How to do Multisport on the Cheap, Part #1: Learn to Service Your Bike

While I don’t particularly anticipate too many people reading this post, or the posts that will hopefully be following subsequent, I think that while there are many resources out there dedicated to the latest and greatest in triathlon/duathlon/biking equipment selection, there aren’t enough centrally located resources for participating in an exceedingly expensive series of sports while being smart with limited funds.

I feel like I’ve got something to say about this, because every decision I make when it comes to gear and clothing and racing and the sports I love in general requires bottom-line monetary considerations. I’m on a budget, so I’ve come to learn a few tricks, which I’ll share.

The first post in this series about staying budget in multisport: learning to service your own bike.


Anybody who knows me in the least knows that I am anything BUT mechanically inclined. It takes me 3204985x of doing something to learn to do it properly. So why am I recommending to people that they learn how to service their own bikes? There are 3 primary advantages to taking care of your own bike: cost, time, and quality of service.

1. Cost: Cost is really the simplest thing, and the one that most people have the easiest time understanding. Quite simply, when a shop charges $10 to change a cassette (a 1-2 minute operation), $10 to change a tire tube (slightly longer), or even more to do simple things like adjusting brakes, cleaning your drivetrain, and so on and so forth, that cost adds up quickly. As a budget-concerned triathlete, I use a rear disc wheel cover instead a disc wheel; this requires a cassette removal and a fair amount of simple assembly. It can take 20-30 minutes if I’m not speedy. A shop would probably charge $30-$40 for this. Consider that for each race I need to install and remove the cover, and this gets prohibitively expensive.

Learning to maintain your bike will also pay off in the long run: your components will last longer, they will perform better, and every ride will be more enjoyable. There is a cost savings here that is non-monetary, but just as valuable, if not moreso, to many riders!

2. Time: People all too frequently complain that they don’t have the time to work on their own bike. Really? Think about it like this: how long does it take you to get your bike into your car/onto your bike rack, take it to the shop, explain the problem, have the mechanic diagnosis, discuss price, leave bike at shop, drive home, and then repeat the whole process to pick it up? For most operations, far longer than the time it would take to simply resolve the issue yourself.

Additionally, when doing your own work, you can have your bike up and running and ready to go right away. No waiting a day or two for your bike to advance to front of the shop’s queue. You can be on the road in minutes.

3. Quality of Service: Quite frankly, nobody is going to care about your bike as much as you do. You will put more love into making everything feel just right than even the most dedicated shop-hand, who has to worry about servicing enough bikes to justify his wages. Learning more about your bike will also increase your appreciation for it, and circularly, will increase your desire to maintain it better.


1. Invest in a decent toolset: Nothing terribly fancy here… get some basic wrenches, an allen key set, some rags and cleaning solution, and maybe a chain whip. If you’re looking to dive in head-first, an “all-encompassing” tool kit like the Park AK-37 (~$210) will be more than enough to really get started.

2. Buy a Basic Maintenance Book: Lennard Zinn’s Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance (~$15) is highly recommended, and can give you a good illustration of almost any and every operation.

3. Utilize Online Resources: There are plenty of online how-to videos, and even better text resources available for would-be wrenches to examine. Park’s website has a great checklist and how-to for most common operations.

4. Practice!: You can’t learn without being willing to give things a try; the learning curve might be steep to begin with, but in time you’ll be doing stuff you didn’t have any clue about in no time at all. If your bike is suffering, utilize the above resources, and do your best! If all else fails you can always go to #5…

5. Take Your Bike Into the Shop: The worst case scenario is that you can take your bike into the shop, and be where you would’ve been anyways. Make the shop a learning experience; while the mechanic is working, try learn what went wrong, and how to properly fix it. This way, even though you’re out the shop fee, you can know better for next time. I just recently had to do this with a crank issue I couldn’t diagnose, but now I now what to do next time that situation faces me.

That’s all folks! Good luck with the tinkering!


~ by cdviking on May 10, 2011.

2 Responses to “How to do Multisport on the Cheap, Part #1: Learn to Service Your Bike”

  1. The time excuse is old – you always have time if it is a priority!
    Another book – one I use – “The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair” by Todd Downs.
    Buying bike parts online vs. at a bike shop. – I love amazon prime!
    Youtube videos of “how to” to fix something.
    I have been doing my own maintenance – and practice def makes perfect! I am also able to know what’s wrong with my bike while I am riding it, and am in more control of how to take care of myself.

  2. Agreed on all fronts! It took me 15 minutes to change my first tire. Now I have no problem switching from trainer to road in less than 5 minutes (unless I’m using latex tubes and being suuuuper careful).

    I’m no shop hand yet, and have a ton to learn, but I know that my tool kit and stand have more than paid for themselves, and I’ve only used half the tools…

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