When I first moved to Philadelphia, I was surprised at how many people commuted and rode bikes for pleasure around the city. Despite Philly lacking the extensive infrastructure that makes places like Portland, Oregon a cycling mecca, Philadelphians shrug their shoulders at the crowded, potholed streets and get on their bikes in increasing numbers. The downside of this is that our bikes often see the worst of what our streets can dish out: flat tires, wobbly wheels, and loose brakes and gears are a persistent problem for many riders.
While there are a multitude of great bike shops in Philadelphia, there are many simple problems that can render a bike unsafe or fully unrideable. Fortunately, many bike maladies can be attended to quickly and easily with a little bit of knowledge and some simple tools. A quick web search brings up many text and video lessons for simple repairs like fixing a flat tire, but hands-on instruction from a real, live expert is second to none when trying to tackle a new skill. There are a handful of free community bike co-ops and collectives in the city, the most notable being Neighborhood Bike Works, who operates a bike repair clinic called Bike Church, where bike owners do their own repairs under the supervision of knowledgeable bike experts. They also offer a women-only help day on Wednesday.
Mount Airy has a small bike collective just down the block from PHEW called the Mount Airy Bike Collective, which holds open bike help sessions on the first and third Thursday of each month from 6 to 8pm.
Since I have a wealth of tools and some bike knowledge, I’ve opened my own bike clinic at my home at 1426 Dickinson St. in South Philly on Mondays from 4-7pm. My goal is not to fix things for others, but to instruct bike owners to make repairs and adjustments themselves under my supervision.
While bike repair may sound daunting at first, most bike repairs can be performed with just a little practice and determination. Anyone who has been left stranded by a bike repair they are unable to perform can attest to the great value that some bike knowledge is worth.
I encourage you to seek out one of the bike co-ops mentioned above or search out bike repair classes in your area. During the winter, many bike shops hold classes that provide excellent instruction for reasonable fees. During the dead of winter, bike shop employees may even give you a quick, free lesson for free if they aren’t busy. Just remember to ask if they’d like something in return for their efforts. Beer, baked goods, or coffee are all recommended, and a great way to get great service from your local bike mechanic in the future.