Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips
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Bike to Work Guide
By Paul Dorn/Roni Sarig

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Image of bike mechanical design

The most common repair you will encounter as a bike commuter will be a flat tire. You can minimize pneumatic distress by buying durable tires. You should also monitor brake wear to make sure they're not rubbing against the sidewalls of your tires. You should also look for and remove glass or metal fragments stuck in the rubber. However, sooner or later you will experience the distinctive hissing of a punctured tire.

What do you do when you get a flat? First, take a deep breath. Then ... fix it. It's wise to always travel with a lightweight air pump (make sure it matches your valve stem, Presta or Schrader), tire levers, a patch kit, or spare inner tube. The easiest way to repair a flat is with a new tube, taking the punctured one home to repair. It takes a little longer to repair the tube with glue and a patch -- about five minutes. But with quick release wheels, getting a flat is a small hardship. Practice removing your wheel, taking the tire off and changing the tube at home, where you're warm and dry. A dark, rainy night is the worst time to fix your first flat tire. A quick tip for easy cleanup: wear a pair of latex surgical gloves, available at your local pharmacy, make your repair, then discard. (Don't litter!)

You will certainly need to do other repairs over the course of many months of bike commuting. The encouraging thing is that most repairs you can do yourself. A bicycle is a far simpler machine than an automobile. With the help of more experienced cyclists, bicycling magazines, or one of many available "how-to" books, you can easily learn to fix your own bike. Many bicycle shops, community colleges, adult education programs, or bicycle organizations offer workshops or classes in bike repair. I took a class at the Freewheel in San Francisco, a community bike shop that provides tools and repair stands for members to work on their bikes. Currently I'm a member of the Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen. It's a very satisfying feeling to be a self-sufficient cyclist.

Keeping your bike clean will keep it running smoothly. There are several easy "spray on and rinse" cleaners available, such as White Lightning Wash & Shine biodegradable bike wash, Finish Line Super Bike Wash, or Pedro's Green Fizz foaming cleaner. These are pretty miraculous products, just spray on and rinse off.

The most important advice I can offer regarding bicycle maintenance is this: replace your chain every 2,000 miles or so. The most important part of your bike is the drive train: pedals, crank, chain, rear freewheel or cogs, derailleurs. Keep your drivetrain clean and your bike will work well and you'll be a happy commuter. Over time, your chain will "stretch". (Actually, the metal wears away around the connecting pins.) A stretched worn chain causes your rear sprockets to wear down to match the chain. Replacing a freewheel or a cogset or even chainrings can get a little pricey. Clean and lightly oil your chain frequently--especially after riding in the rain --and replace it regularly.

Resources: Bike Repair Videos
YouTube Bicycle Maintenance Videos
The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair
Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair
Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance (DVD)
Park SK-1 Home Mechanic Starter Tool Kit


Comments? Suggestions? Contact || Updated 10.14.11