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Bicycle mechanics… there’s more garbage swilling around this theme than just about any other. Let me contribute some more…

For something so astoundingly and magnificently simple as the workings of a bicycle, it’s a wonder that there can be so many controversies surrounding the operation of every part. There’s more mythology around how we should set up and maintain a bike than there were dramas in Valhalla on the morning of Gotterdammerung…(when the gods set fire to their palace).

You’d reckon that playing the game of wrenches on a car would be more complicated than playing around with bikes. But as cars get more and more complicated, car mechanics just gets more specialised. Dodgy gear boxes get sent off to gear box technicians, engine diagnostics are diagnosticated by dedicated computers lorded by factory certificated boffins wearing white lab coats with pocket protected pens. Electrics are the job of auto electrical experts, tyres are done by tyre places, body work by body work folk. There’s airbag specialists and repairers of windshields. Upholsterers and exhaust specialists. When you take a car in for repairs, it’s like setting off a chain reaction of cogs meshing with cascades of other cogs all the way down the line. It’s like springing an elaborate mechanical clock. Whirl the cog and pay the bill and hope that the job, somehow, gets done.

But it’s different with bicycles. For a start, one mechanic usually does it all. Not to mention also being bicycle salesman, chief public relations officer, complaints desk operator and a cyclist in permanent need of a ride. It’s tough being a bike mechanic! I mean, can you imagine putting in all that love and devotion needed to tend to some kid’s latest toy while also attending to the even bigger toys the grown up kids like to enjoy? How many punctures can a fella be expected to repair for owners who do not have a clue?

Bike wrenching is not just about spanners and chain lube. There’s also a kind of priesthood thing going on as well. Like everywhere else but only more so than in any other place, bike mechanics like their biases and myths. So when the customer fronts up for some work, she may be getting more than he may have ever bargained for.

Underneath most bicycle mechanics are some pretty entrenched points of view. Take the die-hard roadie forced to work on mountain bikes. Or, worse, having to sell fat tyres when his dreams extend only out to 700x23c. Watching a performance like that is worth the trip to my own local bike shop…Study his words, so carefully chosen. So cautious and guarded to not let his biases slip…’Yes, that’s a truly great Cross Country steed…’ if you are demented enough to want to ride a truck like that…

Then there’s the bike set-up game. This is the orgy room of Valhalla’s tempestuous neon-plush draped halls. How many frame sizing formulae are currently in vogue? How many bike mechanics are there in the world today? And let us not even get started on the concept of setting seat height. Like an inquisitor judging an heretic’s future in heaven or hell, all depends on accepting only the gospel of his own singular point of view. No matter what the ailment of any bike I take in for my own mechanic to see, I always come back with a seat deflated to half mast and no torque wrench to right his wrongs so that I can get home again. He’s a track specialist, you see…

And let’s not even touch that greatest of bicycle apostolic laws: Dura Ace vs Campagnolo vs SRAM. If your man has a determined attachment to one and not the others, you can be sure that he won’t know how to set up the offerings of the devil he hates. I spent a whole year trying to unravel the subtle insecurities of my SRAM entourage that he’d set up as per the dictates of Dura Ace. These things are not the same! There’s huge finesse involved in tuning the gears of the upper-end. Just like piano tuning or finally catching the art of fishing with a fly.

I’d hate to think how much money I have wasted over the years from accepting the advice of mechanic-salesmen who persist in seeing the world in black and white. I remember the first aluminium racing bike I ever bought. I remember my man telling me that aero was the place to be. I remember watching my bottom bracket rise and fall like a pendulum with every pedal stroke. I remember throwing that bike out in time for the very next race. And I remember a mechanic with the self-assurance of Lance at a victory press conference race review. ‘Yes …he said … these tyres really, truly, are puncture proof!’ Do you remember the Wolber Invulnerable from the mid ’80’s scene? I do. My NSCC club mates do too. We aimed to collect all our punctured tyres to wrap around his smug know-it-all neck.

And how about that guy who is yet to discover the virtues of the torque wrench for fixing a seat post in place? I recall a ride back from a race after my post had finally snapped. 50NM really was too much when the specs call for 6.5…

And, do I really need a fully decked monster suspended mountain bike for downhilling in the Himalayas when all I really want to do is ride the dirt roads surrounding my home? You try and convince a Bike Shop Expert on the virtues of a cyclo-cross bike when all he’s ever heard of are fat tyred mountain bike tanks. ‘No Sir’, said the man in the big city bicycle shop… ‘there’s no such thing in this country of ours’. ‘Cyclo Cross is only in Europe. Why not take this Trek Liquid 55 instead’. So I did. And it broke in half. And I went to war with the Factory until they honoured my warranty at last. Until my local bloke mentioned, ever so casually, that he could get me a Pinarello cyclo-cross bike in just a day or so… So now I seem to be the only person in this whole country of ours who rides such a bike exclusively on dirt roads. Loving every second. And wishing I had ever more seconds just like that to spend. And lamenting all the time and money wasted on mountain bikes. When all I wanted to do was to ride on dirt roads…

But it’s not all their biases over mine. Mine are just as ingrained (I am not making this up, you know…). Pity the bicycle shop man who has yet to discover the pathologies of my own particular points of view… Just say one word against Campagnolo and I’m out of his shop. Just mention Pinarello with any tone other than spiritual revelation and ultimate human attainment and off I go. And just try to argue for electric shifting Dura Ace! AND never, EVER! say anything at all against the unmitigated eternal glory of the Caisse D’Epargne cycling Team! Come to think on it, it’s kind of strange that every time I visit my local store, there’s usually no one there. I can sometimes hear whispers from somewhere out the back…


5 Responses to “Assume Everyone Else Is Wrong”
  1. lemmiwinks says:

    I thought I may have seen you (twice) on Rockvale Rd this morning but that rider was on a Cervello and I see you’re a Pinarello man

  2. admin says:

    I was out on that road this morning – on my Specialized Roubaix… And I did see you? twice too. Off to Dumaresq Dam. Lovely ride

  3. lemmiwinks says:

    Ah, I had my suspicions. I was mounted, as ever, on my trusty steel 7 speed Shogun. I was originally only going to the top of Chandler hill and back but it was a nice day so I continued on for my first ever metric century. No food and only one bottle of water is not recommended for a 100km ride!

  4. Lenoil says:

    Interesting post, as always. Nice comparison re. car repairs/maintenance vs. bike maintenance.

    “So now I seem to be the only person in this whole country of ours who rides such a bike exclusively on dirt roads.”

    Isn’t this comment a bit presumptuous? And what are you loving every second of: the actual feeling of riding the Pinarello, or the notion that you’re very unique?

  5. admin says:

    Presumptuous? I presume to think that there are not many, if any, other cyclo crossers out there in Australia who use such a bike just for riding on dirt roads (rather than the usual mountain bike). That’s not the usual routine for CX bikes. Though I don’t understand why… I presume so because every dealer I ask tells me that CX bikes are either not imported or as rare as intelligence in car drivers… So it’s a reasonable presumption. Loving every second of riding our infinite network of dirt roads rather than having to do so on a way too heavy mountain bike. Unique? Short of cloning, I rather think everyone is unique to a degree. It’d be nice to be less unique when heading off for a long blast via CX bike on our stunning local dirt roads. It’d be nice to have some fellow cyclist company to share the unique pleasures that such a bike can provide on fast dirt. Ride with a mountain biker and they’re fighting an extra 5kg plus in machinery mass for such a mundane challenge as a good dirt road. Ride with a roadie and you’d have to stop every km or so while they fixed their endless spree of punctures.

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