After reading the “Customize your bike – think outside the same old frame” article in the issue #97 of Slingshot (Summer 2008), I became wildly enthusiastic about installing raised ‘bmx style’ handlebars on my beat-up old mountain bike. Those raised ‘bmx’ bars should alleviate the back problems that I had been having while riding my old beater, as well as increasing my balance and stability while riding. However, due to a partial disability and a major lack of coordination, I was unable to install those higher handlebars myself.
Fortunately, a friend of mine who had already customized his own frame told me he could install a set of raised ‘bmx’ style handlebars. He installed the new handlebar set for me and I went riding off into the sunset, happily ever after.
Well not really. About a week later, I was locking my bike to a parking meter downtown when those new handlebars worked loose from the handlebar stem and flopped straight down. Cursing all the while, I walked down to the local hardware store and re-attached the handlebars using the proper-sized bolts.
About one week after the first incident, I was stopped at an intersection when the entire front wheel slipped off to a forty-five degree angle from the rest of the bike. The handlebar stem was slightly too small and had become detached from the steering tube! I had some very scary visions of what might have happened if that stem had broken loose while I was riding in front of a 2,500 lb. inattentive slaughter mobile.
While I’ m still enthusiastic and supportive of DIY, I’m now a lot more cautious. My friend was in a hurry and didn’t bother to get the proper-fitting materials for the job. I was in a hurry and didn’t bother to take a critical look at his work. I would have noticed both mechanical fuck-up’s if I had taken five minutes to inspect the bike before riding off.
Do It Yourself means Taking Responsibility for Yourself. We are not depending on OSHA, the FDA, municipal building inspectors, or any other bureaucracy to look after our safety. If we’re going to DIY that means we have to Do It Right. By Do It Right, I’m not referring to the cosmetic, superficial stuff but the fundamentals. Our dwellings should be, structurally sound, our bikes mechanically safe, and our foods non-toxic.
Doing It Right means not eating the dumpstered egg/mayo sandwiches that have been sitting in the sun for a few days. It means not causing your roof to collapse by cutting through a load-bearing beam while renovating your attic (this happened to a friend). It means not almost electrocuting yourself by cutting through the house wiring with a skill saw (another friend did this one).
You can avoid calamities more by recalling your folk tales and children’s bedtime stories than by reading a ‘how-to’ or technical manual. Remember all the bad things that happened to those folks who tried to get the last little bit…Or the stories with characters full of pride and hubris. Who did know a lot, but not quite as much as they thought they did.
I talked with several professional contractors who have over fifty years combined experience doing general maintenance and construction work. They told me that their primary learning experiences were ‘hands-on’, working with other more experienced people. You do not have to become a union apprentice to learn carpentry or any other trade. But you should be networking with people you meet in skill shares and free skool classes and helping them complete their projects.
Try listing and assembling the tools and materials you’ll need before you start a major project. Of course this list will never be complete, because there’s always going to be something you didn’t expect. However, the more complete your list, the smoother and more enjoyable the experience will be. There’s an almost euphoric satisfaction when a project ‘flows’, and everything falls into place.
When repairing anything mechanical think of it as three dimensional jig-saw puzzle. If people put it together, it can be taken apart, fixed, and reassembled. Consult the manuals, but if things look too puzzling, consult with more experienced friends, before starting to take things apart.
There is an aesthetic quality in DIY that’s lacking in the expensive, massproduced consumer crap that permeates today’s society. Whether it’s a bicycle or a house, every piece of DIY is a direct expression of the person who created it. Be proud of your work. It is an extension of yourself.
Do It Yourself! Do It Right!