Your dreams of summertime bike rides mean diddly-squat if you haven't cared for your wheels. Casual biking may not require a lot of coaching, but getting your ride in line sure does. For fair weather fans of biking in Chicago, here's a brief lesson on getting your bike back in shape.
On the first day of spring (the real spring, when the thermometer struck 70), I set out to repair what a long, icy winter had done to my bike. It had endured a treacherous season: temporarily abandoned in front of a former friend's apartment since New Year's Eve and then, once rescued and returned to my own sidewalk rack, robbed of its back wheel.
Now I'm no expert, but I was quite certain that the purple and silver, chunky-frame Raleigh, the same bike that was flown across the country and back, that was my mode of transportation across the rugged college-to-post-college terrain, was in dire need of a fixing. The sympathetic expressions on the faces of the two gentlemen at the shop affirmed that hunch.
The self-professed bearers of bad news sized up the damage, determining that a full-blown tune-up, wheel replacement and its related parts would cost about $180, tax not included. What did they recommend? Clearly emotionally unattached, they suggested coughing up an extra $50 bucks and buying a new and improved set of wheels. But on a tight budget, with a little time on my hands, I decided to get a second, and third opinion.
I called around to a few reputable repair shops in the city to compare prices. Since I anticipated forking over considerable cash, I opted for a place that garnered many rave reviews from trustworthy acquaintances. One 20-minute car ride later I was in Logan Square at Boulevard Bikes, ready and willing to heed the employees' advice. My bike lofted onto the stand, worker Doug sat me down and doled out free words for the budget-wise:
First, assess your get-up: How emotionally involved are you? Are your needs being met? Moreover, how much do you want to spend? Sure, the cost of repair might sound like a doozy, but you may want to hold off on a new investment until you're sure that you and biking are more than a summer fling. Begin with a DIY approach; if your parts are all seemingly intact, there are a few measures you can take before going to the doctor:
1) Check out your chain. Depending on how often the bike was used, it will have incurred a good amount of rust. Buy a tube of lube (made for bikes, not WD40) or borrow a few squeezes from the nearest shop. Prop your bike against a wall above a cloth of sorts to catch the drip, peddle backwards with your hand while dripping the lube on top of the chain, working it through for 10 to 20 seconds. Then stop the lubing, keep pedaling for a bit and wipe off the excess junk with a rag.
2) Pump your tires. Though they may appear flat, looks can be deceiving. Air also comes free at most bike shops.
3) Look for squeaky sounds and unsightly bulges, a more or less inexplicable haunting presence.
4) If you're still not sure, go to the shop. Here's what your repairperson should be checking out: loose parts, your chain and your tires. After removing the wheels, he should: straighten out the spokes and make sure the wheels are "true;" lube and measure the chain to see how far it has stretched; and lastly, adjust the different bearings, brakes and gears. (This is all part of a basic tune-up, which generally costs anywhere from $30 and up.) Adding all the new parts, like a wheel, is where the expensive enters the equation. My laundry list included a $45 wheel, $25 freewheel, $30 tire, $10 chain, $1 rim strip and $4.60 tube.
"I always feel like a dentist," the repair guy said. "The longer you leave it, the worse it gets." And he was right. A hefty $180 later, I hopped on my brand spanking new-looking ride and rode happily all the way home, thinking how next winter, I'll do it differently. No one, or thing, likes to spend too much time alone in the cold.
If pumping the tires has still left things kind of flat, take your bike, unsightly bulges and all, to a repair shop like Boulevard Bikes, located at 2535 N. Kedzie; (773) 235-9109; Boulevardbikeshop.com.