There is a certain danger in rebuilding a rear wheel while listening to foodie cooking shows on National Public Radio. Our friend Nicholas Carman, of Gypsy by Trade, is headed for Europe and planning, apparently, to make his journey as much about eating (or at least cooking), as about cycling. A visit to his pages will reveal some sound considerations concerning equipment and planning but what got his reader's blood pumping was cookware, discussion about the best pot for camp cooking when traveling by bicycle.
I have had some odd problem, lately, with a knock or thump or, well, a pulsing somewhere in my rear wheel and a cursory examination revealed nothing of note, which of course led by natural processes to me doing one of my favorite things: drinking beer and rum and taking my bicycle apart on a rainy Sunday afternoon, cleaning and scrubbing and fondling the various parts and handling them and rubbing them to a warm glow and yes, also finding out what is wrong; why there is something happening there, something that I am willing to spend all day, if need be, figuring out and fixing.
A Hard Rain
While I do this work I can hear the rumble of thunder in the far distance. This is Florida and storms are a welcome part of summer, they drench and nourish and provide exquisite drama to a simple cyclist who is having fun taking a rear wheel apart, working out on the trailer porch under a darkening sky. I have one of those hotly brilliant halogen work lights clamped overhead and it gives off heat. It makes me sweat and I have my ritual rags nearby, I am wearing my marvelously ill-favored mechanic's shirt and listening to NPR, listening to some lady talk about a dish she learned in Belgium. The dish is called “savage rabbit with white beans” and I giggle like a loon and take a double shot of rum chased with beer. The bearings are removed, now, sitting in greasy glory on the bench and this halogen lamp is so intense that it is melting the tired grease from the little steel balls and I wipe my forehead with the clean, damp face towel.
The other rags are the clean dry polishing towel and the oil-soaked lubing towel and the dirty greasy gritty cleaning towel. This is a ritual process, and this shirt, these rags and the happy, calm, joyous voices on the radio are all part of the ritual. There is safety in ritual; I respect ritual as a way of not making mistakes. I have removed the cassette and placed it in a shallow bowl that holds lighter fluid, the kind you use to fire up the grill. I use whatever solvent I have. I have pulled the axle and cones, setting them aside on the towel I have placed on the bench in a kind of axonometric view of how they go back together. I have written about this before, I realize, but I am doing it again and the ritual must be respected.
Barbecue Is Important
Now the radio people are discussing barbecue and rubs and sauces and this is something I am very interested in, ribs are important. I am cleaning the interior parts of my rear wheel and having a blast and the way they talk about food and the process, the ritual of cooking, is very sensuous, pornographic almost, and doing this work on my bicycle is very much the same thing; a kind of love-making. My bicycle is my only transportation these days. While I have had many cars and trucks that I was very fond of, an automobile is, ultimately, a pain in the ass. Automobiles come with a lot of baggage: insurance, registrations, expensive and increasingly esoteric repair processes; sometimes you have to explain yourself to police and I won't start about the price of gasoline.
Not so with a bicycle. Bicycles have all their parts exposed and are relatively easy to work on. Bicycles are personal, the owner is the engine and anyone who has spent any amount of time on a bicycle will have developed a very personal relationship with their machine. At least I have.
Yeah, there is going to be a storm, I can smell it now and the sky is dark and the thunder is getting closer and louder. I have moved inside and all the parts are cleaned and polished. Somehow I have lost two hub bearings. No big deal, I have a stash of bearings. The last time I packed the bearings I used too much grease and it made quite a mess. Not this time. Like a boozed-up brain surgeon, my hands are steady and there is sweat on my brow as I carefully replace the bearings in a light bed of lithium grease. This time I am a surgeon and doing it right. I am using extra-virgin olive oil as a pre-coat, all these parts are glistening in the powerful halogen light and the radio cooking shows are ending. I'm hungry now but the bicycle comes first. I could have been a chef, I think, or maybe even a brain surgeon. But my dad joined the Carpenter's Union in Ft. Lauderdale and so did I.
Here it is. You know it is going to be a kick-ass storm by the sound of the first rain drops. These first drops are big and fat and very wet and now the first crack of lightning blasts away close by and the thunder rattles the windows. Living in a trailer is pretty cool. I am almost outside most of the time; my little tin shack rattles and shakes with the wind and the rain, all the windows are open and the rain beats on the roof and the wheel is back together. Working on a bicycle is a lot like preparing a fine dish for the table. My bicycle is a savage rabbit and I am white beans. Working on a bicycle is not brain surgery, but it looks like it.
Nicholas and Lael will be in Europe soon and sending back reports of enviable cooking and eating and they will tell us about dream rides. Me, I'm slamming beers and polishing my bike. The chain has been cleaned with Simple Green and water and then soaked in olive oil in an old pan that I have heated on a low setting on the stove. This sauteed chain will be drained and further polished and will dry overnight.
There is magic in a storm; power and nourishment and manic joy. The bicycle is clean, now, ready and possessed itself of magic and power and potential. The odd problem turned out to be a spoke that had somehow worked itself loose from the nipple. I thought the thunk and pulsing was reminiscent of a broken spoke, but as I said, it didn't show in a cursory glance...it had to be loved, caressed; I had to cook up a cure.
Tomorrow we will ride.
Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Kitchen