Why I learnt basic and trail side bike maintenance

Some things are easier learned with a bit of helpful instruction! (Photo: Cycling UK)
Problems with a puncture? Snapped chain? Sticky brakes? Gears out of sync? They're all common cycling issues with easy solutions if you have a little know-how. Cycling UK's campaigner Sam Jones went to learn first-hand how to cope with the unexpected on our Basic and Trail Side Maintenance course.

It’s an early glorious Sunday May morning and rather than heading out into the hills and trails, I find myself sat indoors by the Basingstoke Canal, hearing how the thing that is the most stressful thing about cycling for me, is actually how my instructor unwinds after a hectic day at work. 

I’m talking of course about bike maintenance. Like many, I love riding my bike, but when it comes to fixing anything beyond a puncture, I’m at a loss and head straight to my local bike shop. However, by the end of the day, I’ll feel confident enough to tackle and overcome many of the common problems I might encounter while out on a ride. 

This is all thanks to Seamus McGowan, Cycling UK’s instructor for the day on our Basic and Trail Side Maintenance Course.

Seamus has been sharing his wisdom and leading Cycling UK (and before that CTC) courses for over 13 years. His enthusiasm and experience is swiftly apparent, as our small class of three amateur mechanics were soon engaged and understanding what previously had left us bewildered. 

The course operates very much on the basis that the only stupid question is the unasked one.

Sam Jones, Cycling UK

Now I’m not entirely incompetent with bike maintenance, and I can usually muddle through puncture repair and brake tuning. Each time though, I’m always thinking to myself that there must be a better way to fixing the problem. 

Sure enough, under Seamus’ guidance, I learn this is very much the case. As well as being shown what to do, perhaps more importantly I’m given the opportunity to put my new learning into practice.

What’s really helpful, is how each part of the process, whether it is fixing a puncture, tuning your gears or adjusting your brakes, is broken down into its separate components and explained. We’ve probably all been there where a friend or family member shows us how to do something, but does it so quickly, that all we can do is watch and say “Yep, got it.” 

As a consequence, I finally understand that every part of a puncture repair kit has a purpose, from the case to that crayon (you’ll have to go on the course to find out)! 

All questions welcome

The course operates very much on the basis that the only stupid question is the unasked one, and while there’s structure to the day in terms of what you will learn, it’s an informal learning experience with plenty of cups of tea to keep you going. 

Generally the classes are kept quite small, and from my experience this worked well. While there’s a lot to learn and go through, there was still plenty of time for one-on-one tuition and guidance from Seamus, meaning we never felt rushed or embarrassed that we hadn't got it right first time. 

For those in the know already (or think they’re in the know!), what is taught might seem quite basic and almost mandatory for anyone heading out on a bike ride. Despite this, I would imagine all but the most seasoned bike mechanics would pick up some handy tips during the course of the day which covers all of the below:

  • Personal safety, tool and chemical handling.
  • Correct use of tools and lubricants.
  • Degreasing, cleaning and lubrication.
  • Pre-ride equipment checks.
  • Brakes - cable adjustment and pad/block adjustment and replacement - for caliper, V-brake and disc brakes.
  • Gears - indexing, cable adjustment, limit adjustment.
  • Transmission - chain repair and replacement.
  • Headset adjustment.
  • Wheels - punctures, tyre repair.
  • Emergency repairs - dealing with what can go wrong during a ride.

As I cycle back to the train station at the end of the session, I must say I feel much more confident should something go wrong when I’m in the middle of nowhere. And with a tour planned for central Iceland this summer that can’t be a bad thing!

Sam attended Cycling UK’s Basic and Trail Side Maintenance Course at the Basingstoke Canal Centre on 7th May 2017. Courses last a day, they run at various locations across the UK and cost £125 (£112.50 for Cycling UK members).