Learning Bicycle Maintenance 101 from a MEC Clinic

As I mentioned earlier, I am pretty much clueless when it comes to bicycles but I can’t remain that way if I intend on cycling 500km on the Greenbelt.

So I decided to sign up for a 1 hour bike maintenance 101 class at MEC.  It only costs $10 so it is pretty affordable (based on cost of living these days in Toronto).  If need be, just skip a lunch!

I dragged a friend along because he happened to be experiencing problems with his bicycle chain and wasn’t sure how to address it.  There were 201 (more advanced) classes as well but I figured if we needed to, we could take those later.

The class itself was really casual and informal and run by a friendly bicycle technician at MEC with quite a few years of experience.  People from all walks of life showed up to learn at my class.

Bicycle maintenance illustration by JP Flexner
A cool bicycle maintenance illustration by JP Flexner

Most of the class was focused on fixing tire flats but we did cover some of the other major things.  Some major takeaways for me were:

  1. The differences between presta and shraeder valves for the tires.
  2. The steps involved to replacing or fixing the tire.
  3. How to clean and oil the chain properly.
  4. Determining the right tire tube for your tire.
  5. Why there may be issues with the bicycle chain.

In hindsight, the steps involved with fixing the flat tire make total sense but the lack of knowledge and understanding of the anatomy of the bike (not to mention information overload) is what hinders us from making the right decision on what to do first, next, and last.

Some notes that I took were:

Fixing Flats

  • Before trying to remove the tire, shift gear to the highest number (furthest away from the wheel) to avoid hindering the tire removal.
  • Unhook the brake noodle for V-shaped or cantilever brakes.
  • Recognize the differences in approach to presta and shraeder valves
    • Presta valves have a bolt and nipple to adjust when filling air
    • Shraeder valves are wider
    • Tire pumps are not always compatible with both.
    • Use the brand or labels as reference points to know where the valve will go and/or when checking for issues with the tire or the rim.
    • The tire bead (a wire encased in rubber within the tire) helps maintain the tire form and structure

Chain maintenance

  • Use a rag or old t-shirt and clean the guck or dirt off the chain.
  • The chain should be silver.
  • Don’t use grease.  Use proper lube — eco-friendly if possible.
  • After applying lube into the chain and NOT on to the chain — use a rag to wipe off any excess lube.
  • Excess lube or oil will only catch more dirt and cause more problems down the road.

Picking the right tire tube size

  • Refer to the bicycle tire.  It should identify the brand, the dimensions of the tire or type of tire (i.e. 700CC), the suitable tire pressure range.

Overall, I really enjoyed the MEC Bicycle Maintenance 101 Clinic.  I do wish they had example bikes that we could actually work on but I guess perhaps the cost might be higher.  It was nonetheless really informative and I may pursue the more advanced or specific clinics down the road.

In the meanwhile, it is almost time to start trying some maintenance on my own bike!

Some additional resources I found helpful:

Author: Ehren Cheung

An explorer of life and data. Reluctantly philosophical. A seeker of the ultimate cookie. Another tree-friendly soul with an affinity for hiking and sketching.

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