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Four things a bicycle expert can do to help a friend

Originally posted January 2015 on

Picnic setup outside of a village shop in Newcastle, County Tipperary, Ireland. Photo taken by Julian Westerhout during a tandem tour, August 1, 2014.

Picnic setup outside of a village shop in Newcastle, County Tipperary, Ireland. Photo taken by Julian Westerhout during a tandem tour, August 1, 2014.

The worst axiom in English may be, “It’s just like riding a bicycle; you never forget.” The problem is many people think they know how to ride a bicycle, but a lot of them are wrong.

Riding a bicycle is more than balancing a bicycle long enough to move forward. It’s also riding a bicycle on the right side of the street, which in the United States is, ding-ding-ding, the right side of the street.

(By the way, how much do you really know about riding a bicycle?)

Given the number of United Statesians who ride on the left side of the street, a more accurate saying would be, “It’s just like riding a bicycle; the less you’re willing to learn, the less likely it is that anyone can convince you you’re doing it wrong.”

At the same time, it’s possible to know too much, especially when it comes to helping someone with a bicycle issue. That’s right: Your big bike brain can work against you.

What to do?

  1. Understand the problem. If your friend doesn’t ride because the chain is jammed against the chain stay, but you think your friend doesn’t ride because your friend doesn’t have a $10,000 bicycle, the two of you aren’t working on the same problem. Use the most important tools you have: your ears.
  2. Maintain friend-speed at all times. I don’t know your level of expertise. Maybe you move households with your cargo bike. Maybe your riding goal for this year is 75,000 miles. It doesn’t matter. What matters is helping, not overwhelming, your friend. If your friend wants to ride to a store three miles away, ride to the store with your friend–don’t invite your friend to next week’s double metric century.
  3. Check the tires. If I could wave a magic wand, everyone who buys a bicycle would buy a pump at the same time because bicycle tires lose air way faster than car tires. But since I don’t have a magic wand and you have a pump, offer to air the tires. If your friend only rides once in a while, your friend will be amazed by the difference.
  4. Make sure the saddle and seat post are securely attached. Most of the time, the problem with nuts and bolts isn’t that they fail, it’s that they come loose. A saddle that was at the right angle tips and slides backward; a seat post slides into the frame. Readjust and secure both items, and your friend will be more comfortable—and more likely to ride.

Now this might be where you say, “But there are a lot more ways to help a friend with a bicycle. There’s adjusting brakes and derailleurs, fine-tuning the person’s fit on the bike, teaching a person how to work on a bicycle, getting a friend to ride more often, encouraging a friend to get stronger, faster. And what about clothes?”

Here’s where I say, first thing, you’ve got the big bike brain. You may be right. Second thing, you’ve got the big bike brain; you may be wrong.

The only way to move forward is to weigh your enthusiasm for the bicycle against your friend’s interest in the bicycle. You have to keep everything in balance.

It is, after all, just like riding a bicycle.


Gear up at the Bike Peoria Co-op


Time hides the genius of progress.

Take this group of rear derailleurs from the Bike Peoria parts bin. In 1948, any one of these derailleurs would have been revolutionary.

Instead, that year’s winning Tour de France bicycle featured a four-speed freewheel and a shifter that required the rider to 1) reach toward the rear of the bike to flip open the rear wheel’s quick-release lever, 2) move a second lever to slap the chain to the next cog, and 3) close the quick-release lever. Every shift took a lot of skill.

Every one of these parts-bin derailleurs shifts faster and more accurately. For a dollar each.

That old bicycle at the back of the garage? It doesn’t take much to get it back into winning condition.

Just a trip to the Bike Peoria Co-op. Check for here for shop hours.