Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

“Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships.” From Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance

Biking is a “spiritual mountain” to me, but I’m not content, as the quote above contends, to merely stand in the sight of that mountain. I understand the importance of listening to others who’ve been there to learn how I might avoid some of the hardships. It occurred to me while riding the last leg of the Butler-Freeport Trail alone last week – having ridden six miles more than I planned and being very hungry but having no food with me and still nine miles from my car when I ran over a rock that I thought punctured my tire but didn’t – that perhaps…perhaps…I should learn something about bike maintenance.

Enter Lori and Kyle.

Lori (whom many of you know from Finding Radiance) is an avid biker and is my go-to guru with all things biking. I asked her recently what she takes along with her when she rides and how I might go about seeking advice on bicycle maintenance.

Her answer:

“First off, if you are by yourself the one thing you should do is tell someone where you are going – or at least close to the general vicinity. (Note from Lynn: I always text a friend or my daughter when I start and let them know my ETA from the trailhead back to the Jeep. They know if they don’t hear from me within 20 minutes of that ETA to come find me.)

“I have a bike bag on the back of my bike. I always take:

“Cell phone; spare tube; small hand pump (or CO2 cartridge inflaters); tire lifters (small plastic wedges to remove tires); something like hard candy in case I am out too long; water. For long rides, I also include: a bike lock; food; sunscreen; anti-chafing cream; hand sanitizer; chain lube.

“I would also practice taking off your tire at home so that if it happens in the field, it won’t be the first time. Most bike shops will have free classes on tire changing and maintenance, so definitely check them out!

“I would also recommend a book called Every Woman’s Guide toCycling. See if your library can get it for you.”

I Googled bike shops in my area and found Michael’s Cycles: “Independent shop on the outskirts of town… We are a small, family-run business that treats everyone to courteous service. One of the biggest complaints we hear about bike shops is that if you aren’t wearing spandex, you get ignored. Well, not here.”

I knew this was a place I wanted to check out, so after a sweaty 2-mile hike in 88-degree heat through horse- and deer-fly infested woods, I went to Michael’s Cycles. A good sweat makes me more confident, and I knew that I needed all the confidence I could muster because whenever I set out to do this kind of thing alone, my FFG (former fat girl) comes along for the ride, keeping me just off balance enough that I feel a nagging sense of self-doubt.

It was just my luck that when I pulled into the parking lot, a young man was putting a bike rack on the top of a male customer’s car. I like men, but their Y chromosome makes me nervous. It’s one of those self-instilled FFG reactions/assumptions I fight all the time: I’ll be judged/stared at/laughed at/ignored.

The customer was sweaty, like he’d just been on a ride. He was about my age and, of course, nice looking. But I bucked up and walked across the lot. ‘I am responsible for how I allow myself to be treated,’ I told myself. ‘You are a woman who bikes, not a woman with baggage.’

As I approached them, the young man looked down from the bike rack and smiled. “Hi! What can I help you with?”

“Well,” I said. “I used to bike with someone but I don’t anymore. I need to know some things about bike maintenance. Do you guys do that kind of thing?”

“Oh heck, yeah!” he said. “I’m Kyle. If you’ve got some time right now, I’ll show you how to change your tire when I’m done here.”

 “I have an appointment this afternoon, but are you around tomorrow?” I asked.

“Yeah, after 12,” he said, jumping off the top of the customer’s car. “I’ll get you a card.”

 As he walked into the shop, I turned to the customer and apologized for taking Kyle away from his bike rack installation. The man smiled and said it was no problem and asked if I’d heard of the Butler-Freeport Trail. ‘Yay!’ I thought. ‘Common ground!’ Any insecurities I had melted away as he talked to me as a person who bikes, not a person who was formerly overweight or even who had sweaty gross hair. I felt on equal ground. That hasn’t happened very often in my obese or even in my formerly obese life. It’s not because of other people; it’s because of me and how I allow my FFG to throw me off balance.

The next day, I took my bike to the shop and Kyle showed me how to change a tube and gave me tips on maintenance. I am now the proud owner of a 700 x 35-40 inner tube, 3 tire levers, a portable air pump (which Kyle mounted on my bike) and a primo pressure gauge that works with both Schrader and Presta valves (and I know what each of them is…*grin*).

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

I’ve spent too much time avoiding that which scares me. Moving forward in spite of my fears and not waiting for them to dissolve, I’ve discovered the beauty of self-empowerment. Not only do I learn something – a concrete skill or something about myself – I change something about myself. Not a bad way to spend a life.

In what ways are you “in the scene” and not “just watching it anymore”?  

7 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

  1. I absolutely, positively need to do the same thing. I'm going to get caught with a flat one of these days and it won't be pretty.

    Thanks for leading the way – and thanks to Lori for her tips!

  2. Loved this post and love your bravery. I was in the scene last week when I went into a store that I NEVER thought I'd be small enough, pretty enough, or girly enough to step foot in. I wandered around for a bit and even told the sales lady what I needed when she asked if I wanted help. 🙂 It was so empowering.

  3. GO LYNNIE!!! I am so proud of you – Helen Reddy's anthem is going through my head right now as I think of you taking charge of your biking destiny!!!

  4. thank you for sharing your insights about your FFG throwing you off balance, and how you overcame that with your trip to the bike shop. very helpful & inspiring.

    and now I want to go buy a bike!

  5. “On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming”

    This is it in a nutshell for me. We so need a biking trip together! That would be amazing!

  6. The first couple years I rode a bike, I carried a patch kit. After my first flat, I realized what a silly idea was. Who wants to sit on the side of a busy road trying to figure out precisely where to put the patch? Not me! Better to carry a brand new inner tube, as you've already discovered.


  7. So happy you went to the shop. I too need to get over the FFG stuff in my head. Lori and now you are making me want a bike 🙂 I have an old coworker that owns a bike shop too so I wouldn't even have to feel to uncomfortable 🙂 I'm going to think on it.

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