Hi, Fred. Out for a walk, I see. It is a nice
day, isn't it?
No, it's not a nice day, and I'm not "out for a
walk". I'm walking to catch the bus. It's a sad day,
buddy - my Rambler's sick! I'm going to watch a movie to forget my
Gee, that's too bad. Does she need a tune-up or
Tune up? Shoot, I wish! She needs an engine! I kind
of ran her without any oil...
Oh, no, Fred. That's bad!
Yeah, Lamar down at the garage said I should've
either fixed the oil leak or fixed the burned out oil light. Now I
kinda wish I had. Say, you don't happen to have a Rambler engine, do
No, Fred, I've never been into Ramblers. But still,
why aren't you riding your bike?
Well, I thought about that. But then I saw it had
two flat tires, and I remembered the brakes were scraping last year,
and that back shifter thing wasn't doing right. See, I kind of
dropped the bike down the stairs...
Hmm. Fred, maybe we should talk about maintenance.
You can't ride safely if your bike's not running right. Even if you
haven't thrown it down the stairs, it's good to give it an
occasional tune up.
Tune up? Heh - that's rich. What's to tune up? No
carburetor, no points, no air cleaner...
But it's got spokes and cables and adjustment screws
and more! You need to take care of it, just like you need to take
care of your engine!
Hmmm. So what do I need to check? I'm not exactly a
mechanic, you know.
I'd start with those tires. They may just need air.
But before you inflate them, be sure the valve stems are straight.
And once you inflate them, check to see that the tires are nice and
even on the rim, and aren't too worn, and that there are no cuts or
bubbles. And remember, inflate slowly. No gas station air hoses!
What about the brakes? Like I said, they were kind
of scraping. Is that the brake cables?
Actually, there's a good chance that problem's in
your spokes. If your spokes aren't adjusted just right, your wheel
gets out of true - it wobbles. And when it wobbles, it drags on the
brake shoes. It really slows you down, and it can affect your
braking. Just spin the wheels and see if they spin straight. If not,
they'll need some very careful work with a spoke wrench.
So if my wheel's not wobbly, my brakes are OK, then?
Not necessarily, Fred. I'd definitely check
the rubber brake blocks. Be sure they hit square on the wheel rims,
maybe with just a little toe-in. Squeeze hard, and if the levers get
closer than 1" to the handlebar, adjust the brakes. Then make
sure the brakes open smoothly when you let go. Also, make sure the
brake blocks aren't too worn down. You may need new blocks and
cables if you've ridden a lot.
How about that rear shifter thing? It just wasn't
It could be the shift cable. Sometimes they just
need lubrication. But if the problem's with the highest or lowest
gears, it could be the derailleur's adjustment screws. There's one
tiny screw to make sure it goes exactly far enough to the right, and
there's another screw for the left. If the lever's clicks don't put
it exactly in the middle gears, there's an adjustment barrel you can
turn where the cable enters the shifter. The front shifter's about
the same. Adjusting these takes a bit of trial and error. It helps
to hang the bike from a workstand or a bike carrier so you can turn
the cranks and see how it shifts, then double check it with a
careful test ride.
I might have to think about that one. It sounds
complicated! Good thing I don't have to change the oil, like on my
Rambler, bless her poor old heart. [Sniff.]
Well, a little oil is good for the bike. All
the pivots on the brakes, shifters and levers will work better with
just a drop of oil. But don't use too much, it just collects dirt
and gets filthy.
Whoo! There's more to do than I thought! I hope
that's all of it!
No, there's more. You've got six sets of bearings
that need taking apart, cleaning, greasing and adjusting at least
every year or two, unless you're lucky enough to have sealed
bearings. I'm talking about the two wheel hubs, the two pedals, the
crankset and the headset. Your freewheel or freehub bearings could
use a bit of oil, too. And don't forget to clean and lube your
chain, then wipe the outside of the chain dry so it won't pick up so
Oh man. I told you, I'm not a mechanic! Maybe I
should just buy another bike - but I gotta get my Rambler an engine,
so I can't afford a new bike!
It's not that bad, Fred. Look, if you're not a
mechanic, you can take your bike into the shop, and they can do a
tune-up and lube job for, oh, maybe $40. It's a bargain! A mechanic
won't look at your Rambler for that price!
But if you'd like to try, working on a bike isn't
nearly as hard as working on a car. Everything's right there in
front of you, and it's easy to see how it works. Even if you make a
mistake, it won't cost much to fix it. Why not pick up a book on
bike maintenance and learn how to do a bit of it yourself? A good
book can give you more tips than I can ever give you before your bus
MY BUS! THERE IT GOES! OH NO - THE NEXT ONE'S NOT
FOR AN HOUR! I'M GOING TO MISS MY MOVIE! OH, WHAT A DAY!
Wow... Sorry, Fred. Tell you what - if you've got
the time, we can go back to your house. I'll help you get your bike
on the road. You know, your bike's faster than a bus anyway -
especially if the buses are an hour apart! Then we can ride to the
library and borrow a book on bike maintenance.
Yeah, that's an idea... but say, buddy, can I borrow
your library card? I think they kind of expired mine. See, I forgot
to pay my fines for a couple years...
-© Frank Krygowski