My historical dealings in the world of bike mechanics have been short, frustrating and ultimately have ended up with the job being outsourced to more competent and patient people. Admittedly, I was one of those women who would exchange house chores with the partner, in return for his bike savvy skills. Well, not anymore...
When I started out on the addictive path of cycling, I could only focus on improving my riding skills and fitness. Everything else, like bike maintenance and know-how, fell at the way-side, and into the hands of my partner. It wasn't that I wasn't interested in learning, but often the choice would be taken out of my control and a routine soon developed where I would make the post-ride meal, he'd take care of the bikes.
Picking up bits and pieces as I rode, like effectively changing and inner tube and assembling a bike from the box, I decided the take matters into my own hands and learn another addictive side to cycling: bicycle mechanics.
Being a staff writer for the world's bestest most awesome cool women's cycling website means that I occasionally get sent bikes for testing our and reviewing. While I've learnt to build them up from the box, I've always had someone to check out and make sure the bike it fit for testing purposes. If there is an issue with the bike, I freeze up: "what is that noise?" - "Is that supposed to be like that?" - "It's fine, if I don't touch that bit"...
That wouldn't do, so I enrolled myself onto a Cytech mechanics course.
What is Cytech?
When it comes to enrolling on a bike mechanics course, I wanted to get the best education I could. Afterall, your bike is your best friend, companion and a failure with it can end up with a visit to A&E. Having spoken to my mechanic friends and enquired in bike shops, it was obvious that the main governing body for bike mechanics is Cytech.
Cytech accreditation is the benchmark qualification in a majority of bike stores. It's recognised across the UK and Canada, with new schools and academies being set up overseas also. It's intended for those who work in the cycling industry, but members of the general public can enrol too, especially if you're looking for a career change.
There are a few Cytech stages to complete before you can be considered the Yoda of all things mechanical:
Theory One: This is the first step for your training which can be done online. It covers health and safety, torque, lubrication and other essential basics.
Home Mechanic's Course: Ideal for those who enjoy bike mechanics, want to challenge their skills, but not necessarily become a full mechanic.
Technical One: Following on from Theory One, Tech One goes into detail about pre-delivery inspections (PDI's). This 2 day course teaches you to set up and safety check a bike before it's taken out by yourself, or a customer.
Technical Two: This is the bee's knees for bike mechanics. It goes in depth on headsets, derailleur gear systems, hubs, cabled brake systems, wheel building and loads more. Tech two is the minimum level needs to become a bike mechanic in a shop.
Technical Three: For those that love to learn, and want the cherry on the cake... Technical Three covers hydraulics, suspension, advanced wheel building, electronic gear systems and tubular and tubeless tyre installation.
There are additional modules and courses to take on top of these as well. As e-bikes are becoming more and more popular, courses are being developed for mechanics to safely work on these devices.
Being the most basic of newbies to bike mechanics, I thought it best to start off at the bottom...
Cytech's Bike Mechanics: Theory One and Technical One
Having enrolled online for Cytech Theory One, I was granted access to the computer based learning hub on their website. From there, it was simply a case of studying the course material online, watching their videos and completing a multiple choice test at the end of each chapter.
This theory course gave me the basic understanding for Technical One, and I'm so glad I did it. Even just from the online course, I quickly learnt how little I really knew about my bike, and I began to worry. Greases, oils, lubes, hazardous chemicals, and even correctly changing an inner tube and checking tyres, it was all new to me. With my notebook and pen, I jotted down everything I didn't know... which was about 90% of the material.
Having successfully passed each chapter of the theory course, I felt excited and apprehensive in equal measures about the Technical One class. There are a number of schools that teach Cytech courses. The closest one to me being in Stafford at the ATG Training centre.
Feeling nervous, excited and so totally novice to the world of bike mechanics, I made my way to Stafford for my Technical One course. To help settle my nerves, there was obviously road works to make me late on my first day. I could have died walking into that assembled group of men, being the late kid, and the only female. All eyes were on me, and with an awkward wave to the room, I blended myself into the back of the pack.
I fully anticipated being the only girl in the class, but it still didn't prepare me. I'm like an easily startled deer in new group dynamics. Thankfully our trainer, Jim Burley, settled my anxiety with his welcoming nature... that, and there was free tea on offer!
Jim told me that not many females come through the training centre doors, which is a shame. Although the few women to have attended courses have done just as well, if not better than the boys, he thinks it would be great to see more women in the bike mechanics industry, and I couldn't agree more.
The workshop was an OCD's dream. All the tools had a home, everything was clean and open and that alone got me excited for learning. We began with the theory basics, mostly what had been covered in the Theory One course. Jim then lead us into bike safety checks - The M Check.
The M-Check is a way of performing a safety check of the bike in a logical order which is easy to remember. You can learn more about the M-Check here.
After the demonstration, each of us were given a bike to assess. We pointed out problems, potential hazards and anything else we weren't sure on. With a list as long as my arm - because I'm a picky kinda girl - Jim came over to inspect. His assessment was on how vigilant I was to noticing problems, and whether I knew what I would do to fix them.
And then... our bikes were sabotaged.
Jim demonstrated the correct way of attaching a chain to the bike, along with the rear mech. Once fitted to the bike, we had to fixed the sabotaged derailler so that gears would shift smoothly. As much as I had paid attention to the demonstration, it was so easy to forget the small things, drop the quick links and mix up the lock screws. After much fiddling around and checking my notes, I got my rear gears to shift correctly, and even fitted a new gear cable from the lever to the mech.
In a similar fashion of demonstration and practical assessment, the group and myself made our way through the front mech, to the V-brake system and finally onto the wheels themselves.
It felt like there was so much to squeeze into the two days, and for that reason alone, I realised just how little I really knew about bikes. Once Jim had signed off each stage of the course, we all passed our Technical One course with flying colours. I can't tell you how amazing that felt.
After successfully complete Theory One and Technical One of Cytech's bike mechanics course, I feel so much more confident when working on my bike. Just piecing together what parts are called, what they do and how they should work feels so rewarding.
- Key Skills Covered:
- How to carry out an M check
- How to change an inner tube
- How to fit a chain
- How to fit and adjust front/back deraillers
- How to fit and adjust cable operated brakes
It's surprising to me that there aren't more women getting their hands dirty with bike mechanics. It's hugely addictive to tinker away on the old steed, and it's really rewarding to know that you "did that", or you "fixed that" with confidence and conviction.
Before my Cytech training, I felt unsure about a lot of things when it came with bike mechanics. I was heavily dependant on other people to help me out, and I realise in many ways that can be a burden.
Although I was nervous, the only female in class and I took a lot longer to complete my tasks than the boys, everyone was super lovely in the group, encouraging and helpful and I've come away loving the world of cycling even more - I didn't even think it possible!
Having only learnt the basics with confidence, I can now safely build a bike from the box and check it's ready for riding. I have confidence to change inner tubes, check for damage and even set up deraillers properly.
With my new found sense of wonder and child-like fascination for mechanics, there's so much more I want to learn. Knowing more about this aspect of cycling makes me feel more confident in general, and an improved cyclist over all.
For more information about the Cytech qualification, you can head over to their website here.
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