Sunday, June 29, 2008

Q&A: Flats, coaster brakes and getting into the bike biz

Q: I have a Specialized Roubaix with Mavic Kysrium wheels and all of a sudden I'm having problems with flats. I bought the bike last September and rode it all winter and didn't have any problems until it started getting hot. The flats occur from a cut at the base of the valve stem obviously from the rim. I called my local dealer and he said that it sounds to him it's from the way I air my tires. Since the tubes have the 60mm stems, he suggests that I drop down to the 32mm stem and possibly use a different floor pump. So I bought several short-valve tubes and a new Park floor pump. Yesterday I was about 7.5 miles from home and started to get a flat. When I got back home, there was a small cut at the rear tire valve, my favorite place. I changed the tube to the 32mm stem, and of course can hardly get the pump head on it, but I did and rode today without problems. The reason for the stem change: the bike shop indicated that I was damaging the valve when I filled it. I think I might try chamfering the edge of the valve hole in the rim so it can't cut into the valve. Think that would solve the problem?

Thanks for any input you can give me,

A: Sorry to hear about the flat hassles. You're on the right track with the idea to chamfer the edge of the valve hole in the rim. I would definitely closely inspect that area and make sure it's super smooth and can't bite into the base of the valve. I suspect that's the problem, not anything with the length of the valve or your pumping the tubes.

Another trick we used to have to use on certain rims is to take a piece of soft cloth and make a little hole in the center just large enough for the cloth to slip over the valve (a piece of cloth handlebar tape can work). This cloth piece needs to be just wide enough to fit inside the rim and protect the base of the valve on all sides. You slip it on the tube's valve and then install the tube and with a little luck your flats will cease. Believe it or not, at one time working at the bike shop I had to put these things on almost every rim to stop those recurring flats when I worked on all the French and British bikes back around 1973. Those rims were sharp back then ;-)

I think if you try these things you'll solve the problem. Simply chamfering the rims might do the trick. But I wanted to tell you the cloth trick since it works so nicely. Since other people with Kysriums aren't suffering constant valve cuts, I suspect you just got one that wasn't machined perfectly.

I should also ask if this recurring valve problem is happening on always the same brand and type of valve? If so, that might be a contributing factor - the design of the tube being not quite right for your wheel. But, it sounds like you've had the same problem with several different tubes which indicates it's the rim, not the tubes.

To flat-free rides!

Q: I have an AMG Roadmaster. On the side it says Skyrider Deluxe. We found it in an old shed but the brakes don't work. I'm just a girl so I don't know how to fix it but I can't afford another bike and this one was free. It's cute. It even has a headlight which doesn't work right now, but this cutie has been hidden for years. Can you help?
No Brakes in Ohio

A: Thanks for the question. That sounds like a fun bike. If it's a coaster-brake bike, there should be just one brake that's inside the hub on the rear wheel. To operate the brake you push backwards on the pedals. That's why it's sometimes called a "foot brake." If this is the type of brake you have on that bike, and it's not braking or slowing you down when you push back on the pedals, it's probably because moisture has gotten inside the hub and rusted or frozen the parts inside that make them work when you pedal backwards to stop the bike. If other parts on the bike are rusty, like the chain or handlebars or crank, that's an indication that the parts inside the hub may have rusted, too.

If you're lucky the rust might not be too bad and if you lay the bike on its side and spray a penetrating lubricant like WD-40 into the sides of the rear hub you'll be able to free up the parts inside. Try to get the lube inside the hub by spraying into cracks beneath the sprocket on the right and the dustcap on the left. Let the bike rest on its side for a few minutes to let gravity pull the lube in. Then do the same for the other side. After that, try pedaling the bike by hand and then operating the brake by hand. If you're lucky the lube will make its way inside the hub and will free up the frozen parts in there that let the brake do its job.

It might take a little while for the spray lube to loosen the parts, so be patient. Spray it a couple of times and let the bike lay on its side longer and with luck that might be all it takes to get it going again. Be sure to lube the chain if it's rusty, too.

If the lube doesn't work, the next step would be to bring the bike to a bike shop and have them take a look. The hub might need to be overhauled, which won't cost too much, assuming it hasn't been abused or damaged.

If you'd like to learn more about coaster brake hubs, this page on Sheldon Brown's bicycle website is very helpful:

Hope this helps!

Q: My name is Bud and I have been looking for an easier way to make a living. I have been a mechanic for many years and worked on pretty much anything from lawn mowers to semi trucks and held most auto ace certifications. I was talking to a friend last week who got me interested in getting a bike and getting back in shape. So I went to a local bike shop several times over the last couple of weeks and was impressed with the way I was treated and the way people working together got along. This got me thinking that maybe I would like to be part of this happy family. My question is - and I am open to any suggestions - how much money can a bike mechanic make and what types of certifications are available? Are there any training programs to get me up to speed as far as bike repair is concerned?

A: Nice to hear from you, Bud, and yes, there are schools you can attend to learn bicycle mechanics. One is and the other one is Those are the 2 best known ones. Some shops teach basic maintenance classes, too, and some community colleges often have programs teaching bike repair so people can take care of their own bikes. You can learn a lot with hands-on experience like this, and as an accomplished mechanic already you should pick up bike repair very quickly. I think you'll enjoy it, too.

As far as how much money you can make, it really depends on where you are and what skill level you're at and how much responsibility you have in the shop you work at. If you're the head mechanic you might be able to make $14 an hour or a little more if you're west of the Rockies where the cost of living and the pay is higher. If you're the Service Manager, writing up repairs, handling customers and running the entire shop in a major store with a high gross, you might bump that to $16 - $20 an hour or a little higher. But, that would be in a major shop. The smaller shops don't take in enough money to compensate employees like that. Generally speaking they will try to compensate you with things like wholesale on bike and component purchases, sometimes insurance (though that's not that common these days) and letting you attend bike events as possible.

Most of the people working in the bike industry are doing it because they love bikes. Not too many are making a fortune but they look forward to going to work everyday and enjoy being around bicycles, bike people and cycling. I've been in the industry since I was 18 and have enjoyed it immensely. I won't ever get rich, but I've been happy and relatively stress-free and healthy all these years. I was a mechanic for 17 years and loved helping people and the challenge of figuring out each new bike problem that people brought my way.

You might want to visit, which the National Bicycle Dealers Association website where you can read more about the bike industry and find out more about shops and how they work and where you might fit in. Most shops are looking for experience but if you show genuine desire to work and an interest in the work a good shop seeking quality help will pick up on that and give you a chance to learn the job. You may have to keep trying for a bit. It took me a while to get my foot in the door but once I found someone who would give me a try and not blow me off with 'but you don't have any experience,' I was able to demonstrate how much I loved bikes, how quick I could learn and what an asset I could be for their company.

You should go into the shop with that attitude and be friendly and confident and with a little luck you'll land a job and be able to learn under an experienced mechanic who can fill in any gaps in your bike repair knowledge. You're going to have skills from your other mechanics positions that you can share with them, too, so don't forget that. Sometimes bike shops only know bikes and it can be invaluable to have someone who knows about other higher-tech repair tasks. Don't hold it over their heads, but don't be shy about things you know that could save time, make repairs easier and make the shop more profitable.

Hope some of these ideas help and I wish you luck if you decide to enter the industry. Let me know if you need more help or have other questions.

Yours in cycling,

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