Last week, I went out for a 2 hour ride. Unfortunately, all signs seemed to be pointing towards a very difficult ride. For one thing, my new bike was on its way to Missouri in Leah’s car which left me with my old bike. Add on top of that my uncomfortable bike shoes, my old clunky helmet, no heart rate monitor, no computer, and no Power Tap wheel. No numbers, no heart rate monitor, no power, no cadence. Just ride – go by feel and see where that goes.
It didn’t go very far. Because after 10 minutes the seat just didn’t feel right. Damn the different shoes and the old bike. But good thing I carry 20 lbs of tools that I never use on the back of the bike. I open the bag. An array of metal tools look up at me, all shouting use me! use me! use me! I know some of them had to be wrong.
So, which one?
A wrench – yes! A wrench! I can do this. I stand alongside the road with my shiny silver tool of confidence in my hand. I know exactly what to do. I know what the wrench is for and how it should be used. I know this can fit nicely into a seatpost bolt.
But if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know that’s not true. You know what happens next. Liz has a bike tool in her hand. A bolt will be stripped, a cable will break, a chain will fall off, soon we will find the bike in pieces on the side of the road.
Picture this. Me, side of the road, cars zipping by because by now it’s 5 pm and everyone is in a hurry to get home, trying to hold the back of the bike while trying to unscrew the bolt, fearing that I’ll strip it and unscrew it too far (not that I’ve ever stripped a bolt but for some reason Chris has put the fear of god into me just in case I ever do), while the front end of the bike keeps getting blown by the wind until the entire bike topples to the ground while I stand there cussing with a wrench in my hand.
Of course, the seatpost bolt doesn’t want to move. Then I realized I had the wrong bolt. Apparently seat bolt and seatpost bolt are not the same thing. Again, the seatpost (this time for real) bolt doesn’t want to move. And once it does, the seatpost doesn’t want to go any lower. So I do what any frustrated woman with a tool in her hand would do – I press all of my body weight on to the seat, jumping up and down, pushing to get it lower – on the side of the road.
Needless to say, it didn’t get me or the seatpost very far.
A guy going the other way rides by and either he felt sorry for me or thought the site of a young girl in an oversized helmet was too cute so he stopped. NOTE: there is nothing cute about my old helmet.
“Need some help?” he asked. Seriously. How much time do you have? Help – yes, lots, first of all, lower my seat, second, tighten this bolt, third, explain to my husband why I might have stripped the bolt, fourth, explain to me what would happen if I stripped the bolt and why the hell my husband makes it sound so bad, and lastly, would you mind doing the rest of my ride?
I explain to him that I am just trying to lower my seat. You could see the word bullshit in his eyes. To himself, he was probably thinking here is this girl that took wrench to hand, what the hell was she thinking, what the hell was she trying to do. It was like man taking mascara wand in his hand, expecting something good to happen, and using it on his lips instead.
But I wanted to tell him that really I could use this wrench, I could reassemble my bike, I could turn the little dial on a torque wrench to just the right degree. I had been trained, I had skills, mad skills in the department of bike. Ok, they are very specialized skills, and skills to be called upon only in situations of solo travel or duress. But still they were useful from time to time.
Flashback to two years ago when I traveled to long course nationals in Arkansas by myself. It was the first time I was traveling solo with a completely disassembled bike. A few days before I left, Chris set about to teach me how to reassemble and then disassemble my bike. I imagine there are more difficult things Chris has attempted in his life – like scaling a wall with his tongue – but still he gave teaching me a try.
I showed up in the basement with a notepad and a pen in hand. He showed up with a baggie full of tools and a mouth full of terms and verbs I really didn’t understand.
You could see where this was going.
The first lesson was how to use the torque wrench. More than just putting it in and turning it around. No, there were numbers and settings. Not only that, but two separate dials that had to be dialed in two different ways while turning them in opposite directions. Can you tell a man invented this tool?
Anyways, Chris explained how to use the wrench while I busily scribbled notes. When I couldn’t demonstrate how to use it at first, he became impatient. And then I had to refer back to my notes, but first I had to find the right step in my notes. That led to more frustration from him. And attempts to re-explain. Further unsuccessful attempts to dial the wrench correctly. Another scolding. Which then led me to tears. And finally ended in a lecture from myself – education manager extraordinaire – that different people had different learning styles so would he please bear with me and my semi-kinesthetic-verbal learning style.
Ok, he did. Well, he had to. Because if I called him from Arkansas the night before the race with no idea how to put together my bike he would have to listen to me cry, and bitch, and moan, and cry. For a really long time.
Ten pages of notes later, I had learned how to reassemble my bike. There had to be 100 steps of things to do, check, and tighten – but not too tight.
After he shipped out my bike, he gave me a baggie of tools. One was the torque wrench. His torque wrench. Like being entrusted with someone’s first born child. The other was a pedal wrench. A tool I would later come to hate. Baggie of bike tools in my suitcase, I headed south.
When I arrived in Arkansas, I pulled out my manifesto of notes and set to work. Busily studying diagrams with arrows and accompanying written steps. And would you believe I got everything right on the first try? Fortunately, all the horror stories of what would happen if I under or over tightened everything never came true. My seatpost did not spontaneously lower itself. My headset didn’t unravel in a mess of spacers and stem. My aerobars didn’t fall off. And the wheels stayed in place – and even held air.
After the race, I felt proud of myself. There I was, world-traveler (it was Arkansas after all), triathlete, and bike mechanic above all. I was confident, I was sure. Confirmed further by the fact that disassembling it proved to be no problem. I had the bike packed, wrapped, Velcro-strapped, and in pieces in no time.
What Chris didn’t tell me, though, was that closing the box back up would be the most difficult task at hand. And that is how I found myself throwing my entire body on the box, still sweaty and spent from the half-Ironman, and eventually laying crumpled in tears on top of the box. But eventually I must have thrown myself hard enough or pulled myself together because I got the box closed, strapped, and shipped back home.
Flashforward to last week. Imagine when this guy approached me on the side of the road, I was a bit embarrassed because here I was, trained in basic bike mechanics by the biggest bike toolbox around – my husband. In short, I should know what I’m doing. Osmosis has got to count for something – I mean, spend enough time in a house surrounded by tools and something has to rub off. So that is why I felt like saying to this guy, really, I know what I’m doing and I’m not just some useless girl on an overpriced bike that has her husband to take care of everything involving chains, wheels, and grease.
Ok, that’s a lie.
I looked at the guy – do you think he could hear all of this in my head? Because he asked me again what are you trying to do?
Lower my seat?
He paused, looked at my seat, and without even taking wrench to hand he said “well, that’s as low as your seat is going to go.”
Just when you think you are getting a handle on bike maintenance. Just when you think you know your bike. Just when you think you’re getting it right you learn that you were wrong all along. That you might as well have not even tried. Because your seatpost was as low as it would go.
How the heck did he know that? Is there some indicator I was missing, a red light that went on that said low as you can go near the seatpost? I looked, saw nothing, and was refusing to take his word.
“How did you know that?” I asked.
He replied, “By the amount of seatpost sticking up – that’s as far as it will go.”
I looked. I had no idea what he was talking about. As far as I could see there was another 6 inches to go. No room to go? What unit of measurement are we talking about here? It was kind of like the other day when Leslie let me use her pump and it registered in bars. Not PSI, but bars. Who the hell reads something in bars? Is that like fortnights? Or stones?
Regardless of how this guy measured ‘no more room to go’ on my seatpost, I nodded my head like I completely understood. Because damn if I was going to admit ignorance at this juncture in the road.
And all of you cyclo-feminists out there, get ready, get your chamois-lined panties in a bunch because I did what any wise, crafty woman would do – I played dumb.
“Oh yes, you're right, I think I remember my husband saying something about that.”
Not really, but it sure seemed like a better excuse than just admitting I didn't know my bike well enough. And then I realized playing dumb could really go my way because I asked him for some help in resecuring the bolt without stripping it. That way if Chris later found it was screwed too tight I could just blame the random guy. And the guy complied. Then he set off to ride home to tell story of girl in distress on side of road in desparate need of hand to turn wrench. Whatever. Just tighten my bolt and leave me alone.
I set off to ride on a seat that was still too high and a small silver wrench in my backpocket (have you ever tried to repack 20 lbs of tools into that small bag?). And though it was uncomfortable, I continued my ride. Somewhere there is a slowtwitch cliché hidden in all of this but I swear to god I could hear squirrely mobs of triathletes riding behind me shouting your seat is too high, your seat is too high.
Regardless, I continued my ride and made it 2 hours. As I rode back to the car, wouldn’t you know I saw Chris coming the other way?
“HUSBAND?” I shouted as he stopped on the side of the road. We talked for a short while, and he started playing with his seat, saying he needed a wrench but didn't have his tools. And then it hit me - the craftiest of all crafty plans. In an effort to scrape some semblance of pride in my limited bike skills from offside the road, from out my backpocket I pulled just the right wrench.
“Wow, where did you get that?” he asked. I could tell for a moment – just a slight moment – he may have been mildly impressed that I was able to pull out just the right tool at just the right time. Like he had this little woman that had been using this tool the whole time. Making small adjustments on her bike with appropriate tool on the side of the road. Obviously he was not there when I was jumping up and down on the side of the road. But that was neither here nor there. For this moment, pulling out this wrench, I was just his type.
I may not know it all, and my bike mechanic skills may leave much to be desired but when the moment is right I can pull out just the right wrench in front of just the right guy. And that's what really matters, isn't it? To strike at just the right moment, to impress just the right guy?
Wise, crafty woman? Well, it’s your call.