An amazingly simple bike fix

I was eager to ride down the car-free highway -- but I couldn't change gears.

I was eager to ride down the car-free highway — but I couldn’t change gears.

Yesterday was a game-changer in terms of my relationship with my bike.

All my life, I’ve just hopped on and started pedaling. If there was a problem, I either ignored it — like yesterday’s ride, in which I struggled to keep up with my sister on a 15-miler because of a gear-shifting problem — or let the bike gather dust until I got around to finding somebody to fix it.

Jim, aka "Fit Recovery"

Jim, aka “Fit Recovery”

But after I mentioned my ailing bike in a post earlier this week, one of my favorite bloggers offered to talk me through trying to fix it myself. Which was simultaneously cool and mortifying, because I was embarrassed about my extreme ignorance. I mean, I don’t even pump up my own tires if I can get somebody else to do it for me!

Determined to at least not make an ass of myself, I found Bob’s old bike maintenance book and decided to review a few terms ahead of time. And then it occurred to me: Wouldn’t it be really stupid if all my bike really needed was a good chain cleaning?

It wasn’t quite that simple. For one thing, I didn’t know how to clean a chain. I didn’t want to mess around with attempting to take it off and then not be able to get it back on, so Bob helped me with the most basic cleaning job possible: Spraying some WD40 on the chain and wiping it off with a shop towel, then spraying on some chain lube.

That alone was enough to let me back pedal while coasting, which had been impossible for at least a few weeks now. I still couldn’t shift from the smaller sprocket (cog?) to the larger one, but at least now I could tell Jim (aka Fit Recovery) that I’d attempted some basic cleaning. With any luck, he’d be able to help me with a simple fix. And if not, at least I wouldn’t be completely mortified.

As I started on dinner, Colleen found a web video on derailler cables. She gave me a short presentation on her understanding of the subject, which was interesting but not something I wanted to try on my own without some guidance. Then I got to thinking: It wasn’t just that the gear wouldn’t shift; the lever itself had been sticky lately. What if there was a simple way to clean it?

Bob sprayed the grease on the disembodied lever -- then wandered off while I tried to figure out how to get it back in place.

Bob sprayed the grease on the disembodied lever — then wandered off while I tried to figure out how to get it back in place.

Colleen and I eyeballed the lever. There was a big old bolt sticking out the side of it.

“What the heck,” I thought. “Why not loosen it and see what happens?”

Colleen turned the screwdriver a few turns, then I gently pulled off the lever along with its various washer-like innards. We sought Bob’s advice on what kind of lubricant to use — he suggested silicone grease and wound up applying it himself. Then he wondered off and left me to put the lever back on. It didn’t look very hard, but it took several attempts before the lever lined up with its various washers in a way that somewhat resembled its original position.

I was kinda scared I might’ve messed it up even worse than before. But then I remembered one of Jim’s recent posts on Fit Recovery, in which he suggested working on an old bike to learn your way around the parts. Well, that’s what I’ve got: an old bike. It’s not worth much to begin with, so there’s not that much at stake. Worst case, I could take it up to the bike shop, which is what I was going to do eventually anyway, and they could probably replace the whole lever if needed.

It wasn’t long now til I was supposed to give Jim a call. I thought I might as well take my bike down the road a ways and see if it felt any different. Stunningly, I found the simple lube job had worked: I could now shift gears!

I emailed Jim with the good news that his evening had just been freed up. “I can’t believe how simple that was,” I said. “And I never would’ve even thought to attempt it if you hadn’t pushed me into trying.”

“I’m glad that you got to tinkering – that alone will do more for your ability to fix your bikes than anything,” he responded.

Probably so. Among the many things I learned yesterday was that I’ve got a 12-speed instead of a 10-speed. Who knew? But if you really want to learn how to work on your bike, check out the ever-growing bike maintenance page at

When you've got an older bike -- my Peugot dates from the 1980s -- , the stakes aren't that high if you try to fix it yourself.

When you’ve got a bike that’s at least a couple of decades old, the stakes aren’t that high if you try to fix it yourself.

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3 Responses to An amazingly simple bike fix

  1. bgddyjim says:

    That’s a cool commuter you’ve got there! Thank you for this… It does my heart good to know I helped, however little it was – you did all of the hard work and did great. Very cool, congratulations.

  2. bgddyjim says:

    PS. I added this post to my bike maintenance page – I hope you don’t mind.

  3. tischcaylor says:

    LOL, commuter bike is right — though I did finally take the luggage rack off recently…. thanks for the inspiration!

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