Friday, February 22, 2008

Fixing Sh*t up

As far as maintenance went, February was turning out to be a shitty month.

All three of the operational bikes I owned had given me problems, some of which weren’t even my fault. True, any regular rider will tell you a certain level of upkeep is necessary for every bike – it just comes with the territory. Still, for all three bikes to require immediate attention practically at the same time…I began to wonder if someone had put water on the Mogwai living in the garage and then fed the clones after 10pm…

Nah, it had to be the weather.

It was in the rain that the Benotto (recently restored) had decided to tell me its' stem was faulty; and it was just beginning to sprinkle when the rusty lavender Schwinn Townie (my “C” bike) dropped a brake pad in the middle of the street leaving me with only my front brakes and feet to stop; and as for the Trek, though not in the rain, it found just the right moment to get a flat one mile from a bus stop I was supposed to catch in ten minutes.

I could also always blame the fact that the motley assortment of bikes I owned had one thing in common – they were all hand-me-downs, all of which, were at least 10 years old.

Nah, I have to be honest here. At least half the problems came back to me.

For instance, I could have predicted that the patched up tube on the Trek was going to go flat again. After all, I’d seen the pinch of tube wedged in between the tire and wheel while re-inflating it, and had done my best to push it back in. This is a common mistake folks make when replacing a tube – If even a small bit of it gets caught between the metal rim and the tire, the pressure when inflated will more than likely cause a flat.

In my case though, the patch was right by the valve, and the valve is the least malleable section of a tube. Instead of pulling the tire off and starting over, which can be a royal pain in the arse, I decided to inflate it fully and see if it lost air over night; if it didn’t, I figured it would be safe to ride. I was wrong.

Replacing the Benotto’s stem was a whole other matter that could be surmised as finding the stem with just the right amount of length and angle, tearing off the handle bar tape, loosening the brake handles, finding out the stem you picked didn’t fit the handle bars already on the bike, dropping screws and bolts here and there, getting another set of handle bars and trying to fit them over the new stem, then realizing the stem you picked wasn’t good for your wrists, dropping more screws and not being sure if you picked up the right ones off the ground, then starting the whole process over while trying not to cry.

With two bikes temporarily down, I was left with the Townie – The bike I felt the least safe riding long distances on.

Why I’d picked this one up off Freecycle in the first place was for precisely the instances already described. If you don’t own a car, and get around mainly via bike, then it never hurts to have more than one. But the Townie was mainly for leisure riding, cruising through the neighborhood, trips to the video store, coffee shops - 2 miles round trip max. The only advantage of taking it through the rain 4.5 miles to work was it had fenders – everything else was suspect. It squeaks, it’s heavy, the gears can barely handle hills. And now, as I’ve learned, its brakes don’t handle much stress either. Luckily, when the brake pad fell off, it was AFTER I’d cruised down a hill and was back on level ground.

How I managed to get home with a bag of groceries on my back in the rain minus a brake pad in the dark down multiple hills is another story. Right now, I need to go change a flat…and kill a few gremlins.

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