By Stan Purdum My favorite story about deferred maintenance on a bicycle comes from a group ride I was on a few years ago. When a guy named Ted flatted and didn’t have a pump, I stopped with him so he could use mine. As we removed the wheel, I noticed there was a hole the size of dime in the sidewall of the tire. Once we got the tire off the rim, I also saw a dollar bill folded in half inside the tire “patching” the hole. When Ted pulled the dollar out, there were dime-size holes in both halves of the bill, and not surprisingly, the large puncture in the tube was at the location of the hole.
Booting a damaged tire with a folded dollar bill is an old trick to temporarily cover a hole to keep the tube from bulging out until you get home and can install a new tire, but the emphasis is on “temporary.” In Ted’s case, the holes in the bill indicated the dollar had been patching his tire for a long time. So I asked Ted when he’d he put the dollar in the tire. He looked sheepish, and said, “About a year ago.” He started digging in his wallet for a new dollar.
I said, “If you’re going to wait that long this time to replace the tire, you better put in a $20.”
Maintenance Deferred Is Maintenance Denied
We all know how easy it is to defer maintenance. While riding your bike, you notice something that’s not functioning quite right, and you make a mental note to investigate it when you get home. But when you do get home, either you’re tired and no longer thinking about the needed adjustment or you have something with the family scheduled and you need to move on to that. Either way, tinkering with the bike slips out of mind. Then, it’s not until you’re on the road on the bike again that you once more notice the problem with its functioning.
I recently had this happen. On a ride, I realized that my chain needed lubrication (I’d gotten caught in the rain on the previous ride.) I have a little hearing loss in the higher frequencies, so I’d likely missed the early warning squeaks. But having no lube with me and being on a route where there were no places to obtain any, I resolved to oil the chain as soon as I got home.
So, of course, I forgot.
For my next ride, I drove to a start location several miles from home. Thus, when I again noticed the squeaking chain, turning back for some lube wasn’t a realistic option. Instead, I altered the route I had intended to pedal so that I could stop at a bicycle shop, where they obligingly lubed the chain for me.
The thing is, I actually enjoy working on bicycles. I own a work stand and have the necessary tools and am reasonably competent at it. I even volunteer at a nonprofit where we refurbish old bikes and sell them at low prices to benefit the community and the agency (Boys and Girls Clubs of America). But when it comes to my own bike, life, schedule and memory lapses sometimes cause me to defer regular upkeep.
I now put reminders on my computer calendar to perform routine bicycle maintenance, hoping to head off on-the-road malfunctions. I have a cycling friend who doesn’t do much of his own work, other than minor stuff like lubing the chain, but he takes his steed to his local bike shop every so often for checkups, even if the bike is showing no obvious problems.
Whether we do our own bicycle upkeep or have others do it, it’s a necessary task if we’re going to ride often.
The Other Kind Of Deferred Maintenance
I’ve also found another dimension of deferred maintenance related to cycling — the care of my own outlook, mind and spirit. Riding does something good for me in all those areas, and when circumstances or inclement weather prevent me from cycling for several days in a row, I notice the difference. So does my wife, who will sometimes tell me “Go ride your bike” when she perceives a downturn in my mood. That upkeep is also why I’d rather pile on the clothing layers and ride even in cold weather than pedal a stationary bike or trainer in the warmth of my house. The indoor riding may be good for my cardiovascular system, but it feels like deferred maintenance of the rest of me.
And even a $20 bill won’t patch that.
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Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.