Tag Archives: adjusting brakes

Discovering how things work here is a group of neighborhood kids learning about bicycle maintenance. 

Teaching your child the ancient art of bicycle maintenance

by John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

As a parent and tinkerer, one of the most fun activities I share with my two boys is teaching them how things work. Now that my older son is riding more and helping me reviewing a bike for HaveFunBiking, the time has come to teach him how a bike works. Almost everybody gets the basics, but after 20 years working in shops, I want to give as much of my experience to him as possible. Take a look at my plan for teaching my sons bicycle maintenance.

This father, son team assemble a bike for a school program.

Here this father, son team assemble a new bike for a school program.

Safety first in bicycle maintenance

Like wearing a helmet when riding a bike, working on a bike has safety gear as well. Eye protection is a must. With safety glasses on the next step is to show your child the danger zones on a bike. Spinning wheels, spinning brake rotors, along with the crank, chain and cogs are all dangerous to little fingers. Teach your children to stay away from those areas when the bike is moving. On that subject, it is also important for kids to wear clothing that is snug fitting. Loose clothing can get caught in moving parts.

bicycle maintenance

Caution areas are highlighted in red. These are the places fingers can get pinched.

Tools of the trade in bicycle maintenance

The next step is to teach your kid what the tools are and how to use them. Bikes only use a few different tools like, metric hex wrenches, screwdrivers, and metric box wrenches. First show you child how to hold each tool for best leverage, and what part of the tool engages with the bike. Then, show them where each tool fits on the bike before beginning the fix.

bicycle maintenance

Hex wrenches, box wrenches, and screwdrivers used by professional bike mechanics across the country.

Having fun with bicycle maintenance

Now that the safety and instruction portions are over, make the process fun! Your kid is more than likely dying to get their hands (and wrenches) on the bike as quickly as possible, so let them have at it. Considering you gave them the safety and function basics already, their exploration of the bike will be safe and enlightening. Once they play a little, ask your kid to teach you how the bike works! Have them exercise their brain and logic by explaining how the bike functions.

Teaching a little at a time

It’s easy for parents to get overzealous when teaching. If you are mechanically inclined, sharing that gift with your kids can be exciting, but try not to overwhelm them. Feel comfortable stopping the lesson when they loose interest. I like to start teaching with the rear brake (assuming it is a rim brake). The rear brake usually needs adjustment, and is a rather simple example of how the rest of the bike functions. Once the rear brake is dialed, and your kid is comfortable with the process, have them adjust the front brake.

Next, I start teaching about how to adjust the shifting system. Hopefully you and your child had a good conversation when they “taught” you how the shifting worked, because that conversation is a great baseline for teaching how to adjust the shifting. Because of the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur, start with the rear shifting first. Once they get the hang of that move to the front derailleur.

After the bike is functioning properly, teach your kids how to adjust the seat, bars and controls. You may ask why I would recommend the simple adjustments last? Simple answer, these adjustments require the most leverage and are best saved for once your child is practiced at using the tools.

Test ride

Once you child completes the adjustments, it’s time to take a test ride. Have your kid test ride in a supervised area away from traffic (like a driveway). Once the test ride is complete, make any additional adjustments needed, and be sure all the hardware is tight.

bicycle maintenance

Test rides are fun!

Learn through mistakes

Most of the fun of learning to work on bikes (or anything for that matter) is the process. Nobody gets it right on the first try, and all of us learn from the mistakes along the way. In fact, the mistakes are more valuable than the successes. So the most important part of teaching your kids to work on bikes is to let them make mistakes and be a resource for the solutions if needed.