How do you DIY (do it yourself)? How do you do anything that you haven't officially been taught?

I like to ask myself:

What would a pro do?

"Now that's ridiculous", I hear you say. "If I knew what a pro would do, I'd be a pro, and I'd just do it."

Of course that's true. But can't I become a pro? I mean, learn how to do this right?

"Yes of course, but it's not economic to take a 3-year education in order to change a light bulb, now is it?"

Of course it isn't. But I could do the next best thing: Learn just enough to do it right. I mean, not thinking at all and get electrocuted is not economic, either.

You know, when "Sir Vival" R├╝diger Nehberg planned on crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a pedal boat, he managed to get a crash course at the combat swimming division in Eckernf├Ârde first. I think that was in good proportion to the goal, and I like the attitude.

Learn from the pros

Say my bicycle has a flat tire. (I never brought a bicycle to the shop for fixing a tire, but YMMV.) Where do I start? Fixing bicycles is a three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship (in Germany). Surely when it takes a talented person years to learn, I won't be able to learn to do it in a day?

Then again ...

Fixing a tire is only a small part of the apprenticeship, so it might not take that long to learn at all.

Part of why formal education takes a long time is teaching all the basics (it's called "tire", dumb-ass), the corner cases (you're gonna need a bigger patch for that), and the ornaments (how are you ever going to manage a business?)

I don't need all that: I have only one tire, and I it has only one hole (or so I hope).

You may have been taking a shortcut by picking out only the relevant parts for the job at hand on previous occasions. To optimize that technique I suggest that, next time, you ask: What would a professional do? And see if you can do it yourself, only better than you thought you could. Probably you learned to do something well ... think back to how that happened.

Learning material

Learning objects

During practice, we are given cheap components, and a lot of time. If your bike isn't an expensive and sensitive racing machine, and the tire is already flat, what do you have to loose?

Use the right tools

We know that every job gets easier if you have the right tools. Every one of us most certainly has strong opinions about the tools we use for our day job. Only when we DIY, we suddenly try poking a flat-head screwdriver into a Phillips head (if you don't know what that means, now's the time to look it up, or you'll always suck at anything involving screwdrivers).

Why do we tend to use inappropriate tools when we DIY? I don't know. But I strongly recommend: Read the pro books and get the tools that are described in the books.

Antipattern: Buying a "set" of tools when they pop up at your local discounter because they're cheap. Yes, the shiny stuff looks delicious, but you probably won't need half of the parts. And when you do, I bet you'll find them to be even cheaper than you thought.

Another antipattern: Setting up a whole workshop with expensive instruments you don't understand.

Good advice: Whenever you find that you are missing a tool (find out before you start taking stuff apart), consider whether it actually makes sense to own that tool. If it does, get that tool in a reasonable quality. A single screwdriver, even if it's very good quality, is rarely going to cost a fortune. Two good screwdrivers might cost more than a set of ten, but they will be just the sizes you need, and you should pick them up to see whether they feel good in your hand.

Know when to stop

There are some very good reasons not to DIY:


Unless you've had formal education in these matters, don't toy with:

The good news: It may be easy to get an introduction at a place near you. Where I live there is a maker space with heavy machinery; introductory courses are affordable and great fun.

Expensive, rarely-used tools

Now you are growing more confident fixing little things on your bike? Next, your drive train (sprockets and chain). For removing the sprockets on the rear axle, there's a number of specialized tools that fit specific sizes from specific manufacturers. I've been told to not bother buying one of those: In all likelihood, whatever you buy for this bicycle will not fit your next bicycle, in which case you are likely to use that tool exactly once, and it will be very hard to sell (for much the same reason).

The situation may be different if you are responsible for fixing all your family's bikes and you have a say in the buying decisions, or you are maintaining an historical gem that will need a new drive train every other year for the next 20 years.

If it's not worth owning the tool, look into sharing options. Again, see if you can find a bike kitchen nearby.

If that doesn't work either, maybe it's really worth giving the job into other hands.

When it needs lots of time, or lots of practice

Are you hell-bent on enjoying the experience? If not, consider that a real pro may be doing it in half the time (and with half the fuss and dirt to clean up afterwards). Multiply that by your own hourly rate in order to better appreciate a quote you got from a professional workshop.

I've stopped painting walls in my living quarters some time ago. I'd also only touch the bearing clearance if it's my own bike, and not my only or my best bike. That's because I did it once, under close observation, and I learned that you need a lot of practice to even notice what's right or wrong. I believe doing this right or wrong can make a difference of decades for the lifetime of your bearings, and it takes decades to know how to do it right.

Above all: have fun!

Before you start, understand what Dunning and Kruger taught us. Then go ahead and do it yourself, and do it well :-)

jan 2017-09-11