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Weekly Wibble: Can We Fix It? Probably Not

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Photographs: Offside-LeEquipe

Vintage cycling, puncture, grass verge, waiting for support

Homebase, one of Britain’s largest do-it-yourself chains, has announced plans to close a quarter of its stores, with part of the blame being put on “the rise of a generation less skilled in DIY projects”.

And who should shoulder the blame for this generation of inept bodgers? It’s the parents who have not passed on to their offspring the art of putting up shelves that actually stay up and wallpaper that clings to its intended mounting place – my lot, in other words: Generation X, too wrapped up in our own middle-age denial to spend time teaching useful stuff to children who would rather be staring into their laptops anyway.

My kids can all bake beautifully, but that is more down to watching television than anything gleaned from either of their parents.

As for mending bikes, forget it. Why bother when there is a mechanic (of sorts) in the house?

It occurred to me at the launch of Bike Mechanic, while Guy Andrews and Rohan Dubash took us through the seemingly simple task of fixing a puncture, that this demonstration was perhaps beneath the assembled audience of cyclists, both old and new.

Then I remembered turning up on my mate’s doorstep as a kid, wheel in hand, totally dumbfounded by the last few inches of tyre that refused to go over the rim, despite every effort to force the darned thing into position. He was out, but his mum whisked the wheel away from my reddened hands, ran her thumbs round the bead of the tyre, and popped it over effortlessly. I had learned an invaluable skill. Thank you, Barbara.

It was one of those little tricks of the trade we take for granted that leaves those less familiar with fettling their own bikes hurling tyre levers across the road in frustration.

The bicycle is a fairly simple machine (I exclude disc brakes, mountain bike suspension and electronic shifting from that assertion), and there are numerous little quirks and time-saving tips in Guy and Rohan’s excellent – and beautiful – book that make basic maintenance and repairs eminently do-able with a few decent tools and an inquisitive mind.

Rohan tells a story of a guy driving two hours to his place with the bike in the car, driven to distraction by the incessant creaking coming from an unidentified source. Rohan removes the back wheel, slackens the quick release skewer a couple of turns, then sends him on his way…

This relates to another point raised in Homebase’s downsizing announcement: time pressure. We would rather pay someone else to fix our homes (and bikes) properly than waste increasingly precious leisure hours making a hash of it ourselves.

As someone who spent months riding an infuriatingly creaking machine to work before taking it to the local bike shop and asking them to fit new headset bearings and a bottom bracket, I understand the notion. They were perfectly simple jobs, but we’d rather be riding our bikes than fixing them, yes?

The trouble was, within days the headset was making more noise than the Titanic on ice. It drove me nuts. Ten minutes of dismantling got to the root of the problem. The shop mechanic had failed to smear so much as a smidgen of grease on the bearings. So much for time saving.

And the moral of the story is? Leave the tricky stuff to professionals you can trust. Learn to do the simple stuff yourself. And pass on those skills to someone else, like Barbara did with her magic thumbs when I was a kid.

Much like riding a bike, you never forget it.


1667 – number of Euros won by Koppenbergcross men’s winner Wout van Aert last weekend.

1667 – number of Euros won by Sophie de Boer in the women’s race at Koppenberg, thanks to American sponsor Twenty20 Cycling. Jolly good show, we say. More of that, please.



Clean your machine in the time it takes to watch this video. Cleanliness is next to fabulousness.

It’s the Rayner Fund dinner this weekend. Would you buy a used jersey from this man?

Also this weekend, it’s the latest round of the Superprestige cyclo-cross at Ruddervoorde, with its famous woop-dee-doos. Don’t ask, just watch.

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