As someone who spends the majority of their spare time on a road bike, my mechanical skills should be way ahead of the level where they currently languish. Previous efforts - usually from my dad - to offer fixing advice have tended to fall on deaf ears. I’ve never had the patience or the mechanical mind to sit around and be shown how to change a brake or gear cable; it was always interfering with good riding time.
But now, with my bike starting to creak with old age, an over-reliance on good fortune was slowly being exposed. Punctures, spoke breakages, gear troubles – the problems were coming thick and fast and after years of problem-free riding, my ignorance was beginning to catch me out.
I'd bought books, I'd watched videos and they were helping – just not enough. I felt what I really needed was a tutorial by an experienced mechanic, someone I could watch and learn from and ask questions of when I inevitably went wrong. So when I learnt that British Cycling’s Bike Maintenance workshops were rolling into town, I signed myself up.
The eight-hour Intermediate course I went for (they also currently do Introductory and, later this year, Advanced courses) costs £125 for non-British Cycling members, which may seem a big outlay. But with costs of servicing on the rise, I’d argue it’s a shrewd investment. Even if you still have to shell out for new components, the money saved on labour in the DIY approach will far outstrip the course cost over your lifetime.
I arrived at 9am and was greeted by my tutors for the day – Iain McClellan and Graham Moore. They are the guys behind Pro Tool School, which was set up last summer by Iain and his old British Cycling colleague Peter “Spike” Taylor, with an aim to teach bike maintenance from grass roots to the professional ranks. Peter is the former GB Cycling Team head mechanic, while Iain has worked predominantly for mountain biking teams in Britain and Europe.
Iain McClellan (right) has worked with many professional cycling teams, both on the road and in mountain biking
I was hoping for a hands-on course, and after only five minutes of Powerpoint, Iain pointed us in the direction of the gloves and overalls and we set to work. The first task was to brush-up on bike anatomy by tagging labels to the relevant components, which I negotiated easily enough. We then covered stem height adjustment and bearing replacement; again, fairly simple. We whizzed through mending broken chains, removing and installing wheels and what to carry on the move, which was familiar territory.
Replacing an inner tube was next up and is a skill I could always improve. Iain informed us the national average is 25 minutes, which is frankly appalling if true. My admiration at the time he took during his demo – 32 seconds – was matched by his visible disappointment, which he claimed was five seconds short of his Pro Tool School record. I’d have been pleased with my time – a whisker over three minutes – had I not been the last to finish by a considerable distance.
Iain went through brake pad and inner brake cable replacement – again, easy when you know how. Knowing how to adjust front and rear derailleur limiter screws (which stop your chain slipping off your cassette) was very useful, as was gear indexing (tuning the gears so they run smoothly) – new found knowledge I put into action as soon as I got home. Replacing an inner gear cable rounded off the day, which was probably the trickiest task to master.
Graham Moore (right) is an experienced downhill mountain biker who recently started at Pro Tool School
So, all in all, it was an extremely useful course. Anyone interested in the course but feels like they have these skills covered should look at the Advanced courses starting in November, which will cover, amongst others, cassette and chainset replacement, wheel truing and rear derailleur cog replacement. British Cycling advise you work your way through the different levels, as there is little overlap in course content.
Apart from the skills I picked up, the biggest thing I took away was that learning bike mechanic skills needn’t be something to dread. Self-servicing your bike isn’t just about saving yourself a bit of cash; it’s also an empowering experience, to have the skills which make worrying about where your next mechanical problem is coming from a thing of the past. I’ve always found biking offers a freedom which other forms of exercise and transport fall short on, but I’ve realised you’ll always be held back without the skills to fix mechanicals when they inevitably rear their ugly head.
To find out more information about each course, meet the team and book your place online, visit www.goskyride.com/Bike-Maintenance-Workshops.