Naturally, I blame my parents (or rather my grandparents). My Dad never learned to ride a bike, and girls in my Mum's generation were not taught such dirty mechanical things as how to fix a puncture or change a wheel. Growing up we didn't even have a pump in the house, and I had to go to my friend's house to get her Dad to do even the smallest of repairs.
When I started to commute by bike in Glasgow, I had a series of crappy old rustbuckets that I bought second-hand, and swapped for slightly less crappy and rusty models when the repair bills started to cost more than the bike. I did learn to fix punctures though, a more or less monthly occurrence on my glass-strewn (but pretty) river-canal-woods route.
I'm on my second Canadian bike now, both bought new. And I have spent a lot of money on fish, or rather extravagant repair bills at various local bike shops.
But no more!
After a lovely long spell of dry autumn weather, during which I was taking my time on my commute and admiring the trees,
it started to rain again. Approaching a major intersection at the bottom of a steep hill, and realising that my brakes were not going to cope with the wet oily road, I put my feet down to avoid sliding out into traffic and decided that it was about time I learned to change my own brake pads.
And I knew exactly where to go for my fishing lesson.
The last time I needed new brake pads (hey, I ride down lots of hills in idiotic traffic; I burn through them pretty quickly), I wandered into what looked like any other bike store, hoping to drop my bike off, go for brunch with my friends, and pick up my fixed bike later that weekend. It was not to be... turns out Our Community Bikes operates on a completely different model. They provide stands, tools, and advice, and teach you to fix your bike yourself.
Unfortunately I was not looking for such a service on that particular occasion, but they did agree to fix my brakes while I had brunch. I came back to find that "my" technician was doing some pretty extreme multitasking, helping about four other people with their own fixes, and was only about halfway through. So I waited, and waited, and waited, and then got a very stern lecture about how dirty my chain and gears were. (Apparently "it's a theft deterrent" is not a valid excuse). Slightly disgruntled, I paid up and went home.
But this time I knew what to expect. I spent an hour at home, cleaning my bike, and headed (carefully) downhill to learn how to fish.
I got the last available stand in the crowded shop, and signed up for the "help me a lot" option. Well, apparently I hadn't cleaned my bike well enough, and I was instructed to scrub all the road gunk off my wheel rims with rubbing alcohol and a rag. One hour and much elbow grease later, I was ready to actually start.
Turns out it's actually pretty easy to remove the old pads and put the new ones on. My friendly mechanic showed me what to do, and I got stuck in, feeling all important with my array of tools and filthy hands. However I fell apart at the fine-tuning stage. Each time I summoned my multitasking mechanic to check my work (which took up to 15 minutes a time; he was crazy busy), the pads were set too wide and I had to reverse the nuts and bolts to bring them closer to the rim; or they were slightly too high; or my angle was slightly off.
Eventually (like about three hours after I arrived at the store), I was done! Filthy and with tired crampy desk-jockey hands, but done!
At this point the mechanic pointed out that the "noodle" that guides the brake cable into the rear brake was too long, and was introducing a slight kink to the cable. No problem, their extensive stock of used parts included a shorter noodle.
Unfortunately, as I was threading the cable through the noodle, I somehow managed to shred the outer layer.
An hour later I was even more filthy, frustrated, with very tired very crampy desk-jockey hands and ready to go home, but I also knew how to change a brake cable.
I cashed out, using the notes I'd kept of how much time I'd spent working by myself ($5 per hour), working under verbal instruction ($10 per hour), and having hands-on help ($15 per hour). Including new parts (brake pads and cable) and some used bits and pieces, my total came to less than $50 - a bargain!
My four hours in the shop were sometimes frustrating, but always interesting. Most people in there were of the "alternative", build-your-own-fixed-gear-bike-from-used-parts crowd, but there was a great sense of community and several people stopped to chat to me or offer advice, despite my Gap jeans and hybrid commuter bike. I also saw a very clean-cut guy being taught how to fix a puncture, with hands-on help from his filthy-but-thrilled young daughter, which made me smile.
If previous experience is any guide, I shall be back in a few months and changing my brake pads again with (hopefully) minimal guidance. I will also probably need to learn how to fix a broken pedal shaft, bottom bracket / rear axle, and gear system at some point in the next couple of years. But for now I can ride downhill with confidence and get on with enjoying the trees.