Len and the art of bicycle maintenance

In the book Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance it has a disclaimer in it at the start which effectively says that it’s not much use if you want to find out more about Zen Buddhism or motorcycles. In a similar vein this article will not inform you much about cycle maintenance or Len for that matter.

Many years ago, about 23 or so actually, I knew a guy called Len and he rode a bike. Not a very good one it has to be said, especially after he had owned it for a few years. Maintenance was an alien concept to him you see and he would often be mocked by his cycling friends. They would point out that riding around with fraying brake cables, a chain that had no relationship with oil (fancy lubes and the like hadn’t yet been invented) and tyres that had bits of their carcass hanging off them was simply courting disaster. But he took no notice, he didn’t care and poo pooed their advice, until that is his front brake cable snapped as he descended Saltburn Bank. These were the days when brakes were made by Weinmann and didn’t really do much at the best of times, especially the back ones – you don’t know you’re born with modern brakes, you really don’t. A near death experience followed as he used the not to be recommended technique of jamming your foot between the fork and the front tyre. From that day onwards I, I mean Len, became a reformed character but now it’s getting out of hand.

Okay time to come clean, yes it is me I’m talking about, I was that maverick character. Trouble is I’ve become obsessive about everything being just so on my bikes, and what’s more it’s spreading to the bikes of others. It’s been getting worse over the last year as I’ve been doing the club runs. Harry Tanfield’s loose mudguard is driving me to distraction – he knows this and taunts me with it – John Kelly’s loose headset, Mick Rennison’s cassette that wasn’t secured properly, they make me want to stop and fix them. I know that this is unreasonable, they don’t care so why should I? I don’t really know the answer to that. I struggle to ride a bike now if there’s anything wrong with it, the other week I developed a squeak, or rather my bike did, and I convinced myself that it was the bottom bracket but after stripping things down I found it to be a misbehaving saddle! So off it went, no second chances as far as I’m concerned, and it was callously thrown into a spare parts box never to see the light of day again. Similarly some ancient squeaky brakes that I had on my winter bike, ironically they were made by Weinmann, just kept doing it despite my warnings, so they too have gone and will probably make an appearance at the Bring and Buy Sale. Classic Weinmann brakes in resplendent gold circa 1975 anyone?

On reflection though I think that it’s all worth it. Is there anything more enjoyable, more perfect than a well maintained machine as you glide along on smooth bearings, a well aligned chain and properly secured components, it’s almost like achieving a state of Zen isn’t it?

Paul Christon – September 2009