One of Bike Hacks favorite sites is bicycletutor.com. It is run by Alex Ramon and he granted us an interview. Enjoy!
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live? How'd you get interested in biking? Etc.
A: I was raised in Kitimat, BC. My Mother taught me to ride on a 16" K Mart bike when I was five years old, in the grassy field behind our apartment. The first time I rode without her assistance, I was so excited and proud that I turned around to wave at her. I crashed right into a telephone pole!
I guess I liked crashing, because after that I became obsessed with BMX and motocross. We couldn't afford new bikes, so I had to build my own out of parts from the dump. When I was 7 I built my first 'real' bike out of 3 broken down Raleigh Rampars (those big old black bikes with the plastic gas can and shocks).
When I was around 10 I turned my attention to BMX freestyle (mostly flatland). I was a bit of a loner, spending all my time either in the parking lot practicing old school tricks, or in my room drawing bikes and drooling over the latest issues of BMX Plus! (good old Radical Rick). My biggest idols were guys like Eddie Fiola and Woody Itson.
When I was 16 I got my first job as a salesperson at Cap's bicycles in Vancouver. I learned a lot about brand names and the business, but I was not happy with the way they operated (kind of like McDonald's for cyclists).
Later I moved back to Kitimat and was hired by the local bike shop where I worked for two years. My boss was a genius with bikes, but also had a day job at the mill, so I was left to manage the shop most of the time.
When I moved to Vancouver Island my first job as a mechanic only lasted 6 months. The shop I was working for was owned by fundamental Christians whose main concern was profit. The mechanic's area was carpeted!
Finally in 2000 I was hired by Fairfield bicycle shop in Victoria. At that time it was probably one of the best bike shops on the west coast. We focused on commuters and family bikes, trailers, etc. but we also sold and serviced recumbents, electric bikes, unicycles and more. I was most obsessed with our collection of 3-speed hub parts, and I specialized in overhauling and repairing them.
In 2002 we expanded and I was responsible for setting up and stocking the new shop. This took several months and pretty much burned my out. I decided to move to Vancouver and finish my college education. After I finished school I was hired as a clerical by the Vancouver Public Library, where I am still employed.
I miss working with bikes A LOT, which is why I built bicycletutor.com. I don't claim to be a technical genius with bicycles, but I hope that these tutorials will help beginners have the confidence to fix their own bikes.
As for my riding habits, I stopped BMXing many years ago when I developed bursitis in my hips (as a direct result of so many wipe-outs). I don't own a car so my bike is used mainly for transportation. I've also developed a passion for cycle-touring. So far I've toured a fair bit of Vancouver Island and some of the surrounding islands. My dream would be to cross the country on my bike (which my Father did a few years back).
Q: What are a few of the most important things you would recommend to the average commuter in terms of keeping their steed mechanically sound?
A: Chain lubrication is most important. A dry chain will accelerate wear on both the chain and rear sprockets. It's also good to maintain proper tire pressure if you want a more effortless ride.
Q: If a kid walked up to you with $20 and needed bike tools, what would you hook the kid up with?
A: Some chain lube, tire levers, and a set of 4,5,6 Allen keys.
Q: What is the dumbest thing you have seen someone do to a bike that you had to repair?
A: I'd have to say the worst thing I've seen is WD-40 being used as a chain lube, although I don't blame people for it as it's been a popular misconception for so long. The second worst thing I've seen is stripped out bolts from people using the wrong tools.
Q: Car mechanics are famous for being untrustworthy. You know, they are often accused of fixing something that does not need to be repaired or overcharging for services. In your opinion, is this an issue with bike mechanics, or are most of them honest? What are some good questions to ask mechanics to keep them honest?
A: Granted, there are some shops that are more concerned with profit than the customer's needs (like a lot of high-end shops). However, in my experience, most mechanics are quite helpful and honest. I guess the best way to judge is to assess their attitude.
A good mechanic will try and help you fix your problem as economically as possible. For example, let's say you've got a department store bike with a bent steel chain ring. A dishonest mechanic would try to sell you a new crank, whereas an honest mechanic might just bend it back as best as possible for a minimal (if any) fee. Honest mechanics are usually willing to go the extra mile to make a satisfied customer, because they know that trust will pay off in the long-term.
Q: Our site is primarily about incorporating hacks to your ride and associated products? What are some "hack" tools you have come up with. You know, tools you use that are not really tools but do the trick?
A: I don't have a lot of 'hack' tools because I was fortunate enough to get all of my tools for cost pricing. However, I have a few 'non-convential' tools that I can't do without. I use an awl for poking a hole through the inner lining on fresh cable housings. I also have a screwdriver that sawed off, and then ground a concave curve in the end to help push in the springs on sidepull brakes.
Q: What one tool can you simply not live without?
A: There's a lot of tools I couldn't live without, but my favorite would have to be the 8/10mm ratchet wrench from Park Tools. It just saves so much time.
Q: What would you recommend that someone going on a long ride take along?
A: A spare tube, tire levers, patch kit, rag, and a small multi-tool that has allen keys and a chain break built in.
Q: What advice would you give to budding bike mechanics?
A: Don't be afraid to ask for help, or admit that you don't know how to do something. It takes many years to become a knowledgeable mechanic, and even then there is always more to learn.
Q: What is your favorite bike hack?
A: I'm always amazed by the many different bike trailers people build on their own. I recently saw a wheel-barrow converted to a bike trailer... awesome!
Q: What's the ultimate bike mechanic breakfast?
A: A 4-egg ham and cheese omelette with a bagel, tomato juice and coffee.