Wednesday, September 21

Simplicity is Biketopia

There was a time in my life I was enthralled by all things with engines. I wanted a Mustang with a 302 in it. I was envious of people with nice (fast) cars. Secretly, though only superficially, I wanted to be a mechanic. I fantasized about it. I waxed nostalgic in smelly garages with oil stains on the floors.

I didn't see myself as being mechanically inclined even though I scored high in mechanical aptitude on the ASVAB. I scored high enough that I had to beat the recruiters away for quite a few years after high school. For years I didn't believe my own instincts regarding mechanical things. I've started listening much more closely to those instincts.

In retrospect I guess I have always been somewhat mechanically inclined. But there's just been something about cars that has intimidated me. My theory is that there has always been too much at stake. When I was younger I relied heavily on my cars and I could never afford to mess something up. I never had money to sink into a car and being mostly inexperienced in working on them I just didn't have the confidence to dive under the hood.

As I grew older and stopped being in love with cars they started to become onerous to own. When all I wanted was something reliable to get me where I needed to go any hiccup in the operation of my car sucked money out of my pocket and put unwanted stress into my life. I never had the time, patience or cash to "tinker" with cars as an adult.

Enter the bicycle into my life.

When I gave up our second car and committed to being a full time bicycle commuter I realized I would need to become adept at maintaining my own bike. Not only would paying a bike shop to do simple repairs and adjustments be unnecessarily costly, but I already knew enough to realize I could learn what I needed to know and just save myself the time, hassle and money that would be involved by dragging a bike mechanic into the mix.

Delving into bike mechanics has been mostly rewarding. I've had a few stressed out moments, not knowing what to do and not knowing how I would get myself out of the pickle I'd wrenched myself into, but for the most part I've learned to do much more than I expected I would.

I can adjust derailers, brakes and disc brakes. I stripped and rebuilt a bike and added an Xtracycle extension. So I've never cut a stem and installed a headset. So I've never built a wheel. Those things will come with time.

I've found that I actually enjoy working on bikes. Even when I get stressed out by the prospect of a repair I cannot complete, I find therapy in wrenching my own bikes that I don't find in many other activities.

The cycling life is sublime. I love being able to finish up a repair on the bike stand, ease it to the ground, pedal off to the store, glide past the parking lot and up to the bike rack. Throw a u-lock around everything, stroll in the store and back out and return home in about the same time it would take me to find my keys, drive to the store, find a parking spot, walk halfway across the parking lot, amble aroudn the store and return.

Add the simplicity of maintenance and repair to the simplicity of riding and storing a bike and I guess you have it in a nutshell.Simplicity is bliss.


  1. My husband grew up in a garage and has a handle on how to fix or maintain the basic needs of the cars, but I haven't a clue how to tackle any of that. I've always found autos intimidating too. Bikes are a different story. Although I have a lot to learn, I've come a long way. Plus, it's something the two of us can do together. Its just another reason why bicycles are rewarding.

    Love that mailbox, by the way. Is that yours?

  2. Alas, no, but its on my wife's commute to school. The guy always has a lot of bikes around his yard and he built "Easy Rider's" chopper bike.

    My first car had a blown motor so me and my dad put a rebuilt motor in it. It was mostly frustrating, but it gave me the desire to work on cars and learn more about them.

    I never pursued it much beyond that though. Every time I had to work on a car I ended up frustrated and convinced I had no mechanical aptitude. But I think I just didn't get the feedback I needed.

  3. I know this wasn't your intention, but talking about being intimidated by mechanics brought to mind for me how so many females are intimidated by working on their bike. While I'm not intimidated by it, I am certainly not at all mechanically-inclined, and am fairly easily frustrated when I can't figure things out, or when something unexpected goes wrong. I have to say though, it's nice to have a cohabitant who is patient and willing to show me (multiple times) how to do something. It's great that you have the patience to work these things out on your own! I hope to get there someday. :o)

  4. I would hope that learning how to fix bikes would be very empowering to women. I guess I could/should have emphasized that it wasn't until I started working on bikes that I found I do have an aptitude for it. And now looking back I can see that if I had plunged elbows deep into an engine compartment I would probably have had more successes than failures.

    My wife often jokes that boys must go to a secret "Boys' School" to learn all of this stuff. And while its our running inside joke, I think the reality is that even for guys there can still be an inhibition to dive in without the support/influence of the gang. We function best in a pack mentality. I use "best" loosely.