Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

Posted: September 7, 2011 in Bike
Tags: , ,

You may remember that one of the major action items for my upcoming Cancun triathlon adventure was to be able to take my time trial bike (Lucille) apart to fit into a bike box for shipping, and then be able to successfully reassemble it on the other side.  For some of you this might not sound so daunting, but this has been a source of great stress for me since I have the mechanical know-how of a retarded chimp.  Okay, maybe it’s not even that good.

My worse fear is that come race time, I will be in my room at the HOTEL FIESTA AMERICANA CONDESA curled into the fetal position and bawling my eyes out while my baby lies in ruins; just a pile of random bolts and parts scattered around the floor.  So, with this ultimate tragedy in mind I went out to my Coach’s place this past weekend to have my lesson in basic bicycle maintenance.  There, her husband, Nelson, displaying the patience of a saint, walked me through the steps necessary to get Lucille safely disassembled and stowed away in her box for safe shipping.  The following steps then are my attempt to catalogue, in detail, as well as for future reference sake, that same process come time for me to actually do it again on my own and, thereby, avoiding any such future pre-race meltdowns.

Okay, these don’t look so scary…

The first task, however, was to acquire the proper tools for the job.  Currently, my tool box has only a single screwdriver with interchangeable heads, a pair of tweezers, a measuring tape, a plastic container of random sized nails and screws n’ shit, and some electrical tape; I’m hardly Bob Vila, so it was off to Canadian Tire I went on Saturday in search of an ‘Allen Key’ (Hex Key) set being sure it included an 8mm, 5mm, and 3mm  key.  After about a half hour of aimlessly wandering the aisles I finally gave in and asked a Salesperson who then lead me to the same aisle that I had wandered through, like, a thousand times already.  So armed with my new tool set – *giggle* – I headed off on Sunday to my Coach’s place for some schooling.  Let the fun and games begin.

Oh yeah, this is going to go well…

What’s important to remember first when disassembling your bike is, prior to starting, be sure to shift all the gears into the highest gear in the front chain ring and lowest in the back.  This will keep maximum tension on the chain through out the disassembly, packing and reassembly and therefore minimize the chance of damage (not to mention avoiding unnecessary grease marks).  Okay, once that’s been accomplished we’re ready to actually begin.

Lucille: pre-disassembly

1.  Remove the pedals.  Pretty easy task here I think.  Using the 8mm Allen Key and being sure to recognize that the right pedal uses a counterclockwise thread and the left pedal a clockwise thread, simply remove each pedal and set aside.

Removing the pedals

2. Remove the wheels.  Again, this is pretty simple.  What’s important to remember is to let out a little air from each of the tires first so that that air doesn’t expand in the tube and rupture it at high altitudes during mid-flight.  How much would it suck to land with two blown tubes (or worse)?  Before actually removing the wheels, however, remember to release the brake levers on the calipers and then follow up by loosening off the headset caps and quick release skewers and gently remove the wheel bolts prior to yanking the tires off the forks (set aside).  The front wheel is as easy as falling off a log, but the back wheel might pose a little more of a problem.  What I need to remember is to pull back on the rear derailleur carefully and slide the chain off the rear cassette before easing the chain off the cassette and removing the wheel.  Note to self:  Don’t get all frustrated and angry and go all Bruce Banner by totally ‘Hulking out’ otherwise you’ll risk damaging any number of the sensitive working mechanisms of the rear drive system, jackass.

3. Remove the seat.  This is about as simple as it’s going to get.  I have already pre-marked the exact spot on my seat post where I want to return it to with electrical tape (thank you, current home tool kit), so I just have to undo the seat post from the seat tube with a 5mm Allen Key (set aside).  Easy-peasy.

4. Place in the bike box.  From here, with the pedals, wheels and seat already removed, the bike will now be able to lie inside the bike box comfortably.  I am also going to use some bubble wrap I have laying around from my old CD trading days to wrap portions of the frame to minimize it being banged around inside the box during shipping.  There are still some adjustments to make, of course, but they can all be easily accomplished while the bike is lying down inside the protection of the box itself. The next thing that I need to do once the bike is positioned properly and wrapped up all safe and sound is to attach the ‘fork spacers’ on both the front and the rear forks of the bike where the wheels used to be.  They will fit on easily and will keep the forks nicely separated and secure should the bike come under any stresses during the loading and off-loading process during the flight.  It should also be noted that the front fork spacer is a bit smaller than that of the rear fork, but both will fit on just as snuggly with wing nuts.

Adding the ‘fork spacers’

5. Tie up the chain.  While the bike is lying down, I need to carefully loop some string or cord around the chain and pull it up semi-tightly and then tie it to somewhere on the bike frame so that it doesn’t wobble around or kink inside the box during shipping.  Now, I wasn’t exactly a boy scout or a sailor or anything growing up but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t really matter what kind of knot you use just as long as it keeps the chain from flopping around and I can still undo it again afterwards.

Tying up the chain

6. Remove the right elbow pad on the aero bars.  After our first go around, we figured out that the aero bars will not lie flat against the bike frame without the right elbow pad first coming off.  This is very easily accomplished by removing the two bolts affixing it to the handlebars with a 3mm  Allen Key (set aside).  No big whoop there either.

7. Remove the aero bars.  Now that the right elbow pad has been removed, it’s time to take off the aero bars altogether.  This is where things can begin to get a little stressful as Lucille has been professionally sized and set up specifically for my frame and build in order to ride comfortably.  Lord knows I don’t want to embark on a 90k bike ride in an uncomfortable position, so to make sure that I can get them back in the exact spot from where I took them off I need to remember to mark the aero bars with a white carpenter’s pencil.  It will be super important to make sure to be as detailed as possible so that they will be easy to reposition precisely afterwards.  The aero bars can be removed by simply undoing the two bolts on the front plate with a 3mm  Allen Key.  I can do this while the bike is lying in the box of course.  What I really need to remember is that once the aero bars have been removed that I don’t unnecessary twist or bend either the braking or gearing cables when I take them off to gently place them over the frame of the bike itself. Also, I should shift the gear shifters on the aero bars to the foremost upward position to help them lay across the bike frame as snuggly as possible, and preferably over some carefully placed bubble wrap.  So far, so good.

Removing the aero bars.

8. Place all the removed bike parts (minus the wheels) inside the box.  Okay, time to load up the box with all the removed parts (pedals, wheel hubs and caps, elbow pad, bolts, etc.), remembering to check and double check that EVERYTHING is in there.  Imagine me trying to put the bike back together again in Cancun only to realize that I’ve left one tiny, seemingly insignificant piece at home?  I may as well just order a shotgun from the front desk concierge and just do myself in there and then.  I can also take the opportunity to load up the box with the other bike essentials like my tire changing kit (minus the air cartridges which might explode at high altitudes), bento bag (plus 2 packages of GU Chomps), tire pump, water bottles, my Allen Key set, as well as my baggies of pre-measured Perpetuem and Emend recovery formulas, and maybe even my cleats and helmet if they fit okay.  Hey, I may as well right?  Shit, if I could fit my mother in there to save on air fare I would. Turns out that shipping a bike and racing internationally isn’t cheap, believe me.

Placing everything inside the box.

9. Add the wheels.  Once the bike and all the other crap has been positioned with care inside the bike box, I can place one of two foam pads over it all and place the wheels over top of the pad.  This will keep the wheel spokes protected from all the other random shit in there.  I will no doubt wrap each wheel in more bubble wrap just to give them a little extra cushioning because, hey, you never know…right?

10. Box it all up.  Finally, I can place the last of the two foam pads over the wheels making it a perfect triple-decker bike sandwich, so to speak.  Once they are in place I can place the box lid on and begin cinching down all the straps so that the lid is snug and secure and Lucille is nicely protected inside.  Done!


Now that Lucille has been successfully disassembled and placed inside her box as delicately as one might hang their Christmas stocking, all there is left to do now is get it to the airport safely and then on to Cancun.  Then I just have to reassemble it all by simply reversing these directions, and how hard can that be, right?

Oi vay!

  1. Jeff C says:

    I’m so excited for you Terry. I’m sure taking Lucille apart and packaging her up all nice and secure must have made it all the more real for you too. I hope you’re managing to get enough sleep!

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