Stories from Mechanics Camp – the instructors tell all (Part 1 of 2)
Theo and Andrea, two Bike Camp Instructors, share with us their experience of teaching Mechanics Camp, a brand new camp we are offering for the first time this year.
Part 1: Theo’s story
As anyone who has been stuck with a flat tire for the first time will know, it is deeply empowering to learn how to fix your own bike problems. And so it is that many of us start down the road to learning how our bikes work – they break. When asked at the end of the week why they had chosen the Youth Mechanics Camp, one camper told us, “I wanted to learn mechanics because my whole family bikes a lot. And, sometimes, bikes have problems and break down and I wanted to be able to work on them. Now I know things about bikes that even my dad doesn’t know – and he wants me to teach him.”
Our campers learned by doing; they started in a professional bike shop, weather-beaten bikes in stands, tools at hand, and they disassembled those bikes for recycling. We took apart brakes and added new cables. We took our own derailleurs out of adjustment and then made them better than before. We overhauled Holiday Bike Drive bikes’ bottom brackets, leaving them smooth and easy to pedal.
Fischer was our first camper to put our practice to the test. We’d taken a longer afternoon ride to the Columbia River to skip stones and practice our drafting on the Marine Drive Bike Path. A great tailwind had prompted a sprint out towards the 205 Bridge and, somewhere along the way, Fischer rode over some glass and his tire slowly began to lose air. After a group photograph at the beach, we put our helmets on, performed our personal and mechanical safety checks, and were about to go, when we heard, “I’ve got a flat.”
Fixing a derailleur is one thing. You’re likely to be in your basement workshop, or maybe a bike shop like the Community Cycling Center. You’ve got the tools and all the time you need. You know how to make the adjustments and can think through the mechanism if it isn’t going as planned. Fixing a flat in the summer sun with nine other campers and two instructors providing little help (as evidenced in this photograph in which I’m just sitting there while he does all the work)… that’s something else entirely. But Fischer was ready and stayed cool under the pressure. Seth was next.
Normally, two flats in a row at the end of a day of camp is reason for concern. I contacted Kelly, our Program Manager, who replied, “Great experience for your group!” At that moment, walking the group to a nearby park to replenish our water, it certainly didn’t feel great! Fortunately, Seth quickly dispatched with the issue and patched his tube. We remembered to thank John Boyd Dunlop for inventing the pneumatic tire and Spock for the Vulcanization process (or was that Charles Goodyear?) and headed back to the Community Cycling Center for a quick debrief.
Photos by Andrea Chiotti