How to repair a cycle

Female bike mechanic

Meet Jenni 👋. She grew up in San Diego, California but later moved to London. She turned her love for cycling into a career by starting the London Bike Kitchen – an organisation that helps people repair their own cycles, with the help of mechanics, to get them back on the road. 🚴

Turning my passion into a career

I never thought about cycling until I moved to Japan to teach English in 2004. The school gave me a cycle to get around on. At first, I was a bit wobbly as it’d been at least a decade since I’d last rode but I soon grew to love it! 

When I moved to the UK, I started cycling to work and it became part of my identity – I was a cyclist. Cycling is so efficient – it’s faster than the bus and it’s always on my own time. I can leave when I want, and I know how long my journey will take. 👍

Cycling is also convenient. You can combine it with other transport to break up your commute – I can start with a cycle, take a train and then finish with a cycle. On top of that, it’s been brilliant for my mental and physical health.

In my work, I wanted to focus on what I could do to help the environment and thought about cycling. I wanted to learn how to repair cycles and how to build one starting with just a frame. I didn’t know where to begin and couldn’t find any classes. 🤔

One day, a friend asked me whether London had a bike kitchen. At the time, I’d never heard of them. A bike kitchen is a volunteer-run, community space where people can use the tools to learn how to repair their own cycles. There wasn’t one in London, so I created one! 💡

The journey begins

I applied for a grant from TfL through the London Cycling Campaign and was so happy when I found out that I’d been successful. I found a great location and after talking to the landlord, they gave me a year of free rent as they were so impressed with my idea! ⭐

I opened the London Bike Kitchen in 2012 with my mechanics qualification. I love my job – being a mechanic is all about problem solving and I want people to be curious, open to learning and ok with making some mistakes. 🖥

At the bike kitchen, we currently run a range of online classes to help people repair their cycles at home.

Top tips to repair your ride

If you’re ready to breathe life into your cycle, here are my tips:

1. Check the whole cycle. Look out for things such as:

  • Do the wheels, pedals and handlebars move?
  • Are the wheels straight or wonky?
  • Are there any broken cables, rusty or moving parts?
  • Is the cycle frame cracked?

You can also do the M check. This is a list of 11 key things to check on your cycle.

bike by river

2. Test your brakes. Move the cycle forwards and squeeze the brakes to check whether they work, and whether you can hear any loose parts. 🔩

3. Check to see if the tyres need replacing. This is especially important if your cycle has been neglected and kept in a shed or garage. Look for any holes 🕳️ and/or punctures. Most of the time, you won’t have a puncture, the tyres just need more air.

4. Pump up the tyres.  Do this at least once a month 📅 Check what pressure you need by looking at the side of the tyre wall. Make sure you don’t over pump them – ranges vary depending on the width of your tyre.

person oiling a bike chain
Add one small drop of cycle oil to the chain

5. Check the chain. The chain doesn’t always need oil. But, if it’s making squeaky noises, put one small drop of cycle oil on each roller of the chain (they look like little doughnuts and are the round parts that make contact with the chain). Don’t use WD40! Use isopropyl alcohol and a rag to clean your chain. Make sure you wipe off any excess otherwise it will attract dirt and grit. ⛓️

6. Adjust the height of your seat. Newer cycles usually require an Allen key, while older ones need a spanner. 🔧 You won’t be comfortable if your seat’s too high or too low, so adjust the height to where you can at least put your toes down on the ground when you stop. This is usually just below hip height. 

When cycles have been neglected, the seat post can also get stuck – if yours is stuck, it might not be worth keeping the cycle as it can cost a lot of money to fix.

person cleaning a bike chain
Give your cycle a good clean

7. Cleaning your cycle is always good. 🚰 Brush it down and then clean it with water. Don’t use washing-up liquid as it contains salt, which can cause corrosion. Remember to wipe down your rims with a damp rag as this will help the brakes.

8Give it a go. This may be the first time that you’ve done a repair, so take your time. It’s also important to do regular cycle maintenance to make sure it’s safe and runs smoothly. It doesn’t take long and will save you time and money in the long run. 💷

When you’re good to go, go for a test ride and go slow. Don’t worry about cycling on the roads just yet. Go to a park, ride it and test everything. A quiet cycle is a happy cycle, so if you hear any noises, check them out.  🔉

When you’re done, keep your cycle indoors (in a hallway, garage or shed where it’s not getting battered by the weather). 🏠

9. Get some cycle training. If you’re new to cycling or feel that you need a little refresher, take our online Cycle Skills course.

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