Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Practice of Bicycle

Oktomat stills of someone crossing Ocean St

I recently passed my old stand-by costco-bought-by-a-neighbor-ten-years-ago "mountain bike" to Mr Eleven. Since then, I have been limited to biking around in the flat districts of Flip Flop because the Red Raleigh can't do hills (she can do hills, but it requires a full-body-off-the-saddle-knee-breaking-clenched-jaw-overdrive that I can only sustain for about 30 seconds before passing out).

The Church

I brought the RR to the Bike Church on Friday. It was swamped with earnest amateur mechanics. The dred-locked/hipster/fuzzy granola folks were crowding the garage portion, armed with wrenches and that get-out-of-my-way-I-am-doing-something-very-important look on their faces. The courtyard (in an interesting class/race self-segregation) was filled with little boys translating for their elders as they tackled enormous, dropped, bechromed, stretched, bubble-tired choppers.

I stayed long enough to deliver some cheese to Eleven, who was overhauling her hard-working machine and to find out if there were any technicians who knew anything about the Sturmey Archer hub that is ailing the RR. The kind dude who I was finally able to flag down (his eyes stared out of a huge wreath of red-gold hair) referred me to the Three Speed Guru. After a number of tangential questions, false-starts and a quest for the perfect tire combination for the other bike, I got the attention of the TSG. His blue eyes illuminated a huge white wreath (no one grows hair like a Flip Flopper). He had the best bed-side manner I have seen, lavishing attention on her as if she was my first born child. His fingers gently sought the tender spots and dark energies. He announced that the hub was from a good vintage (1970!) and that they were nearly indestructible and she probably just needed some lubrication and a tuning. There were a few other things that needed attention, but he said the bike was a "solid machine." I secretly congratulated myself on my astute Bin purchase (although, truth be told, I had to wrestle her from El Cab when we spotted her in the junk yard in front of the Bins. I am not sure how I ended up with her, maybe because I pulled a convincing "helpless bicycle-needing chick" routine. Don't feel sorry for El Cab, we found a fantastic stylish French road-bike for him on our following visit).

Bike Portrait
The old stand-by, now with Mr Eleven

Soul Food

The Other Bike is a department store 80's vintage completely non-operational "mountain bike" whose only appeal is its petite frame, suitable for short-legged Camilles. It was a gift from another neighbor. I needed to be outside yesterday (it was that perfect coast fog that begged to be enjoyed) so I tackled TOB. It is amazing the uplift that a pair of air-holding tires will do for the mojo of any pathetic wheeled machine. TOB was no different. As soon as she was ridable, she could hold her head higher. But not that much. She was a terrible, common, shade of faded 80's blue. I decided that I should paint her yellow (I had an extra can of yellow enamel). I wanted to do a good job (Ha ha) so I blithely pulled all the parts I could with the tools I had. One of the reasons I am confident about my small abilities is that bikes are rather obvious. Unlike a car, they don't have complicated, interlocking systems that are expensive to fix (and hot, or carcinogenic, or under pressure). So I made sure I kept good track of the various nuts and bolts I pulled off. I wrapped up the things I couldn't remove (like the chain, and all its hangers-on) in plastic, so it wouldn't get painted. I laid the tarp in the backyard. She looked very sad, with all her bits hanging off of her.


The painting itself was not without pitfalls. Literally. At one point I knocked her wet-paint frame into the dirt. Yuck. I figured the dirt and loam would just add to her textural character and picked off the worst offenders the best I could (please, don't hire me to paint your bike). I could have repainted her, but why? I was out of paint. Finally, an hour later (according to the can) she was dry. Most of the bits went on without a hitch until I got to the chain. It was if a little gremlin rearranged all the parts while my back was turned. Nothing was where I thought it should be. Fortunately, the time spent in my youth untangling phone chords and slinkies was not wasted. I could hear the Pater's voice in my head urging patience and perseverance. I looped and unlooped. I twisted and turned. I did things that were intuitive, I tried things that were unintuitive. The rear changer was facing the wrong way-- there is no lateral movement in a bike chain-- I couldn't figure out how that was even physically possible. It was like coming home and finding the car on its roof, sitting peacefully in the driveway.

Calling out to God

After a few combinations, it became clear that I was making it worse. I am used to praying and having things remain the same. Not that I don't have faith, its just that I don't expect miracles. The chain was now the proverbial Gordian knot, an endless Mobius strip. I prayed. Nothing happened until I nudged the mess, and inexplicably, it suddenly straightened out. Hallelujah. It took me a while to get the rear changer on, but it finally fell into its non-intuitive slot.

This man never needs to worry about his chain, at a Muttonham summer festival.

Timing is Everything

Once the bike was in one piece again, I took her for a spin, and it became clear when she derailled within feet of launching that something still was dreadfully wrong. It was the chain. With the years of rust and neglect, it had forgotten that it was supposed to be flexible and drapey, like a nice pashmina. It aspired to be as solid and unforgiving as a ruler. Bad chain.

Indiscriminate Solvents

I pulled out a can powerful spirits that had been languishing in my oil painting kit. While the liquid did remove lots of rust, and improved flexibility, it also took off all the paint from the lower half of the bike. Oops.

Joie de Travaille

I just made that up. Does anyone have a word for that thrill one gets when one tackles mechanical tasks? I was in heaven yesterday, putzing around in my greasy grease-monkey clothes, singing complex praises to my tool sets. Time stopped. The sun warmed my back. My hands knew what to do. I felt so happy and refreshed.

Never too old for a banana seat, Muttonham summer festival

Socket Wrench

You and your many children
Lined up like cocky Baker Street Irregulars
Your one-eye smirk
holds those nuts

Oh Allen and Philip
Oh Hex and Monkey and Pipe!

Your names slither and roll and burst in my mouth
like blue-berries. Like the boys in my third grade
class, full of tease and laughter.

The chimpanzee is excited
Pliers can make my fingers strong and tiny,
better than sticks,
reaching into little places

and making my will



Rosa said...

You are my favorite Bike Poetess.

Shannon Marie said...

Can you tell me more about this bike church ? Location/concept/whether or not any of those hairy men are young and single ? I love hair.

chiefbiscuit said...

Oh Camille - your writing just blows me away - there is so much deliciousness in this post I couldn't possibly choose my fav. line. The poem is extraordinary - I wish I could write like you do. (I covet your brain!)
You should definitely be writing a book called 'Bicycle Diaries'...which is not to be confused with 'Motorcycle Diary'(diaries? You know, that movie ) ... I loved reading this post, and now I am off to work with a huge smile on my face.

Anonymous said...

Hey Shannon Marie,

Flip Flop may perhaps be one of the most hirsute towns in the nation, nay, even the world. This can be traced back the the famous Skin Tax of 1925, when the puritanical City Fathers, horrified at the amount of skin they were seeing on the beaches, proposed that bathers be taxed on the amount of exposed skin. This temporarily led to the famous victorian-inspired full-body beach-ware. The law was unenforced from the 30s until the 60s when public nudity became an issue. Since the wording is specifically about "skin" many people found that simply growing as much hair as possible was enough to satisfy the courts.

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