How To Fix A Bike For Free

What Is A Bike?

  • A tool to fix-er-up empowerment. It’s easy to be intimidated by broken bikes until someone decides to show you how simple they actually are to fix. But what I discovered today is this: we should not feel imprisoned by the technology we choose to use. That’s the revelation that bike enthusiast, Eric, helped me come to today. Read on to find out how.


The ins and outs of how bikes work. I’ve been wanting to know more for a while! But until I started doing triathlons and dating an engineer, the only thing I really knew about a bike was how to ride one. When it came to fixing them or knowing what makes them function, I’ve been absolutely clueless! Until now, that is.

Exploring D.C. by bicycle on a group ride with the Bike Rack.

Last weekend, a woman on the Bike Rack group ride I went on informed me of the Bike House Co-Op here in DC (see above picture for the view). They work on your bike AND teach you bike mechanics and maintenance… FOR FREE! I almost didn’t believe it. Aren’t any sort of mechanics supposed to be tricky and inaccessible to non-experts??

HA. I laugh at myself.

I doddled on over to the weekly bike mechanic clinic with my questions and curiosity (check it out Saturdays 12-3 PM @ Annie’s Ace Hardware). Next thing I know I’m surrounded by 3 volunteer bike mechanics and even more enthusiasts. They helped me change my pedals (and they made fun of me when I told them how much trouble they had caused my friends and I before… I even had a team of four engineers try to pry those things off in a metal shop to no avail) and then we hung out for a while. I ended up learning how to adjust my brakes, clean/lube my chain (shoulda known that long ago, probably), and ‘true’ my wheel by adjusting the ‘nipples’ of the spokes. (look at the spokes of a bike wheel and you will know exactly what I mean by nipples)

Where to learn to fix your bike for free.                           Image courtesy of the Bike House

So Eric the bike enthusiast was hanging around to volunteer and give advice to the clueless ones of my sort. We got to talking about bike tours, tech, and co-ops and he introduced me to a few things:

  1. Crazy Guy On A Bike: an amalgamation of bicycle tourists and their journals
  2. The Long Way Home: one college graduate who traveled 17,701 miles over 293 days from LA to Malaysia.
  3. HacDC Co-Op: Not directly bike-related.. but Eric used it as a bike thing (more below). HacDC is an open environment where techies (and interested non-techies) come together to put a twist on new technologies by turning them into devices not originally intended. The group’s philosophy is “about taking control of technology, rather than taking what the consumer electronics industry decides to give you… you need to take control of technology—or it controls you.” (from 2009 Washington Post article about HacDC)
  4. Pedal-Powered Cell Phone Chargers & Dynamo Lights: this is how HacDC becomes bike related. There are no hyperlinks for it because it’s Eric’s story and he shared with me today. Nothing online about it that I know of.

So here’s what he did: Eric went to HacDC to figure out how to charge his cell phone by bike and light the night without batteries. He now has a system worked out for his 4-5 day-long bike tours that take him into forested places with no access to outlets or extra batteries. He claims he figured out a way to make the light pretty bright, and it saved him a lot of money—dynamo lights and bike-powered cell-phone chargers can get expensive!

That’s also when he gave me the advice included in this post’s Bicycle Defined section. It changed the way he looked at bikes when he firs heard it. A few years back, he took his bike into the shop for a tune-up and the mechanic told him “you know, I could either fix this and have you pay me for it… or I can just show you how to do it…” Thinking it would be fairly complicated, Eric paid the guy to do the work. When he picked his bike up, the mechanic told him “hey, seriously this stuff is pretty straightforward.” And it is.

 Today’s Take-Away: Knowing a bit of bike maintenance is quite liberating.