Charlotte is the definition of an enthusiastic mechanic and all for saving every cyclist a bit of time and money within shops. Charlotte lives in London and has been a mechanic for the last two years, learning on the job and thoroughly enjoying it.
Charlotte tells us her bike mechanic career started during lockdown. As one door closed this one opened for her, which is fantastic because ‘it had to be bike related because that was my life,’ she says. Teaching mechanics is a big joy of Charlotte’s. She became a mechanic knowing nothing except how to ride a bike, and lots of others are in the same boat, so to be able to encourage more people to try and do the basics themselves is something she is very passionate about.
It’s extraordinary to see how women are taking over the ‘norm’ and getting into jobs that wouldn’t traditionally be accepted and one of those is bike mechanics. How many years have you been going to bike shops and only ever seen male mechanics? That’s not to say they’re not good at what they do, but it’s refreshing to be able to have a chat with a female mechanic – it hits a little differently. Again, a change Charlotte is keen to be a part of.
“If someone treats you like you know nothing, you end up not learning anything at all,” says Charlotte.
Being a racer herself, Charlotte knows how important it is to be able to complete basic mechanics yourself, check your bike over for safety, keep it roadworthy for training and how to store it for longevity. Track bikes come in a little easier to maintain with less equipment, but Charlotte does road and track so she also understands every roadie’s needs and is willing to share her knowledge.
Keeping your bike on the road
We all know how important this one is. Charlotte was keen to offer up her best tips and actually, they’re quite easy to abide by.
“A big one for me is storage. A lot of the issues you typically see in a bike shop that people can’t necessarily fix themselves, is due to poor bike storage. You shouldn’t just leave your bike outside uncovered – rust kills bikes and it’s not just the metal bike parts, it’s all over.
“Good bike storage is the biggest money and time saver. If you can store your bike indoors, I’d recommend it, if you can’t then store it in a shed, or at the very least cover it.
“Another big one for me,” continues Charlotte, “is checking the wear on your chain. It sounds more complicated than it is and lots of people get daunted by it. You can buy a fairly cheap chain checker tool (a couple of pounds – they all look different and come in various shapes and sizes, but ultimately they’re the same). On the back of the chain checkers are usually simple to follow instructions.
“People burn through drive trains, chains and cassettes so quickly because of the mileage they put in. I think you should get roughly 1000-1500 miles out of a chain. If you keep your chain up to date and maintained then you should get up to six months out of a cassette. Often bike shops tell you your chain and cassette both need changing and it’s usually because you’ve worn through your chain which wears down your cassette. You can also replace your own chain fairly easily, there’s lots of tutorials on YouTube and it can save you a lot of money.”
Being a keen mechanic and also someone who values not wasting money, all of these tips are extremely useful and almost sound too simple to be true.
Things to do and check after each ride and weekly
Something so straightforward could save you a lot of energy and money. Get into the routine of doing these little checks – add them to a list, or your calendar.
“You should also clean your bike regularly,” says Charlotte. “Any additional water or dirt sitting on bike parts will increase friction and wear parts even quicker. I would recommend cleaning it after each ride and checking your tyres at the same time. Especially when the roads have been grim with lots of debris. This will help you avoid punctures but also your tyres won’t perish so quickly.”
We do understand how deeply unmotivating it is cleaning debris and mud off your bike through winter, it’s the last thing you want to do – so make it fun! Put on some loud music, make yourself a cuppa and have a boogie while doing it. You’ll thank yourself in the future.
“Weekly I would be checking my chain and tyre pressure, while also checking wheels,” continues Charlotte. “Wheels get very dirty which affects braking, especially if they are rim brakes. They can also have water sit in little crevices which causes rust.”
Checks after bad weather rides
With new technology, comes new problems – there has to be a little catch somewhere – and that comes in the form of needing a little more TLC and attention to detail.
“Modern components sometimes fill with water in unexpected places,” says Charlotte. “They’re obviously not supposed to, but they do. We see a lot of carbon rims come in with problems or rust on the spoke nipples because they fill with water and it sits there undetected.
“It’s important to clean the bike of any dirt/debris it has picked up, but do so around the bearings or anywhere that has consumable parts or grease because water washes away the grease and then sits in places. After washing, tip your bike upside down and give it a little shake to make sure water isn’t sitting anywhere like the bottom bracket or headset and then give it a little dry.”
Visiting a mechanic
Although there is a lot we can do ourselves to save some pennies, you should still have your bike checked over every now and then. Charlotte tells us how often she would recommend visiting a mechanic for an MOT.
“I’d say every six months. It’ll save you more money in the long run. Often parts need re-greasing and without the grease they deteriorate and will eventually need replacing quicker than if they were maintained. Lots of people have an annual service, but I think if you do two services, one can be a big one and the other smaller and more of a safety check.
“You should also have checks done pre-season at certain key times of the year. Maybe you need new tyres for winter to avoid punctures, maybe your brakes need tuning for wetter conditions, for example.”
Charlotte is an inspiration. The way she talks about mechanics draws you in – she really knows her stuff and loves it. Having a mechanic passionate about their job and keen to help individuals out without having money on the mind can often be overlooked, but it’s a really valuable trait in a person for any business. It also creates trust and rapport between customer and shop.
Don’t be afraid to ask your local bike shop to show you how to do a few things yourself, chances are they would love to help you learn. In the long run it makes their job a little easier when they don’t have to work on a rusty bike. Many shops also put on bike maintenance sessions that you can join, as do lots of cycling clubs. We’d highly recommend it. Extra knowledge about your bike will also give you more confidence to deal with any issues out on the road