Life Without Wheels: Chronicle of a Car-Free Lifestyle
So the title of this post says it all, right? However, I'm going to go into some detail in the hopes that maybe I'll inspire other ladies out there to give their bikes a look and not feel like every little tweak requires the time and cost of a bicycle mechanic. So here's the back story and some pics...

A few weeks ago on a training run to work on keeping a steady and fast pace, I took a route that contained quite a few pot holes. On this ride, I attained the knowledge and ability of the bunny hop...which, probably not very wisely considering I ride a road bike, I began to employ on my route to work. I used it specifically to hop over the huge set of potholes on 4th Street, just a couple of blocks west of La Brea. This is where I hopped the potholes and the next time I braked, felt the chug, chug, chug response from my right caliper, which inevitably meant a dent in my rear wheel rim. [Insert swearing and cursing here.]

So, I embarked upon the task of repairing the dent, which took me through buying a spoke wrench, loosening the spokes, banging on the wheel like a cavewoman, then truing the wheel. Thanks to, I did a fair job on my first try. On the next rides I didn't feel it at all. However, after a terrible training ride on Sunset (during which a male motorist in a BMW actively tried to run  me off the road), I felt the dent reappearing. So it was clear to me that before my Double Century on March 20th, I would have to do some more work on the rear wheel. "Well," I thought, "I might as well also fix the front derailleur like I've been saying I would." Here's the story with the front derailleur.

If you've read my previous blog posts, you'll know that I obtained my Schwinn Le Tour (which I've measured at 56cm, a full 5cm too big for me) after my beautiful blue Huffy with lovely collapsing rear baskets and faulty brakes was stolen. When I purchased the bike, the girl who sold it to me told me that the front derailleur had never worked, and that her bike mechanic had never been able to get it to work. In a repair session with Ohaijoe, he took a look at it and said it probably just needed to be aligned or have the cable tightened. I left it as it was for a long time because I honestly wasn't needing the top gear, until I wanted to go faster and build more momentum going downhill. 

My experience with people saying that their bike mechanic or "guy" has looked at it lots of times but can't fix it means that their bike guy is an idiot or not really trying or doing the work. It's a man-made and man-powered device. It can't be some mystery why it's not working. It's not magic. I mean, riding a bike is certainly magical, but bike repair? Not magic and certainly not rocket science. (Look, if I can fix something, it's not rocket science.)

So on Friday, March 19th, I settled down in my living room with my tools, my netbook, and my bicycle set up on my trainer (in absence of a bike stand this was an excellent alternative). 

First things first, the front derailleur. I watched the tutorial on, and playing with the derailleur, decided the problem was with the lower gear limit screw. I adjusted it, but it still wasn't shifting. It appeared to me the cable just wasn't pulling it back all the way. So onto the forums I went. Some one there suggested lubing the pivot points. So I did, then...abracadabra! It shifted! I started yelling and shouting with joy. I fixed it! It worked! No, no, you don't understand...


Okay, more effusiveness later, onto the rim...well, let's make this short: I dismantled, loosened spokes, banged away, trued the wheel, reassembled. It's not perfect, and I think I might have to break down and buy a new wheel or rim, can't decide which. If I buy a new rim, then I get to install spokes, true it, and install the cartridge. If it's a wheel that I buy, I just get to install the cartridge. It's all a matter of how big a project I want to take on. Here are the pics from the repair day.
I realize it sort of looks like my bike is doing yoga...

All of this has inspired me to do something I never would have thought I would do. I'm going to build myself a new commuter bike. From scratch. All by myself. And it will work. And then I'll paint it pink and put streamers on it. How many people can say they built their mode of transportation? Not many, I'd guess.
Unless you're a cyclist. And we rock.

I think there are a lot of women out there who think that this kind of lifestyle is very far away from them, and as much as they'd like to start riding a bike and using it as a true means of transportation, it's just not possible. It's too scary. But it's not. We all thought that at first. But little by little, we become more confident on the road. You connect with the community and learn tips and tricks to dealing with the mean streets and beautiful streets of Los Angeles. And one day, you blow a flat. You patch the tube and start to gain confidence that you could do more. You buy new tires for your Death Machine and install those. You buy grip tape and think maybe you could do more. You get repair and maintenance tips from other cyclists. Then one day you get a dent in your rear rim and don't want to spend money to buy a new one or to fix it, so out come the tools, and you scour Google and Twitter for advice on rim dents. Then you true a wheel and adjust your front derailleur. Just a little while ago, you were changing a tube and now you're building a bike!

Baby steps, ladies, but don't let the guys fool you. It ain't rocket science. So pull out your spoke wrench and multi-tool and let's build a bike!

PS: The bike build project will be full documented here. Promise. 


03/22/2010 10:24

Good job! Doing little things like this build confidence in your bike. I haven't attempted to true a wheel yet, that's my next challenge.

Great job on your Double Century too.

03/23/2010 10:55

Good advice no matter who you are--plenty of guys like me can feel intimidated by the prospect of doing repairs on your bike.


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