Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Some years ago, when I was making rent with a wrench, a woman came into the shop with a Holdsworth made from Reynolds 531. She had decided it was time for a tune-up. The bike needed a tune-up the way the starving need a cup of water. While the frame seemed to be in solid shape, the wheels were toast and the front derailleur, well, the bike had been ridden cross-geared for so long the chain had worn through all but a small span of the Nuovo Record front derailleur cage which was by this time cellophane-thin.
I was amazed and felt badly for her. Didn’t she ever hear that nasty sound of the chain grinding material off the cage?
“What sound?” she responded.
I am bewildered when I meet someone who really doesn’t seem to notice the sound an untrimmed derailleur makes. While I don’t think everyone needs to be able to maitain a bicycle, it makes sense to me that a basic awareness of the bicycle’s operation can make someone a better rider and more proactive bike shop customer, therefore helping ensure the bike lasts longer.
She didn’t seem to mind the wear to the derailleur and considered it all just the cost of having a bike. She was so relaxed about the worn-out parts and the cost of the overhaul I found myself admiring her attitude.
Years of working on bikes have made me aware of every sound my bikes make. From the tk-tk-tk of an untrimmed derailleur to the ting-ting-ting of a derailleur cage on spokes, I usually know the cause of a sound the moment I hear it.
Usually. The dreaded creak can elude even veteran wrenches from time to time. And for those of us who do our own maintenance, a creak is an embarrassment. It is the bicycle talking back, the baby crying for food, the public spat you wish could have unfolded at home.
I love the sounds a bicycle makes. The seamless sound of a chain running over a chainring and cog along a perfect chainline brings me peace. Conversely, the sound of a too-tight chain on a fixed-gear bicycle is the rising screech of a catfight. And the sound of a disc wheel on asphalt is the sound of speed itself, of inevitability. The click of a quick downshift and flawless chain movement is order itself, the way the world should always work.
But that creak. When I hear a creak I pray for the noise of the pack, for the whitewash sound of 70 other bicycles to drown out my problem child. That sound tells me I’ve been inattentive, lazy. And now my bicycle is punishing me for my neglect.
If only it were always that simple. I’ve disassembled by bicycle’s entire drivetrain and reassembled it with fresh grease and Teflon tape only to have the creak return upon exiting the driveway.
Today’s bike require greater care to assemble and maintain than those we rode 20 years ago. That’s no newsflash, but the upshot is. Maintain a bike is like training now. It requires regular attention, care, the vigilance we show our bodies.