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Smart Consumer: How I became wheely good at bicycle repairs!

The exhilaration of freewheeling down a steep hill, as any cyclist will tell you, is one of the great perks of that mode of transport. The click of the wheels, the whistle of the wind as it glides past your ear and the rush of cold air hitting you straight in the face -- you just don't get it from anything else.

And this is exactly what I was thinking to myself as I hurtled down Booterstown Avenue at full pelt last week, until I squeezed the brake ... and nothing happened.

Uh oh.

As dawning realisations go, it was a scary one -- and so, as my feet flapped desperately along the ground, eventually bringing me to an uneasy halt, I decided it was time my trusty wheels had a tune-up. I also decided, with the recession nipping at my heels, that it would be a good idea to do it myself.

Many of the other 36,000 Irish cycling commuters are no doubt thinking along the same lines, as the weather improves and bikes are removed from sheds across the country.

Like so many others, though, my passion for cycling is not matched by my knowledge of mechanics -- and it's for this reason that I now find myself in Rothar's city-centre workshop with director Anne Bedos and instructor Peter Hill, learning the ins and outs of bicycle maintenance.

Rothar, which was established in early 2009, is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to make cycling more accessible and affordable for people on limited resources.

Its maintenance classes run at the organisation's training centre off Upper Dominick St, Dublin, and cost €40. Given that a service will often cost around the €30 mark, while smaller jobs and tune-ups can cost anything from a fiver upwards, the long-term value speaks for itself.

"Each of the classes run for four hours on a Saturday afternoon," explains Peter. "We encourage people to bring their own bike, and to work on it. That's for two reasons. First of all, they're bringing specific problems to the class, which means we're not just teaching something academic.

"Secondly, by working on their own bike, it gives them confidence to continue working on their own.

"A lot of what I do in teaching the class is about building people's confidence and enthusiasm," he says. "It's absolutely hands-on -- in the beginning, I'll explain things, but then I'll expect people to get grubby and get on with it!"

I see what he means when Anne fixes the problem with my loose brakes -- then quickly undoes her handiwork, hands me an allen key and instructs me to do it for myself.

After a bit of fiddling around, I manage to do it successfully. That's one-nil to me, bike.

Beaming with pride, I ask Peter what sort of technical ability is required for the classes -- hoping he'll tell me that only the truly gifted can pull off what I've just done.

However, he tells me that just about anyone can cut it.

"The introductory class starts off on the basis that the people know nothing about bikes. It covers the basics of taking the wheels on and off, taking tyres on and off, knowing which sizes to use, fixing a puncture -- which most people have had a go at at some stage, but we get a damn-near 100pc success rate once they've been shown the knack. We often have people who take the introductory class, then go on to the intermediate and then even show up at the advanced ones," he explains.

"Then they become volunteers," adds Anne, jumping in.

"That's true," says Peter. "Once we get our claws in, that's what happens!"

As I cycle home on my newly repaired bike, feeling the satisfaction of having done the work myself -- not to mention knowing how much I'll save in the long run -- I can see why this might be the case.

Rothar's bike maintenance classes run on Saturday afternoons, €40. See rothar.ie for more details. Cork Community Bikes also runs lessons on Saturday mornings, as well as a six-week evening course, €35. See corkcommunitybikes.com

Irish Independent