I spent an afternoon this week at Freewheelin' Community Bikes, a progressive not-for-profit bike shop on 34th and Central. When I read Angela Herrmann's NUVO article last year about Freewheelin' Community Bikes, I was inspired. This donation-based community organization mentors neighborhood kids, who enroll in a course to earn a bike of their own.
I was in the market for a little advice on bike maintenance and thought, if they can teach a bunch of kids about bicycle repair and maintenance, surely they could teach an mechanically-challenged person like me a thing or two.
Enter Doug Friedenson: a long-time volunteer at Freewheelin' who took a position as operations manager last October. With 11 years of bicycle mechanics under his belt, and a career in auto-garages before that, Doug is yet another member of the bicycling community who has turned his passion into a full-time focus.
"If you're not happy going to work and doing what you're doing, it's time to find something else to do," says Doug. "It requires money to live, but you don't need exorbitant amounts of it. Also, on the flip side of that, behind every successful bicycle mechanic is a wife who makes three times more money."
I could tell, from his sarcastic wit and his no-nonsense attitude, that I liked Doug right away. I asked him to give me a few pointers as a beginner bicyclist.
"I want to know," I said introducing myself with a gusto of confidence, "what any idiot needs to know before they hop on a bike - i.e. me, I am that idiot."
The most necessary skill: changing a flat tire.
"Okay, so what side of town do you live on?" asked Doug.
"Downtown, on the Old Northside."
"Old Northside? So, you're in Fountain Square and just had a flat tire and Joe Cox's shop is closed."
"Damn!" I said, "I knew I shouldn't have gone on that dusk ride."
"I know. So you're on South Shelby. The sun has gone down, and you got some lady pushing a cart asking for a dollar. What are you going to do?"
"Give her a dollar?" I ask meekly.
Pleasantries aside, Doug, who also has several years experience teaching professionals about bicycle maintenance, took me through the process step by step and even had me try it on my own.
Here is a break down of my new skillz. (Jealous, ya'll?)
1. Unhook your breaks. This involves removing something called a "nipple" from inside its cage. Sounds like S&M to me, but when in Rome...
2. Shift the shifter so the chain is on the small ring. "Why?" you ask. Doug, the mystical mechanic mentor, will reveal all in due time.
Doug says, "I prefer the term guru."
3. Pull the quick release lever, and the wheel drops right out of the bike. Sounds easy because it is.
4. Use two tire levers to pop the tire off the rim. Doug's Tip: "Start opposite the valve stem."
"This is called the bead," he said pointing to the edge of the rubber tire. "You hook the tire lever on the bead and then you hook it on the rim. Take your second tire lever and grab hold of the bead again, near the other one. Just pop it out."
5. Pull the tube out of the tire, valve stem last.
6. Check the tire. This is the part where you might get tetanus.
Doug says: "You want to make sure that whatever popped the tube is not still jammed in the tire. Very carefully run your fingers around the inside of the tire. Now, you might get cut. If it went through the tire and popped a hole in it, it's probably sharp."
Doug also suggests checking the rim strip, to make sure none of the spoke nipples are exposed. Who knew changing a flat would involve so many nipples?
7. Using your inflation device, inflate the new tube just enough so it takes its shape.
Doug says: "Now we want to put a new tube in the tire and be on our way, because the lady with the cart is coming back and she wants another dollar."
8. Insert the tube into the tire, valve stem first. Doug's Tip: "Make sure it's inside the trough of the rim — that it's not floating up on top."
9. Squeeze the bead of the tire back into the rim of the wheel and re-inflate the tube the rest of the way. Doug says: "Make sure the bead area is seated inside the rim."
10. Place the chain back on the small ring and pop the tire onto the bike frame.
Doug reveals the mystery: "Remember when I told you we had to shift the chain down to the small ring? That was solely for reinstallation. If you don't put the chain on the small ring, you don't know which ring the chain is suppose to be on. The wheel actually fights you going into the chain if you don't do that."
And voila! My tire is as good as new, and I can bid a fond farewell to the cart lady, whom I'm sure was nice enough to keep me company while I was working. And I did bid a fond farewell to Doug and to Freewheelin' Community Bikes, put not before perusing their shop for a few accessories.
Note: If you're looking for a new bike but need to make space in your garage first, consider donating your old one to Freewheelin'. Also, Doug is ready and willing to help customers at this downtown shop with any of their bike repair and maintenance needs. Your donations and business keep this Indianapolis non-for-profit going.