Gear

Technical FAQ: How do we maintain this bike boom?

I started riding during the bike boom of the 1970s, and now we’re in the midst of another one.

Have technical questions? Send me an email to veloqna@comcast.net.

I started riding during the bike boom of the 1970s, and now we’re in another one. The one in the ’70s seemed like it would go on forever, but instead, it fizzled out rather rapidly. I’d love for this one to gain legs and last for a very long time, and, in lieu of answering questions this week, I’d like to discuss how to keep it going.

If you’ve recently tried to buy a bike or get a bike serviced, you are likely aware of how demand for bikes, accessories, and equipment is extremely high right now — perhaps even at an unprecedented level — and is maxing-out bike shops’ ability to keep bikes in stock, and to offer timely service. Since the pandemic took off in the spring, I have experienced it personally. We have had a hard time keeping up with orders for our Zinn custom bikes and for our Clydesdale stock-sized titanium bikes for tall riders. This is not just because we don’t have the manpower or space to push out bike quickly, but also because our suppliers are backed up. They are shipping more slowly due to the huge demand combined with perhaps a reduction in shipping efficiency due to social distancing, and they are also often sold out of the parts we need to complete our bikes. Getting simple things like rim strips can be tough and requires much more time searching. We often must leave nearly-completed bikes hanging on hooks for weeks awaiting derailleurs, shifters, or disc brakes.

I have little doubt that the coronavirus will continue to drive higher levels of bike commuting by discouraging people from taking mass transit. Cycling is a relatively safe outlet for outdoor exercise, and indoor cycling offers good exercise with minimal additional equipment and floor space devoted to it. Consequently, partial or complete closures of health clubs, swimming pools, schools, and businesses will likely continue to drive people to ride. What would be nice, however, would be if those healthy cycling habits were to carry forward once we finally emerge from this pandemic. What might we do to encourage that?

More cities are creating dedicated lanes for bicycles. Photo: Atlex Livesey/Getty Images

One thing might be to push for expanded bike infrastructure. Some cities, in an effort to transport commuters who have been pushed off of taking the bus, subway, or train to work, have taken to closing streets to motorized vehicles and converting them temporarily into pedestrian and cycling thoroughfares. Perhaps making some of these changes permanent could answer the call for safer cycling routes without requiring more money from cities already cash-strapped from the drop in revenues and an increase in expenses the pandemic has brought on.

Another might be to offer your assistance to those who are less-skilled in bicycle maintenance in getting and keeping their bikes on the road. My younger daughter and her partner both worked on Broadway in NYC in the theater business. With live theater all but dead everywhere in this country for the foreseeable future, they suddenly became unemployed in March. They have abandoned the city, instead choosing to be unemployed in a place where they can easily hike and ride bikes. On their daily rides, my daughter’s boyfriend recently discovered goat head thorns, and it warmed my heart to see him crack out their copy of Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance and follow the instructions to replace his aging tires and tubes.

Since the majority of bikes in the United States have at least one flat tire and haven’t been ridden in months, whatever you can do to get bikes belonging to your friends and neighbors into service will make swinging a leg over a bike a more easily achievable step. Further directing those bike owners to good cycling routes and offering encouragement and suggestions for how to incorporate cycling more into their lifestyle will go a long way toward making cycling become a permanent lifestyle change for more Americans.

We cyclists can do a lot to ensure that this bike boom is a lasting one. Here’s hoping that we seize this opportunity with both hands (and both feet).

The number of questions for this FAQ column that I receive to veloqna@comcast.net has slowed to a trickle. I have been writing this column for 18 years (since 2002!), and, until now, there has always been a deluge of questions pouring into my email inbox dedicated to it—far more than I could ever possibly answer. In recent weeks, however, the amount of spam arriving in this inbox has quadrupled (and is certainly up tenfold over what it was a couple of years ago), while the number of emails with bicycle tech questions has dropped off each week to a quantity I can count with two or three fingers.

I’m wondering why this is.

Is it because of the dearth of bike racing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and resulting absence of bike races and group rides for readers of this column to participate in has reduced either the number of failures of bike components, or the interest in getting one’s bike to perform better?

Or, is it because bicycle technology has become so user-friendly and dependable that performance is less of an issue, and there is no need to ask how to get your bike to work better?

Maybe this is because people are so busy riding bikes — and dealing with everything else — that they don’t spend any time working on them?

Even if you don’t have a question, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Send me an email to veloqna@comcast.net, please!


Lennard Zinn, our longtime technical writer, joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a custom frame builder (www.zinncycles.com) and purveyor of non-custom huge bikes (bikeclydesdale.com), a former U.S. national team rider, co-author of The Haywire Heart, and author of many bicycle books including Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, the DVD edition, as well as Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes and Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists. He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College.

Follow @lennardzinn on twitter.