Bike Maintenance Courses

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 35.

Just over two years ago I started running classes at Coleridge Community College, Radegund Road. Feedback so far indicates that this initiative has been a great success. Here is a brief update on how things are going.

The idea of teaching bicycle maintenance in Cambridge came about when I discovered that, despite the high numbers of people riding bikes here, there were no courses nearby to help them keep their machines in good condition. It must have been the sight of one rusty chain too many in the bike racks that finally persuaded me (in September 1998) to approach the Community Education department with the idea of running bicycle maintenance evening classes. They jumped at the idea and I soon found myself teaching the first ten-week evening class at Coleridge Community College.

The college was the obvious choice of venue as it already had a large ground floor workshop (Technology room) with easy access, workbenches and plenty of space for bikes. The Head of Technology was happy to have his workshop filled with bikes once a week. Since then, I’ve even been able to use some of the metalworking machinery there to fabricate wheel truing jigs needed to teach wheel building.

Image as described adjacent
Chain cleaning is messy but amazingly popular

To get the courses off the ground, the Community Education department initially funded a basic bicycle toolkit for students to share. Since then, some of the attendance fees collected on each course have been used to build up the toolkit. It’s now possible for each student to work with an individual set of tools and lubricants. Only the more expensive and infrequently used items live in the shared toolbox. It’s reassuring to note that no tools have ever gone missing: in fact the toolkit has even acquired a few tools forgotten by previous students!

Judging from the very positive and encouraging feedback I get after each course, bicycle maintenance courses are satisfying a real need: the chance to work on a bicycle in a comfortable environment where you learn how to do things you would never dare attempt alone. Working in a group can be very reassuring, especially when there’s someone to ask if you get stuck!

Adjusting gears is a frequently requested topic and one which is covered in one two-hour evening session. The most challenging topic to cover is adjusting cantilever brakes – they permit so many fine adjustments that it is difficult to do the subject justice in a short session. Perhaps surprisingly, people find the dirtiest tasks the most enjoyable; of all the topics I cover, chain cleaning is consistently the most popular. There is something very tactile and satisfying about getting your fingers into a pot of paraffin, to transform a dry and encrusted chain into a gleaming part of your transmission.

Demand for course places is high after the summer holidays, but it wanes during the winter months. Occasionally, courses have had to be cancelled or postponed due to low numbers of enrolments, especially in the spring term. In the early days I expected a ‘waiting list’ of applicants to develop, with a lot of informal publicity keeping demand high. However, it’s harder to reach the target audience than I expected. The challenge is to reach the majority of cyclists in Cambridge who have no idea that these courses exist. The publicity provided by organisations like the Cambridge Cycling Campaign helps a lot and is much appreciated.

The popular Saturday workshops have been running for about a year. These are ideal if you can’t commit to regular evening classes. Apart from beginners workshops, I run wheel building workshops too. There’s something very magical and artistic about turning a rim and a bunch of spokes into a finished wheel and I get a buzz from passing on sound wheel building techniques. Next term, I’m offering this topic as three evening sessions too (starting 1 May).

I enjoy honing my lesson plans and schemes of work so that lessons are both easy to teach and useful for the audience. Each course is an improvement of the last. From September 2000 I changed the evening class format from one ten-week course into two five-week ones each term to improve flexibility. Now, after a one-day beginners workshop, anyone whose appetite has been whetted can progress to the five-week ‘improvers’ evening classes. On the other hand, people wishing to repeat basic topics in more depth can try the five-week ‘basic’ evening classes.

Here are the courses on offer, and the next dates:

  • Bicycle Maintenance Beginners 1-day Saturday workshop (17 Mar – you’ve missed it until next time). Covers bike set-up, fixing punctures, fitting brake blocks and cables, brakes, gears, and chains.
  • Bicycle Wheel Building 3 weekly evening sessions (1 May) . Covers building ‘standard’ 36 spoke wheels in a cross-3 pattern using sound wheel building principles.
  • Bicycle Maintenance 5 weekly evening sessions (12 Jun, and 18 Sep). Same topics as beginners workshop but in more depth.
  • Bicycle Maintenance Improvers 5 weekly evening sessions (30 Oct). Covers hub bearings, freewheels, basic wheel truing technique, cranks and pedals, headsets and bottom brackets bearings.

If you would like to check course dates, fees, get more information or enrol, please call the Community Education Office on (01223) 712340 or 712341, or call-in in person. ( e-mail Questions about course content can be emailed to

David Green