Tool Academy, Parts II and III

I've been derelict in my blogging responsibilities (contradiction in terms?) with regard to reporting my triumphs and tragedies in learning basic bike maintenance (Part I here) I've had two more two hour sessions since I last wrote and for the sake of brevity and with full-awareness that maybe I don't remember every little thing that happened, I'm going to combine my scattershot memories into one post. I don't take notes or anything (this might be a problem if I try to actually do any bike repair at some point, but I guess why they give us a book. And that book sure looks authoritative. The author has a mustache and history's proven that you can always trust a guy with a mustache. I mean, outside of Germany. And Russia. And Canada.), but I'll try to do my best to recall what we covered and how I managed to either mislearn it, misapply it or otherwise break my bike in the course of "fixing" it.
Session 2, I arrived late and I might have missed how to true your tires. So, that sucks. What didn't suck, however, is that we didn't do anything with our tools at all for the entire class. Instead, we watched the instructor (instructor is the jargon we use at work when we don't know the exact or preferred title of the person teaching something. It gets you around the "professor" and "doctor" politics of the ivory tower), take apart some cranksets and look at some bottom brackets. We learned about taking off pedals (use a big wrench and torque) and we talked about threading- for some reason I either didn't get or can't recall, some parts on or around the bottom bracket have reverse-threading and you might strip them if you assume that everything just goes the normal way. I'm sure that's a specific enough recollection to help me). We (and by we, I mean he) then removed the crankset and, I don't know, did something with a spindle and got to the bottom bracket itself, with has ball bearings inside. Why would you have to do this? I don't really know. I remember that you can replace the bottom bracket (which has ball bearings inside) and that might be useful in the guise of having your pedals go...? If bicycle maintenance were a turducken, this level of involvement would be the chicken level. I content myself with turkey. Turkey skin, even.
What else did we talk about? Um, losing fingers definitely came up. I believe that if you're trying to fix your rotor on disk brakes you should be careful because you could lose a finger or two in so doing. I learned that the slope of the threading on pedals can be used to determine whether your holding a right or left pedal. Sometimes, the L or R etched into the pedal will also help that determination, but this is like Boy Scouts learning how to make fire from sticks (that description should clearly indicate that I was never a Boy Scout) rather than using a lighter or matches. Probably making that fire to cook a turducken. Aside alert: Yesterday, outside of the Giant on Washington Boulevard, I saw three definitely-not-Girl-Scouts-unless-they've-considerably-redefined-the-word-girl peddling cookies. There was nary a cherubic youngster in sight. How are they supposed to learn their lessons about cartelism if they're not even selling their own damn cookies? Another thing- I might be willing to shell out for cash for some Thin Mints from a 9 year old, but I can buy cookies from dowdy old ladies in the store- I don't need to do it on the sidewalk.
So, that was Week II. Week III was just this past Thursday and I probably remember it a little better. I got to this class not on time, but before it really started. This was the first class with the Surly and not that this really affected me or my attitude towards bike repair in any significant way, it did feel slightly different since I was no longer playing with the house money of a bike that you're about to sell and instead have some real skin in the game (when it comes to poker metaphors, I'm all in!) since this is a brand new bike, just assembled and tuned by the shop, and one that I'd rather not break so early in its tenure. So, this week was cables (brake and derailer- they're different!) and then futzing with the derailers themselves. With this lesson, as with most things we talk about in class, I had not only mechanical and dexterity issues, but also epistemic ones- in what circumstances would one replace a cable? In the circumstance that you remove it and see that it's broken. And why would you remove a cable? Because you're checking if it's broken. And what if you never check? Then, I guess, you never know that it's broken and then you'd never remove it to replace it. I don't know. I lack the full understanding of the "why" that underpins the majority of the reasons we would repair the bike. I suppose it's either because we know through feel or through sight that something isn't working correctly, but I'm not totally convinced that I yet have the ability to diagnose the patient, much less treat him. I am not Bicycle House, M.D.
At some point during the class, I think I regressed back to a fifth grade version of myself, a really dorky kid who couldn't help but shout out the answers that everyone else knows (and you know that everyone else knows but isn't saying) driven forward in the quest a small scrap of adulation or acknowledgement that I was both paying attention and capable of making small deductive leaps. In this form, it was with the limit screws, which I think I kept calling the delimiters, incorrectly. There are two limit screws on the derailer. You tighten or loosen them to adjust how far out or in the derailer cage sits with regard to the chain. The cage pushes the chain from one sprocket to the other when you shift. Your cage can be screwed up a few ways- if it lets your chain go outside of the biggest sprocket, it's too loose and that's bad. If your cage is too tight, it won't let your chain move from small ring to big one and that's bad. If your cage allows you to shift too much on the inside-side (technical terms), then your chain could fall off the smaller ring and that would be bad. Essentially, the limit screws let you determine how far your cage will move. One screw deals with outer limits and one with inner limits. So, when asked, "which one would you tighten if you wanted to make sure the outer limit isn't too far out?" I said the outer limit screw, or perhaps more accurately, the "outer delimiter". It showed that I was learn-ding.
I started messing around with my own limit screws, because it looked like maybe they needed adjustment. I turned some screws, because it was obvious I had the conceptual framework necessary to make prudent decisions. I turned my pedal and the chain came completely off the outer front chainring. Fail.
I sought help, as I normally do, and the instructor looked over my shoulder as I fixed my own self-made problem. I was really paranoid that I didn't fix my own problem and that I maybe only temporarily forestalled disaster, but he seemed relatively content that I managed to adjust the screws correctly to ensure that no further SNAFUs would befall me.
Later in the class, we learned about brakes and brake replacement. There is real value in this and I feel confident enough that I will attempt to replace my own brake pads next time. I will do this outside of a bike shop, so when I screw it up, I won't have far to go for remediation.
Though I once again suffered the indignity of bike maintenance failure, I had a tiny revelation about bicycles that I feel is generally instructive. Every little thing on your bike, each screw, spring and rivet, is purpose-built and has some assigned function. No matter how inconsequential it looks, it's probably there for a reason and you probably should fuck around it with it if you don't know what it does. Now, admittedly, there's a big difference between knowing what something does and what it's ideal function is and having the wherewithal to actually adjust it for your bike's betterment. But, if nothing else, this revelation was a nice reminder that machines are useful to people because people have thought things through, and deeply, to make them that way. And those very same people have passed down this knowledge and expertise to others and those others have achieved gainful employment in bicycle repair shops to guarantee that those of us who lack both mechanical aptitude and the good sense to leave well enough along will always have a place to bring the machines that we've broken through our ignorance and over-valued sense of self. And that's what America is all about. I will now chant USA over and over by myself and expect you to do the same.

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