Vanessa Ruck, aka The Girl on a Bike, has been inspiring riders for years. After suffering a horrific accident almost seven years ago, Vanessa has gone through several surgeries, hip and shoulder reconstructions, and painful recovery, but despite all the challenges, she has gone from a cruiser rider to trials and hard enduro racer – and, to top it all off, she maintains her own bikes.
As Vanessa is prepping for the upcoming RedBull Romaniacs and Rallye du Maroc this season, we caught up with the Girl on a Bike to chat about wrenching on the bikes and how to get started if you’ve never changed your oil or tires before.
Vanessa, how did you start working on your bikes, and what’s the crucial first step to start figuring out bike mechanics?
The reality is, my husband and I simply wouldn’t be able to afford the bikes we own if we didn’t work on them ourselves. I’m still learning as I go – reading manuals and watching YouTube videos is a massive help, and it’s all about progressing at your own pace.
A lot of people find bike maintenance intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. There are three scenarios when it comes to working on your bike: one, you don’t bother, take the bike to a garage, pay the bill, and that’s that. Scenario two: you try working on the bike yourself, mess it up, take it to the garage afterward and get it fixed; the difference is, even if you didn’t succeed, you’ve learned something in the process, and that’s already valuable. And scenario three, you just go for it, try maintaining the bike on your own, figure it out, and save tons of cash.
At the end of the day, what’s the worst that can happen? If you give it a go, you’ll learn a lot and save money, even if you end up going to the garage for help. Motorcycles may appear complex at first, but realistically, they’re simple machines, and it is entirely possible to learn how to maintain and fix them.
What would you say to riders who want to start working on their bikes, but don’t know where to begin?
I’d say the key is to start small and build gradually. To the untrained eye, bike mechanics may look daunting, but if you start step by step, you’ll get the hang of it pretty soon. Just build slowly – even simply carefully washing and inspecting your bike can be a good start. Give it a good clean and check the bolts, see where things are loose, are there any dents, that sort of thing – just get to know your bike.
Then, do some simple maintenance like changing your oil. It may sound scary, but in reality, it’s just undoing one bolt, letting the oil drain, putting the bolt back in, and putting new oil in. When you break it down into steps, it really is pretty straightforward.
Next, clean and lube your chain – you can’t go wrong with that. Then, it’s time to try changing your tires.
Speaking of tire changes – for most riders, that’s one of the most intimidating tasks!
It can be, but if you’re taking your bike to the garage every time you need to change tires, the costs will add up quickly. For example, I’m taking five sets of tires to Romaniacs, and if I had to pay for every change, that’s a lot. And, I like to swap out tires for different terrain so I can prolong the tire life: for example, throw a pair of gnarly Michelin Xtrem off-road tires for hard terrain, then swap them back for a set of 50/50 for easier ADV trails. That way, both tire sets last longer. Being able to change your own tires is very empowering, and you can use your tires a lot more strategically.
As with everything, having the right tools to change your tires makes life easier. I’ve got a Rabaconda tire changing kit in my garage, and it’s helped me to reduce my tire changes from 18 minutes to an average of 4 minutes – it’s definitely been a game-changer! Rabaconda makes tire changing much easier, and you avoid all the hassle, pain, and frustration that comes with trying to change your tires with a basic lever set.
Once you’ve mastered your tire changes, you can then try replacing your wheel bearings, air filter, or even trying your hand at some basic mods. Exhaust, for example, is easy – essentially, it’s just a bolt-on mod. The more you work on your bike, even if you initially make mistakes and take longer, the better you’ll get. At the end of the day, bike mechanics are just humans; and if they can master it, then so can you. None of us (except maybe Graham Jarvis!) are superhuman, and it’s entirely possible to learn new skills as long as you’re willing to try.
Interested in getting your own Rabaconda tire changer set? Click on this link to get a special 10% discount or use this code when you check out: ADVWOMEN10 (valid till January 8, 2022).
Images: The Girl on a Bike