suffragette, but there are plenty of free small repair classes offered at bike shops throughout Portland. If you're new to biking, it's definitely worth going to one—if only to get a sense of what you should never, ever do to your bike: e.g., don't hose it down too much because water can affect the bearings. And don't patch tires with Gorilla Glue.
At Gladys Bikes, owner Leah Benson proffered doughnuts, and, with former Gladys employee Amanda Ryman, led our class of four through a very accessible, breezy overview of the caring and feeding of our bikes, demonstrating each step of the lesson on an attendee's volunteer steed. We learned how to safely position our bikes to clean them (upside down, with care), the names of various parts (derailleur! cassette! crankset!) and what order to clean them in (top to bottom, frame last), how to get gross gunk buildup out of the chain (the chain is super disgusting, sorry) and how to lubricate it (let it sink in overnight, if you can, and definitely DON'T use safflower oil).
Then came the big moment: It was time for me to learn how to put my runaway chain back on. Leah pulled my bike out for me, and showed me how to gently push the derailleur cage forward to create slack, then return the chain to its correct position. My hands got extremely greasy, but with help, I triumphed.
During the grand finale—a flat repair demo—my heart sank as I realized I definitely don't have a patch kit, and I'm not sure I'd even be able to use one in a pinch. [Editor's note: Patch kits are like $3, and easy as hell to use.] But as if reading my mind, Leah ended her lesson with a reminder that if you’re biking in Portland, you’re never far from a bike shop—a tire-repair kit might just be a $20 bill in your back pocket. We should feel free to learn about bike maintenance, she said, but we shouldn’t feel bad about ourselves if we ask for help. “No guilt,” she said.
And no more getting stranded by an errant bike chain.