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Learning to fix bikes
Ollie Cashman is a BikeWise maintenance instructor. Between teaching introductory bike maintenance courses, completing a law degree, and running a bike shop (Omafiets), he is also involved in setting up a new bicycle co-op called the Bicycle Garden.
Adrian: What do you enjoy most about doing bike repairs and maintenance?
Ollie: I enjoy the challenge of working with different bikes. Unless you’re assembling new bikes, no two bikes are the same in terms of what's going on with their components. I like seeing the immediate results of my work in terms of how the machine functions. When it’s working well, it’s an amazing machine.
Adrian: Have there been any particular people that have been influential in teaching you bicycle repairs?
Ollie: No-one ever sat down and taught me bicycle repairs. I really wish they had, it would have taken a lot of time and pain out of my learning curve. I was very much a self learner. I learnt by experimentation on my own bikes and through working on other peoples bikes.
Adrian: Are there any bicycle repair resources that you’d recommend as a reference point?
The web is an amazing tool for learning about bicycle maintenance. Even people who’ve been working in shops for years must recognise that that the web is an invaluable tool for dealing with different problems. I was a constant user of the Sheldon Brown archives and the Park Tools website. I also think online forums are a great resource. If you look in the tech sections, you’ll read some great stories from people with lots of hands on experience.
Adrian: Is it essential to have lots of tools to do your own bicycle repairs?
Ollie: I often tell people that you can do the greatest about of bike maintenance with just a multi-tool. For most people, building an extensive collection of tools should not be the priority. You should focus on learning how to fix things. Just accumulating extra tools is an unnecessary expense and a barrier. You should have a good set of Allen keys, screwdrivers, and set of spanners. Never use adjustable wrenches! If you want more serious tools, you can invest in a work stand for your bike or a truing stand for fixing wheels. Obviously you can collect more specialist tools, but it depending on the frequency in which you’re using them. It might be better to go to one of the various open workshops around Sydney or just talk to your local bike shop.
Adrian: You just mentioned open bicycle workshops. Can you tell me more about them?
Ollie: Open workshops are places you can work on your bike and get access to various tools. Particularly more specialised tools that you won’t have at home. You can also get advice and encouragement from experienced volunteers who’ll help you work on your bike. There are two open workshops that I know of in Sydney. One open workshop is Cycle Recycle which is located in Phillip Street, Waterloo. It’s open every Monday and Wednesday evening. The other place is the Bicycle Garden. It’s a relatively new group that is running open workshops at the Marrickville Markets on Addison Road on Sunday mornings. There’s also a specific women’s and transgender bike education project called ChainLynx which operates on Addison Road on Wednesday evenings.
Adrian: If you meet someone who wants to learn about bike mechanics, is there any advice or tips you’d like to share with them?
Ollie: It’s a good idea to start by with a bike repair project to work on. Tinkering with your own bike is a great way to force yourself to learn, but you don’t want to have to choose between riding and fixing your bike. When you first learn to fix bikes, it’s a good idea to have a separate bike project that you can disassemble and make mistakes on. Also, just talk to as many people as you can about working on bikes. Get someone to show you how to do things and respect other peoples’ knowledge.
Adrian: Do you know of any courses where people can learn how to do more advanced bicycle repairs?
Ollie: Sadly, the NSW TaFE system no longer runs a bike mechanics course. There are a number of courses in the United States run by organisations such as the Barnett Bicycle Institute, United Bicycle Institute, and ParkTools. There’s also Cycle Systems Academy in the UK. In Australia, the options are more limited. There are some bike mechanics courses in other states TaFE systems. BikeWise is currently developing its own comprehensive mechanics course that and will be launched later this year. Otherwise the best opportunities to learn are to work as an intern in a bike shop to get some hands on wrenching skills.
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