Back-to-school at Gracie’s Wrench

Tori and a student.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

When it comes to bike repair and maintenance, I’m one of those people who knows just enough to mess things up. So last night, one other student and I joined Tori Bortman in the basement of her home in north Portland to learn the secrets of bike repair from a pro.

By day, Tori works at the downtown Bike Gallery. But by night, she becomes CEO of Gracie’s Wrench, the bike maintenance school she started just over a year ago.

I’m taking her course to brush up on my bike repair skills and learn those all-important tricks of the trade. Last night we started with the basics; tire changing, wheel removal, and flat repair. It was the first of a six-week course and even though the subject matter seemed basic, just being around Tori, and chatting throughout class, I learned several useful tricks.

Here are a few things I learned:

  • It’s one thing to know how to change a tire and patch a tube, but the devil is often in the details. I realized that I didn’t scuff up my tube enough before applying the vulcanizing compound. Tori showed us that if you sand down a large area around the hole, the vulcanizing compound will dry very quickly and the patch will set up much better.
  • In class with Gracie's Wrench

  • My rim has a wear mark! I never realized this, but most rims have some sort of grove or dimple right on the braking surface. This is an indicator that tells you when it’s time to replace your rims. When you can’t see it, your rims are toast.
  • You know those little springs on your quick release axle? I can never remember which way they go. Tori said just think of a bow-tie (smaller side toward the center) and you’ll always get it right.
  • When putting your tire back on, and the going gets tough right at the end, use the fabled “gorilla grip”. Tori learned this from another mechanic and it’s essentially a kneading motion that not only gets a stubborn and tight tire back on the rim, but does it without pinching the tube.
  • I’ll never have trouble removing pedals again. Tori said she never uses the popular, “right-tighty, lefty-loosey” mantra. Instead, in the case of pedals she told us to remember that you always move the wrench forward to tighten and backwards to loosen.

Next week we move on to brake and cable repair.

If you want to learn more about Tori’s classes, drop her an email at or call (503) 839-1880.

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
15 years ago

I highly recommend Tori for anyone wanting to learn more about fixing bikes. She is a great teacher. Never thought I’d figure out wheel truing or hub rebuilding, but she made it easy.

15 years ago

I second that. Tori is very patient and excellent at explaining those little details so they are easy to comprehend. I was a bit timid about doing a bike overhaul. Now I know I can do it.

15 years ago

Jonathan? I remember reading your bio info back in the Oregon Live days, and you described yourself more or less as having spent your youth hanging around (a) bike shop(s) and the bike industry. The stuff you mentioned above is what a person learns in, like, the first week of working in a shop. These are good beginner tips, but I’m finding it hard to believe you haven’t known them for years (except rim wear indicator lines, which are fairly recent).

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
15 years ago

You’re right WOBG…I’ve been hanging around shops and the industry for a long time… but I just hung out at the shops, I never worked as a mechanic.

it was actually the joke in the few shops I did work at, that I would be the only guy on staff who only worked the sales floor. they didn’t want me in the repair area! ;-).

I know…sad but true.

And yeah, I know the basics, but I tried to convey that there are little tricks and subtle hints that I picked up by actually being taught by a pro and just chatting with Tori during the class.

15 years ago

I took this class in the Fall of ’06 and it’s a fantastic value! Each week we were provided with great content, great instruction and most importantly, the confidence to tackle projects that once seemed much too difficult to complete on our own.

P Fin
15 years ago


Could you extrapolate on the “Gorilla Grip” technique? Me am curious gorilla…

15 years ago

It is not even a gorilla grip at all.

The real trick to that is making sure that the tire is seated in the bead all the way around, making slipping the last little bit in a breeze……..

If you have to grip it that much and force it on, you are doing it mainly wrong in the first place. (unless you have very, very quality, very stiff side walled tires…