One thing that was always at the back of my mind was the ability to maintain my bike whilst I was away travelling and WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). I had just watched the television show and read the book "The Man Who Cycled The World" about Mark Beaumont's attempt to cycle around the world in record time. Something which worried me greatly was broken spokes. I knew nothing about repairing spokes in fact I knew very little about bike maintenance at all really. I was a very bad mechanic! I realised that if was really serious about cycle touring I would need to improve my mechanic skills. Then I discovered Cytech.
"Cytech is the bicycle industry's recognised training and accreditation scheme for bicycle mechanics and retail staff.
Cytech delivers training and promotion of technical skills to the bicycle trade and cyclists throughout the UK. From the basics of bicycle maintenance to complex bike builds and servicing of the newest and most technical products.
Cytech is more than simply training. Cytech is owned by the industry and is recognised as the benchmark brand for accreditation of technical skills and quality businesses."
By undertaking Cytech 1 and 2, I would have the skills I needed to travel confidently knowing that I could maintain almost every aspect of my bike and know how to repair just about anything that went wrong (other than mending a broken frame or a cracked wheel rim). I was enrolled on a course just days later and by November 2011, less than two months after first reading about Cytech, I had passed level 2. I was now a bicycle mechanic!
People had also started to ask me "How long are you going for?" and "What will you do when you get back?". I had no idea. I was purposely not planning to just "take a year out" as I didn't want to set timeframes and have to stick to deadlines. I was going to go until my money ran out or I had seen what I wanted to see or I had simply satisfied the urge to travel. I never did the "travelling" thing when I left college so it was always at the back of my mind I think. Finding myself single at 35 made that urge rush to the forefront of my mind.
I paid for the first part of my Cytech training with some of the savings I had set aside for travelling. It seemed like a good use of the money as it would directly affect my cycle touring experience and allow me to do it with more confidence. It was expensive but the skills I learned would be repaid in no time, not only on the tour but afterwards as I would no longer have to pay for my bike to be serviced and repaired as I could now do it all myself - even repair spokes and build wheels! But the constant questions about my future were still being asked. I became hooked on cycle mechanics and I started thinking about my future more seriously.
On the final day of the Cytech level 2 course, when I had found out I had passed, I went straight up to the offices and booked myself on the level 3 course. Level 3 is the top level of training required to be a fully qualified bicycle mechaninc. After completing level 3, I would be in an even better position to find employment within the industry or utilise the knowledge and skills in other ways, to maybe set up on my own. I completed Cytech level 3 in January 2012. It had taken just three months and cost quite a chunk of my travelling money but more importantly I had a long-term plan for the future.
Things move fast. Not only do I now have the skills I need for my future venture but I have also arranged workshop space for when I return from cycle touring, so I can crack on with things as soon as I get back. It's certainly going to be an exciting couple of years and things are already underway.
Doing the Cytech course completely demystified bicycle mechanics for me. The courses were taught at a great pace, in a fantastic environment by guys who are as enthusiastic, if not more so, than the people on the course. They want you to pass and go out of their way to make sure you understand everything that's being done. The final assessment for level 2 is to build at least three sets of DT Swiss wheels and true them to within 0.2mm both laterally and vertically. Then completely strip a bike, fully service all the parts (including the wheel hubs) and undertake a full rebuild using all new cabling etc, all in a professional workshop manner as if the bike was being built specifically for a customer. The assessment for level 3 is ongoing, during the course, but the level of accuracy and attention to detail required is second to none. During level 3, myself and my colleague built up 4 showroom standard bikes (one of which was displayed @LondonBikeShow) using Shimano DuraAce Di2, SRAM Force and Campagnola Record groupsets on full carbon frame road bikes. We each built 3 sets of Mavic carbon wheels, with carbon rims and spokes and we also learned how to wrap bar tape perfect every time!
Here are just a few of the things I learned, in some great videos I found, showing the basics of bicycle maintenance, courtesy of Bicycling Magazine
Servicing Cartridge Bearings
Measure and Replace a Chain
Cleaning and Lubing a Chain
Replacing Brake Pads: Road Bike
Replacing Brake Pads: Disc Brakes
Adjusting Disc Brake Calipers
Replacing Brake Cables
Replacing Derailleur Cables
Tuning a Front Derailleur
Tuning a Rear Derailleur
Setting Suspension SAG
Wrapping Handlebar Tape
Remove and Install Pedals
Adjusting Cleat Tension
Pre-Ride Safety Check
Bike Wash with a BMC Mechanic at the TdF