Tool Academy, Part I

The is the first in what I hope will be a four part series documenting my travails as I try to learn some bike maintenance. I hope that it's at least four parts (meaning that they didn't kick me out of the class for ineptitude) and I hope that it's only four parts (meaning that they didn't make me re-take the course on account that they were legally obligated to ensure I achieved an acceptable level of tool use before I could be released to the public). 

I was running late at work, so I didn't change out of my work clothes before class. I had brought a pair of jeans, but I kept on the grey herring bone pants I was wearing that day. I also had on a checked blue top, which I covered with a grey fleece. When I arrived home later that night, my wife had some serious concerns about this outfit. She said something that I can't quite remember like "why did you dress like a hipster?"
I tucked my pants into my greenish-brown socks and rode to the bike shop where the class was taking place and when I got there I changed out of my bike shoes and took off my bright yellow jacket and moved my bike into the back area where the class was taking place. There were a few bike repair stands and I was told I could pick any one. I asked if one was better than another. Nope. I chose the one was sorta central, but still unassuming. I didn't want to be anywhere where I would be made an example for the class (on account of my surety that I would do something horrible and embarrassing), but I also didn't want to tuck myself off too much to the side or back because I truly did want to benefit from the up-close instruction that this class would offer.
I'm not going to comment very much on the instructors or my fellow students on because I'm sure they read this blog and they seemed like generally pleasant people. My classmates probably had nicer bikes than I did, but we all seemed to generally fit into the category of twenty to thirtysomething year old guys (except for George, who is that wizened old dude who's thin and athletic and has a carbon frame super bike and could probably out-ride everyone you know and who has a summer house in Utah where he plans to retire and maybe get into the bike/adventure tour game) of reasonable means and a commitment to biking.
Bike stand. 
The first of my, let's call them, issues was trying to figure out how to get the bike into the bike stand. We were supposed to attach it by the seat post, but I didn't have any room on the seat post because I'm not super-tall and I had a lock-mount, a rear reflector and rear blinking light already on the seat post.
Tool instructions (I think)
Bagged tools. 
One of the instructors took out a tool and moved my seat post up and was going to take out some black electrical tape to mark where my seat post had been but then neglected doing that since the dirtiness of my seat post clearly demarcated its former height.
We were given tool boxes and aprons and repair books and told that we could open all of these things and remove them from their packaging. Succeeding in doing this, I then put on my apron, being sure to demonstrate my manual dexterity to knotting the apron in the back and not wrapping the strings around the front like the guy whose name I can't remember who works in "antitrust economics." (No one else indidcated their professions in the introductions sections. All I said is that I biked to work every day and that my name was Brian).
Since I aced the apron tying section, I was developing a bit of confidence. We were given rubber gloves since bike chains can be messy and gross. We were then asked to remove our front wheels (after deflating the tires) from the bike. I had done this before (in one of the many bike "repairs" that resulted in a subsequent trip to the bike shop to fix whatever I had just broken), so I promptly undid the quick release and had my wheel off maybe almost before anyone else. Next up was pulling off the tire. I was a little less familiar with the step, but I did attend a fix-a-flat class once and I sorta knew how tire levers work, so I gingerly started removing the tire from the wheel. No major problems there either. I got the tire off the wheel and removed the tube as we were asked. We then talked about patches and the different kind of burst patterns that can indicate different kinds of flat tires. It felt very Forensic Files. I remember that we talked about a "star" pattern that meant that you did something horrible with your bike, like a hit-and-run on a porcupine or something, and I remember that we talked about "pinch flats," but my primary takeaway is that if you see a problem with your tube, you should put a patch on it and then re-inflate it. Then ride to your nearest bike store and buy a new tube. You could also carry a new tube with you and not worry about patches. You could also only ride your bike where there are bus lines, which is my preferred approach, but I understood that having multiple strategies for dealing with flat tires is a good thing. We were told to re-inflate the tubes (after checking them for non-existent damage), but only enough to give them some shape, so we could put them back into the wheel. Oh, FYI, not to sound to sophisticated or anything, you can't be cavalier about the terms tire and wheel (like I am) when it comes to bikes. Tire means rubber part, wheel means metal thing with spokes. Anyway, I thought that I had given my tube enough shape, so I put it back in the wheel and started to try to put the tire back into the wheel. The tires are beaded, meaning that they kinda snap into place along the inside rim of the tire, or at least they should. I had a hard time doing this. At first I tried to snap one side of the tire into the wheel around the tube, but I could snap in more than a few inches at a time and I kept turning the wheel like I was snapping in new parts, but I was really just holding the same part of the tire and nothing more was getting into place. With some more diligence, I was able to eventually get all of the one side of the tire beaded back into the wheel. But when I tried to do the other side, I just couldn't do it. Not being overly familiar with the tensile strength of bike tires and wheels, I didn't know how hard I could push down on anything in order to make the tire snap into place. So I just wasn't really pushing that hard. And accordingly, the tire wasn't snapping into place. The instructor could see that I was floundering, so he came over and was all like "yeah, you've got hardcase tires (which I knew! yay me), so these are a little more rigid" while he simultaneously snapped the tires into place like it was no big deal (which to him it wasn't). Well, I didn't pay for bike class so the instructor could do my work (this is the pride that goes before the fall), so I took out my tire lever and undid what he just did. 7 minutes later, when the class had moved onto the other things and after my hands really, really hurt I finally snapped my tire back into place. All I had to do was re-inflate tube and remount the tire to the bike and everyone would forget my laughable struggling.
I broke my air intake valve. It snapped off when I went to re-inflate my tube. It had been bent for a while (I must have bent in when I was inflating my tire sometime, I don't know) and it just clean broke off. Permanent flat tire and the replacement tune cost $7.41, which I paid at the end of the night. They didn't charge me maintenance, though they also didn't let me replace the tube myself. I broke part of my bike in bike repair class.
Shark tool. 
What the class had moved onto when I was struggling with my tire was working with the rear cassette. The goal was to demonstrate how to remove the nut that keeps the cogs (sprockets? chain rings?)  in the cassette in place. You would theoretically remove this nut to take the cogs (I think I'll call them chain rings) off to clean them because they get really dirty. I guess you could also inspect them, but to be honest, I'd have no idea what to expect for. Maybe I'll learn or maybe it's in my book. We were told to insert the FR-5. I did. We were told to use the chain whip (NSFW?) in conjunction with the FR-5 and loosen the nut. Yeah, that didn't happen. First of all, I couldn't figure out how to use the chain whip. The idea is to use the chain part of the chain whip to prevent the chain rings from turning. I could kind of conceptualize how that works. Then, we were supposed to use a big wrench and "torque" to loosen the nut and free the chain rings. The chain whip is a narrow tool and it really dug into my hand any time I tried to apply "torque." I pushed and pulled in every conceivable direction with my arms sometimes crossed, sometimes together, sometimes akimbo. Nothing doing. While the instructor was talking about chain rings and how you know how to put them back together in the right order and what the numbers on them mean (spoiler alert- the number corresponds to the number of teeth and the order you put them back on is from lowest to highest number, which is coincidentally from smallest to largest), his assistant came over the help me with my FR-5 problems. He tried a little. I tried again. He tried some more. Then we decide to try together, with him holding onto the chain whip and me pushing the wrench down. Rather than working and freeing the nut (which when you reinstall it makes clicking sounds), this only succeeded in breaking my chain whip. That's right, in the course of ninety minutes, I broke both part of my bike and a bike repair tool. I'm supposed to get a replacement on Thursday. I don't know how I'd ever live without a chain whip. After my chain whip broke, I used the other tool to just clean out some of the gunk between my chain rings. The tool looked like shark teeth.
Book, with removed rear reflector. 
All that was left to do was put my rear wheel back on. I put my wheel on, but when I went to reconnect the brakes, my brake levers weren't hitting where they were supposed to, but instead, hitting the side of the wheel. This made it impossible to spin the tire. Problem, I thought. The instructor came over to help. I didn't put the wheel back on right. It needed to go higher in the dropouts. He fixed it. He then took my front wheel and replaced the tube. Some other guy also needed a new tube, so I wasn't alone in feeling crappy, but the guy didn't want to pay then. I thought that was weird, but maybe he didn't have any money on him. I paid for my new tube. It was right of them not to give me a free tube because my braking the valve had to do with my inability to pump air than anything insufficient with their instruction. When I went to put the front wheel back into place, I had the same problem with the brake. I took it off and tried again, thinking that I would learn from my previous mistake. It still didn't really work. The manager's dog came over to play with me. Her (the dog's) name was Jasmine and she was twelve pounds according to the manager. Jasmine was taking pity on/advantage of me because she insisted we play "throw ball" in the bike shop. Jasmine was excellent at both receiving and returning. Wheel still not on right, we (the manager and I) pulled the bike off the stand and sorta the wheel situation out by pushing the bike handlebars downward so that the fork (they thing that holds the wheel) would align correct with the wheel. It worked. The manager readjusted my seat tube, but had to take off my rear reflector for some reason. I left, about 20 minutes after class officially ended and biked home with a full pannier (in included a toolbox, apron and book). When I got home, I must have dropped my glove in the bike storage room because that was where I found it after futilely searching for a panicked 15 minutes. I took a picture because it was very OJ.
Outside Kato's, Rockingham. 

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