On Maintenance

I always kinda thought that once you start preparing your own meals you’re properly adult. That and being able to wipe you own bum. Once you can control what goes in and what comes out of your body you’re in charge of basic maintenance and can call yourself a fully formed adult human being. Doesn’t stop you being an axe murderer or the type of guy who munches his corn flakes to noisily or listens to Coldplay but it does mean you can sustain life in it’s most basic form.

There was a time once if the missus had to have a stay in hospital, someone had to drop over with a casserole for old Reg because his skills didn’t advance past the ability to put the kettle on and butter some toast. In some ways Reg made up for his deficiencies with other now lost skills, such as…well they’re lost now so I don’t know. I imagine Reg could have added a back deck if you gave him some lumber and probably whittled an off-cut into a present for the niece. Something like that. Still…in my mind it doesn’t quite make up for starving to death of malnutrition if someone’s not there to hand you plates of meat and three veg.

Anthony Bourdain probably thinks all fixie riders are wankers but this self-confessed journeyman of the kitchen and walking opinion has assembled a list of things all adult’s should be capable of:

  • Chopping an onion
  • Making an omelet 
  • Roasting a chicken
  • The correct way to grill and rest a steak
  • Cooking vegetables to desired doneness
  • Making a vinaigrette
  • Shop for fresh produce
  • Buying a fish, cleaning it, and making it
  • Roasting meat
  • Roasting and mashing potatoes
  • Braising meats and vegetables
  • What to do with bones (a.k.a. How to make stock)

I’m not sure I like the notion of needing to know how to make a vinaigrette (because it intimates I’m eating salad at some point) but the rest seems a solid and serviceable list. The first point for instance, chopping an onion, means you possess basic knife skills. Of course, chopping an onion is one of those things everyone thinks they’re capable of and yet very few people do it right. Even experts can get it wrong. What’s this idiot doing making horizontal cuts toward herself with a sharp knife:

Unless onions have lost their onion rings lately you really don’t need to do this tricky horizontal cutting. Make vertical cuts along the grain of the onion then across. Hey presto diced onion. And stop watching onion cutting videos. Where has your life descended to if you’re watching onion cutting videos.

If cooking and pooing are the kind of basic maintenance for the body that allows you to call yourself an adult, then basic bike maintenance is also the entry level for calling yourself a cyclist. It’s not enough to merely pedal the thing, you must also know how to sustain it at its most basic level. I’m  not saying you have to weld frames and build wheels, these are things for professionals and artisans, but you must be able to keep your bike rolling. Here’s a shortlist for you.

Seat and Bars

You gotta know how to set your own seat height and straighten the bars. Really basic stuff. My last bike came delivered with a a headset cinched down too tight, so you can’t trust the basics to a bike shop. It pays to know how to do basic adjustments so you’re not riding round with stiff steering or loose bearings somewhere.

Changing tubes and tyres

This is bike maintenance at it’s most basic yet, like cutting onions, it’s amazing how many people don’t know how to do  it correctly. Ever seen a big bulge around the valve cap? In my youth all my tyres looked like that. One day I realised it was because I wasn’t fitting the tube properly. Ever had a flat tyre from a brand new tube? You blamed the tube? Well sorry  but the real answer is you probably pinched it while installing it. (Yeah, I know YOU didn’t pinch it. You got a bad tube. Just like when I got a bad sump nut on my motorbike. Nothing to do with the fact that the nut being upside-down confused me and I might have tightened the buggery out of it beforehand.)

Lube the chain

Again this is a cutting onions type of thing. There are plenty of people who get it wrong. In short, you’re oiling the rollers, not the whole fucking chain. A chain doesn’t need a coating of oil. Apply a small drop to each link and let it seep in. Then rub off all excess oil. All of it.

Bar grips and tape

Bar tape can be fiddly. I know there’s a method to it and I always get it wrong. But if you stop and think about it and you’re methodical you’ll still get it wrong but it’ll look okay. Start at the top of the bar. Grips slide on with a bit of water. Don’t listen to that other stuff about hairspray and RP7 (“I know it’s counter-intuitive but it works!” – no if fucking doesn’t!) If it wont slip on real easy use some muscle. You got em don’t ya?

Bottom Bracket

This one requires special tools but they aint that special. If you own a bike you should  probably own the tools. Bottom brackets unscrew and the new one screws back into place. That’s not hard. Bottom brackets come in different shapes and sizes though so make sure you get the right one.


Sometimes the lower headset race can be a right prick of a thing and you might need to take it somewhere where they’ve got a press. Usually though a bit of persistence will pay off.


Your bike might have all sealed bearings, in which case you can ignore this bit. But if you’ve got loose bearings then you must know how to grease them. Properly looked after they’ll be just as good as sealed bearings. Neglected and they end up rusty and broken….like my headset bearings were a couple months back…

That’s about it. The really hard stuff can be left for professionals. If you know how to build your own wheelset then good on you but it’s not really a skill necessary just to call yourself a cyclist.

Perhaps you’ve got ideas of your own about my list. Feel free to have a go at me in the comments section.

If I had to prioritize them I’d probably say that learning to be an adult was more important than being a cyclist. The good news is that being an adult is not a prerequisite for being a cyclist. Now go tinker with the bike.

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