Assessing Wheels, Making Space, Building Skills

Why Wheels?

What once was a storage closet at Cherry Cycles filled with utility items such as floor paint, window washing supplies, mops, and miscellaneous fasteners and electrical chords today is filled with wheels to the point that one can hardly get through to other items. These are wheels that were donated or abandoned due to lack of functionality.  I can’t bear to throw things away that have two out of three facets still good! Some of those wheels just need new rims, some new spokes, some need new hub parts like cones, ball bearings, and axles. There are about 30 bikes that are ready to go and about 30 that need work. Ten frames sit without wheels at all. I quite often replace the wheels on used bikes with brand new ones as I haven’t had the time to get the wheels I have fixed up, but this hasn’t been profitable.  As a small business, I need to be as economical as possible to stay viable in order to continue being able to offer services to folks and supporting femme/trans/women, LGBTQIA, and people of color through bike teams, clubs, and events.

Specifics of Sorting, Saving, and Scrapping Wheels

When looking at a wheel with undiagnosed damage we want to assess the hubs, rim, and spokes.  First step is to assess the hubs to see if the wheel is worth rebuilding by doing a hub adjustment.  This can take a very vetted hand how to feel for small pitting can cause the wheel to come loose over the course of weeks or months and is not worth putting on a shop for sale bike. If necessary I take the hub apart and look for damage on the ball bearings, the hub shell (where the bearings roll), and on the cones (the adjustable threaded component that keeps the bearings in place).  Depending on damage we can tell if the hub needs to be thrown out; I call it “toast” and shop friend, Nate says “dusted.” If the cones are pitted (even the size of a pin prick) they need to be replaced. If there is irregular wear this suggests that the axle needs to be replaced. Once a hub is signed off on, we can look into rims. Since brake pads can wear rims down, we look for the thickness of the sidewall, any cracking near the spoke holes, and any part that might be flared out or ground down on the edge from being ridden on the road without air in the tire. Now we check the spokes for breaks, extreme bends, any shaving down of the metal from the chain getting stuck in the rear wheel, and any damage to the nipples (fittings that hold them to the rim). If everything looks serviceable, we can hop to and get the wheel trued up.  If not, depending on quality, the wheel gets broken down to save the hub or the rim. Re-using spokes is not recommended as there is directional stress from being laced into the wheel previously and the structural integrity is compromised.

How to Empty that Room!

First step to getting this going is making the goal.  I want to have this room cleared of wheels by the 3nd Tuesday in April (about a month) and all used wheels assessed, scrapped, sorted for parts, or rebuilt.  Next, I’m going to make myself accountable by telling whoever is reading this and other friends. Hopefully then folks with check in on my progress. Third is asking folks for help.  

Last fall a woman named Elly came to the shop who used to work at another bike shop and want to volunteer at Cherry stay up on her skills.  She is a part of a group called By Us, For Us which is an organization for femme/trans/women who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) and has been instrumental in organizing By Us, For Us repair nights which Cherry has been grateful to host. In the past I have taken on shop apprentices, and I have appreciated the community it has built at Cherry.  Unfortunately, it takes much more time to teach and get work done than it does to just do the work myself. Since Elly has a mechanical background and is interested in being mechanical support for other Femme/trans/women I agreed to do a skillshare with her. She is willing help me with the wheels in exchange for learning how to become efficient at truing. I’m happy to say that I had a suggestion for truing that made it much easier than the other times she’d attempted to true a wheel. Also, last month I offered a 16 hour private repair course to someone named Nate who wanted to know specifically how to prepare for long distance bikepacking.  He already seemed almost a pro, having biked from the headwaters of the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf. He wanted to learn how to safely pack a bike, how to service broken cables, how to replace a chain, and more. He’s agreed to help me get these wheels in order so that if he needs to replace any broken spokes on the road it will be quick and easy! Rebecca who is a facilitator for Queer Open Shop and Grease Rag Femme/Trans/Women open shop at Cherry has been interested in learning how to build wheels, but hers are still true. At the last Grease Rag she tried her hand at wheel truing and said that she found it relaxing!

Once the impromptu wheel repair team is educated, I will have some time to create infrastructure.  The shop basement has a tendency to flood and I don’t want these wheels sitting in water. I have about 15 hooks for hanging wheels and need to sort the pre-existing array of wheels that are hung up but not sorted.  I’ll create more storage with rubber coated hooks and 2x4s and get them all labeled by size. Once all the wheels are organized I’m going get them put into my new point of sales computer system; I’ve chosen a crowd favorite in the bike business as it integrates bike distributors. It is called Lightspeed though I doubt the process of incorporating all inventory will not happen at the pace of the namesake.

All in all, this process seems invigorating. To put things back to use with some awesome folks pitching in sounds like a great task and I’m looking forward to it.  Even already, this process has made me realize that pretty much all bike work is a meditation practice for me. Even challenges give me a chance to focus on the task at hand without projecting into the future or regretting the past.  Send a line to Cherry Cycles with your availability if you’re looking to help out the process or do some wheel meditation!