Friday, September 29, 2017

Zen & The Art of Letting a $#@%ing PROFESSIONAL Do The Job

In 1986 I read Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

It changed my life.
"Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in this whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption."

It's overstatement to say I wish I'd never read that passage -- but only just.

Replacing tires and rear sprocket, with the help of a friend
and a piece of firewood. Note next victim, just off to the right.

I was smart enough to know I hadn't the "gumption" to fix a motorcycle. But, c'mon -- everyone should be able to fix a bicycle. No?


A short, and not-at-all-comprehensive, list of bicycle repair and maintenance jobs I have botched over the years:

  • Replacing brake cables
  • Replacing brake pads
  • Replacing derailleur cables
  • Replacing chain
  • Adjusting rear derailleur
  • Wheel truing

But the real pièce de résistance -- the King Of All Botched Repairs -- was disassembling and repacking of the bottom bracket.
How difficult could this be?
This was a personal "fail" on so many levels, I hardly know where to start. Perhaps most significantly, it was a job that didn't even need doing to begin with. Note to erstwhile bicycle mechanics -- George Mallory's motivation for climbing Everest does not apply to plumbing the bottom bracket mysteries of your $2,000 bicycle.

Long story short: for the next two decades the bottom bracket of my expensive bicycle was indeed a legitimate focus for the pros, because I had forced the bearing cups into the wrong mounts. "Huh. The bottom bracket is . . . well, it's not quite stripped, but it's pretty close," was a refrain I heard again and again.

Leave the bottom bracket alone, rookie -- I learned that lesson, alright. And beyond patching a flat and cleaning the chain, I pretty much left all the other adjustments to the pros. But then YouTube came along and made little jobs like adjusting the rear derailleur look so easy. Surely anyone can do that -- no?


Alright, let's (gurgle) shift gears, shall we?
Bike, meet Mike.
I met Mike Gorman last Easter at choir practise. He has a bike shop just a few miles down the road from me. When I first visited it, the experience was . . . I'm tempted to say "a gentle rebuke," but that's not quite right. Let's go with: a gentle reassurance that it can all be done the way it ought to be done.

Yesterday I took my rear wheel to him. He trued it in less than a minute. Then he pointed out where it was falling apart. "It should stay true for another week. Bring it back then and I'll use the spokes on a new rim."

I try not to indulge in "If I could go back in time" thinking, but I do wish I'd known of Spokes For Folks back when I made this purchase. Or, if I'm going to be that fanciful anyway, back when I made this purchase and proceeded to Zen-it-up with one ruinous "repair" after the next. Gorman's shop -- and his version of customer service -- is as close the Platonic Ideal as it gets on this plain.


paul bowman said...

I knew a few Steely Dan tunes, at least. As for Zen, at most I’ve picked it up and glanced over the cover in a library or a used bookstore a couple of times, since whenever I first became aware of it (about the time you read it, chances are — was still in high school anyway, I feel pretty sure).

Darrell Reimer said...

It's the tunes that are important. Zen is a book that typically penetrates the younger consciousness. Age doesn't necessarily negate its insights, but a little of Donald and Walter's collective smirk keeps said insights from being too revelatory.

Darrell Reimer said...

To wit.

paul bowman said...

Ha, nice!

Working up (or fumbling along) to some of this territory in the recent posts. You’re fanning here the bit of flame I’ve got lit right now, as I guess you recognize.

Darrell Reimer said...

Huzzah! I hope there's more where that came from (from both of us).