My son’s bike has had a flat tire for two years. Why that long, you ask? I am as mechanically inclined as a bucket full of headlight fluid. My brother-in-law once said of me that I could “screw up a two by four” and he’s right. In fact, I’ve cut a few two by fours in my time and I usually do it wrong.
You know the saying “measure twice, cut once”? Well, I’ve tried that. I still screwed it up. In fact, I’ve tried measuring three, four, even five times, looking at it from a different angle and measuring again before I cut and yet, I still mess it up. That’s why I work with computers. Those make sense to me. They do what I tell them, there’s nothing permanent, nothing that I can’t fix and I can’t bleed to death using a keyboard.
I can handle the most basic tasks. I can measure and hang pictures, change a tire, change the oil in my car, change almost everything on a bike, as long as it doesn’t go anywhere near the derailer. Those things are scary. There’s way too many moving parts. That’s why my son’s bike had a flat tire for so long.
I know I’m not doing my son any favours, either. I have a tonne of tools. I have socket and screwdriver sets galore, plenty of hammers, wrenches, several drills and other power tools, but I’m dangerous with them. I know what each of them is, can eyeball the difference between 1/2″ nut and a 7/16″, but anything more complex than the most simple of tasks and I’m out of my element. Unfortunately, that means that my son at sixteen years old doesn’t know the difference between a Robertson screwdriver and a Phillips.
So, picture the two of us in our backyard, changing the back tire on his 15 speed bike. Yes, that’s right. Despite being a danger to myself and everyone around me, he has a bike with more gears than I have fingers to lose. It was a sight to see.
I can change a front tire with relative ease. That’s not beyond me, because there’s no derailer to worry about. I can adjust the brakes and do most things on a bike, because they’re easy enough to figure out. That is until you get to the Rube Goldberg machine that is a derailer.
We get the tire off the bike, without losing any blood. I was feeling pretty macho, by this point. Now we need to peel the old tire off the rim. I explained to my son as we proceeded, how to use a screwdriver to slide it around the edge in order to peel one side off the rim. This allows you to roll the rest of it off with ease. Success! That in itself was quite an accomplishment. A sharp object, metal edges, applied pressure and moving parts. The chance to slip and sever arteries during this task was a very real possibility. Yet, we made it without incident. I breathe a silent sigh of relief.
We now have a disassembled bike, tire and rim. I look skyward briefly, hoping my son doesn’t see as I ask for help getting it back together without losing limbs in the process. You might think I exaggerate, but I’ve maimed myself on much smaller tasks than this. We put a bit of air in the new tube and reverse the process. We get the tire back on the rim by inflating it, maneuvering as we go, to make sure there are no pinches. We clean the gearing assembly with a rag, grease all the moving parts and reattach it the bike.
Simple, right? Nope. 45 minutes of adjusting, readjusting, tightening, loosening, riding, readjusting and we still don’t have it right. I soon realize that two years of neglect has caused the cables to stretch, so the gears don’t shift well, at all. Back to the tools.
We loosen the bolts, stretch the cables, tighten them down again and get back on for another test run. No show. The front derailer is way out of whack and won’t move the chain properly. The cable for the back gears doesn’t appear to do anything at this point and one pedal keeps hitting the kickstand. This is where things usually go wrong.
Instead of adjusting the kickstand with tools, like I should, I press it towards the tire with my foot. It works! I adjusted it just enough that it no longer rubs. That was lucky, but the gears are still misaligned. I ride the bike around the corner where my son can’t see and finesse the front derailer. By that I mean that I kick it. That does the trick! The front gears now work perfectly! Whoever said “If it doesn’t work, use a bigger hammer” was bang on the money. I get back on the bike and ride it the rest of the way around the block to our driveway.
Only the rear gears are off kilter. My son seems mildly impressed, so far. I have him hold the bike as I grab a Phillips screwdriver. The rear derailer assembly is a very complex piece of machinery and as lucky as I have been at this point with the kickstand and front derailer, I’m not going to press my luck. I see an adjustment screw on the mechanism and tighten it all the way in, to see what type of impact it has on the performance. Once I know that, I can back it off a bit, to optimize the performance, if it even works, at all. I hop back on the bike and take it for another ride. It’s perfect! By now I’m in shock. I’ve managed to get the complex gearing working with little effort and no swearing. That’s quite an accomplishment for me.
I proudly hand the bike to Josh and have him take it for a spin. He’s thrilled. He talks about how much easier it will be for him to get around this summer and to school in the fall, until he gets his license. I asked him if he learned anything and if he’s comfortable working on his bike now. He says he is. That’s great son, because I still hate it, but I don’t tell him that.