Sisters are doing it for themselves

When Matt Carr suggested using lipstick to mark the spot where your puncture is on the tyre and Ross

How to spot the signs, maintain your bike and save money. Ellie Parsons attends a ladies night maintenance course.

When Matt Carr suggested using lipstick to mark the spot where your puncture is on the tyre and Ross, who was teaching gears, told us to use nail polish remover to clean the cables I couldn’t help thinking that this was for our benefit. There could be no doubting that this was a women-only maintenance session at the Mud Dock Bike shop in Bristol.


“We held a ladies night so that some of the machoness is taken out and you can just ask questions and not feel embarrassed,” said Matt Carr, who taught the first workshop on how to mend a puncture.

Bike maintenance courses

The Mud Dock Bike shop, Bristol. Tel: 0117 9292151 look out for forthcoming events.

Life Cycle, Bristol Dates are unconfirmed but courses should start in the Autumn.

Oxford Cycle Workshop offer a bring your bike maintenance session for beginners, these are free but you have to pay £25 to become a member. Tel: 01865 204799

Oxford and Cherwell Valley College are holding a five week course in the evenings from Wednesday 2nd Nov at 6.30 costing £45, bring your bike. Tel: 01865 550550

Cycle Training ltd, London. They hold one day courses every month Tel: 0207 5823535

Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative Tel: 0131 3315010

Workshop 1: Punctures

Matt begins by telling us what can cause a puncture. “Low tyre pressure, if the liner that protects the inner tube from the end of the spokes is decayed, if the brakes are rubbing against the tyre making slices or the inner tube is bulging out are all common factors,” said Matt.

So now you know what to look out for on with the fixing… “First make sure your chain is on the smallest sprocket and then take off the wheel by either unscrewing each side with a spanner or using the quick release lever,” said Matt. Next task was to release the brakes – V brakes being the most common – this is done by pinching them together and slotting the cable out. To take the wheel off pull the derailleur and lift.

Once the wheel’s off turn your bike upsidown and sort out your flat. “Jam something up into the valve to get the air out fully, it makes it easier,” said Matt. After squeezing the tyre, lever it out using your fingers pushing against the spokes. However, don’t pull the tyre off completely just pull out the inner tube from under it.

“What do you do if you get a thorn in your tyre?” one woman asks. Matt replies to run our fingers around the inside of the wheel and pock any pieces of glass out with a cocktail stick, as though we always have one of those lying around in our handbags! – At least he was trying to add a little glamour to bike maintenance.

However, sometimes when you can’t diagnose what’s caused the puncture and you can’t even see the hole, pump it up until you hear a hissing. This is when you whip out the lipstick and mark it – or a cheaper option is to use the piece of chalk in your puncture repair kit, which you’ll be using next. Roughen the area with the bit of sand paper, add the glue and stick on the patch. Pump it up one more time to check for any more holes. However, the job’s not finished yet, you’ve got to put the inner tube through the valve hole and tuck it into the tyre. Next push the tyre behind the valve and work around or use a tyre lever, which works a bit like a shoehorn. Make sure the valve is sticking out square and pump it back up – voila.

Return to your bike, pull the chain up, which is on the first cog and press it back on rescrewing the bolts or fastening the lever. Make sure the wheel is straight and mudguards are clear. One thing that you mustn’t forget is to re-connect the brakes!

Filled with a sense of achievement we all drifted back to the wine that had been laid on for us – they obviously knew what would attract more females to the course. “I better not have too much or I won’t be able to concentrate,” joked the woman next to me. It transpired that not only is doing a maintenance course good practically it’s also a way of meeting other women cyclists. “Me and my partner usually cycle together, but I can’t keep up with him, he’s got bigger calves than me. So coming to something like this is a great way to meet other people,” she said. Many I spoke to had really got into cycling, but just wanted to know some basic maintenance in case anything went wrong. “I’m always a bit scared of touching the bike in case I break it, but doing this shows you that you can be a bit rough and take things apart,” admitted another woman. For the other girl it was more about being independent, “If someone else offers to do it for you I tend to just stand back and leave them to it, I don’t even watch,” sound familiar anyone?

Inside every woman’s tool box should be:
  • Multi Tool – see the next September issue of Cycling Plus for a full kit test
  • Tyre levers – optional some people find it easier others find it better to use your fingers
  • Pump
  • Puncture repair kit
  • 4mm and 10mm spanner
  • Small and big crosshead
  • A screwdriver
  • Brake pads are available at bike shops – either get them to fit it for you or do it yourself on the cheap
  • Specialist lube or oil from bike shops

Workshop 2: Brakes

“Next group for brakes,” called Andy as we trundled off glasses in hand. Now for the nitty gritty, tools. To adjust the brakes you’ll need a 4mm and 10mm spanner, a small and big crosshead, a screwdriver and a multi tool, which has different sizes of Allen keys. I was feeling like a real grease monkey, translation: mechanic, already but with smaller, softer hands.

In fact women, who generally have smaller hands, need to have their brakes a closer distance to the handlebars. To change this on V brakes with straight handlebars, which are the most popular, use an Allen key to turn the adjuster screw on the brake lever.

The other thing everyone needs to check for whether you’re a man with small hands or a lady with big, hairy hands is that your brake pads are hitting the rim at the same time. If not you’ll need to alter the tension, which is done by unscrewing the lower bolts on the V brake, testing them as you go until they equalise. After a while your brake pads may wear and need replacing, which you can do yourself by undoing the brake, taking out the old ones and replacing them with the new ones bought at the bike shop. Just make sure that they’re lined up and are positioned about 3-5mm away from the rims, otherwise twiddle the adjusters near the handlebars on the brake cables. “Squeeze the brake when loose. It’ll level out then do the adjusters up tighter,” is Andy’s tip.

Workshop 3: Gears Now that you’ve made sure that you can stop safely it’s time to master moving smoothly. Look out for juddering and clicking or even if your bike doesn’t feel the same as it used to it’s worth trying the following steps.

To understand gears all you have to know is that there are two derailleurs that work via a cable and what happens at the gear shifter influences what happens at the gear end, according to Ross, the instructor. One problem is that cables can stretch so the system loses tension to drive the derailleur.

To begin, start with the back wheel by dropping back to the gear the bike is happy in. Follow the cable along to the derailleur barrel adjuster and turn it outwards a quarter to add tension. “To test this out pedal and keep dropping down and up the gears listening for clicks and screwing the adjuster until the problem’s gone,” said Ross.

Next switch to the front wheel and again follow the derailleur cable until you reach the right adjuster. Now repeat exactly as above.

All this may seem a bit complicated, but there’s one really easy thing you can do that will dramatically help maintain your bike and that is to clean it properly. For instance, did you know that lube prolongs your lifespan? – That is the lifespan of your bike, why what were you thinking? Yes, lubing up your chain whilst in the easiest gear and wiping off the excess will make your machine run a lot better for longer. Do the same with the cables by letting your chain rest on the screws and unhook the cable moving it to the end and using a dab of oil on your finger and thumb to clean.


Now that your bikes cleaner than you probably are you can take courage from the fact that by reading this article you’ve saved yourself a fiver’s entrants fee for the course as well as unnecessary bills at the bike shop. However, it’s always easier to be shown and the Mud Dock has more ladies nights planned, we’ll let you know the dates.