I don’t consider myself especially mechanically inclined, but I did get an early start. My brother is four years older than me, and he’s one of those people with an insatiable curiosity about how things work and what’s under the hood. He drove my parents nuts when he was a kid because no matter what kind of new thing he brought home, he immediately had to take it apart to see what was inside. Most of the time he was able to reassemble what he took apart, but much to their chagrin, he occasionally ruined something because neither him, nor my Dad, could solve the puzzle of reassembly. It was my brother’s influence and guidance (misguidance?) that got me started wrenching on our bicycles well before the age of 10.
Eventually, we both ended up racing motocross (motorcycles) which was a real education in mechanics. We raced every weekend for years, and our bikes took a beating. To be competitive, you had to really step it up and learn how to tune your motorcycles. The top riders in the area had sponsorships and their bikes were maintained by pro mechanics, but we were on our own to keep our bikes rolling and competitive. This racing experience was a great foundation for maintaining bicycles.
All that experience came in handy when I started mountain biking back in the early 80′s. At that time, I was living in the Pacific Northwest. Early mountain bikes were not much different than road bikes, and very few specialized parts for off-road riding were available. We rode in the forest on the Olympic Peninsula (essentially a rain forest), and our bikes took a terrible beating every weekend. We rode single track and spent a lot of time in ankle deep mud, fording streams, and crossing football-field-length “puddles”. None of our bearings were what would be considered “sealed” bearings today, which meant every outing had to be followed by a total overhaul of every bearing on the bike. The routine involved disassembling both hubs, the headset, and the bottom bracket, flushing everything (including the freewheel), then repacking everything with grease (or Phil’s Tenacious Oil in the case of the freewheel). Out on the trail, the bearings flushed out so fast that we’d each carry our own bottle of Phil’s to squirt in our bottom brackets and hubs to keep everything from seizing up on us… LOL!
Compared to motorcycles or cars, bicycles are a cinch to work on. Just about everything is exposed, and even a complex task like rebuilding an internal gear hub isn’t so intimidating when compared to working on a modern internal-combustion-powered vehicle. Traditional bicycles with derailleur drivetrains and rim brakes are probably the simplest of all; if anything goes wrong, the problem is usually very easy to diagnose because the parts are out there in full view to observe. I think this utter simplicity is a real advantage, particularly for folks who don’t have a lot of mechanical experience.
I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t done so to pick up a few tools and try a little basic wrenching. There’s not much you can do to harm a bike, and the satisfaction derived from doing your own maintenance is its own reward. And even if, by chance, you don’t end up enjoying the process, having a more intimate understanding of how your bike works is not a bad thing.