Responses to a piece I posted here a while ago suggest at least a few Perfect Duluth Day Saturday Essay readers ride bicycles somewhat “seriously.” Makes sense, I suppose; long cycling sojourns, solo or with accomplices, can foster a deep contemplation similar to one spending time with prose can evoke. It’s also true that riding bikes and reading words can both be nothing more than hardcore reality avoidance posing as time spent admirably. We all have our drugs, don’t we? — mostly ones we tell ourselves aren’t drugs so we can believe we’re better human beings than folks who used to hang out in front of Last Place on Earth.
But whatever. That’s not what this essay is about.
I ride a lot, slowly and clumsily (like a middle-aged oaf whose formative fitness years were spent playing tight end and fearing exercise-induced pain), mostly alone, and with intentions driven by equal desires to sit with and avoid my general mental state. Since 2002 I’ve owned a lot of different mountain, road, and commuting bicycles. After thousands of hours spent poring over Sheldon Brown’s website and mtbr.com forums, tinkering in my back-yard shed, and pestering real mechanics — just mercilessly badgering them with, “How does this work?” and “How do I put this back together?” and “Hey, can I come down and interrupt what you’re working on, ask a bunch of dumb questions, borrow some tools, and inevitably force you to stop what you’re doing and help me?” — I know enough to credibly build and maintain my own bikes. Sometimes I fix friends’ bikes, if they have low expectations. I go through nerdy periods of constantly trying to figure out the “best” way to set up a certain bike for a certain purpose, which means I’ve researched, bought, installed, un-installed, broken, replaced, and perseverated on hundreds of components ranging from whole frames to single 5mm bolts.
But even that’s not what this essay is about.