No, you're not the only ones to shake your heads with incredulity. My bike class compatriots at The Bike House were surprised as well. It's true: I have ridden well over 10,000 miles at this point and only this weekend replaced my brake pads for the first time. Til about 48 hours ago, I'd always taken Ollie to a bike shop, fearing some small but disastrous installation error might lead to brake failure and the subsequent careening down a hill through a busy intersection toward my own imminent death as I smashed, pancake-style, into something made of steel and/or cement. (Sorry, dad, I should've probably warned you to put down your cup of coffee before reading this post.)
A couple of months ago, I'd noticed I had to grip the brake levers pretty tightly to get the brakes to make contact on the wheel. I thought I needed to replace the pads, and after purchasing a new set over at The Bicycle Space one afternoon I tried to cajole my bike-savvy gentleman friend into helping me install them. He pointed out that I had plenty of brake pad surface left, and that I could simply tighten the cable and wait on installing new pads. So I did. Because of course there is way less room for error tightening a brake cable than installing a slip-in brake pad...? I assure you it made sense at the time. And I did it all on my own a few days later. But at the first bike-mechanics-in-training class over at Annie's Hardware earlier this month, instructors Carol and Faye pointed out that I would do well to install some new rear brake pads.
At least I already had the new brake pads handy. Our second class finished up after I removed Ollie's old brake pads but before I spilled the various flat, concave, and convex washers all over the pavement in front of the hardware store. But with some help from a friendly volunteer mechanic, and some reworking of the brake cable once more (this time to loosen it), Ollie and I biked home with fresh new brakes. Ahhh. (See, dad? A happy ending!)
I'm not saying I'm an expert now -- chain cleaning and tire patching will remain my milieu for awhile yet, I suspect -- but should you have any lingering fears about fixing your bike, fear not. For free help with brake installation, cable and derailleur adjustments, wheel truing, and more, head on down to The Bike House: at Annie's Hardware in Petworth on Saturdays from 12-3 or, once the Bloomingdale farmers' market starts up next month, in front of Big Bear Cafe in Bloomingdale on Sundays from 11-1.