Monday, December 3, 2007

End of an Era

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.


  1. The specialized tools needed to work on that Peugeot should not be any sort of barrier to learning how to work on a bicycle. A good start is a Park tool kit that has all of the basic tools. It takes some time to become an efficient mechanic.

    Don't get too frustrated with this "obnoxious sub culture" you're talking about. There are nice people and not-nice people in every facet of life - not just around bicycles. I work on bicycles, and I'm a nice guy. There are many others.

    I've enjoyed reading about your projects, and will continue. It reminds me of the same interest and excitement I had when I began working on bicycles. Don't get discouraged - just have fun learning how to fix new stuff. The internet has a wealth of information to help anybody learn how to fix any (especially old) bicycle.

  2. Specialized tools are a little bit intimidating and not only that there is no standardization of cassette puller tools. and it seems they change generationally even with the same manufacturer. 3 speeds are complex too and I have never torn one apart only oil like crazy and hope that solves any problem as well as adjusting the linkage of course. The same can be said of Cars my 1966 Beetle was fun to work on even if it had no heat in winter to speak of (Chicago commuter) also the 1974 Volvo I had was easy. Now cars cost 10 times as much. Bikes are not ten times as costly unless you go for the Pashley. My ten speed Raleigh is now easier to work on as a single speed fixed wheel and fun. The cog is easy to get off and put a different one on if I move back to the flatland of Holland. You do not see many ten speeds in holland, mostly 3 speed and dynamo lights and mudguards. Practical not too racy and no streak down the back of the clothes when it rains or snows which it does a lot. Thanks Ed on mostly practical bikes going to work and church and the grocery store some with mudguards some not.

  3. I think that with a little research and a visit to the park tool web site would solve your problems. I took apart a huffy omni 10 with a screw driver and a wrench, and a cable cutter, thats it. (did not take of cassette) I refurbished a schwinn varsity with the same tools, and tons of grease.

    don't give up!!