Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance: 9 lessons learned during a bike rebuild

By Columbus Alive
From the May 30, 2013 edition

When this cover story came around, it seemed like the perfect time to jump into my own dream-bike project. I've replaced enough parts on my current bike that I can confidently say I'm not a newbie when it comes to bicycle maintenance.

But I'm no pro either. Buying a used mountain bike at Third Hand Co-op, stripping it of its parts and re-building it into a single-speed was still slightly overwhelming.

Part of the appeal of immersing yourself in a project like this though is the trial-by-fire nature of it. I had originally planned to make this a series of steps that you could presumably follow for your own rebuild, but I've learned each bike is different and presents its own set of challenges.

So what follows are some of those other lessons discovered in a two-week project to convert a mountain bike into a single-speed town cruiser/off-road bike.

It helps, quite considerably, to have a friend tag along who knows what he's doing. Big shout-out to John Colvin, of Clintonville, for all his help. This project wouldn’t have been the same without his help.

Bikes don't need to be expensive. I got mine for $25 at the co-op. It was in good shape, with only minor rust spots, but I replaced the seat, pedals, chain and grips, mostly for aesthetic reasons. I also bought lights, a water bottle holder and a chain tensioner from Paradise Garage. In all, I dropped less than $125 on the rebuild, and it could have been considerably less, too.

That said, never throw a part away. You never know when you might need or want it again. The grips and seat were kindly donated to me by Mr. Colvin, who had them left over from another project.

For most maintenance jobs, all you need are screwdrivers and various wrenches (allen, open-end and socket). A few specialty tools might be needed for stuff like chains and cassette sprockets, but Third Hand Co-op and Franklinton Cycle Works all have work stations and tools you can use (along with knowledgeable volunteers to help). It's also a good idea to keep a rust remover, like PB Blaster, and grease on-hand.

Always make sure you're moving in the right direction when trying to loosen tough parts. After countless unsuccessful attempts to wrest a pedal free, I tried moving it the opposite direction — even though I thought that was the wrong way — and finally found victory. I felt dumb, but the pedal was off, and a lesson was learned.

If you're stuck on something, go to tried-and-true internet sources like Sheldon Brown, YouTube and parktool.com, all of which have step-by-step instructions for almost anything you'll encounter (and they'll be considerably more trustworthy than me).

Removing decals and stickers is much easier with a hair dryer or some other heating element. The stickers practically slid right off with the help of a razor blade once I kept a steady stream of heat on them.

If you nick your bike with the razor, or you’re looking to clean up some rust spots, nail polish works as a cheap, effective touch-up. It won't have the same polished, professional look, and it can be difficult to match the colors precisely, but it's quick and affordable.

Don't be afraid of taking your bike to a professional, especially when it comes to often-troublesome parts like brakes. You don't f--- around with brakes.