I discovered while working on my new old 10-speed Peugeot this past weekend that it needs some specialized tools to really take the whole thing apart. As a result, I was basically just able to clean things up a bit and replace the tires and tubes, rather than re-pack bearings and whatnot like I wanted. On the plus side, the front and rear derailers are now working well. The main problem was the gucked-up chain. I cleaned the chain with Pedro's Bio Cleaner twice with a toothbrush and then let it sit in a moderately heavy coat of oil overnight. I then wiped off the excess oil and--viola!--the chain was nice and smooth.
My irritation at not being able to access all parts of this bike with common tools got me thinking about bike culture again. It was with the 10-speeds in the 1970s and 1980s that most bicycles became mechanically inaccessible to the average rider. Special tools and more complex gearing systems ensured that even folks with the desire to work on their own bikes have to amass an arsenal of specialized, expensive, or hard-to-come-by tools. This means that professional mechanics at bike shops become the keepers of "bike wisdom" and know-how, which creates a mystique of exclusivity and inaccessibility for the average person. It also creates a sub-culture of amateur "gear heads" who become obsessed with the minutia of bike parts and tools, living out their fantasies of ditching the corporate world for the life of a grease monkey or professional racer. Most people associate an interest in bikes and DIY maintenance with this exclusive and frankly obnoxious subculture, and don't want to have anything to do with it.
I refurbished the Columbia only with common tools available at any hardware store (except the cable cutters and chain tool), most of which I already had in my toolbox. The Peugeot, on the other hand, which is almost the same age as the Columbia, is virtually inaccessible to me with the tools I have and what little common sense I possess. Unfortunately, the trend over the last three decades has gone the way of more complex and inaccessible bikes, and the bikes that everyone could work on themselves have virtually disappeared. Sure, lots of folks do all their own work, but they're people who see working on their bikes as a hobby to invest both time and money in, and these people are a distinct minority. The average person is completely intimidated by their bike, and wouldn't know where to begin. I have been, and largely still am, that person. It's not the whole reason, but I think it's a big part of why more people don't get out of their cars and onto a bike.