Womens Mechanics Class: Part One

Day 33
5 miles

Tonight (well, this is postdated since the sum of my computing last night was taken up by the iOS5 update), I attended part one of the Womens Mechanics Class at my favorite bike shop: the Bike Depot of Park Hill. The Bike Depot has all sorts of general and specific classes going on this fall (click here for the schedule), from fixing a flat to hub overhauls, but I chose this one because it seemed like a good idea to learn bike basics without the mechanical gender divide.

Our teacher, Lexa (right), shows us how lube a chain properly. Since a bike has been her main form of transport for the past 30 years, she knows what she's talking about. Maria (left), Ashley and I (not pictured) pay close attention.

The first class was all about basics:

–Clean and degrease the bike

–Diagnose problems

–Apply chain lubricant

–Repair broken chains

–Brake 101
The three of us worked on bikes that had just been donated to the Bike Depot by the Derailer Bike Collective on Lipan. Ah, the wonder of working on a bike stand – everything is right-side up and right there.


We all got rags and bottles of diluted Simple Green and went to work cleaning the bikes up, a great way to get a feel for their various issues along the way. Flat tires all around, rust, brakes askew…


For the derailleurs, they use Tri-Flow. One tiny drop on each pivot point of the front and rear derailleurs does the trick. Much more than that, and you are inviting dirt to the party.

For the chain, They use Finish Line’s DRY Lubricant. Grab the pedal in your hand and douse the chain as it spins. Then, once that’s soaked in, grab a rag and hold the spinning chain with it to remove excess lube.

There are many tools to check a chain, but everyone has a measuring tape.


Some chains require a chain tool to remove a rivet and get them off, others have a master link, which was designed to be easier, but takes some womanhandling and a pair of needle-nose pliers. Chains should be cleaned somewhat often, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take them off the bike. A cleaner/degreaser can do the trick.

Every year (more if you’re commuting more than 4,000 miles annually), the chain should be checked for stretch. You can use a variety of tools designed for this job, but a measuring tape is how I’ll do it. Just line up two rivets on either side of 12″. If the rivets line up, your chain is in good shape. If there is over 1/8″ of stretch, time to start thinking about a new chain.

Why? A stretched chain will gradually wear off the teeth of your gears.

BRAKE 101:

There are sure a lot of varieties of bike brakes. We were dealing with rim brakes – caliper and u-brakes. My take home from the brief brake talk was the introduction to the third-hand and fourth-hand tools that make all these adjustments way more manageable.

Ashley tries to revive a rusted chain in the Bike Depot's industrial-sized parts washer.


As we talked about snow, locks, trails, racing, storage and our beloved bikes, it came out that my classmate Ashley already subscribes to this blog. High fives all around and a big shout out to her. Here she is on the left, facing off with some serious solvents in the parts washer.


Next class, it’s hub overhauls and rear derailleur adjustments.


All of this is great learning for me, but the old Black Sheep, as the name would indicate, is an oddball – most of it’s working parts are safely tucked away in the internal hub and I’ve got disc brakes. Though Lexa is quite confident that I will have no problems with my bike for the foreseeable future, I’ve still got to figure out how to maintenance what I’m working with so I can be self-sufficient. Which basically means I have a lot more hanging out to do at the Bike Depot.


I’m adding Park Tool’s website to my blogroll, which offers an online 133-step bike repair guide! Sah-weet.

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3 thoughts on “Womens Mechanics Class: Part One

  1. paula says:

    This is so impressive!!! And great to have all that knowledge even if much of it doesn’t apply directly to your Black Sheep. Great job.

  2. Ash says:

    Yeahh! Can’t wait for next week! It was awesome meeting you!

  3. erin says:

    Yay! I just checked out theselittledocumentaries and realized … I ALREADY FOLLOW YOU ON TWITTER. I swear, the future blows my mind daily.


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