John Gibson at Re-cycles Ottawa.
Andrea's headshot


Sept 28, 2022

4 mins read


Getting up to speed with DIY bike maintenance

These days, John Gibson is more of a bike fixer than a bike rider.

Having spent most of his time dodging through traffic in and around town and even biking through Rhône Valley during a vacation in France, Gibson has switched gears to focus on getting bike enthusiasts and beginners “back on the bike saddle.” He currently volunteers his time at Re-cycles Ottawa – a non-profit that provides low-cost access to a fully-equipped bike repair shop, affordable, recycled bikes to the community, and even teaches curious DIYers on how to repair their own bike.

“I really enjoyed cycling anytime I’ve been on a bike,” Gibson says. “After a long and busy career in IT, I looked for something to keep me busy during retirement. I always enjoyed dabbling in bikes and suddenly found myself drawn into the vortex of learning how to fix bikes and helping others keep their own bikes on the road.”

Some of the most common bike repairs Gibson sees regularly are flat tires, worn out brake pads and general neglect and tune ups.

“Every bike has its own diagnosis and mechanical puzzle challenge, and they’re fun to work through,” Gibson says. “And then there's a personal satisfaction where I can repair or build a bike to make someone’s life better, especially when the bike is for a child. It pulls on my heartstrings every time.”

The team at Re-cycles Ottawa has refurbished over 100 bikes for children and youth living in Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) as part of the OCH’s “Hop on Bikes” program. Hop on Bikes evolved from an idea to help kids during the pandemic. As an Energizing Life Recipient, OCH will match more bikes with kids in the communities they serve throughout the year.

Watch the video now

A group of old children's bikes.

We’re accepting applications to our 2023 Energizing Life Community Fund

Apply Now

DIY on the rise

Gibson reassures that anyone with “a little patience” can change a flat tire, replace a new bike chain, adjust the shifting or even install a new cable.

“The only barrier to performing any repairs or maintenance is access to the special tools … which we have at our DIY shop,” he says. “Bikes are very tolerant. Just by putting a little lubricant on the bike’s chain from time to time and keeping the chain free from dirt and debris build up, and keeping an eye on how well the brakes are working, will keep the bike happy for a good year or so and contribute to the bike’s overall longevity,” he adds.

Since the pandemic, Re-cycles Ottawa has witnessed an increase of people, of all ages, who want to learn more about fixing bikes. DIYers can visit Re-cycles Ottawa to access tools and shop space, consult with staff for advice and guidance, and purchase “previously enjoyed” replacement parts to use on their own bike. As a bonus, Re-cycle Ottawa volunteers receive a free hour of work on their own bike in exchange for every hour of volunteering.

“We have a number of people who show up once a week, and those are usually the people with more service, people we call head mechanics who have really deep skills with the bikes, but also really good knowledge of our processes and the ability to coach other people in the ways of bikes and how we do stuff.”

If you’re not in the Ottawa-area, there are several communities across the province that have Co-op bicycle shops that offer similar services.

Maintenance and safety tips are always in season

Whether your bike has been sitting neglected for a few years, or you’re an avid rider, bike maintenance is important to ensure your bike functions smoothly and prevents wear and tear on the bike’s components.

The fall and winter seasons require extra safety and maintenance precautions because of the changing weather and lighting conditions.

Woman working on an old bike.

10 tips to keep you safe all year round:

  1. The start of the season and year-end maintenance is critical if you want a winter bike that’s going to last more one winter. Start with a pre-fall / winter tune up. Visit Re-cycles Ottawa or a similar local shop.
  2. Be diligent with lubrication maintenance – remember that gears, chains, pedals and the seat post / stem are all exposed to seasonal elements and need regular care / lubrication.
  3. Consider purchasing studded tires (for winter riding)
  4. If you’re inexperienced with fall / winter riding, start now. You don’t want your first ride to be after a big snowfall.
  5. Always wear a helmet, high-visibility gear and use lots of lights (headlights and taillights).
  6. Pay attention to the brakes and cables.
  7. If you’re purchasing a new bike, always get it fitted correctly.
  8. Adjust the bike saddle position. A saddle that’s too high or too low diminishes the ability to generate force which can lead to anterior knee pain.
  9. Budget between $20-$150 for bike repair / maintenance every year.
  10. Bikes don’t need to be fancy. A well-treated bike will serve its user for a very long time.

Lastly, if you’re in the market for a new bike or have given up riding, consider donating your bike to Re-cycles Ottawa or a similar shop in your community.

“Your bike can be an organ donor,” Gibson says. “Your bike will have parts that somebody else can use. “We’ll be happy to take your bike, fix it up, give it a new life and pass it on to somebody else for their own enjoyment.”

Ottawa Community Housing Foundation

613-618-9353 |

Re-cycles Ottawa