Dr Hutch: the trials and triumphs of home bike maintenance

The good Doctor Hutch muses on the vagaries of bike DIY and his ‘legendary’ hit-and-miss efforts to fix his bikes

I’ve always maintained my own bikes. This is a habit rooted in nothing but idleness. I’ve spent most of my life living miles from the nearest decent bike shop and I usually decide that it will be quicker and cheaper to do it myself. I have been wrong almost without exception.

But, in a spirit of friendly advice, I’m prepared to offer you the only guide to home bike maintenance you will ever want.

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The first thing you have to do is find a place to work where you won’t be disturbed by witnesses. It should also be out of earshot of children, clergymen and maiden aunts. If you don’t know all the swear words, learn them. You can’t maintain a bike without them.

It can be difficult to find a spot if you live in a small house or flat. When we lived in a flat, I used to use the dining table. A turbo-trainer on a dining table is a damned fine workstand, with plenty of handy space for setting tools. Unsurprisingly, Mrs Doc banned this.

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I was banished to a third-floor balcony, where a dropped Allen key could take an hour to find. I took to tying all my tools to idiot strings, so that I looked like a jellyfish doing its Cytech mechanic’s course. It also meant that a full bottom bracket overhaul produced the collateral benefit of a lovely string jumper.

The essentials
Now I have a proper workshop. It has everything a mechanic could need: there is space, light, a bench, and a nice hard laminated floor for things to bounce across, so that any small components I drop can be safely assumed to be lost forever and I don’t waste time looking for them.


The previous occupant of my house used it to make children’s films, so one wall has a life-sized, rainbow-coloured unicorn painted on it. However, you don’t absolutely need a unicorn, so don’t worry if you don’t have one.

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On the other hand, you will definitely need some tools. Here’s what I rely on: I have six 5mm Allen keys. I drop them almost continually, and starting with six means I don’t have to bend down and pick them up as often. You will also need some other sizes of Allen key, depending on your circumstances. For instance, I’ve got a giant 20mm Allen key that I sometimes hold and pretend I’ve been shrunk by a witch.

Hammer blow
Expert bike mechanics say that only an idiot or a charlatan uses adjustable spanners. So I have several of those.
Five-pound lump hammer. Excellent for propping the door of the workshop open on summer days.

I’m quite dependent on tape, both gaffer and electrical, and zip-ties in every size known to man. I’m told it was possible to maintain a bike before the invention of any of these things, but frankly I don’t believe it.

Torx wrenches. Basically a con. Torx-head bolts don’t do anything an Allen-head bolt doesn’t. But when you’ve rounded out a few Torx-head bolts by bodging Allen keys into them (the lump-hammer is good for this) you’ll have to admit defeat. If you’re anal enough to keep all the little tools you get with Ikea furniture, there’s a good chance you already own a set of Torx wrenches.

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Horrible mess
A large screwdriver. Excellent for bending into submission any front mech that you’ve grown weary of adjusting properly. Also a useful emergency tyre-lever.

A chain-splitter. For some perverse reason, the cheaper the chain splitter, the better it works. This is the only instance of such a thing in cycling, so I don’t question it.

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Finally, remember that when you lose patience with the horrible, horrible mess you’ve made of your bike and have to take it to a professional, tell them that a mate was responsible. Or tell them it was me, if you want.

They’ll believe you. My work is legendary.