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Photo by Kathleen Wilker
JasperBaby Jasper helps his dad and sister with some bike repairs.
Ever since our kids could crawl over to the tool bucket, they’ve been helping us fix bikes. At first their help involved taking screwdrivers out of the tool bucket, poking them in the spokes and leaving them on the driveway.
Let them play with tools, take time to be inclusive and kids will learn how to fix bikes.
Now the kids know that if they can pinch a tire, it’s time to get out the pump. Inflating a tire all the way takes more arm strength than they can manage, but they can certainly get it started. I would recommend investing in a quality pump that won’t easily break after a few rougher uses, especially if the kids are going to be using the pump. Sometimes pumping up their tires is so fun that they immediately deflate their tires and start all over again. Work and play, play and work – it’s all connected for kids.
Another job the kids are really good at is cleaning and oiling chains. In the spring, they scrub our rusty chains with steel wool and then take flat-head screwdrivers and scrape all the sticky built-up grime off. These are messy jobs, but they love getting their hands dirty. When it’s time to lube the chain again, an adult drips the oil while the kids turn the pedals to rotate the chain. Later, kids can remove the excess oil with a rag by themselves.
Fix bikes anywhere
In our family, bikes are fixed in our garage, on the driveway, in our basement, in the living room and on the side of the road. I find that a drop cloth takes care of most of the muck for indoor repairs.
Being a pretty bikey family, we have an actual bike stand, but any bike can be stabilized for repairs by being turned upside down. If the kids are fixing their bikes outside, put an old T-shirt underneath to protect bike seats from the rough ground.
Anna Sierra is eight years old and her seat post has a quick release. She’s always adjusting it because she loves showing us that she can make the tweaks all by herself. Adjusting a seat with wrenches requires more hand strength, but the kids help by finding the right-sized wrench. And they like to join in the talk about righty-tighty and lefty-loosey when we’re figuring out which way to turn the wrench.
One of the more popular bike repair activities at the kids’ After School Bike Club this year was patching inner tubes. Derek, my husband, has piles of inner tubes in the garage, and he happily let us take them to school to patch them. Some of the kids working with the inner tubes couldn’t find any holes, even after carefully putting the inflated tubes into buckets of water and watching for bubbles. We cut a few holes so the kids would have something to patch. After being patched, the tubes morphed into hula hoops, skipping ropes and other toys.
Fixing bikes with kids turns them into junior bike mechanics
Sometimes fixing bikes with kids can be messier or can take longer. But creating a bike fixing culture where everyone’s contributions are important and valued is definitely worth the effort. Because, as we grow this bike riding culture, we’re going to also need to grow confident, capable, bike mechanics who can take care of their own bikes and help out other riders.
Most kids display an extraordinary confidence in their ability to fix things, as long as they are given the opportunity to try.
The other day, Derek came home from a mountain bike ride with a seriously bent chainring. As he wheeled his bike into the kitchen, the whole family admired the damage.
The next morning, our five-year-old found a copy of Park Tool’s Big Blue Book of Bike Repair on our bookshelf and was carefully looking over the pages and writing notes. I asked Jasper if he was trying to fix Daddy’s bike. “I am,” he said, “I just can’t actually read.”
So I scooped up one boy and one book and together we scanned the index for “chainring,” then turned to page 83. Recognizing the right pictures, saving the page with a bookmark and leaving the book on the kitchen table left Jasper feeling satisfied that he had helped his dad fix his bike.
Kathleen Wilker is the editor of Momentum's popular Families on Bikes blog. She loves riding around Ottawa with her family and friends. Kathleen is very grateful that her family keeps her many bikes in such good repair that she can spend her non-biking time writing about biking.
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