By Maynard Hershon
I’m riding along a wooded, paved bike path and I hear this rustling sound. It seems to be coming from the treetops alongside the path. It sounds like a million crickets but continues as I pedal, moment after moment, mile after mile as if the crickets are following me.
It’s loud but not deafening. I can’t figure it out.
I see ahead a guy working at trailside with some sort of machine, maybe a compressor or gas-powered generator. I stop and say, excuse me, do you hear that sound? He looks at me and tells me all he can hear is his generator.
I thank the guy and pedal away. It occurs to me that I didn’t hear the sound while I was stopped talking to him, but maybe the sound was masked by the generator noise. But it’s back and it stays with me for another mile or so.
I stop at a trail junction, unsure of which way to continue. As I turn my bike around in the trail, I hear a scraping noise. I look down and see that one end of a piece of rusty wire, heavier than coat hanger wire, has twisted itself around my front axle just inside the fork tip. The other end has been bouncing and scraping along the ground for miles. I untwist it and stare at it.
There’s the noise. It certainly sounded as if it were coming from high up, in the trees — or so I thought. Maybe that’s where my brain figured it must be coming from. Where else? My bike doesn’t make noises like that....
I check to see if the paint on my fork has been scarred. No damage.
If that wire could wrap around my axle and drag on the ground, I think to myself, it could just as easily have wrapped around a spoke and stopped the rotation of my wheel, almost surely crashing me, sending me over the front of the bike and into an emergency room.
I was lucky. I’d ridden several miles listening to that noise, never imagining it could have been made by my bike. I felt foolish and relieved. Could have been awful.
You know your bike. If your bike or something in your riding environment changes mysteriously, if something feels or sounds wrong, stop gently and take a close look at your bike. Don’t just assume that all’s well. I simply lucked out. Be smarter than me.
I’ll be walking down a hallway in the highrise where Tamar and I live. I’ll turn a corner and there’ll be another resident, a neighbor, walking on the wrong side of the hallway, staring at his/her smartphone. If I were not paying attention, we would simply collide at twice walking speed. Probably one or more people would fall down.
If people will walk in a busy building while distracted by an electronic device, they will do other everyday acts in the same manner, paying little or no attention. They assume that nothing will happen, because when they did the same thing yesterday and the day before, nothing did.
If, when you ride your bike, you put yourself in a position on the road where you depend on the alertness or mere awareness of drivers, you are ignoring what you know to be true. You know that people aren’t paying attention. Their minds are who-knows-where.
On the one hand, they’re piloting huge, potentially deadly vehicles. On the other hand, probably nothing awful is going to happen to them today. They’re pretty safe in there with the seat belts, safety glass and air bags. Their car is familiar and they did not hit anyone yesterday or the day before. Probably won’t today. If they do, that’s what insurance is for, right?
As I have to in our building (and out on the streets) you have to be careful for yourself and for the other guy, whose attention may be anywhere. Or nowhere. None of the above means that the other guy is a bad person, of course. But trustworthy? Nah. Not for vulnerable folks like us.
Trusting motorists, depending on them to look out for your safety, is folly. Please don’t do it. Ride as if they’re all trying to kill you. ‘Cause a few of them can’t be bothered to focus on not doing so.
Not far from our place here in central Denver, there’s a new business called the Denver Bicycle Cafe. It’s a largish space with a u-shaped counter and tables for the consumption of the usual coffee and tea beverages plus locally brewed beer. There are a few soft chairs around a low table featuring cycling magazines including an issue or two of the Bicycle Paper.
One end of the building is devoted to a bicycle repair shop. There are sturdy repair stands, a solid bench and pegboards hung with cool bicycle tools, mostly blue-handled Park tools.
You can take your bike into the Denver Bicycle Cafe and have it repaired. A service tech who works full-time at a major bike shop works part-time at the Bicycle Cafe. I’m told that the shop has managed to keep the waiting period short.
Or, and this is the interesting part, you can work on your own bike in the shop area. First you join the Cafe, not a devastatingly expensive proposition. Then you pay $5 an hour for use of a work stand and the loaner board of tools, shop rags and chemicals like spray solvent and chain lube.
If the Bicycle Cafe’s service tech is there while you’re working, he can keep an eye on you, keep you from getting into trouble — like maybe trying to loosen your bottom bracket by turning it in the tightening direction.
I know that because I just installed a Campy Racing Triple crankset and bottom bracket in my Rivendell. While doing so I tried really hard to loosen the old Shimano fixed cup but managed to tighten it instead. I needed help and I got it.
If you have a certain basic idea of how to work on your bike, and you have something like the Denver Bicycle Cafe nearby, give it a try. Maybe I’ll be there and I can show you the shiny new Campy crankset on my trusty old Riv.