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Every person who considers themselves a cycling enthusiast should know how to do at least some basic bike repairs. This is not just to satisfy an unwritten standard of being a bikehead, but because it has a lot of practical implications as well. It can make the difference between dealing with a minor issue quickly on your own or waiting a couple of days for a busy mechanic to squeeze you in. Moreover, in the long run, doing the dirty work yourself will save you a lot of money.
To pick the right size bicycle, you want to measure your height, and specifically your inseam (inside leg), in proportion to the size of the bike frame. The inseam measurement determines the seat height, or the “stack.” Next, you must calculate the “reach,” which is the horizontal distance between the bottom of the frame and the head of the bike -- or, in layman’s terms, the distance between seat and handlebars.
Be organized. “I like having everything be really small and super organized. I put all of my tools in CamelBak’s Tool Roll. It’s got little compartments, and I can separate tire changing stuff in one place, stuff like extra pedal cleats or an extra derailleur hanger in another, and it all rolls up into this tidy pouch. If I do have a repair, I can pull that one thing out and lay it out on the ground and it’s easy to work.”
A plastic garbage bag, or $2 disposable poncho: Just in case of an unexpected downpour or getting caught out after dark. More than once, I’ve gone for a ride on a beautiful day with a perfect forecast, not taken a jacket and had the weather go south on me. Being able to cover up can mean the difference between just mild discomfort or a freezing cold, shivering ride home!
But before I get started, let me share with you a few tips. OK, one tip: Get a work stand. Because putting your bike upside down isn’t good for it—yes, I said it. When I first started fixing my own bikes, I couldn’t afford a fancy $300, folding, magnetic, fixes-the-bike-for-you stand. I tried piecing together a “DIY $30 Stand.” I followed all the directions that the Internet demanded, and once I’d bought all the clamps and pipes, this thing cost really more in the neighborhood of $60—but it only stayed upright with a rope tied to something sturdy in the garage. It was one word: junk. So I bit the veritable chainring and charged a decent stand on my credit card (I hate debt, folks).
Mini Pump: This actually goes on the frame of your bike, as it’s a bit too big for most under-seat bags. Coming soon, we’ll have a review from Bill of his very favorite one, but a good pump is a lifesaver. Some people instead carry a CO2 inflator, which is faster and easier to use but does require disposable cartridges, and each time you have a flat, you’ll need at least 2 of those cartridges. There are combined pump/inflator tools that we’ll also talk about soon.
A wrench that fits the hub nuts: If your bike has quick release front and rear wheels, you don’t need this, but if you have an internal hub on the back, such as the NuVinci, a wrench that fits is a great idea. 99% of the time, this is a 15mm wrench, but you should check your bike. A 6 inch adjustable wrench can also work, but it will be heavier, and when using an adjustable wrench, you do need to take more care to not round over the nuts. A fixed wrench is the best choice. Some multi-tools have a 15 mm wrench built in, but again, if you have limited hand strength, something with more leverage is a great idea.
Based on what we found, we chose the most relevant items and used them all. To test patches, I repaired holes using four different types of patches, from Novara (REI’s now-discontinued house brand), Park Tool, and Rema. Patching a tube isn’t hard but there are a few tricks, and the key was attention to detail and patience. I was extremely diligent in following proper patch procedure, which includes a thorough sanding of the entire area to be patched (for max stickiness) and properly letting the vulcanizer dry on both surfaces before applying. For the peel-and-stick patches, I went so far as to prep the area with canned air to ensure as tight a seal as we could possibly muster.
First, I researched. I looked at Amazon’s top-rated products and their user reviews. Then I consulted Bicycling magazine, Gear Junkie, Bike Radar, Outside, and the occasional bit by Lennard Zinn via Velonews. I also found some worthwhile discussions at Bike Forums. Then I spoke with four experts, Ramona Marks, Scott Karoly, Cari Z, and Alison Tetrick, riders from all across the spectrum, who tour, repair, and race.
Friction gear systems are a lot simpler to adjust, because the movement of the derailer cable can be modulated as you ride, every time you change the gear- they require less cycle maintenance. Modern index shifting systems are a little more complicated because each ‘click’ must release the exact right amount of cable to allow the derailer to move the correct distance to move the chain from one gear to another. Setting up and adjusting a derailer is not difficult and requires only basic tools, but there is a methodical procedure to follow.