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  1. #1
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    On DIY vs. Bike Shop

    I'm a newbie cyclist. I bought my first bike in YEARS a couple months ago. It's a 90s steel bike that has been maintained fairly well but not perfectly.

    I noticed the other day that the front derailleur cable is in pretty bad shape. It's started to fray where it connects near the cogs. I'm sure it needs replaced. I have had no maintenance done on the bike since I got it, though I have cleaned all the outside parts with a soft rag.

    I am fairly handy but don't know bikes. I did assemble my kid's bike that we bought at a toy store and everything works, but that's the extent of my knowledge. I've also replaced blades and belts on my lawn mower.

    I should have the bike shop replace the cable, right? Or can/should I do it myself? I have wrenches and such at home. Should I just take it to the LBS and have them take everything apart and check it over? About how much will that cost?

  2. #2
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    DIY-
    Buy some decent cable cutters-on ebay-buy name brand-maybe Park-perhaps $25 delivered-
    and get some cheapo cables housings at Walmart
    Don't get fancy with the cables or housings-yet
    There is always a learning curve-so $7 for a set of 4 cables+ housings-makes most sense.
    Once you get more adept-you can buy better cables housings
    Initially I assumed cable meant literally the braided cable and the housing-
    Duh-when you buy online-cable literally means just the braided cable-not the housing
    The cable cutters-are actually to cut the housing-the cable itself-could be cut with good wire cutters
    Now you can cut housing with a dremel tool-
    After you cut the housing-stick the little awl like device-integral to cable cutters-in the hole to clean it up-and make it round again-
    even good cutters will slightly crush the hole-making it hard to slip the cable into the housing

    It-cutting housing/cables- is actually easier than writing describing-how to do it
    So-DIY- get decent cable cutters- cheap cables and housings-have at it.
    Cheap cables might be universal-brake and shifting-or perhaps some are specific
    The main difference it the little lead "thing" that actually connects to the lever shifter-
    big barrel= brake
    Other thing=shifter-there are 2 types of "shifter" things-just see what your original cables are

    Sounds more complicated than it is

  3. #3
    Senior Member RoadTire's Avatar
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    DIY all the way, purchase tools as you need them and that keeps the investment small. You will never have to wait for your bike to be fixed and will always know the status of your components. The cable cutter pays for itself by not having frayed cables. Wish I had purchased on ages ago. Also a "4th" hand is ... handy, unless you have a second person to help you with cables. Get a crank puller and bottom bracket wrench, a pair of each size cone wrench you need, wrench so you can pull the fork, and you are all set. That way you can do all the easy re-grease and adjust these components. You will spend less on tools than on the first couple times at the LBS.

    Tons of great help here and youtube videos to help.
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  4. #4
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    Replacing a front cable isn't difficult, and there are plenty of inline tutorials, so if you prefer DIY or want to save dough, there's no reason why you couldn't.

    OTOH, the bike shop is easy and convenient, and the job isn't expensive (or shouldn't be). Plus you know the job will be done right.

    There' an in between option, and that's a bike co-op where work is cheap, or you can DIY with their tools, and have the help of an experienced mechanic if needed.
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    Learning to work on my own bikes is one of the best things I have ever done. Especially now that I've realized my LBS was charging me $70 for something I could do myself in under an hour. Replacing the front derailleur cable should be simple and no specialized bike tools are needed. Dozens of videos on youtube that will walk you through it
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    It's not a difficult job and you have the original to follow for guidance. However, as a first step buy or borrow a decent bike repair and maintenance manual as read it. It will explain the tools, techniques and parts you need.

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    Awesome, I'm going to give it a shot and if I get into trouble will call my LBS.

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    Any recommendations on repair books?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by peaches123 View Post
    Any recommendations on repair books?
    The two most common are "Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair" and Lennard Zinn's "Zinn And The Art of Road (or Mountain) Bike Maintenance". Both of these are available at most book stores or from Amazon. The Bicycling Magazine book is the more basic. An older manual is "Glenn's New Complete bicycle Manual" which hasn't been updated in quite a while but is good for older bikes and components.

    Any of these may be available at your local library if you want to look them over before purchasing.

    Finally Park Tool's web site (parktool.com) has a ton of tutorials on almost every facet of bike repair and Sheldon Brown's web site (sheldonbrown.com/harris) has numerous articles on all aspects of it too.

  10. #10
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    http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-...ur-adjustments

    HillRider is spot on - books , YouTube instructional videos , & various websites are great educational resources - I like Zinn's books - the link above is from the Park website , it's pretty good , pay special attention to the 2nd to last section near the bottom that talks about resetting the barrel adjuster since it sounds like you might be replacing the FD cable .

    Once you have a few "bike" tools many things can be done on your own but as FBinNy pointed out sometimes a good bike shop is a better option - for example, if for some reason you need to take apart the inner workings of a shifter, then a bike shop may be a more efficient way to go .

    Good Luck !!!!!
    Last edited by blinky; 01-16-14 at 04:43 AM.

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    There's also a middle ground. Some places have bicycle cooperatives or communal workshops with work space and tools you can use (one is included in my Techshop membership) or rent by the hour, often with help from more experienced bicycle people.

  12. #12
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    If you buy cables from Walmart, They will be Bell brand, and will have road bike ends at one end, and mountain bike ends at the other. Before you cut off the end that you don't need, measure your old cable. You never Know when you may need another type, and that cut-off end may work for you. Also, I immediately either solder the cut ends, or paint them with clear nail polish to keep them from fraying. You can't push a frayed cable through the housing.

  13. #13
    30 YR Wrench BikeWise1's Avatar
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    As someone who owns a shop and has been in the business as a pro wrench for 30+ years, let me say I have ZERO problem with people who want to be DIY'ers.....with 3 caveats:

    1. DIY is not for everyone. Some people really can see a video, or read a description of the task and by applying "brain grease" figure out how to translate what they saw into the actual correct accomplishment of the task. MANY others only think they can.....

    2. For those in the latter group who consistently bite off more than they can chew and come in with mis-spoked wheels, or stripped bolts or bolt heads (Yes, that weird Campy brake on the bike you bought on ebay takes an unusual for the bike world Allen wrench!) or who don't understand the first step in adjusting a rear derailleur is to make sure the hanger is straight.....DO NOT argue with me when I quote you a price to put your bungled bike right. It's almost always harder to fix a bungled repair than the bungler imagines!

    3. With the money you save you can buy decent tools, not cheap crappy ones, and you should also not scrimp on the actual parts. Yes, you CAN buy cables at the Wal*Devil but they won't have actual shift housing. Treat your bike to decent lined housing and die-extruded stainless cables. They work better longer and don't rust. And seriously, this piece of TdF rebranded merde costs the same as a nice Jagwire die-extruded stainless cable from most shops.
    Last edited by BikeWise1; 01-16-14 at 10:20 AM.

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    I found the Park Tools book more helpful than the Zinn book. It's more straight forward IMHO. I found the Zinn book to have almost too much info. Plus it's easier to find stuff in the Park Tools book.

  15. #15
    Senior Member RoadTire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RoadTire View Post
    ... The cable cutter pays for itself by not having frayed cables...
    I'll have to correct myself, just a little: last night I cut a brake cable with linemans pliers that had a sharp cutter and it worked fine, so maybe my problem all this time has been (even new) cutters that just were not the right shape and sharpness. Still wish I had a cable cutter, but I guess it can be done w/out one.

    Oh, and to Bikewise1 - sound's like I should get used to checking my RD hanger before I dink with the adjustments...have to learn that skill.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by RoadTire View Post
    ... last night I cut a brake cable with linemans pliers that had a sharp cutter and it worked fine, so maybe my problem all this time has been (even new) cutters that just were not the right shape and sharpness. ....
    Yes, new or sharp diagonal or linesman's pliers will cut cables fine, but there's a catch (isn't there always).

    General purpose cutters like these are made for electricians and ground and hardened for cutting copper wire. Brake cables are much harder and will nick or dull GP cutters in short order.

    Cutters for steel wire are made of sterner stuff and ground to a blunter angle to better support the edge, or work like cable cutters with a shearing action where the edge is supported at about an 80° angle for strength.
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  17. #17
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    Basic "tune up" should cost around $100 at a bike shop. They will grease and adjust all bearings, adjust derailleurs/shifters and brakes, check and do minor truing on wheels, clean and lubricate, replace cables and pads, etc. Needed parts will be extra but usually that is just a few cables and brake pads. The bike should run like new. If it has major problems, that will of course be extra. Most likely that will be all the work the bike will need for some years, absent a crash or big mileage, and all you'll have to do is keep it clean, lubricate the chain occasionally, and fix any flatted tubes.

    So, it all depends on whether you'd rather pay $100 and change, and be good to go for years, or you'd rather acquire the tools, knowledge, and experience to fix things as you notice they need fixing.

    Most bike tools are inexpensive, but still by the time you buy all the specialized tools needed for a full tuneup, you will have spent well over $100 (think cable cutter, bottom bracket tool, cassette tools, chain tool, hub and headset wrenches, spoke wrenches, etc). That assumes you already have non-specialized tools like metric allen keys, metric combination wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, file or Dremel, etc. It also assumes you rig up a homemade work stand (using ropes/hooks to hang the bike from the ceiling, by the handlebar and saddle, works sort of okay). Bike repair is a lot less complex than, say, auto repair, but there is still a lot to learn so you'll have to buy a good book and spend many hours reading, viewing videos, getting it wrong, asking here, re-doing the job, etc. If you are careful and do your homework, most likely nothing bad will happen. There is always some small chance of damaging the bike (mangle a fastener, adjust rear derailleur into spokes, etc) and some larger chance of being inconvenienced when a repair doesn't work the first time (cables pull loose on a ride, etc).

    I'd say if you simply want one bike to be kept in good riding condition, it makes more sense - including time-wise as well as financially - to use the bike shop. If you want to maintain a fleet of bikes and/or value acquiring a new skill/knowledge, then it can make sense to become a home mechanic.

    My two cents. I have >10 bikes in the family fleet, like to buy and restore old ones, and have the tools from working on cars, so I went the DIY route.
    Last edited by jyl; 01-16-14 at 12:55 PM.
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  18. #18
    Senior Member digibud's Avatar
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    My caveat would be to both get some repair manual and look at a couple of videos. There's nothing that makes up for experience and no matter how many video's you view or manuals you read you'll still have little things that will puzzle you. When you cut a brake cable, for instance, you may have read something like 'be sure you cut the ends evenly" but you may find no amount of cutting will keep you from creating a sharp edge. More experience may allow that but a sander or grinder may flatten that brake cable perfectly. The best you can do with books and videos is to give you a good, functional start and a knowledge of what tools you need. I highly recommend looking around for bike repair classes for some hands on practice with an expert.
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  19. #19
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    There' an in between option, and that's a bike co-op where work is cheap, or you can DIY with their tools, and have the help of an experienced mechanic if needed.
    Highly recommend this as a great way to find a community of like-minded folks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    Yes, new or sharp diagonal or linesman's pliers will cut cables fine, but there's a catch (isn't there always).

    General purpose cutters like these are made for electricians and ground and hardened for cutting copper wire. Brake cables are much harder and will nick or dull GP cutters in short order.

    Cutters for steel wire are made of sterner stuff and ground to a blunter angle to better support the edge, or work like cable cutters with a shearing action where the edge is supported at about an 80° angle for strength.
    OTOH, GP sidecutters are just about the bee's knees for cutting brake housing IMO, as they're better able to cut between the coils for a cleaner cut. I usually come back for another bite with the end of the blade right in the hole to trim off a dag still, but it's easier.

    I have a feeling that steel isn't as tough as the cables, too... it's certainly much softer than the stuff used in shift housing.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by jyl View Post
    Most bike tools are inexpensive, but still by the time you buy all the specialized tools needed for a full tuneup, you will have spent well over $100 (think cable cutter, bottom bracket tool, cassette tools, chain tool, hub and headset wrenches, spoke wrenches, etc).
    Modern bikes have fewer user serviceable components and need for special wrenches / spanners and those needn't be too expensive if your parts are too cheap or retro.

    Newer (I got my first one in 1996) bottom brackets use disposable cartridge bearings greased at the factory which aren't adjustable. Where that's the cae you don't need a bottom bracket tool until yours wears out.

    While Shimano and some Campagnolo/Fulcrum hubs have adjustable cup-and-cone bearings, many have cartridge bearings which work until they don't. Contemporary Campagnolo cup-and-cone hubs adjust with a 2.5mm hex key. If you do need cone wrenches double-ended ones start at $4 each for a potential $8 total.

    Newer thread-less headsets use sealed cartridge bearings and adjust with a 5mm hex key. Classic ones can go a very (decades) long time without service.

    You do need to keep seat posts and threaded stems lubricated so they don't seize; although no special tools are required for that.

    A cassette tool isn't needed until you change cassettes due to wear (potentially 4 chains at 2500 - 5000 miles per for a 10K - 20K mile total). $5 for a cassette tool, $15 for a chain whip when that happens.

    You should already have a chain tool (plus master link) and spoke wrench to avoid situations where you're walking 20 miles or waiting quite a while for a ride.

    Dremel tools will cut cable and housings, although if you want to Neanderthal it cable cutters are a fine investment at $30 for use every 4000 miles when ADHD shifting takes out a rear cable.
    Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 01-17-14 at 11:37 AM.

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    Basic "tune up" should cost around $100 at a bike shop. They will grease and adjust all bearings, adjust derailleurs/shifters and brakes, check and do minor truing on wheels, clean and lubricate, replace cables and pads, etc. Needed parts will be extra but usually that is just a few cables and brake pads. The bike should run like new. If it has major problems, that will of course be extra. Most likely that will be all the work the bike will need for some years, absent a crash or big mileage, and all you'll have to do is keep it clean, lubricate the chain occasionally, and fix any flatted tubes.
    I do my own work because my local-est BS charges more than that and does less. Most people go get a tune-up because a warranty requires an annual tune-up, or because the bike no longer shifts well. Adjusting derailers is a useful skill to have anyways. So is cleaning and lubing.

    Most bike tools are inexpensive, but still by the time you buy all the specialized tools needed for a full tuneup, you will have spent well over $100 (think cable cutter, bottom bracket tool, cassette tools, chain tool, hub and headset wrenches, spoke wrenches, etc). That assumes you already have non-specialized tools like metric allen keys, metric combination wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, file or Dremel, etc. It also assumes you rig up a homemade work stand (using ropes/hooks to hang the bike from the ceiling, by the handlebar and saddle, works sort of okay). Bike repair is a lot less complex than, say, auto repair, but there is still a lot to learn so you'll have to buy a good book and spend many hours reading, viewing videos, getting it wrong, asking here, re-doing the job, etc. If you are careful and do your homework, most likely nothing bad will happen.
    $50 tool kit (everything except pliers, files and snips)
    $0 Upside down bike stand
    $0 Sheldon Brown/Park tool website

    There is always some small chance of damaging the bike (mangle a fastener, adjust rear derailleur into spokes, etc) and some larger chance of being inconvenienced when a repair doesn't work the first time (cables pull loose on a ride, etc).
    Shop mechs can do a bodge job too. I was outside of a shop one time and the guy had broken his dropouts because the shop mech didn't adjust the limit screws and the wheel ate the derailer. While it gives you someone to blame, people usually aren't eager to take responsibility for their mistakes.

    I'd say if you simply want one bike to be kept in good riding condition, it makes more sense - including time-wise as well as financially - to use the bike shop. If you want to maintain a fleet of bikes and/or value acquiring a new skill/knowledge, then it can make sense to become a home mechanic.
    No income tax on the labor if you do work yourself. Personally, I would need a much higher income than I do now for it to make sense financially. You also don't have to be at the mercy of the "it will be ready next week" mech schedule, and you don't have to waste time driving the bike other there and driving back to pick it up. There are some people that have circumstances, they aren't handy, or they have lots of money. But working on a bike isn't that scary, and it doesn't cost that much in time or cash compared to taking it to a shop.

    Just my take on the matter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jyl View Post
    I'd say if you simply want one bike to be kept in good riding condition, it makes more sense - including time-wise as well as financially - to use the bike shop.
    No.

    Here's an example:

    One of my co-workers broke a spoke this week. It took him 20 minutes to drive to the bike shop, 20 minutes to wait for the fix, and 20 minutes to drive back.

    That's 60 minutes for a 20 minute fix which was only that short because they could work while he waited. If he had to come back the next day that would have been 80 minutes of his time: 4 times as long as just doing the work.

    He spent $30 directly on the fix which does not compare favorably to $15 for a set of spoke wrenches delivered tomorrow via Amazon Prime to make the wheel ridable joined by $5 for a few spare spokes mailed via USPS to make the proper long term fix a few days later.

    That isn't including car costs (could be $10 for while-you-wait and $20 for next day service) and the value of time (At the $105/hour I last charged to rent my brain the shop fix would have added $70 and $140 for the two scenarios) which would make the DIY $90 - $170 cheaper for one broken spoke.

    Some of his NDS spokes were slack, the nipples couldn't pivot far enough to match the spoke lines so there was bend entering the nipple, and I expect he'll have a few more NDS spokes break there until he replaces the wheel or all the NDS spokes.

    Obviously I told him this was a great time to learn about bicycle wheels and that the shop people were weasels for excluding the broken spoke from his warranty.
    Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 01-17-14 at 12:11 PM.

  24. #24
    johnliu@earthlink.net jyl's Avatar
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    True. I was thinking of the OP who said he has a 1990's bike.

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
    Modern bikes have fewer user serviceable components and need for special wrenches / spanners and those needn't be too expensive if your parts are too cheap or retro

    (snip)
    On the co-worker with a broken spoke - replacing a spoke should cost about $20-30 at a bike shop. How often do spokes break on a well-built and tensioned, appropriately chosen, and not abused wheel of the standard 36 three-cross type - in my experience, almost never. Granted a spoke wrench costs just $5, but for a DIY'er replacing his first spoke, it will take well longer than it will take to drop the bike at the shop and pick it up. More than 60 minutes for sure.
    Last edited by jyl; 01-17-14 at 12:24 PM.
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
    No.

    Here's an example:

    One of my co-workers broke a spoke this week. It took him 20 minutes to drive to the bike shop, 20 minutes to wait for the fix, and 20 minutes to drive back.....
    This is a good example --- if the person has some basic mechanical instincts. There is no one answer to the hire a pro vs DIY question on bikes vs anything else. Some things you can do yourself, some you're better off with a pro, and the line between those varies with the individual.

    Bikes are simple enough that most people can do basic work themselves, but some people do nothing, even bringing it to the bike shop for a front wheel flat, while others do basic work and adjustments, but let shops do headsets, bottom brackets and the like, while some do everything short of building frames. (some even do that).

    Everybody has to decide what his time is worth and how he wants to spend it. This may surprise some of those here (the forum defines the audience) but there are millions of people who have absolutely no desire to become mechanic in any way whatsoever.

    I know an orthopedic surgeon, who does very complex bone work, yet he calls the plumber to change a faucet washer.
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