If I was actually graded on my performance in bike maintenance class I would never have signed up. Mainly because I would fail. The truth is, I’m not good at getting my hands greasy. I don’t like the feeling. I only do it because it’s the right thing to do. Plus, I kind of sucked at physics in high school. While it’s not as though we are exploring the concept of anti-matter or the bending of time and space in The Bike Kitchen, altering the tension of my bike cables may as well be the same thing.
After tinkering with the rear parallelogram pretending like I really understood why I was moving the metal thingie from left to right, it brought me back to seventh grade shop class when my instructor came over to my station and shook his head at the mess that was my lego bridge and announced: my 8 year-old does a better job. Any dream I had of becoming a civil or mechanical engineer died right there on that work bench.
Luckily, my instructor Alex has much more patience for my ineptitude. After seeing me struggle and wearing the why-are-we-doing-this face, he informed me when it was secured in the proper spot, then clamped it himself while I stood back and nodded. As he made the final adjustments another volunteer turned to me and said a bit too cheerfully “You did it!” I laughed and responded. “No, he did it. I watched.” Now, I may be helpless. I may never fully grasp the concept of cable tension. But there is no sense being a liar as well.
And although I didn’t actually do all the work myself, it doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything. The second part of the class we discussed chain upkeep. Now that is some knowledge I will actually use. For instance, just because you spot some rust on the chain it doesn’t mean it’s toast. It just needs a little love and care to bring it back to life. And like people, chains physically change over time. They stretch. And there is no fix for that. Finally, you get out of your bike what you put into it.
I realized this while examining my chain. I don’t keep it clean. I don’t lubricate it. And then I wonder why it’s noisy. In short, I was not listening to what my bike was telling me. I was neglecting it and hoping for the best. This is not the best strategy for what has become my primary mode of transportation.
After learning how to properly clean the chain, there was something rather satisfying about tipping the grease onto its end and watching tiny beads nourish the steel. To thread it through the sprocket and see it start to glisten slightly. On the ride home I heard nothing. Or almost nothing. Just the cars beyond the parkway and the wind whipping across my jacket. And for a few minutes it was just me and my little pink Schwinn together under the stars, spinning our way home in the dark.