16 hands to seat a tire OR Cub Scout Bike Maintenance

Last week, Eric, Piet, and I got a chance to travel down to Saline to help teach some cub scouts bike maintenance.  I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect; I thought maybe we would be standing in front of a group of kids inside, trying to keep their interest as we explained some simple things about bikes.  Luckily, it turned out to be a much more fun time than that, and I think that Eric, Piet, and I learned as much about the power of the bicycle as the cub scouts learned about bike maintenance.

We arrived slightly late, and we pulled up to lots of young folks tearing around a parking lot while other kids waited for their bikes to be unloaded from parents’ cars.  We had three stands, so the plan was to work one-on-one with the kids.  We set up next to the building under an overhang, and got to work teaching the scouts about bike maintenance, one at a time.  We would be working with kids in the 8-10 age range.  Let the fun begin…

My first scout had a singlespeed bmx coaster brake-equipped bike (for some reason I got to work on all the singlespeeds (thumbs up)), and we set to work safety checking the bike.  I had scout #1 start pumping up his own tires, and watched as he used all of his weight and all his strength to bring the tires up to a high pressure of 20psi!  I finished the inflation for him, and we moved on.  His main concerns about his bike were the rust on the chain and chainrings and his seat height.  I made him wait until we checked some other bolts until moving onto his main concerns.  I applied some lube to his rusty chain, and saw his eyes light up.  As I spun the chain with the bike in the stand, he said, “my bike is so much faster now!”  Then, I took the bike down from the stand and we adjusted the seat up up a few inches.  I put the bike back in the stand just to double check some things and to try to get more rust off the chain, and he began to shake, as if he had to pee.  While bouncing up and down, he was saying, “I caaann’t waaiittt to ride my biiikkke” over and over again.  It was awesome.  As soon as the bike was put back on the ground, he was off, racing around the parking lot.

The rest of the night was very similar.  We all worked one-on-one with varieties of kids.  Some kids were all about the tools and pulling every tool out of my bag and playing with it.  Some kids just wanted their bikes to be faster.  One scout, whose brakes were barely operable and whose saddle was way too low, told me that his bike was fine and in perfect working order.  How did he know?  He can ride fast, so it has to be working well!  Other kids just wanted to climb on the brick pillars as we worked on their bikes.  Piet had the opportunity of working with a girl (a daughter of one of the leaders) who wanted to know everything there was to know about bikes.  At the young age of 13, she was already able to explain to Piet how a freewheel works!

The cool thing was that no one cared what types of bikes they had…what mattered was that they were having fun.  They don’t know or care what a singlespeed is, what a fixed-gear is, or what brands are cool.  All they cared about was riding fast and tearing around the parking lot, free to do as they pleased.  As I rode later that week, I thought back to those kids and the joy that biking brings them; it made me smile and enjoy the ride that much more.

At the end of the evening, Eric gathered the scouts to learn how to fix a flat tire.  He deflated the tube, a couple of the scouts used some tire levers to get the tire off.  He showed the scouts the tube, and that you would have thought that they were looking at the coolest toy in the world.  They squeezed it and pulled it until one of them shouted, “lets try to pop it!”  The kid whose tube it was got worried, and Eric quickly then showed them how to put it back in.  Sometimes, getting the tire bead back on the rim can be a real struggle…no so with 8 or more cub scouts!  It was awesome to see as many kids as could get their hands on the tire working together to seat the tire.  Then, it came time to pump up the tire.  Every scout had to get a chance to pump.  Once it was inflated, the game became seeing how much pressure each of them could generate with the pump while I held my thumb over the nozzle.  It was just like a carnival game, but for kids.

On the ride back to Ann Arbor, we talked about how cool it was to work with these kids and to observe their love of bikes…not too different from our own.