If you want to learn more about looking after bicycles you have three options: dismantling your bike in your bedroom, signing up for a City and Guilds or going on a Look Mum No Hands! intermediate cycle maintenance course. Here's a hint - the third option is definitely the path of least resistance. Ride Velo hasn't ever tried options one or two, but three is the safest - and we think it's the most fun too.
Lots of people in the cycling world start out as children loving bikes and having an innate desire to understand how they work. Pantani used to wash his bicycle in the family bath, Danni Foffa had 40 bikes in his one bed flat in various states of disrepair until his girlfriend threatened to kick him out, and Graeme Obree used the bearings from a washing machine to build his infamous Old Faithful.
But here at Ride Velo towers, we're not that brave. We didn't trust ourselves to fix that wheel hub or, God forbid, remove the bottom bracket on our 1970s Bianchi! I didn't fancy searching for lost bearings under the sofa... Even the prospect of building the forthcoming IKEA Sladda bike looked daunting. That, coupled with Lewin Chalkley's promise that 'Digger' was every bit as entertaining as Petor Georgallou of Dear Susan, was enough to convince us to cough up £75 each to attend Look Mum No Hands! intermediate cycle maintenance course.
So we rocked up at Look Mum one wet Saturday with our ropiest steeds. Robbie with his Eroica vintage Bianchi and me with my urban workhorse; an aluminium Genesis hybrid that had endured almost daily use for a decade. On our list of instructions was: don't wear white... That boded well - we were going to get mucky. Robbie found an old black Le Tour T-shirt - cyclingy but not precious any more. Low and behold, one of our fellow students turned up in exactly the same T-shirt. Great minds obviously think alike! The new cycle maintenance uniform.
Down we travelled, into the bowels of Look Mum, where we were met by an unusual mix of brake pads and blackberries, asparagus and avocados nestling alongside boxes of freshly packed inner tubes. Digger's first proclamation of many; why Croydon was such a shit hole... After he'd taught us all about tactical bombing in WWII, it was time to get down to business.
We started at the bottom, the bottom bracket to be precise. After Digger had removed and lubricated Phil's bicycle heart, I persuaded him to examine the Genesis which had been groaning recently. "If I had a pound for every person who'd come to me complaining of noises coming from their bottom bracket - it's always something else," Digger chided. He put my bike up on the stand and applied some pressure. Groan. Creak. Let's have a look at the bottom bracket.. Sure enough, the bottom bracket had gone! I was so delighted to have won the point, that I didn't mind forking out £27 for a new one.
Now that my bike was on the stand, it was time to get some serious repairs done. I'd brought along a new chain and Digger showed us how to change it, as well as applying some serious leverage to my locked on pedals with an enormous spanner. Changing the chain was fun - we all had a go and learnt that one link is actually two sections. We removed some, then had a go with George's bike for good measure. George fancied a new cassette too, and we tested out several rather sexy chain whips from the enormous stock of tools on offer.
After a delicious lunch, it was back to business. Head sets were next on the menu. We learnt how to test out our bikes to see if they were floppy or 'graunchy' as we rolled the handlebars from side to side. The Genesis moved like it was being ridden over pavé - not a good sign. It was up on the stand again for more treatment from the bike doctor.
My headset had seen better days that was obvious. Digger provided an ever more scarily surgical and theatrical looking set of tools to remove and then replace the damaged parts. As Ooh and Aahs greeted each new device, it occurred to me that to buy these tools for ourselves would cost hundreds if not thousands of pounds! How did the boy Pantani manage to disassemble his bike in his bedroom without all this fancy kit? A multi-tool and a Stanley knife can get you through most jobs, was Digger's sage reply. Really!?
Last up was replacing the well worn bar tape on the Bianchi. This time Digger didn't let us get our grimy mitts on the sparkling new white tape - this was a job for the big boys. He shared a few pearls of wisdom such; as put the plaster-like small tapes on the back of the brake levers first, and always start at the outer end of the drops and work your way in. With a scalpel in his jaws, Digger wasn't a man to mess with, we just marvelled at his craftsmanship and more historical anecdotes: during the six day races, mechanics would simply change the bar tape on the riders' bikes to give them a psychological boost and better their chances of winning!
We left LMNH feeling rather smug on our newly serviced machines. My bottom bracket no longer groaned, the headset was smooth and responsive and the new chain was silky as it ran through the mechanism. Meanwhile, Robbie's front wheel no longer wobbled precariously and he revelled in the beautifully applied squishy cork bar tape. Moreover we felt like proper mechanics having sorted out these problems for ourselves. Well, Digger did help quite a lot! All was good as we reached Blackfriars Bridge when, PING! Robbie's rear brake cable shot out of its holder! Damn, that was the one thing we hadn't checked all day! Where's Digger when you need him?!