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Tuning up bikes

Author: Ted Buehler ; Special to The Enterprise
Riding a well-tuned bike is a great feeling: You fly along practically effortlessly. Wind whistles in your ears, you consume the sweet sights and smells of the world as you swoop around town, the power of your body efficiently transferred to speed through the fine workings of a simple machine.In contrast, riding a bike in poor condition is just hard work. Rubbing brakes and squishy tires slow you down, a poorly adjusted seat means you huff and puff simply to keep moving. You might be just as fit as the next person, but power just isn’t getting to the wheels.The huffing and puffing many times starts with buying an inexpensive bike at a big-box store. Unfortunately, it’s a poor investment. The manufacturer cuts a lot of corners to get you that price: metals are inferior, parts are harder to adjust, plastic and rubber fall apart in the weather. It will be heavy and slow, and when you pedal you’ll think, “Riding a bike is hard work.”

The extra cash to buy or upgrade your bike pays for itself many times over. You’ll get places faster, more comfortably. You’ll find excuses to ride your bike and forgo the car. Before long you’ll get to know the neighborhoods of Davis, you’ll be in better shape, enjoy reserves of energy not found since college, and you’ll look 10 years younger.

In addition to feeding your fragile ego, when you ride your bike you won’t be contributing to air pollution, traffic congestion or oil dependency.

Here are some tips on how to make your bike “fly.”

First, make sure your bike is properly adjusted. I encourage you to try to turn a few nuts and bolts on your own … it’s empowering to develop the wrenching skills that can lead to greater self-reliance. Start out small, maybe adjusting your seat, or throw a little WD-40 on the chain, pump up the tires (these three steps alone can make a neglected bike feel new).

Sure, it takes a bit of trial and error and you might not get it right the first time, but get support from a biking buddy or a book. Tom Cuthbertson’s “Anybody’s Bike Book” with its eccentric drawings and its baby-step descriptions is a good place to start.

But if you think grease under the fingernails is unattractive, visit one of Davis’ many bike shops (each has its own personality) to get a tune-up. Ask for a bike fitting, too. Some will eyeball it for free, and others for a price will use complicated machines for precision.

And while in the shop, find a trinket that captures your eye and spend a few bucks on a new accessory that will make you more excited about your bike. There’s certain to be a few accessories that you can use to customize your bike to meet your needs — like a basket, bell, coffee holder, cyclocomputer or fenders. Go ahead and make an investment, you’ll be glad you did.

If you want the best of all worlds — parts galore and experts waiting to help you — roll your steed to Bike Forth, a community bike shop where you can work on your bike and get advice from volunteers. Located at Fourth and L streets, it is a great resource for novice and seasoned bicyclists alike. There, the experts will show you how to turn a wrench, lube a chain and pump a tire.

Then go to the next level, get creative and try out different used parts on your bike until you have it tricked out just for you. It’s a lot of fun to putter on your own bike in such a supportive environment and Davisites are lucky to have this resource. Check out Bike Forth; it deserves our support and patronage.

After getting all the kinks out of your bike, ride it. Ride it on Sundays, ride it to work and increase your shop-by-bike trips — and ride with friends! Do your kids like riding more now? See how you feel: Pretty soon you’ll be flying across town riding on the wind, and your distinctive, smooth-running bike will be an extension of yourself. That is the happiness a well-tuned bike brings.

— Ted Buehler lived in Davis from 2003 to 2008. He was the founder of DavisBicycles! and a co-founder of the UC Davis Bike Church, which moved into Davis as Bike Forth. Buehler lives in Portland, Ore. To offer a Davis Bicycles! column, write to [email protected]

Special to The Enterprise

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