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The Evolution of our Intro to Maintenance class

Posted by London Bicycle Kitchen on


Introduction to Maintenance was LBK’s first class, even before LBK as a workshop existed. I had gotten a grant from the London Cycling Campaign, £5k to be used on tools and teaching some test classes. This was in May of 2011, when I had a desk job doing marketing for a small London charity. I randomly met Ellie Smith (founder of Oxford’s Broken Spoke Bike Co-op) at a Breeze women’s ride leader training that summer, and we were pleasantly surprised to find out we were setting up similar projects in our respective cities. We decided to collaborate. 
Intro to Maintenance at Stepney City Farm
Another woman we met at the training was Janice from Tower Hamlets Cycling Club. She did the entire session in a niqab, and said that nowhere in the Quran does it say a woman cannot ride a bike. She hitched up her dress and away we went. Needless to say, we were impressed. I approached Janice about doing some basic maintenance classes with Tower Hamlets Cycling Club and she heartily agreed. Ellie and I came up with what we thought was a basic curriculum of tools, bike parts, M-check, puncture repair, cleaning, wheels, brakes, and gears, and we set up shop in a rented room at Stepney City Farm. (In hindsight, this was not basic.) We taught a few classes with Tower Hamlets Cycling Club, taking note along the way about what we were teaching and how well it was being taken in by students. 
When LBK opened its doors in March 2012, we only did one class per month - and that was Intro. That class was chock-a-block full of information: 6 hours, split into two 3 hour sessions. We covered tool usage, bike parts, M-check, puncture repair, drivetrain cleaning, brakes, and gears. It was intensity in 10 cities. Initially we thought the more we could jam in, the better for the student. As the months went on, we started to think maybe there was too much info and not enough knowledge retention. We were getting students returning to use the drop in workshop, saying they had forgotten what they had learned. So my teacher training kicked back in (yes, I used to teach!) - people can only generally absorb information in 20 minute increments. And if the information is unfamiliar (many of our students don’t have engineering or practical tool-based backgrounds), there’s only so much new info that can be retained. Ya’ll remember what it was like to cram before a Linguistics in the 19th Century or Organic Chemistry test! How much of that do you remember now? 
So we slowly started to break down our classes into modules, based on the parts of the bike and what they did. We created more time for practical application and questions. Nowadays Intro has become: tool usage, parts of the bike, M-check, drivetrain cleaning, and puncture repair. Thirsty students are given the chance to soak up delicious knowledge, getting more bang for their buck!  
Brakes and gears are now their own separate classes, broken down into Rim Brakes, Hydraulic Disc Brakes, and Derailleur Gear Indexing. This is very important as there are different systems in each, and one class does not fit all. We also decided to create these classes geared towards the student’s bike. (If people start requesting hub gear classes, we’ll probably create one of those, but Sturmey Archer, Shimano Nexus, Shimano Alfine, Rholoff, and the like are all still very different, and probably best taught in a 1:1 session. Same with cable disc brakes.)
The more advanced we get though, the more we teach with a broad brush. Our Bearing Systems and Wheel Building classes teach the theory behind the topic, so that students learn about different systems / wheels and the different techniques required. 
I suspect that our Intro course will still be evolving. There is talk of splitting the current Intro into two distinctly separate classes; that way people who already know how to do puncture repair can start with the next step, which is drivetrain cleaning. Thoughts? Drop us a line: fixit@lbk.org.uk
-Jenni