So how do you fix a bike?

The journey begins
first with an education.
Travel’s on my mind.

In hindsight, I had no idea what I needed to know to be prepared for a bike tour. The concept seemed simple enough; have a bicycle and a few bags, and then just ride! But what about if something goes wrong? What if I get a flat in the middle of nowhere, or if my shifter stops working smoothly, or if anything happens to my brakes?

Now, I’ve never been a fix-it guy, so when I decided that I was going to bike from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to St. Louis, Missouri, it dawned on me pretty quickly that I might not be prepared for most contingencies. In order to remedy this, I figured my best, and only, option was to sit down and talk to people I knew who have had some experience fixing bikes.

But in the back of my mind, I thought that what I would really like to do is get a job at my local bike shop where I could spend a few hours every day ACTUALLY FIXING people’s bikes! Though last I checked, Itasca Trail Sports wasn’t hiring, and it was a small operation anyway, so my odds of getting in were bad. Especially since I had no experience and wasn’t even mechanically inclined. All the same, I waltzed into the shop this past spring to talk tune-up, so I thought I’d ask Don, the owner, about apprenticeship opportunities.

It turned out he was looking to hire someone, and on the cheap. For hire? Cheap? Someone? The description fit me perfectly. Sounds like I was his guy!

grandr423

Of course, this new endeavor naturally brought forth some new anxieties. Being a non-mechanical guy, someone who has had problems just nailing boards together before, how well would I manage the job I had so courteously been given? But how bad could I be, really? Amongst the multitude of jobs that I’ve had throughout my adult life, I’ve worked as a tire tech at a garage and as a cable guy; two jobs that require a bit of old-fashioned handiness. And if I remember correctly, I did just fine at both.

When I got back from vacation at the end of April, I waltzed into the shop once again, this time as an employee on his first day on the job. It’s always exciting starting something new like this, especially when you’re doing it for a reason… like learning how to fix bikes so that I can confidently venture off on a solo bike trip half-way across the country! Don knew that I was an avid cyclist, but that I didn’t know jack about fixing bikes, so he set me on building new bikes my first couple days before I touched anything that was brought in for repairs. The new ones were straight forward, no surprises, and were a good introduction to bicycle anatomy. They were the cadavers I studied before operating on the live patient.

While Don was impressed by how little he needed to explain things to me, I quickly became intimidated by how much needed to be explained to me. With each successive day, it was more and more clear how little I actually knew about how bicycles work. Seriously, I didn’t even know how to take the rear wheel off a bike when I started. Bottom bracket; what the hell was that? I felt like a musician who didn’t have a clue how to even tune his instrument.

But hey, that’s why I was doing this! In addition to the intimidation, with each successive day I also learned a handful of things that I could use to help both myself and potentially other cyclists on the trail when I head out later this summer. And so after the first couple tires that I changed, I finally felt like I had met the bare minimum of cycling education; I could be taught and would, in time, be fine.

And as it turned out, my education wasn’t anywhere near the only perk I got on the job. A few weeks in, Don mentioned in passing how he had forgot to tell me that, as an employee, I had the opportunity to buy a bike at a crazy discount once a year.

The hell you say, Don…

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