Saturday, November 24, 2012

EZ Tools? Finding What Works

I knew that I was pushing my luck, riding a bike that had just been assembled the previous day. And sure enough: 5 miles into the Vermont Fall Classic my dynamo headlight rattled loose. I was just about to rummage around for my folding multitool, when a riding companion, Vorpal Chortle, whipped out a little wrench-looking thingie with multiple heads that I'd never seen or used before. "Here, maybe one of these is the right size?" It was. Without getting off the bike, I tightened my headlight and a moment later we were on our way again.

No one thought that anything out of the ordinary had transpired, but I was stunned. This was not what tightening bolts on a bike was normally like for me. This was done without effort, and more importantly, without the usual flood of shame and anger at my helplessness.

I've explained before the situation with working (or rather not working) on my own bikes. It's not that I don't know how or don't want to learn. I can give others tutorials on bike repair. But I have problems with my hands that limit my hand strength, dexterity and fine motor skills. Even just holding some tools is difficult: They fall out out of my hands, because my fingers can't grip them tightly enough or wrap around them in the right way. In the very best case scenario, I might be able to do an easy repair (like tightening a headlight bracket) but it will take ages. I have tried individual wrenches, Y-wrenches and folding multi tools, and it's always the same story. How or why the flimsy looking Park Tool MT-1 was any different was beyond me.

Shortly after the Vermont Classic I bought an MT-1 of my own (available locally at Harris Cyclery), and can now easily handle anything on a bike that requires a 3/4/5/6/8mm allen wrench, an 8/9/10mm socket wrench, or a straight blade screwdriver. That does not cover everything, but it's a start. There is something about the size and shape of this thing that both stays put in my fingers and provides enough leverage to compensate for my lack of hand strength. The joy this has brought me is almost embarrassing (thanks Vorpal Chortle!).

Granted, this particular tool may not work for everyone. But my point is, if you are finding bike repairs physically difficult there might be something out there that does work. I am going to experiment more aggressively from now on, and maybe I will find tools for all the other tasks I still have trouble with. For instance, I might be imagining this, but I recall watching a woman use a collapsible type of lever that connects to the hub axle(?) to remove a tire in one fell swoop. Maybe I ought to look into that and try to get my flat fixing time to under 30 minutes. In the end, I would love to put together a list of "EZ Tools" suggestions, but I'm not sure how universally applicable these things are. Ultimately, we must keep experimenting to find what works for us, and for some this will be tougher than for others.

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