As if learning to ride my bike wasn't hard enough, learning how to take care of my bike was even harder. In my wonderful naive world of bicycle fairies, and my "it won't happen to me" attitude, I never gave much thought to how my bike worked, or even attempted to fix a problem with it. Yes, I was like so many other people out there who relied on friends and partners to do the dirty work for me, as I made cups of tea in return for their mechanical wisdom.
As my cat like curiosity began to take me on cycling adventures further afield, like on an impulsive and harrowing 100 miler, I just couldn't put it off any longer: I had to learn how to take care of my bike. It wasn't just taking care of it, but nursing it back to health after an accident, and feeling an overwhelming need to not be THAT friend who became a burden on others should I suffer a mechanical whilst out riding.
While there are a number of brilliant bike mechanic schools around the country, and courses on offer from local bike shops, I knew I wanted the bee's knees of education. After doing my homework and chatting with my bike mechanic friends, my path led me to the doors of ATG Training who offer the Cytech bike mechanics qualification. For those of you who don't know: Cytech is the "internationally recognised training and accreditation scheme for bicycle technicians".
I began by completing Cytech Level 1 Theory which was conducted online and provided valuable insight into best workplace practice. As I worked my way through each module, I began to feel a bubbling sense of excitement. Impressing myself with the new knowledge that I was learning, I couldn't wait to get my hands messy in the Level 1 and 2 practical courses.
Now, I did pretty good in school, and I'm very analytically minded, but when it comes to using my hands (other than baking cakes), I'm just a bit crap. I've never been interested in mechanics of any kind, never been a tinkerer and I'm ashamed to say that I very much participate in this disposable culture we've (d)evolved into. There was (and still is) something about bike mechanics that both excites and terrifies me. As the days ticked down until my Level 1 course, the apprehension grew...
Cytech Level 1: Well, this is awkward...
It was like the first day of school, and in true Jessica fashion, I was late. Then I couldn't find the building. Then when I did, I couldn't get in because I didn't have the door code. When I got rescued by the trainer, I stumbled into a class full of very quiet men who all turned to look at the late girl.
Jim and Mike conducted the 2 day Level 1 course covering the basics of bike mechanics: how to change an inner and how to PDI (pre-delivery inspection) check a bike. It wasn't just because it was an all-male course, but everyone was currently employed in a workshop and so entered the class with a great deal of bike mechanic knowledge. I, on the other hand, had none.
When it came to getting my hands dirty, I was all thumbs as I wrestled with high-torqued bolts and dropped just about everything on the floor. The guys around me would blast through their tasks with time to spare for checking their Facebook. Now, my face can't lie. It gives me away in situations of stress, like a bright red flashing sign of "fuck" on my forehead. Fortunately, the valiant Jim Burley, clearly noticing the onset of my life-ending breakdown, rescued me. Told me to put everything down on the bench, step back and talk through the whole process of what I was doing. It worked.
With patience and persistence, I tinkered my way through level 1 having successfully fitted and cabled front/back dérailleurs, setting up v-brakes and PDI'ing a bike to a safe standard. That was just two days and Cytech Level 2 was two weeks...
Cytech Level 2: I will make this bike my b*tch
Feeling pretty good about myself for passing Level 1, I didn't want to allow myself to get too carried away knowing what Level 2 had in store: complete bike strip/rebuild, hub servicing, bottom bracket servicing, wheel building, hydraulic brake bleeds, and three assessment days. Passing Cytech Level 2 is the minimum requirement of most workshops in the UK.
I headed into Level 2 feeling a lot less anxious. Perhaps it was because I was already familiar with the workshop, the trainers, and I actually knew something about bike mechanics... or maybe it was because there was another girl in the class! Either way, I was ready to attack Level 2 head on.
As each day passed, some easier than others, I felt my confidence begin to cement itself in a new comfort zone that I hadn't experienced before. Little things began to fall into place, until eventually, a mechanical rhythm began to course its way through my hands, accompanied by new and familiar sounds of the bike. Rotating the cranks to awaken the bike is a lot like listening to it breathe. How does it sound? I've learnt a great deal about listening to what my bike is trying to tell me: is there chattering on the chain? Is the headset loose? What's that noise? I should investigate that.
Perhaps the most harrowing ordeal of Level 2 was watching the trainer ride off on the bike I've just built. As Jim rolled out of view, I stood in the parking lot, waiting. And waiting. Straining my ears for a crash, or a shrill cry of pain as metal and flesh exploded in a gross display of failure. No such noise came, except Jim pedalling back over to me a few minutes later, alive and well. Thank God.
After a thorough inspection of my bike building, servicing and wheel building skills, I was signed off as a competent Cytech Level 2 mechanic. There's something highly rewarding about being considered a bike mechanic. Perhaps it's because it's a skill that I couldn't read and study my way out of, or perhaps it's because there was always a quiet self-doubting whisper that had finally been silenced. Either way, I was so stoked to go home that day and strip a friend's old fixie bike for a service and rebuild.
Hello mechanics, my new best fr-enemy
It's been a couple of months since passing my Cytech level 2, and am pleased to say that I've been using it, more than I thought. Every demo bike that lands on my doorstep gets a full PDI by yours truly, and if there are any issues with it, I try to work them out for myself... before asking for help.
I've learnt a few things along my continuing journey as well: internal cable routing may look the business, but it's a total fuck to work with, and if you get flustered trying to align your derailleurs and get smooth indexing on your bike, take a break and step away. BREATHE!
If your passion is to ride bikes, any kind of bike, then it's a good idea to learn more about them, how to care for them and how to fix them. After all, what would you do with yourself if your freedom machine is broken and has to be sent in for repairs?