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M y artist aunt was recently in town, and one afternoon she remarked that to her, Boulder bikers are like orchids — brightly colored, exotic and unique, and each evolved to its own specific function.

I laughed, and had to agree: It’s not just the act of biking that’s popular — it’s the whole culture and aesthetic.

And this is awesome. Bikes are cheaper than cars as transport, more environmentally friendly and you can kill two birds with one stone: work out while you get somewhere (assuming you’re ok showing up dripping sweat and out of breath).

But, like most things in life, you can’t get something for nothing. And even though bikes in general are a cheap way to go, they do require a little regular maintenance.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time working on my bike recently, so I asked some of my engineer friends what the most valuable do-it-yourself bike skills are. And I told them to keep it simple for the bikers among us.

The biggest one: Learn how to change a flat on your own. It’s the most likely repair you’ll need (especially if you bike on the Hill, where glass shards lurk on every corner) and it’s simple to do. You’re bound to have at least one friend who knows how; trade them a beer or two for a lesson. If you already know how, help out a less-enlightened buddy. Focus on patching your tube instead of switching it out every time. Tubes cost around $7 each, but a patch kit costs just a few bucks and can fix tube after tube.

You should also clean your chain on a semi-regular basis. Invest in some chain lubricant (around $10), not WD-40 (which apparently cleans the chain fine, but doesn’t lubricate it well enough). Turn the crank (the pedal, attached to the gears) backwards so the chain rotates, dripping the lubricant on. Then run a paper towel around it once to get any extra grease and dirt off.

Look at REI’s website for good tutorials on chain cleaning and flat changing, among other skills (

When you notice your bike isn’t shifting as well as it used to, it might be time for a tune-up. This happens for varying reasons (your cable can stretch over time, it could be dirty), but no matter the reason, it’s expensive to fix — around $40 at a shop.

However, I have it on very good authority that most college kids — and probably someone in your group of friends — are happy to work for beer. Trade a six-pack for a better bike, and everyone’s happy.

If you really don’t have any friends who know these things, look up Community Cycles in Boulder. With its earn-a-bike program, you volunteer with the shop for 15 hours, in return for a bike of your choice. It’ll help you tune it and outfit it correctly, and then it’s yours to keep!

Community Cycles holds many classes and workshops on bike maintenance, and it’s also just a good all-around place for cheap parts and advice.

Basically, with the weather this nice and gas this expensive, you have no excuse not to ride your bike everywhere under the sun.

And besides, fixing your own bike makes you feel cool and hardcore! So take a couple minutes over spring break and just get it done, lazy pants.

Vivian Underhill is an environmental sciences major at CU and writes about being cheap once a week for the Colorado Daily.