Because the bike is a constant when biking cross-country, it is possible to forget it’s even there. Huh? Pedaling becomes so automatic that it can feel as though you’re simply perched on a strangely shaped seat, watching the parading scenery of landscape and thought (depending on where you’re looking; someday’s out, others in), sipping occasionally from the water hose dangling over your shoulder. That’s a good day.
There are also days when the bike takes center stage, flaring up in a divalicious kind of way with squeaking breaks, or mysterious clicking sounds or flat tires. That’s a My-Bike-Is-Being-A-Diva kind of day.
Kate (my biking partner) and I made it from Vermont to California on bikes, and our bikes did too. Neither of us was any great bike whiz either. I had never even changed a bike tire before I left. So, coming from someone who started in total noobdom, here’s my Bike Mechanics 101:
The bike itself should be steel frame. The necessity of the sturdy steel is more a testament to the extreme winds that will blow your way than the weight of your panniers. We both had Trek 520’s, 100% customer satisfaction. Disc brakes are not essential.
Your bike toolkit should have a multi tool (a swiss army knife for bikes), tire levers, spare tubes, pump, patch repair kit, oil, and a greasy rag.
Brake pads were the first to go. You will know it is time for new ones when you are squishing the brakes to the max and nothing happens. We got new chains about a month in (ours were hangin low).
Sometimes the spokes in your wheels can skew in a way that throws off the tire alignment. If it’s feeling wonky, go to a bike shop to get your wheels “trued”. Don’t be riding a liar tire.
We made it from Vermont to Montana without getting a single flat tire. Within minutes of crossing the Montana border however, thorns hit the tubes aka shit hit the fan. It began a whole slew of tire changing days that peaked in a region called Flat Head County where we were having upwards of 3 pit stops a day, inspiring this song.
- Turn your bike upside down. It makes everything easier, but be wary of looping the chain. A real brain buster.
- Either patch the tube right then & there or develop a system of separating bad tubes from good tubes…they look dangerously similar.
- Finding the puncture wound in the tube can be difficult. If you’re really stumped, submerge the tube in water, apply pressure and notice when and where the bubbles come out.
- There is a nut that stabilizes the air valve. Remember to put in on the OUTSIDE of the tire when reassembling. Duh. Once I put it on the inside and suffered from Princess & the Pea syndrome for a couple days before figuring it out, hence the coinage forget-me-nut.
- The hardest part is seating the tire back under the lip of the wheel. There are moments when it feels impossible. Just believe you are the only person in the world who can do it and it will eventually budge. This trick also works for keys in difficult locks.
For the most part, bikes are beautifully low maintenance. And honest–if you did something wrong, you won’t get far.
Take-away: A lot of bike glitches can be solved by simple diagnostic tests like pumping the brakes or hand pedaling. Chances are it’s something you forgot to tighten or reattach in your last flat tire change. Also– after it rains, oil your chain.