Wrench Junkie

Project on Deck

Sometimes I just make up reasons to work on my bikes. It might be a complete drivetrain overhaul or something as simple as replacing the bar tape, but it seems I almost always have some project or another in the works. I guess I have to face the fact that I’m a gear head of sorts, and working on bikes is very nearly (but not quite) half the fun. Add to that the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist and some might say I have a full-blown addiciton to wrenching on bikes. The good news is that I have the family’s entire fleet to attend to, as well as no shortage of toys on loan from friends and sponsors, all of which help to keep me busy and out of trouble.

I guess I have to face the fact that I’m a gear head of sorts, and working on bikes is very nearly (but not quite) half the fun.

My latest jag was sanitizing the drivetrains on every bike in our stable and converting from wet lubes to hot wax. We’re now all squeaky clean and quiet. Mrs. EcoVelo was kind enough to find an old crockpot at a thrift store for my paraffin/beeswax experiments, so we’re in great shape now; no more wax drips on the kitchen counter! [BTW – If you’re a waxer, I’ve made some interesting discoveries involving mixing paraffin with beeswax – drop me a note if you’d like my formula.] That endeavor provided a deep sense of satisfaction that might be a little hard to understand for those who are less obsessive about their bikes.

This coming weekend’s project is a bar re-wrap. I understand complementary colors, and I use complements in design work all the time, but somehow I never fully embraced the orange/blue combo on my Sam Hillborne, so I ordered up some brown Newbaum’s that should nicely harmonize with the green/brown/orange color scheme on the rest of the bike. Of course, I have to make it more complicated than necessary, so I’ll tie-off the wraps with some twine, and slather the entire bar with a 50/50 mix of amber and clear Bulls Eye shellac. Can’t wait!

All of this is in good fun and, fortunately, it has the practical benefit of keeping our bikes in great shape for presentation on the blog. And while I sometimes feel as if I’m the only obsessive mechanic out there (people constantly tease me about our clean bikes), I know I can’t be the only one. So, how about you? Are you a wrench junkie? Do you enjoy working on bikes almost as much as riding them?

Do you enjoy wrenching on your bikes?

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50 Responses to “Wrench Junkie”

  • Sara says:

    I would be all for fixing up and improving my bike if it weren’t for my lack of skills/knowledge of bikes. When I do decide to tinker and figure out how things work, I inevitably find myself putting the bike in the back of my car and getting the folks at the bike shop to undo what I did. I think I would enjoy wrenching more if I trusted that I wouldn’t end up in worse shape for it.

  • Alan says:


    Don’t be disheartened Sara! Like most anything worth doing, working on bikes takes practice. Keep doing those little projects that are within your reach, and over time you’ll find yourself tackling larger and more complex tasks. In the end, the satisfaction gained from doing your own maintenance is well worth the effort.


  • Garth says:

    I would like to switch to wax chain lubrication. Can you send me the recent observations you speak of? Thank you! Garth

  • Tim says:

    Actually I don’t mind wrenching, but I hate to clean it.

  • Alan says:


    One of the reasons our bikes are usually clean is the fact that I don’t like wrenching on grimy bikes. Since I don’t like working on dirty bikes, and I work on the bikes quite regularly, it follows that our bikes end up being clean most of the time. By this point I have bike washing down to a science and if pressed, I can clean a bike in less than 15 minutes if it’s quite dirty, and less than 10 if it just requires a touch-up. I wouldn’t wash the bikes nearly so often if I wasn’t changing out parts, making adjustments, etc., on such a regular basis.

  • Larry Guevara says:

    I will do some replacements, adjustments, and installations, but I’m more apt to take the bike in when I can. But I really love building wheels and spending time on new rims and hubs. I’ve built wheels for tandems, recumbents, road and mountain bikes, and I have spare wheels for each of my bikes. It does save time when I can switch a wheel for tire and tube repair, and I don’t have to adjust the brakes when I have the same rim on different wheels. But, the truth is, I just enjoy building wheels.

  • Logan says:

    Hi Alan,

    Great post! After taking a few classes at the UC Davis experimental college I’ve decided to get certified by the United Bicycle Institute in Portland this July. The thirst for more wrenching knowledge has gotten to me.

    I would love to take a peak at the secret ecovelo wax formula sometime. I was inspired by your last post on waxing chains and I’ll be undertaking the wax approach soon to try it out. :) Thanks and Cheers!

  • CTP says:

    i prefer wrenching over riding!

  • Ted says:

    I’m curious: Is the the hot wax thing as much about “eco” as it is about cleanliness?

  • John A says:

    Your poll needs to includes a choice for “I would love to wrench, but I barely have time to ride my bike as it is.”

    Love all the wrenching articles though. One of these days………

  • Jack Bulkley says:

    I am planning to get some shifter cable housing, cutters and cable ends on my way home to fix something I noticed on this mornings ride. So I guess I wrench fair bit.

    Tips for getting started: Search YouTube, get an old bike (Craigslist if you have to) and strip it down, clean lube and reassemble. Then give it away.

  • Justin says:

    I think you’ve made a wise choice with the brown tape. Looking forward to seeing it.

  • Lexica says:

    Alan, have you written about your bike-washing technique? I’ve been putting off cleaning mine, partly because I don’t know what to use. Suggestions from someone experienced would be most welcome!

  • Bee says:

    I’d like to second the request for a bike-washing piece. I find your procedural pieces particularly entertaining and enlightening. This is notable because I have a very different “bike paradigm” than you do, (i prefer racing/training to investing time and money in immaculate commuters) but you have such a talent for writing worshipfully about beautifully designed bikes (and without any of the smugness that so often ruins such writing) that I check this blog multiple times a day. Thank you for sharing!

  • Alan says:

    Thanks folks. I’ll put together a bike-cleaning how-to…


  • Alan says:


    “I’m curious: Is the the hot wax thing as much about “eco” as it is about cleanliness?”

    I’m not sure if it’s actually more eco-friendly than using soy-based lubes and bio-friendly degreasers. There does seem to be less waste as the paraffin/beeswax mix can be reused a number of times because waxed chains pick up very little dirt.


  • Sharper says:

    Gear-head here, too; I spent two hours after my shift at the Sac Bicycle Kitchen just giving my Raleigh a good cleaning, and I’m looking forward to next week’s shift, when I’ll give it another couple of hours of tuning…

  • Alan says:

    @Logan & Garth

    “I would love to take a peak at the secret ecovelo wax formula sometime.”

    LOL… :-)

    I’ve just been playing with different heating methods, cook times, and paraffin/beeswax ratios. Here’s what I’ve found:

    1. If you’re going to really do this, get yourself a crock pot (aka slow cooker). They’re easy to find at thrift stores for a few dollars and they work far better than double boilers (less mess, no chance for fire, store away nicely). A small to medium sized pot means you won’t have to use as much wax.

    2. I’m finding long cook times are better than short cook times – more the reason for using a crock pot. I melt the wax down, drop in the chain, and come back in 20 minutes. Depending upon temps, after about 20 minutes you’ll start seeing bubbles coming out of the chain. This is an indication that the chain is heated up to the level of the wax and the wax is replacing the air pockets inside your chain (this is good!). At this point you can either just wait longer, or give the chain a stir to help speed along the process. I keep doing this until no more bubbles are released from the chain when it’s stirred. This indicates complete saturation of the inner workings of the chain.

    3. For my riding conditions, an 8-to-1 ratio of pure paraffin to pure beeswax is the perfect mix – not so sticky to pick up dirt, but soft enough to not flake off as quickly as pure paraffin. I buy 4 lb. blocks of paraffin and cut into 4 pieces (16 oz. each), and I buy 1 lb. blocks of pure, unscented beeswax, and cut into 8 chunks (2 oz. each). When I need to replace the wax in the cooker, I just throw in a 16 oz. chunk of paraffin and a 2 oz. chunk of beeswax to get my 8-to-1 ratio. This is the perfect amount to cover the bottom of a medium-sized cooker just deep enough to fully immerse a coiled chain.

    Logan – in your case, where you’re likely to be frequently riding in the rain, you might want to up the ratio to as much as 4-to-1. If that still isn’t waterproof enough, you can either add a tablespoon of Slick 50 or go back to greasy, grimy Phil’s. :-)


  • Jonathan says:

    I’m going to miss your blue tape with the orange frame, but I’m sure your new brown will more than please the eye.

  • Alan says:


    We’ll see how it goes. I may hate it and go back to blue next week… :-)

    Have a nice weekend-

  • Doug R. says:

    33 bicycles and 37 motorcycles, kinda makes me a Gear head too old friend! lol! Btw, Brooks brown leather handlebar tape is the stuff! my xo-1 is sporting new mustache bars and bar end shifters, but no tweed to take it too. : (

  • Alan says:

    @Doug R.

    “33 bicycles and 37 motorcycles, kinda makes me a Gear head too old friend!”

    You’ve got it bad, Doug; very bad… ;-)

  • sb mike says:

    Thanks for the nice tips on the waxing. I’ve been wanting to do this ever since your last post but I’m glad I waited to get your final tips on the subject.

    @ John A,
    You are right! Time is certainly the main issue for me as well. With two little ones in the house I barely have time to eat, much less ride a bike (aside from my commute), much less work on my bike! That said however, I have changed my tune recently involving any maintenance. I used to tinker and tweak just about anything, but now I have more of a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

  • Alan says:

    @John A & SB Mike

    I had far less discretionary time when my kids were little. Now that they’re in their teens with the oldest in college, we’re lucky if we can get them all in one place at the same time. While we miss those days when they were around all of the time, I now have more time for things like waxing chains and wrapping handlebars… :-)

  • voyage says:

    My apologies if this link has been published above.

    Bicycle Tutor at:


    Using the Bicycle Tutor site you can get a start on doing your own wrenching or at least be an informed customer when interacting with LBS or local wrench.

  • Stephen D. says:

    Ok, I’m inspired to give hot wax another chance this weekend. My wife complains about the Dumonde smell anyway.

    I already have the paraffin in the pantry, but where would I find plain beeswax?


  • Alan says:

    @Stephen D.

    Beeswax is a craft store item – think candlemaking, soap making, and batik. If you don’t have a craft store or art supply in your area, you might try K Mart or Wal Mart.

  • Bob B says:

    Alan, you need a vintage bike project: 70s and 80s 10-speed rebuilds are easy and fun.
    It’s a great feeling to put one of these old bikes back on the road. Also, Bike co-ops always need volunteer mechanics.

  • Janice in GA says:

    I’ve been sitting here today thinking I need to replace the bottom bracket on my old Trek with a cartridge bracket.

    And I want to change the handlebars and maybe go to bar-end shifters on my Cannondale, etc., etc.

    I’m not a genius fixer (wheels are a closed book to me), but I can do a lot by myself, and I enjoy it.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I don’t have that much free time, and if at all possible prefer riding. That is not to say I do not appreciate *knowing* about bicycle components and how to fix things. But I will leave the work to those who enjoy it.

  • Colin says:

    What’s the advantage of cloth tape? I don’t think I’ve ever even seen it on a bike except in photos, but I am intrigued.

  • Jim says:

    The best method for learning to wrench on bikes: Buy a good manual, refer to sheldonbrown.com, have at it! I have an old trek painted Rivendell orange&cream and recently gave it newbaums orange tape with clear shellac. Monochromatic Ala Richard Sachs red. Looks amazing.

  • Alan says:


    “What’s the advantage of cloth tape?”

    Looks good, feels good, kinda’ retro. I grew up on unpadded bar tape and never grew fond of the modern techie/gel type tapes. It’s a personal preference thing….


  • j. pierce says:

    For finding beeswax, our local healthy food co-op place carries pure beeswax candles from a local apiary. I use a paraffin/beeswax blend for potting the coils of hand-wound guitar pickups, (basically the same principle as what Alan’s doing with the chain, except I’m dunking a whole guitar pickup in there before it gets put it it’s cover) and that’s where I’ve gotten my beeswax from. I get my paraffin in the same store, in the canning supplies section.

  • Erich Zechar says:

    My shop manager today said we didn’t have enough work so I could go home early. Instead, I tore down my Sturmey-Archer coaster brake hub on my old Raleigh single speed for the first time, cleaned it, re-greased it, and reassembled it before riding it home. Not because it was squeaky or anything, but because I wanted to learn. Took me about 1 1/2 hours, bet I could do it in 20 minutes now.

    Next week I want to tear down my cottered bottom bracket and regrease the internals. I definitely enjoy wrenching almost as much as the satisfaction of riding a pristinely lubricated and tuned bicycle.

  • jamesmallon says:

    Just took a course with Toronto’s school board, and though just 30h and I already did my own basic wrenching, it was still worth the $150. Am considering a more complete one in the future. In any case, start with flats and the like, but when you have two or more bikes and ride half the days of the week or better, it’s going to be much cheaper to do your own work, quite apart from the satisfaction of keeping your own gear running.

  • JeffS says:

    I hate working on my bikes.

    Just not quite as much as I hate the thought of having to pay someone else to do it. I do outsource the twisting of nipples.

  • joe says:

    I LOVE working on bicycles. New, old, cheap, expensive, my own, ect… It doesn’t matter. Being a part-time wrench at a shop, and doing all the upgrades and maintenance on my own, family, and all my friends, I have plenty to attend to. Sometimes I too “find” things to do on my own just to break out the tools and “get lost” in the job. I also run a “at home” repair service for a few retirement communities in town that have a lot of active retirees zooming around the grounds on a daily basis on trikes and folders.

    Just today, I decided my Cross Check needed a good cleaning and re-greasing, so a piece by piece breakdown began, down to bare frame minus the headset cups. Tomorrow I will enjoy reassembling, cleaning every piece to show room finish, and trying my hand at waxing the drivetrain, and re-wrapping the bars. For some reason this is as good a stress reliever to me as riding itself. Especially when I’m alone, Jack Johnson on the radio with the dog sleeping under the stand. Living in a small townhouse, my fiance is nice enough to “let” me have the spare bedroom as my shop and bike storage. Those all in one black and decker tool benches and pegboard are a great buy for anyone with limited space, but with the tools and skills to wrench all their own stuff.

    Another bike wrenching past time of mine is making homemade bike tools for myself and friends, and the shop I part time at. Having a father with a semi machine shop in the garage is a plus.

  • Alan says:


    “For finding beeswax, our local healthy food co-op place carries pure beeswax candles from a local apiary”

    Great tip – didn’t think of that!

    That’s interesting about your guitar pickups; I’ve never heard of that before.


  • Garret Parsons says:

    Yes I must admit I am a wrencher! I love to work on my bike and get things just so. I made the choice to commute by bike about 10 years ago and in the last five years I have been biking all yea-round and no longer own a car.

    I just laughed when I read that you keep your bike too clean. I too have been accused many a time of being a little too anal when it comes to cleaning my bike. Some have even accused me of stretching the true about how much I bike cause if I did bike as much as I say I did wouldn’t my bike look a little more dirty. But I believe that a clean bike rides better and is safer cause you are closer to what us going on with your bike. I can see what needs to be fixed cause, well, cause you can see it. :-) but if I am to be truthful I also like to clean my bike cause it gives me an excuse to fiddle with my bike even if there us no reason to.

    I ride a Dutch Style bike that I have set up like a French bike. Lower handle bars and lower seat than the Dutch; gives me more control in cornering but still gives me the upright biking posture. I am looking at getting a Surly Big Dummy (Extracycle) for my winter commute this year.

    Love your blog; I read it everyday. :) I can’t wait to see a picture of your handlebar tape.

    (composed on my iPad)

  • Alan says:


    “I just laughed when I read that you keep your bike too clean. I too have been accused many a time of being a little too anal when it comes to cleaning my bike. Some have even accused me of stretching the true about how much I bike cause if I did bike as much as I say I did wouldn’t my bike look a little more dirty.”

    Oh good; I’m glad I’m not the only one! :-) I’ll follow-up with a few photos this weekend (assuming all goes well… LOL).


  • Adrienne says:

    I let Hubby the Bikeman do it. I can fix most things in a pinch (the internet can tell me anything I don’t already know), but he does it so much faster and better. I leave the bikes to him, he leaves the sports injuries to me. It works well.

  • Eric says:

    I actually prefer redesigning and rebuilding old bikes to “store bought” new bikes. There’s nothing like taking something others discard and make it into something awesome. I mean complete teardown, new powdercoat, modern components and color-coordinated parts.

    My single speed commuter started out as my 98 Cannondale MTB I got after college. I replaced the rims with yellow 650c’s with 28mm road tires. The rear wheel has an ENO eccentric hub for chain tension. I chopped the bars 3.5″ per side and used road tape on the bar ends. The frame is striped and powdercoated in satin gunmetal, and I designed my own graphics. It’s a crazy frankenstein fixie with the strength and everyday practicality of a commuter bike. When the whole fixie thing started I wanted to do it my own way. Next I’m thinking of installing drops and a rack/pannier setup.

    My next project is an old Montague Biframe MTB I got for free. It’s dirty and rusty, but I’ve got it running perfectly. Solid CroMo frame. For the rebuild I’ve been looking at your LHT for inspiration, with Albatross or Moustache bars and Big Apple tires. This is the perfect commuter/utility bike because it folds in half along the seatpost for easy storage, and multimodal transportation.

    Photos here:

    Cannondale: http://velospace.org/node/10482

    Montague: http://velospace.org/node/24610

    Alan, I love the blue tape! For some reason it just works.


  • Scott Wayland says:

    Yeah, I like wrenchin’. But Alan, don’t lose the blue! I LOVE that combo. I found it so unusual and interesting. I know, I know, it is YOUR bike. Still… :)

  • Stephen D. says:


    Couldn’t help but notice the ball of twine in your picture…

    Since your article is now going to send me on a hunt for plain beeswax today (thanks to everyone for suggestions of where to find it) I’ll suggest a “tidier” way to twine the ends of the bar wrap:

    Used waxed whipping twine. It doesn’t have any of the loose threads to trim, the wax lets it wrap nice and neatly and it’s also slippery enough to wrap tighter than non-wax types. Usually available in a few colors, too.

    I get my at a local marine store. I don’t know exactly where you are, but there’s a West Marine in Sacramento and Rocklin.

  • Alan says:


    “After taking a few classes at the UC Davis experimental college I’ve decided to get certified by the United Bicycle Institute in Portland this July. The thirst for more wrenching knowledge has gotten to me.”

    That sounds super, Logan. I’d love to hear how it goes!


  • randomray says:

    I end up fixing things for myself , and others because I can’t say no . I installed one of the brake shifter combos on my bike’s handle bars and after 5 years still have bike mechanics tell me they won’t work . This after working great for five years . So , I use only a few shops .

  • Andrew says:

    I love wrenching on my bikes – rebuilding my dad’s vintage Italian roadie really necessitated it, and through that process I’ve learned how to do just about everything one has to do on a bike. Sizing and replacing cables and housing, tearing down and tuning hubs, bottom bracket, headset, adjusting derailleurs and shifters…and just recently installed some new long-reach dual-pivots (but haven’t had a chance to ride them yet! Pretty psyched for that)

    That said, while I have attempted truing (no fresh wheelbuilds so far, though), I really don’t enjoy it, so that’s the only thing that I’ll willingly pay someone else to do.

  • Logan says:

    Thanks for the fantastic waxing advice Alan! I’ll let you know how it turns out. At least I’ll get the summer to experiment before it gets to wet again! :)


  • Pete says:

    I think that wax recipe is what racers use on their legs, too! ;-)

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