Bicycle Repair


No, I didn’t do that to a bicycle wheel. Okay, I did. Kind-of.

A guy came in, an older man with an accept — sounded French to me, but it could have been Italian — with an older Trek bike, a nice steel frame with brazed lugs and down tube shifters. The bike was about 25 years old, in reasonably good shape (no rust), but it was covered in… dirt? dust? 25-year-old mud? I’m not sure. He wanted it looked at, cleaned up, and air in the tires. Both of which were in advanced states of dry rot.

So, I cleaned it up (it took a half-hour to simply wipe all the dirt off), changed the tires and tubes, tightened bolts and nuts, fiddled with the brakes. Part of doing a tune-up at the bike shop where I sometimes work, also means truing the wheels if they need it. And this bike needed it badly. For not having been used for a while, the wheel was badly out of true (even though it cleared the brakes, it wobbled) and it was also out of dish (which means the rim was not centered on the hub, which happens as spokes loosen slowly).

I thought I’d done a reasonably good job of redishing and truing the wheel. But when I went to retension it — by holding it horizontally by the rim, with the hub in the center pointing up and down, resting the hub endpoint on a table and then pressing down — it went all wobbbly, like it was made of plastic. At first, I thought I’d done something horribly wrong. But it turns out the rim came apart at the weld — metal fatigue. At least the wheel didn’t come apart with someone on it. Must have been some riding this guy — or someone — did on this old Trek.

He was looking forward to having the bike running, too. He’d just given up smoking, and wanted to save some money on gasoline. We’re doing a lot of tune-ups of old bikes being hauled out of tool sheds, garages, back porches and the weedy corners of backyards, people looking to save a few bucks on fuel.

And mostly they go better than this tune-up did.