Mechanicals - it’s worth the frustration

I had an issue with my gears not shifting into lowest 4 gears. Been running around bike shops all day. First one told me I need a new shifter and to claim it under warranty. Wait time: 30 days :frowning:. Thought I’ll take it to another for a second opinion - this time I was told I need a new derailuer :frowning:. Because I have trouble sleeping at night if I my bike isn’t working properly I thought I’d get the tools out and learn how to fix indexing issues myself. For about 2 hours of getting it wrong I figured out how the damn things work and managed to get it working exactly as they should. Now I will never take my bike to a bike shop for indexing again. It’s worth the frustration learning how to do it yourself!


I have never had any luck with an lbs fixing things as well as you can at home with a little elbow grease. Usually more stuff comes back not working properly, or bolts come back stripped out actually when it goes to an lbs.


I think shows that you need to find a lbs that you trust, and build a good relation with them. As with car mechanics I imagine there are a number who just replace components until the problem (or the customer) goes away, but if you have one you trust then it can save a ton of frustration and broken components while you try to fix it yourself.

That said, I try to do all the basics myself as I enjoy tinkering with it, and feel a bit of satisfaction when I manage to get the indexing spot on.


I began to work on my own bike for the same reasons you expressed, and now I’ve gotten to the point where the only thing I don’t do is true my own wheels, and that might be something I give a go at some point. But the other thing I have learned is that for what you end up paying the LBS, you can buy the tool and then do it yourself. And next time the same problem comes about, you’re positive $. That and you don’t have to wait for their next mechanic to have time to work on your bike. It gets done that day.

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This. While I do a lot of my own wrenching, or rather, CAN do a lot of my own wrenching, I trust the mechanic at my lbs. He can do it faster than I can and will do it right. My bikes will go to him before season starts for the full go over. I simply miss things as too many things on my mind.

Another thing about having a person you can trust … you can try it yourself, and if it does not work out, you can take it to them to resolve. Done that many times as well. “Hey Eric … I broke it. Here you go.” Does not cost me any more than if he just did it. We laugh and move on.

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As a mechanic at a local bike shop I would not be happy with just replacing parts as a random process of attempting to fix the issues. As mentioned you need to find yourself a good trustworthy mechanic.

Personally I welcome a lot of home wrenching; in fact I run regular workshops teaching riders how to fix their own bikes. Probably not the best sales tactic. That said I always end the lessons with you have to know your limits and know when to call in the experts.

Great to hear you have now mastered the black art of indexing gears.


I’ve wrenched on my bike from day 1. Youtube is an amazing source. Coming from motorcycles, bicycles are a piece of cake in comparison so that helped.

Then I must have forgotten why I build my bikes from scratch or fix stuff myself cause I bought a brand new bike from a shop. They had bunch of things missing from it (forgot while building it or put on wrong parts). It had a $50 bucks cassette instead of top of the line $250 one… Are you kidding me? 90% of people wouldn’t have noticed. Well I did.

They always asked to keep it in the shop for a day no matter how much I insisted I can do it myself just give me the parts and I’ll give you yours. Everytime I took it in something else came out wrong.

I’ve been there multiple times (20 mile drive each way) lost money and time along the way.


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I too do my own mechanics. YouTube taught me a lot. I don’t do wheels, I have a trusted LBS and mechanic for that. But everything else I will do. It may take me longer. And I walk away and come back when I get frustrated. The satisfaction of building an entire bike is I love that bike. I know it intimately.

Having a trusted LBs with a good mechanic you have a relationship with is also a good thing. And we should support our LBS.

One experience last year at Nationals. I had a cable issue on my Felt FRD and needed a new cable. It’s internal, I was under stress. Finished the TT and had 32hrs until the RR. Called a local LBS he opened early, I bought him a coffee had a chat. He turned that bike around, new BB at wholesale, pads and did the routing. Wishes me luck. Couldn’t recommend him enough.


Wheel truing is strangely satisfying. One of my favorite things to do on a bike. I just don’t own a truing stand, otherwise I’d play with it too much.

Not much that needs done with any frequency on a bike is beyond the capability of anyone with a modicum of mechanical ability. It’s just whether or not it’s worth the investment in the tools, IMO. If you have a local co-op bike shop, that can be a great place to learn and work on your bike or help others. I did that twice a week for six months this summer and had a blast and learned a TON.

Although internal cable routing is a royal pain in the ass and I WILL NOT glue tubular tires. Won’t do it. Selling my tubular wheels for cheap and getting a good set of carbon clinchers in the very near future.

Yeah - once you get the hang of it, it all makes sense and is quick + easy. It’s a very helpful skill to have while on the road/trail, as of things are a little off, you can make a quick stop and fix things quickly vs messing about.

I do most of my own maintenance. Only stuff I’ve not done yet are brake bleeds, and fork and shock service.

Gives you confidence when out on the road/trail that you can fix things yourself, and if you do need to bring your bike to the shop, you know the kinds of questions to ask and how to interpret responses so you have confidence the bIke shop knows what they’re doing.

Similar to indexing, once you figure this out, it’s very intuitive. The thing that threw me the first time I did it was which way to turn the spoke nipple to tighten the spoke. I don’t have a truing stand - I just do it in place on the bike and tape a piece of tape to the fork lined up with the wheel rim, with a few mm gap - and use this to judge.

Glad to hear you’re expanding your home wrenching skills @jordonp - always a good thing :slight_smile:

One thought on the specific problem you had - I had a buddy unable to shift into the lowest 3 or 4 gears on his cassette mid-ride once. For a couple of minutes I was there on the side of the gravel road thinking “what made this derailleur suddenly have too much tension? The cable sure didn’t shrink.” Then I found the culprit… the loop of housing into the rear derailleur had pulled out of the ferrule at the derailleur and was sitting lodged on the edge of the ferrule - effectively making the housing several mm longer and the cable that much tighter.

That is awesome! It’s great to have riders take some initiative to do some of the more simple repairs or adjustments on their own. This way when they’re 25 miles into a ride and have an issue they have the confidence and knowledge to get themselves back home.
@jordonp good on you for taking the time to learn it for yourself. Admittedly, it can be hard to find an lbs that is trustworthy. If you don’t know what needs to be done it’s easy to take it to any shop and expect that what they tell you is true.
Personally, I love working on my own bikes. I have a great relationship with my LBS and represent them at races. They have great mechanics that I trust, but I thoroughly enjoy doing my own work. Over the years I’ve accumulated a fair number of tools by spending money on a tool rather than labor. Anytime I need to make a repair that I need a new tool for I just buy it and count it up to future money saved by doing the work myself from that point forward. I do make it a point to buy my tools from my LBS, though. If i’m going to be doing the work myself I need to support them by getting my parts and tools through them.

My wife and I have five bikes each so doing some home mechanics is essential for the health of our wallets! We also tend to ride in remote areas so can be a day or more from any shop let alone a bike shop with workshop facilities.

You don’t need that many tools to cover most jobs: a set of Allen/Hex keys and a set of Torx keys, flat and Phillips screwdrivers; a decent set of cable cutters. After that you get into the “one job” tools like Bottom Bracket spanner but you just get those as and when you need them. Watch a few YouTube videos (from reputable channels) about the particular task and you should be good to go.

I’ve a mate who runs a bike mechanics business who I’ll take the bikes to for those jobs where the “one job tool” is too expensive to justify for very occasional use or where it’s too complicated for my simple brain - I don’t have a headset press for example - as @Adam says, “Know when to call in the experts”. He’s pretty handy - one of the UK biking mags runs “best XXX” type polls each year and he’s regularly in the top three. He says that most of his work is on decent road bikes as mountain bikers tend to fix things themselves but roadies just go “I’ll pay someone to do it”.

99.9% of any information you may need to tweak, adjust, fix, reinstall or rebuild regarding bicycles and different manufacturers manufacturer’s components is available on youtube.

I would have missed many events or races if i had had to rely on getting someone else to fix stuff.

Get a bike stand and a few key tools and allen keys etc and you can do it.

Peace of mind about doing a proper job, and the satisfaction of being self sufficient are nice bonus rewards for not being lazy or incompetent.

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The problem with bike shops is that it isn’t their bike. So when you get it back with a scratch on the top tube how can you prove who did it. Plus buying the tools is a little more expensive first time around but as soon as you learn making changes on the fly and fixing things in the morning before a big ride is a piece of cake. I recommend get a decent bike stand too!

Also if you’re working on a carbon bike. Get a solid torque wrench, you’ll thank me one day.

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I am a big fan of my local LBS, but do love to do as much of my own wrenching as I can. For the first time, I built up my bike last year and loved it. I took my time and spread the project out over a few weekends to be sure I never felt stressed and had plenty of time to read up or watch videos on the task at hand to understand as best I could what I was doing. Going slowly also gave me time to pick up the correct tool when needed, whether that meant buying it or borrowing. Sure, I wish I’d cut a cable slightly longer here or shorter there, but all in the finished build is solid, I learned a ton, and I’m much more comfortable diving in to troubleshoot issues that otherwise might take my bike out of commission for a few days if I had to rely solely on my LBS to fit me in.

My groupset was rim brake, which was a good place to start for me and simplified things (no hydraulics).

Tools I found essential include:

  • bike work stand

  • T-handle hex/allen set

  • Torque wrench with torx and hex bits with an extension so you can reach recessed hardware, such as a caliper brake bolt in the fork head.

  • Cable cutter (this tool was a revelation, especially after trying to get by with various “wire” cutters I already owned)

  • Crescent wrench and/or spanners to size

  • Small bit screwdriver for adjusting derailleurs

It also helped to have on hand key “expendables”:

  • beer

  • latex (or equivalent) work gloves

  • quality grease

  • loctite

  • carbon paste (if working with any carbon parts or frame)

  • cloth rags and degreaser for clean-up (I use diluted simple green in an old spray bottle)

  • electrical tape (if you use a few wraps to finish off bar tape)

I was building up a Campy groupset, and I think the only Campy specific item I needed was 10mm hex that’s long enough to reach the UltraTorque “bolt” in the crankset spindle.

I’d love to own a nice press fit tool, but found it possible to cobble together a homemade version using an 8" carriage bolt and assorted nuts and washers I had lying around. May need to buy a bearing puller though if I want to clean and/or replace bearings.

Some plastic weed wacker cord came in handy for snaking cables.

Can’t say enough though about having a good local bike shop. If you have a favorite LBS, in addition to giving them your business when in over your head, bring them beer too.

Besides the generic YouTube videos, can you tell me what the best place to learn how to fix shifting and indexing of gears? Also is it the same on a road bike versus a mountain bike? Whether I have DuraAce 7800 on a road bike or SRAM Eagle on my MTB?

Is there a really great book or really specific easy to understand YouTube video?


Honestly can not go wrong with Park Tools


Similar concept but different deraileurs have different set-up specifications. How close to get the top pulley to the biggest cog, where to set the B-screw, that sort of thing. SRAM Eagle has a nice set-up guide on you tube and a $5 plastic tool to set chain gap (SRAM tech videos are typically very good).

7800 is a bit older but follows the basic adjustment sequence of Shimano mechanical detailers. Set lower limit screw, rough tension on cable with the pinch bolt, then adjust indexing with the cable barrel adjuster at the rear mech.

A “trick” to getting indexing for Shimano (mechanical or Di2) is to put the chain on the 5th cog and align the cage perfectly beneath the cog. From there you make small adjustments with the barrel tension adjuster until the indexing is good across the entire cassette. Set the high limit adjuster and you are done. I like to set the 5th cog alignment, then increase tension until I get a slight “ticking” against the next largest cog and then back off from there. The original Di2 manual recommends that method.

For SRAM, the way I learned was to adjust the indexing on the three smallest (closest to the derailleur) cogs. Once those are dialed in the rest should be fine.

For a system in good repair – meaning chain and cogs aren’t worn out, cable and housing are reasonably fresh and all cable ends and ferrule are seated properly – if you can’t get indexing to work well it may be that the derailleur hanger is bent. Depending on the type of bike and hanger this is either an easy fix or a difficult fix. You’ll need specialized tools to check the hanger alignment and to make an adjustment. It’s not rocket science but a step up from adjusting screws and cable tension.

In terms of how to videos there is a ton of good stuff out there. I tend to go to these sources first:

SRAM Tech Videos
GMBN (Doddy is great)
Art’s Cyclery (no longer in production but many historic how to’s)
Park Tool

Worldwide Cyclery has done some good how to videos
Epic Bleed Solutions has some nice “quick bleed” how to guides

If you have a mechanically adept friend to help that can relieve some stress in the learning process.

Learning to set brakes and shifting is something anyone can learn how to do. For disc brake equipped bikes, brake bleeding seems kinda scary but after a couple times the mystery is gone.

For mtn bikes it’s useful to learn how to refresh dropper posts, refresh suspension seals and oil and for F/S bikes, bearing replacements are also a straightforward DIY on most bikes.

#1 rule for bikes is to not be hamfisted. Except for a few obvious situations, if you need to apply a lot of force something is wrong. Stop and think and double check. Some threads are backwards on a bike and a torque wrench is your friend.