By April Drage
Not too long ago, I’d suffer restless nights in the lead up to bikepacking or gravel riding excursions. My mind would run through a myriad of worst case scenarios about what could happen out there. I’d lie awake thinking through how I might troubleshoot my imaginary mishaps. Many of these worries were related to my lack of mechanical knowledge and experience. I didn’t understand how my bike went together, I didn’t understand even half of the lingo I’d hear bike mechanics use and had no idea what went on behind the cranks or inside the levers. A couple of sympathetic friends taught me a few things, but I still felt uncomfortable about heading out alone without finding out a whole lot more. My tool kit evolved as my understanding grew. I did a bit of research about bike maintenance courses in my local area and couldn’t quite find what I was looking for; what was on offer seemed to be pitched either at fixing punctures or being able to thoroughly maintain a bike. I couldn’t quite find a practical course that could teach me how to make my bike work again if I got stuck somewhere and how to prepare my bike before I head out to reduce the chance of getting stuck in the first place. My anxiety motivated me to take the courses on offer, to spend time working in the workshop at a bikeshop and to undertake my own little experiments aimed at fixing common problems in the safety of my home before heading out to places unknown.
It seemed there was a lot of enthusiasm for this crazy thing called bikepacking, but comparatively low participation from women. I started asking women about the barriers to entry and found that not knowing how to fix stuff was pretty high on the list. I wasn’t the only one losing sleep about getting stuck!
I teamed up with a bikepacking friend here in Melbourne and brought together a bunch of women with bikepacking aspirations. We thought we would have a go at sharing what we know about fixing our bikes if they break and talk through our own approaches to preparing our bikes so they don’t break in the first place. Our goal was to create an expert free, all questions valid zone in which having a go is encouraged and in which we can all learn a thing or two.
I was surprised at how readily people jumped at the opportunity to come along and play bikes, how open they were about their worries and by just how much fun it can be to stab some tyres and troubleshoot with company.
I’ve had the pleasure of facilitating these sessions a few times now. I’m always learning and love receiving updates from participants when they’ve had a chance to go out on their own and do some stabbing in the wild. One particular legend named Sharon was happy for me to share her tales of trailside triumph:
I am a self-confessed nervous Nelly when it comes to bikes and roadside repairs. To make matters worse 95% of my rides are alone in regional VIC with limited phone reception. The Bush Mechanics course was exactly what I needed. The knowledge that April passed on was invaluable from what tools and spare parts to carry on bike packing trips, to the hands-on experiences she gave us on the night.
Since doing April’s course I set out on my first ever 1000 km Audax ride – The Mallee 1000. This event I ended up doing on my own as the organised event was canceled and the ride was successfully completed. However, on day 1 of this ride and only 150kms into the ride I had my first ever tubeless puncture that did not seal. Thank goodness on the Bush Mechanics course I learnt how to plug a tyre and did it successfully on my first attempt by myself.
Most recently I did the “Searching for Bunyip” , a Gravel Audax ride which was going great, then a catastrophe hit about 50kms into the ride. I was about to head up a steep gravel hill when my chain snapped. Thankfully I had listened and noted that in my tool kit I should carry spare chain links. So, on the side of the road the bike was fixed and I was on my way. Woohoo, especially considering this was the quickest time I had ever completed “Searching for Bunyip” Audax and was my fourth attempt.
Thank you, April for a great night that was fun and informative and now helped me to complete two events when previously I would have taken ages to fix or phoned home to have my partner come and save me.
The Bikepacking Bush Mechanics sessions have been enhanced by the addition of a Curve co-host Lockie (an actual mechanic) and have become a staple offering at Curve Cycling. The sessions are free of charge and now open to all, so if you’re feeling stabby and want to have a go, keep an eye on the What's On at Curve page of the Curve Website to find out more.