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Zen and the Science of Mountain Bike Maintenance

“I only ride ’em, I don’t know what makes ’em work.” 

I know little of Zen other than it is a Buddhist meditation practice that does not involve shouting “serenity now.” I also know little of Mountain Bike Maintenance but using the “serenity now” technique I am I am learning the science of Mountain Bike Maintenance.

Now I’m sure that those that know more than me about mountain bikes will say that this is an art. But for me art is either something related to baseball or Navy ships that I hand on my wall, something beautiful that Judy produces or something that I hate and wonder just how the hell the artist got paid for it.  Of course none of these categories fit in the paradigm that I call the science of mountain bike maintenance.

I have ridden and destroyed bicycles for decades though until I moved to Emerald Isle I have had few places that I felt safe to ride the Mongoose E303 that I bought just before I deployed to Iraq.  My attitude with bicycles through most of my life was like Donald Sutherland’s character in the movie Kelly’s Heroes named “Oddball” who said in regard to work being done by his men on his tank “I only ride ’em, I don’t know what makes ’em work.”

I always had a habit of riding my bikes hard and though I learned to do a few rudimentary tasks I really had no clue what made them work. I remember doing an “Evil Knievil” jump over a wide construction ditch with my Schwinn Stingray which came up just short wiping out my bike and leaving me with a broken arm.  Then there was the 10 speed touring bike with dual headlights that my dad brought me back from Japan in 1972. That bike was a heavy duty warhorse that I used in games of bike to bike chicken against other neighborhood kids in Stockton California.  That bike was like the “Deathmobile” in Animal House, it was not aluminum but steel and its tires were heavier duty than most American bikes.  Those were good times, maintenance other than to patch flat tires was not a priority.  That bike got me through Junior High School but I gave it up like a broken down stead when I got my first car, a 1966 Buick LeSabre 400 with a 287 V-8 and 4 barrel carburetor.  I had a bike when I was a student at Cal State Northridge and nearly ran over Joni Erickson Tada as she motored about in her motorized wheelchair and nearly drove into a filming set of Dynasty to get almost up close and personal with Heather Locklear. Both were unintentional but a product of my rather reckless riding.  Once again maintenance was a secondary concern and I drive that 10 speed into the dirt as well.

The next time that I used a bicycle was when I was deployed to Würzburg Germany to support the Bosnia operation.  I had the use of a used 18 speed road bike which I would ride down the big hill from my apartment to the city center on almost every decent day for weather. I also took it on longer rides around the countryside.  But that was pretty much the last time that I rode a bike until this year. I bought the Mongoose in 2006 as I was recovering from an IT Band injury while overtraining for the Marine Corps Marathon having just completed the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half-Marathon.  Back then I was even more stupid than I am now and would run 12-20 miles 4-5 times a week.  It was great for the endorphin rush but hell on my legs.  Unfortunately there were no interesting places to ride in Virginia Beach unless I wanted to pack my bike on my car to get to the Oceanfront or a rural area.  I hate being bored and feeling like a target for any typical Hampton Roads driver.

So finally I get stationed at Camp LeJeune and bring down my nearly new bike, 5 years old but no wear and tear.  I got it tuned up and then started to ride around the roads and trails near the Island Hermitage which is rapidly becoming the Island Heritage of the Church of Baseball.  I have permission of my land lady to paint outfield walls in the living room to match the baseball décor.  Since I plan to keep it as a place of refuge for Judy and I whenever I am stationed back in Virginia Beach I should not have to paint over it for a while.  But I digress….

I finally have a place where I enjoy riding again even a couple of places to go off road and actually use the bike as it was intended to be used.  I also discovered that hard riding also requires maintenance and that maintenance on a mountain bike is a lot more intensive than the bikes that I rode in times past. It is also a lot more expensive to have done by a bike store so I am learning the science of mountain bike maintenance.  The first thing I had happen was a flat rear tire which occurred about a mile into a ride. I had to walk the bike back because I did not have a hand pump and when I tried to fill it at a gas station the tire blew.  The next chance I got I went and purchased a heavy duty inner tube as well as a Trinitarian Allen Wrench, a hand pump to keep with the bike and lights since I tend to ride near dusk in order to get pictures of sunsets and wildlife.

I discovered something. I had to remove the brake pads to change the rear tire. It wasn’t enough to have to take the damned chain off but I had to take the brakes off to get the tire off. That brought me some measure of discontent but I persevered I got the tire off.  I also got some tire levers to help me with getting the very heavy tire off the rim. Back in my previous life when I rode bikes changing a tire was a snap, the tires were thin and came off without difficulty.  Well if you haven’t ridden one a the walls of a mountain bike’s tires are fricking thick and harder than hell to get off the bike, I even broke one of the damned levers trying to get the tire off. But I was successful despite a number of “serenity now” moments. I replaced the inner tube and put the tire back on the bike. I adjusted the chain and put the brake pads on. I thought that I had cracked the code. Sure I was covered in grease and sweaty but I had done it, or so I thought.  I had no idea that the damned tension on the brakes had to be reset.

So I went to the internet for a “Google how too” session. The sites that I found were no help and I had to travel to Virginia the next day so I said the hell with it. When I returned this week I stopped by the bike shop and asked for a demo of how to fix the damned thing so I could get back on the road.  The man at the shop demonstrated on a bike and I locked the information into my brain housing unit.  I ended up having to leave work early today because I have not slept more than three hours in the past three days. After crashing at home I got up, had dinner and decided to do the brake adjustment which went surprisingly well. I then took the bike out for a ride in the evening, got a couple of nice pictures and came home to watch baseball and relax. Hopefully I will sleep well tonight. I noticed that on nights where I got a ride in that I slept better so hopefully that continues.  I will need to do some more adjustments on the bike to get it where I want but I think I am beginning to crack the code on the science of mountain bike maintenance.  So long as it does not rain tomorrow evening I will do the adjustments and take another ride.

So until tomorrow, have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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