Bicycle Building Trance

Because my bicycle is my only non-pedestrian transportation, and because I have only one bicycle, major maintenance is terrifyingly imperative.  It strands me.  My annual tear-down, cleaning, and re-build is a focusing event.  You might say this argues for having more than one bike, and I might agree, except that any time I’ve had more than one bike, it’s felt like having a mistress (or so I imagine).

This weekend I meant to build up my new green bike, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.  I built the new front wheel, but got hung up on not having a stem that I liked, and not being able to cut the steer-tube to length.  Really these were excuses.  I just didn’t want to face the possibility of becoming an obligate pedestrian if something went wrong.  It’s so frustrating to discover that there’s one piece missing, or that two things don’t work together the way you’d thought they would.

Then Monday night after cooking dinner, I just decided to begin.  I made a batch of coffee, and became entranced by the slow disassembly of my red bike.  Cannibalization, or reincarnation?  Some pieces of the bike to be started out on my Atlantis, others came from the XO-1.  Grimy metallic bits were reborn in the sink, their sins washed away with a spritz of Awesome Green and an old toothbrush.

I removed the seat and seatpost, the blackened rear cogs.  I unwrapped the handlebars, cut free the cabling, and pulled out the bar-end shifters.  I cast aside the quill stem and old brake levers, and held onto the sticky, adhesive splotched bars.  I unwound the wiring connecting my dynamo to the lights via the frame.  I pulled the threadlocked allen bolts from the rack, and discarded the filed-down nut I’d had to use in place of the stripped threading in the rear right eyelet, barely avoiding the chain in the smallest cog.  I extracted the cranks, and the hidden glitter of the Phil Wood bottom bracket.  I unscrewed the rear derailleur, and scraped the thick black crust of dusted asphalt from them with my nails, popped the front derailleur from its permanent scar on the seat tube.  I wiped it all down, and leaned the scavanged carcass of the red bike against the wall, with its still true Peter White wheels.

Then in the pre-dawn light, I lifted the naked green frame, freshly scraped of all logos and branding, into the stand, and began the liberal application of grease, to all those delicate Martian red-brown threads, sorting the useless galvanized zinc-plated washers and nuts and bolts from the fine German stainless – meant to see the rain and the snow and the sun and the salt like a sailboat – and I plugged all the holes.  I tightened the loose, and then loosened and tightened again to adjust.  I soaked the chain in solvent, and a cake of black sediment appeared beneath it.

By dawn, when Ian came in, it looked like a bike.

I napped from 6:30 to 10:30, still greasy, and resumed, as the heat of the day grew, and I glistened with sweat under my hat, in the courtyard, sipping iced coffee from a jar, to no avail.  Cables and drivetrain.  Delerious napping, and half-conscious staring at the embryonic unfinished thing leaning against the wall.  Imprinting on the new steed.  Bonding by dreaming together.  A bicycle fever.  An anxious hour, is it the wrong size?  I can only know by finishing the build.  A prettier stem, and a stash of straddle cables found in my box of bits.  Why didn’t I look there earlier?

Then, in the dusk, I turned to the wiring.  Power and ground.  Standlicht mit condenser, und mein nabendynamo. Quantum mechanical bits for the night, from Werner Heisenberg’s Vaterland.

Finally, a spin around the block, and onto campus, gleaming, glaring diodes.  Quiet clickety click of the gritless sprockets.  Handlebars and brakes in good places.  Raise the seat just a little.  Squealing, maladjusted cantilevers yowling into the darkness.  A bike is born!  A bike is born!

Well slept, and a morning spent attending to cosmetic nicities: grind off the remaining logos.  Tape the bars, imperfectly, as usual.  Wrap the chainstay in electrical tape.  Snip the zipties.  Cut down the kickstand to size.  Hang the old frame in the rafters like a side of beef.  A side of bike.  It’s like Frankenstein’s bride.  A Turing sibling to by old rides.  A serial resurrection.  She isn’t a mistress if you murder your wife first.  And she’s mine, all mine.

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