Bike class turns cyclists into DIY mechanics

March 18, 2013

Arrow Bicycle co-owner Chris Davidson gets hands-on during the shop’s Park Tool School as Ryan Moran and Kim Fisher look on. Photo by Scarlett Salem.

BY SCARLETT SALEM — Cycling, whether for leisure or competition, can be fun … unless you face a mechanical problem you can’t solve. What if you have a flat tire in the middle of a long bike ride? Or what if your chain pops off on the way to work? Arrow Bicycle, located at 5108 Baltimore Avenue just south of Franklins, offers a course that teaches you how to handle these emergencies and more.

Arrow has been serving the community for the past five years under the helm of Chris Militello and Chris Davidson, who have held The Park Tool School twice a year since they opened the shop. It’s the only bicycle maintenance course of its kind in Hyattsville and the surrounding communities.

Taught by both owners along with their head mechanic, Ryan Lewis, Park Tool School is a 12-hour course that meets on Monday evenings for six consecutive weeks and costs $175.

Most people who enroll are competitive racers or cyclists who go for longer rides, but avid commuters and occasional riders join as well.

The course gets its name from The Park Tool Company, manufacturer of bicycle tools since 1963 and publisher of the definitive Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair. Participants receive their very own copy to keep when the course is over.

The curriculum is loosely based on the book, supplemented by what the leaders see as crucial skills for riders who don’t happen to have a toolbox handy in an emergency. The instructors have experience in this arena; not only have both Militello and Davidson managed other D.C. area bike shops, but they also currently sponsor the Route 1 Velo Bicycle Club and host a 32- mile bike ride every Sunday morning that starts just outside the store.

The class aims to help riders become self-sufficient. “The course is all about maintenance and tips on simple repairs such as what do if your chain breaks and you are out on a ride,” explains Militello. “You’ll learn tips to help you get home if you are out on a ride and a maintenance issue happens.”

The class meets in the workshop at the back of the store and participants have access to all of Arrow’s tools. A work stand is used for instruction but tips are incorporated into the course that will come in handy when you are stranded and no work stand is available. For example, the instructors note that in such a circumstance you might try hanging your bike on a low branch to help stabilize the bike during certain repairs. Participants bring their own bikes so that they can learn – and perform – maintenance and repair on the vehicle they normally ride.

“If your bike needs a repair, we recommend you buy the part and upgrade it yourself during the class, so you can learn how to do it,” says Militello. The course is generally capped at about seven participants per session so participants have plenty of instructor accessibility.

The sessions are usually scheduled during winter months, and the current one runs through March 18. Davidson said they would schedule a spring session if enough people express interest. (In addition, the shop offers a free tube-repair clinic every second Saturday of the month at 9 a.m.)

Those who have taken Arrow’s course give it high marks.

“I tend to ride without any support and need to be able to fix mechanical problems that come up on the road,” said Maile Neel. “This class made me more confident in my abilities to make repairs and gave me many tips for diagnosing problems so I can keep the bike maintained.”

Karen Riley estimated that she had logged over 500 miles on her bike, yet “really didn’t [understand] how its various components worked.”

The “very patient” instructors “walked us through a checklist of basic repairs and bike maintenance, first showing us and then watching as we did it ourselves on our own bikes,” she said.

“At the end of six weeks, I felt more comfortable with the mechanical features of a bike and my bike was the better for it too.”

For more information, contact Arrow Bicycle at 301.531.9250.