To get on the waiting list, it's best to go directly to the shop, deposit in hand. Your bike should already be in good repair, since the object of the course is familiarization, not parts replacement. Still, with complete in-store tune-ups going for $120, the value of a class that gets you even partway there seems like a good deal.
Over at San Francisco Cyclery in the Upper Haight, shop owner Heather Bixler, herself a former Freewheel instructor, is pioneering a schedule of classes with an emphasis on specialization. After a free class in basic maintenance, participants have the option to take one or all of a series of successive one-hour, $15 classes focusing on one component at a time: brakes, shifters, bearings, and wheels. Sometimes an additional class in roadside repair is offered, and graduates of all of the above may take a final class in complete tune-ups. Not coincidentally, the Cyclery's female-facilitated workshops attract many women, though the classes are open to everyone. The emphasis is "to really get your hands dirty," Bixler says, though, as with Freewheel, your cycle should be in working order prior to the course. Classes range in size from five to six people and are normally held on Wednesdays or Thursdays. A $15 deposit is required to hold your space (except for the free class), and booking is best done over the phone.
While Pedal Revolution in the Mission District has a community membership workbench plus occasional free seminars on a variety of repair topics, the nearby Bike Kitchen offers sliding-scale courses with a bit more regularity. I drop in on a wheel-building class ($30–$60 plus parts purchase) and watch as five newly threaded wheels are tried and trued. Instructor Brian Cavagnolo circulates while his students, including a former bike messenger and an editorial intern from a local luxury magazine, squint intently at their trueing stands, spinning their wheels. I've been frustrated by the Bike Kitchen in the past when trying to get on the repair class waiting list, but Cavagnolo seems optimistic that this will be less of an issue after its big move from the Mission Village Market to Mission at Ninth Street. (The grand opening is Aug. 19.)
"It's a smaller space," explains Cavagnolo. "So we're going to have to be more organized." Due to be streamlined is the build-a-bike program, which allows one to earn bike parts through volunteer labor and use Bike Kitchen tools to construct a working two-wheeler. In 2005, the volunteer-run Bike Kitchen was awarded a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Golden Wheel award for its contributions to bicycle culture in the city, and the newbie wheel builders seem pleased with the experience they're gaining.
"I took a wheel-building class [in Berkeley]," the magazine intern says, "and it was totally useless. I watched a guy build a wheel." He rotates his self-made wheel with satisfaction. It hisses against the fork of the wheel-tuning stand as he reaches over to tighten another spoke. Cavagnolo recommends keeping abreast of class schedules via the SFBC newsletter or by visiting the Bike Kitchen Web site and e-mailing email@example.com to get on the waiting list.
My survey at an end, I ride my still-recalcitrant yet soon-to-be-purring steed home, my head spinning like a newly tuned wheel. I stop by Needles and Pens and pick up "A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance," a slim but informative bike zine compiled in Portland. With clearly labeled diagrams of various bike parts, some simple repair methods, and the tools I'll need to get started, I already feel one step closer to bicycle demystification. Now all I have to do is sign up for my first repair class ... and you folks with those screeching brakes and front-mounted red blinkies should probably consider doing the same.