Neutral bike mechanic Gerry Walter graciously answered my questions and gave some great insight into gears, brands, and CU cycling culture!
Bike Writer (BW): What is one of the easiest ways for people to maintain their bikes at home? (Not trying to put you out of a job!)
Gerry (G): I think there are two things people can do at home that don’t require special knowledge, skill, expense or equipment but that can make their bike riding easier and more confident. One is to keep their tires inflated to the level indicated on the side of the tire. Riders should pump their tires at least once a week — believe it or not, they’ll need it, and they’ll ride more smoothly and last longer. The other is to keep their chain lubricated — wipe it off and apply a little light lubricant maybe once a month, or more often if ridden in dirt or rain; this will keep the chain working well and longer.
Other things, like adjusting brakes and shifters, aren’t too difficult, either, really, and any maintenance you can learn to do with confidence will make you a more confident rider. But tires and chain are really easy, and they make a really big difference.
BW: What is your most frequent maintenance request?
G: I don’t know if we keep track, but I think the shop probably gets more requests to fix flat tires than anything else. We do a lot of basic tune-ups, and that’s a good thing, since how well one part of a bicycle works often depends on how well another works. After that, it’s pretty much all over the bike — wheels, derailleurs, brakes.
BW: What is your favorite part of the bike to fix?
G: Tough call. Probably wheels — I like truing wheels, building wheels, getting hubs adjusted so they roll with least resistance. For me, bikes are basically about wheels anyway.
BW: When and how did you learn how to do bike maintenance?
G: I got my first multi-speed bike, a Gazelle 10-speed, after I finished college in 1972. My dad got a Raleigh Super Course not long before than, and he’d also bought a popular book on 10-speed repair. So I got started doing basic things then. A year later, after I rode the Gazelle into the back of a parked car while checking a front derailleur adjustment, I got my first nice bike, a Peugeot PX-10, and started riding with folks with similar bikes. We generally maintained our own bikes — I fondly recall our all too frequent tire-sewing and gluing parties — so I got more experience that way. I moved to Minnesota for a while, then came back to Ames to take a job at a Schwinn/Peugeot/Fuji shop. Though I was already pretty good with bikes, working six days a week with another professional mechanic really did a lot to make me a professional, too. With the Schwinn dealership also came training opportunities at the Chicago factory, contact with parts and accessories suppliers, and a lot of other good experiences.
BW: What excites you about Neutral Cycle?
G: I think Neutral is establishing itself as a high-quality, full-service local bike shop — and a shop for all kinds of cyclists. It may not be quite all it has the potential to be just yet, but I’ve seen a lot of changes over the year I’ve been associated with the shop, and I like being able to help keep moving things forward. I also like Neutral’s involvement with the community; I think its level and variety of cooperation with community transportation and safety projects go way beyond what you find at the majority of shops in other places. I guess I’m excited how Neutral is working to help make cycling easier for more people, making people more confident cyclists, making cycling a more legitimate way to get around our towns.
BW: Where do you hope to take Neutral Cycle?
G: I’m not sure I’m taking it anywhere, especially since I’m a bit older than the average shop worker. But I hope that by doing good work in the shop I can help make us our customers’ #1 bike shop, and bring in even more customers from outside Campustown.
ON BIKE CULTURE
BW: Why bikes?
G: Why not? They’re the most efficient form of human transportation. They’re relatively inexpensive. They don’t take up as much space as a car, nor do they wear out roads. Parking is easy, though not as easy in some places in town as it ought to or could be. Getting places often takes less time on a bike than in a car. Fuel use is pretty low, as are emissions.
BW: How many bikes do you own? What kind of bikes are they?
I think we’ve got nine in our household, though not all of them are actually in good working condition. I have a custom-built Jeffrey Bock road bike and a handbuilt Eisentraut Limited touring bike; both are 10-speeds (that’s 2×5!) and nearly full Campy Record/Nuovo Record. My wife, Becky, has a Bianchi road bike that we’ve made all-Campy as well. We each have town bikes we ride a lot more than anything else: mine is a Robin Hood with no original parts except maybe its 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub; Becky’s is a Raleigh Sports I’ve put a 5-speed Sturmey hub on. Both these bikes have fenders, dynamo hubs, LED lights, and spiffy leather saddles. And the other bikes: a Schwinn Varsity, a Nishiki, and some other thing that all need to go to the bike project, plus a bike from 1910 with wooden rims, wooden handlebars, and a wicker seat that I’ve been carting around for 40 years and haven’t got around to fixing up yet.
BW: Do you think everyone should own a bike? Why?
G: Everyone? Probably not. My parents don’t need bikes anymore, and most of their great-grandchildren aren’t big enough for bikes yet. But everyone in between, probably yes IF they’re committed to riding safely, responsibly, confidently and (less important) often, and if they enjoy it. People who ride bikes after dark with no lights probably shouldn’t own a bike (my wife suggested that one), people who blow through stop signs without at least a slow-and-go shouldn’t own a bike, people who ride on flat tires or with non-working brakes shouldn’t own a bike — you see where I’m going with this, no?
BW: If you could change one thing about the world of cycling, what would it be?
G: One thing? I guess the most important one would be to have every adult rider (basically, 12 and older) confident enough to ride in traffic with all the other traffic, following the same rules of the road that all the other traffic uses. I’ve got a longer list, but that’s probably #1 in terms of making the world a better place.
BW: Where is your favorite place to ride in CU?
G: The vast majority of my riding is around town — like between home and Neutral! — and its all pretty much the same. Out in the surrounding country, which since we’re committed to living in the center of town requires ever more riding through town before we can get started, I like the trip out past Homer Lake and back; out to White Heath, Monticello and Mahomet along the Sangamon River is also good; a quick jaunt to Sadorus and back used to be good after work. But, really, any ride out in the country with friends is usually a good time.