Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The problem of the bike

Set up for touring. On the Oregon coast in 2010; my ride is in back.

CAUTION: This is a journey that goes well past the sarcastic barriers of Evo..

It began when I was a teenager with the realization that I could take apart a bicycle then put it back together and it still worked. It worked as well as it had before I had taken it apart. Actually it worked better because I had cleaned the parts and put in fresh grease. After I saw the jumbled pile of seemingly lost bicycle parts that had been a bicycle a few hours earlier sitting on my dad's garage floor I felt a momentary sense of panic. Then I managed to put those parts back into a working bike.


I suddenly felt a kind of omnipotence as I realized I had the power to transform that array of parts into a machine, a transportation tool, a working bicycle. I was hooked.


As I grew older my interest in bicycles was superseded by girls and music and then high school and college sports. I rode a bike for transportation in high school and college. The bike was little more than a tool during that time. After college somehow I no longer had a bicycle. I can't tell you what happened to it. I have had an emotional relationship with every bike I have owned so I know I wouldn't have just let it slip away. The relationship may or may not have been love, it was at a minimum; respect.


I did not grow up poor, but like many kids I always wanted more than I had. This led to my becoming "handy" at fixing, upgrading and making things work beyond their "relevant range." As if I had grown up in the depression, I also kept old parts "just in case." I dabbled in a variety of mechanical avenues that broadened my skills. My father bought a new dishwasher and when they told him installation was not included in the base price, he declared, "my son will do it." That weekend I learned that the fuse that controls the kitchen lights is not the same as the one that shuts off the power to the appliances.


Before long my world came to include children that all too soon grew into adults. The face I look at in the mirror acquired lines that were earned with years of joy as well as pain. Bicycles came and went. These bikes belonged to others in my family. When it was my turn to recall the freedom of riding, I rekindled not just the child in me as I rode, but my chance to again be a deity with the ability to work on and even create machines to serve their purpose.


I had raced a BMX bike when I was a kid and then competed in track and cross country in high school and college followed by a smattering of distance races after college. I eventually returned to bike racing as a forty five year old master. As far as racing went I was forty five years old, but I was no master. I soon was tweaking bikes to better meet their assigned objectives. I worked to make my bikes lighter or faster or sturdier depending on the bike and the purpose for which each machine was destined.


My racing career is about as undistinguished as one can imagine. I am a rather unremarkable man with minor successes and major shortcomings like everyone else. Compromise has come to rule my life and I seek to strike a balance that my heart and mind can both accept.


I have learned to appreciate quality wherever I can find it. I find in the problem of the bicycle, a unique opportunity to create something of quality; something perfect. My physical conditioning will never be perfect. I have made mistakes in life that can never be put right. I have let people down and sold my soul when it seemed there was no other choice. I can, however, assemble a bicycle that is perfectly fit for purpose.


When my human failings are bubbling over I often descend into my garage and with my dirty hands make a good bike better, or create a new ride from an assortment of "just in case" parts. It is this ability to be God-like in creating something perfect from an apparent chaos of parts that allows me to set aside my shortcomings if but for a moment. It may be my need to have a portion of authorship in my bikes that makes the thought of buying a new bike that you could just swing a leg over and ride away almost inconceivable in my mind. It may be I think myself unworthy, or the thought of just buying a complete new bike simply sounds too easy.


I see cyclocross races as a set of complex problems with many more variables than a road race. If you have a spare week, feel free to study up on cyclocross tire choices and be prepared to discuss it next week during the "Coffee and Lies" portion of our team ride. Oh, and regarding the subject of cyclocross brakes; you had better bring your "A" game if you want to engage in a dialogue on that subject.


As a racer and bike geek I thrive on working solutions to these problems. As a parent, husband, employee, citizen and human I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the challenges I face. Perhaps the simple truth is the only difference is that the bike problems are easier to solve. In a world that is becoming increasingly challenging, maybe that isn't all bad. We can all use some wins.


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