Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Deep Dive 1 – Gears and Tires

My bike as it’s currently ridden with new tires and fenders.
(Photos: Becky Jo)

I’ve posted some questions related to gear, but mostly it’s been how to carry groceries and how to feel more chill. If you don’t mind, I’d also like to ask you, the more experienced collective, more nuts-and-bolts type stuff as I go along on this journey.

I am fairly mechanically inclined. I realize that requires some spatial reasoning ability and we are all at different points on that spectrum. I certainly don’t judge anyone who cannot, but for the purposes of today’s asks and answers, I do pretty well. I’m user-manual friendly and I even create technical illustrations on occasion, which in my lifetime has included a range from freight trains to sewing. All of that is to say, I am capable of learning how to take care of my bike…but how far do I really need to go? As I get older, the amount of brain capacity I want to commit to things that aren’t necessary diminishes.

For me and the others out here learning… how far down the bike repair rabbit hole do we need to go?

So far, I’ve done nothing on my bike. I did figure out how to take out the rear skewers to put on the Burley trailer hitches when we had the trailer, but when I took the bikes in for a tune-up, I learned I was putting the skewers back on too tight. I realize it’s likely not called a “skewer,” but you know what I mean. I know how most quick release brakes work, but I haven’t changed my own flat tire yet, I have no idea what a tune-up entails, and… uh… nothing made me more clear that I really don’t know anything about my bike like the comment threads from my last gear post that went down all kinds of tangents regarding hubs, rims, and I didn’t even know spokes could be tightened?! So… let’s start here…



I’m not entirely sure how the gears work, like, in conjunction with each other. I realize as I type that sentence, it sounds asinine, but it’s true and I know I can’t be the only one out here in Bikeland who’s winging-it.

Current grimy bike situation.

I put my rear gears all the way up (up is harder, right?), and they keep slipping when I ride hard, like starting on a steep incline. My, uh, are those front gears? Pedal gears? What do I call those? The crank-pedal gears have always been low (easiest). Am I saying low and high right? Anyway, if the front gears are easier, and the back gears are harder, the back gears tend to slip in and out of gear when high. Is that because I need to change the front gears? I’ve tried it, moving the front gears to a harder setting, and the rear seems to slip less I think. After a tune-up it wasn’t slipping at all, but now that I’ve ridden a lot more and in the rain/mud/hail, they’re doing it again.

Just correlation or causation? Is the derailleur off or am I off? Is this something I need to learn or leave to a professional? (I had to look up how to spell derailleur.) Is it just because it’s now really grimy again?


I had my stock tires for years when I was riding only for recreation. The few times I went into a shop, they suggested I needed to upgrade my tires. I even got a flat in my stock tires and was told they weren’t very good. Is that like Les Schwab wanting me to have more expensive tires or is that a real thing?

Is that like Les Schwab wanting me to have more expensive tires or is that a real thing?

After the frost last month, I did get new, more grippy tires with reflective sidewalls and fenders as I was spraying the kid on the tagalong with mud. Honestly, Rich at Kenton Cycle just picked them out for me. He knows our ordeal and where/how I ride. I trust our mechanic implicitly and I don’t feel he’s steered us wrong at any point, and while I’m happy with the new tires, I really have nothing to base it on other than trusting my local bike shop. Maybe that’s enough?

My biggest fear about changing a flat tire is taking that rear chain off, taking the skewer out, and mucking it all up trying to get it back on. Sure, finagling that plastic doo-hickey that removes the tire, stupid Presta valves, and getting a new tube in that skinny tire freaks me out, but not nearly as much as screwing up the chain. Do I need to just sit down for a weekend and do it a few times or do I leave it to a pro?

Side request: Please tell me I’ll get used to the Presta valves. Tell me it’s a matter of muscle memory in my hands, and it will get easier. Please.

Help me out here. How much should I commit to this? I just really need someone to honestly tell me to either leave it all to the pros, or to suck it up and figure it out – but exactly how much do I need to figure out for my own needs? And where do I start?? I watched some bike cleaning videos on YouTube and they bring out air compressors, bike clamp-stands, and special chain-cleaning contraptions. For me and the others out here learning to be bike commuters, how far down the bike repair rabbit hole do we need to go? There are tons of resources out there for dealing with house cleaning and maintenance into daily/weekly/monthly check-offs, and even resources for taking care of cars. Is there a home bike cleaning/maintenance calendar for my Happy Planner or Bullet Journal? A local class called, “So… You Ditched Your Car…”?

Thanks as always for your wisdom.

— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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