Becoming Self-Sufficient: Baby Steps

Recently, I decided to take some time and reflect upon the direction my personal and professional life have been going. Occasionally, I like to sit down and write out a list of some of my short- and long-term goals. If I get lucky and save the list of goals from the last time this happened I can even compare to evaluate my personal growth.

During my most recent analysis, I realized that I was very happy with the amount of riding and writing that I have been doing, lately. When I started this blog, the goal was to help increase my creative writing by adding a constant motivating source (i.e. Publish blog posts to keep my content updated). But, something else happened along the way as well: It inspired me to start documenting my mountain bike adventures (such as rides to Tsali Rec, CNF Forest, and, Lake Crabtree).

From these rides and experiences I quickly discovered that I was lacking in some very essentials skills as a mountain bike rider. I needed to learn how to work on my bike. This realization became very apparent after my ride at the Tsali Rec trail system last October when I experienced my first flat. Since I had never had a flat before, I never thought to carry a spare tube or pump when I went riding. Luckily, my tube popped only a mile from the trail head, so Michelle and I had very short walk back to the car.

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Learning a life lesson at Tsali. Always carry a spare tube and portable tire pump. (2016)

After that ride I started carrying a tube with me (I am still looking for a good spare portable pump though. Any thoughts about CO2 cartridges vs hand-pumps?). But, beyond thinking about what tools I needed to carry to become a self-sufficient mountain biker on the trail, I wanted to learn the ins and outs of maintenance for my mountain bike.

Fast forward several months after my blown tire experience and I had been hitting the local trails pretty heavily when my brakes began screeching. Besides the clear annoyance such a noise brings to my ride (and the rides of my fellow trail users), this potentially indicates a possible problem with my braking system. I could have dirt between my pads and rotors, my pads are worn out, or a bent rotor.

For a moment I thought about going to the bike mechanic and dropping my bike off, the Easy option. A couple of days, the problem would be totally fixed. But, that wouldn’t help me reach my goal and settling for easy didn’t taste so well after reading Greg Heil’s article, Stop Asking for Easy: A Manifesto for Doing Hard Things Voluntarily. Between Greg’s motivational words and the desire to save some money while learning a new skill I dove into the challenge head first.

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My Yaheetech Bike Repair Stand getting its first use!

After a thorough cleaning of my bike, I decided to start by replacing my pads (cheapest item and most likely worn out) and replaced my brake cables as well (they were getting a little old and a friend suggested replacing them anyways). Surprisingly, replacing the cables and pads was extremely easy. Pop stuff in, pull stuff out, and cut the extra. The hardest part was realigning the caliper after inserting the new pads so that there was minimal resistance (rotor grinding against the pad when the brake lever isn’t depressed). The alignment took me forever! Mostly, because I was a dunce and didn’t understand what bolt to loosen and tighten to adjust the caliper position. Naturally, I ended up loosening and adjusting every bolt until I discovered what each individual bolt’s purpose was on my braking system. I can safely say that I now know my caliper system forwards, backwards, and even sideways!

Since replacing my pads I have taken my bike out on several more rides. My maintenance fix appears to have helped (at least the front doesn’t screech anymore!), but my back brakes still yells like a banshee. Hopefully, after a few more rides this will go away once the new pads are fully broken in.

Taking the extra time to work on my bike instead of going to the shop was extremely rewarding. I learned that even a computational chemist has the ability to fix things with his hands (after working with a keyboard all day it is nice to know I can do physical work as well) and I now know more about my bike and braking system than I originally expected. Replacing brake cables and brake pads may not sound like a giant step, but it certainly is a baby-step towards becoming a more self-sufficient mountain bike rider.

What challenging bike maintenance problems have you faced? Any suggestions on a portable bike pump to carry? How have you stopped your disc brakes from screeching down the trail?

 

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