I use my bike 6 days a week to commute into Dublin city centre. I depend upon it as my primary means of transport. And even if I wanted to brave the hellish commute in a car, there’s no parking at my workplace.

So what do I do when my bike breaks down? Well I discovered that earlier this week.

My Workcycles Opafiets is built like a tank (and weighs about the same). It’s solid and reliable – but even the most reliable of bikes fail occasionally. And for me, after around 5 years of solid service, the chain broke on my commute home!

I was still about 4km from home, and didn’t fancy trying to do a roadside repair, so I decided to push the bike the rest of the way.

There was a bike shop open as I trudged home, and I considered leaving the bike with them to get repaired, but they apologetically told me that they were really busy and wouldn’t be able to look at it for a week! And I didn’t want to leave it that long, so I pressed on with my walk home.

The missing link

The thing about having hub gears on my bike is that my chain repair options aren’t the same as for a bike with derailleurs. Similar to single-speed bikes, the chain goes to just one cog on the wheel, and as such there’s no tensioning mechanism. The impact is that you can’t just remove the broken link in the chain and carry on. You either need to replace the broken link, or replace the entire chain.

There’s also the added complication that the chain is fully encased in a chain guard – so to do any repair that has to come off first.

It all seemed like a lot of effort when I eventually got home, and I was too pissed off to contemplate fixing it myself, so I left it.

The misery of commuting by bus

The next day I was, of course, without transport. My options were to walk the 7km to work, or catch the bus. I’ve done the walk before, and it takes me a good 90 minutes each way. The bus journey is about the same length of time, but involves a lot less effort, so I decided to brave the bus.

It’s not my first time going to work by bus, but when you haven’t done it for a while you forget the horror that it is. I have no clue how people do it every day. It’s awful. The buses are overcrowded (even before 7am) and incredibly slow.

There are small sections of bus lane on my route, that are invariably occupied by cars and/or parked delivery vans, and the bus lanes disappear at every major junction – meaning that the buses get snarled up in the car traffic. And for some reason, Dublin Bus insist on routing nearly every bus in the city past the bottleneck that is College Green!

So for both of my journeys to work and then home again, I paid €2.25 for the privilege of:

  • standing the entire way (no seats free, obviously), hanging onto the railing for dear life
  • having people continuously pushing against me and painfully banging their bags into me (take you backpacks off people)
  • sweating in an already overheated bus with its heater still on, trying not to dwell on the fact that the condensation on the windows is actually the accumulated sweat of the 80 passengers!
  • having to endure the sensory overload that is a heady mix of body odour and strong perfume (the latter presumably worn to try to mask the former)

At the end of each journey I was traumatised!

The chain repair

Having survived the bus for one day, I decided that was more than enough. In order to restore my sanity, I need to get the chain repaired. So that evening I brought the bike inside, managed to wrestle the chain guard off, and examined the chain.

I have a chain breaking tool, and a vague understanding of how to use it. All I needed was a new chain. Luckily a self-pitying plea for help on Twitter resulted in the recommendation to try Think Bike in Rathmines (also in Terenure). They are open until 9.00pm on weekdays, which is incredibly useful.

So anyway, they had a couple of replacement chains in stock, and I was able to get a new one for €12. Bargain!

Fitting it was a bit more tricky. It has to be exactly the right length, and perfectly tensioned – and so it meant loosening back back wheel, which is more difficult than it sounds, and also working around the chain guard. Anyway, it may have taken me about an hour, but the chain was eventually on.

And, more importantly, my bike was back in action and I didn’t have to use the bus again!

Preparing for other bike problems

It doesn’t happen often, but when something goes wrong with the bike, it’s quite disruptive. On this occasion I was able to replace the chain myself, but for more complicated repairs it means leaving the bike in the shop for a few days.

One option to guard against future problems is that I could train up as a bike mechanic, and keep a stock of spare parts at home, but that seems like a lot of effort. Another option – the one that I’m planning to address – would be to have a second bike available.

And with that in mind, I feel a bit of bike shopping might be in order.

<tries to suppress gleeful smile/>

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