Among other things we now and again appreciate on bicycle is its fantastic simplicity, straight-forwardness and functionality, with which is every decent bicycle assembled. It strikes me every time I have to get my hands dirty with whatever the tweak / problem is this time. I even observe the same recognition in Johana while she diagnoses the cause of this squeaking or that rattling noise, following logically from one part to another, until its fixed. Everything is in plain sight, at reach and reflect the harmony of the whole. During more than a hundred years of intensive usage, every single bike component is so thoroughly tested, that almost nothing that remained is without its function. I am obviously not speaking now about the latest kevlar, carbon or other space-era materials used in cycling industry nowadays, fully suspended intelligent frame components, hydraulic brakes and other gadgets… Not that I would like to argue against their intended functionality or the necessity of innovation. In my opinion, there are just very few things on contemporary bicycle, that are asking for it.
I will be most probably coming back to the recurrent theme of a bicycle elegance and the depth of inspiration that I draw from its harmony. For now I just want to express my excitement over one single tiny piece of essential cycle-touring equipment I have recently ordered and tested. It is a tool, with which you are able to release the cassette – the set of cogged wheels on the right side of the rear wheel – and thus allows you to service the rear hub, the bearings or replace broken spokes. All these are usually extremely strained components essential for a smooth ride and longevity of other parts of the bicycle (although you might cycle for some time with couple of broken spokes…). At the same time, it is usually no the kind of service you are able to do in your backyard (I wasn’t doing anything like that myself before). A similar operation in a proper service station will most probably require two or three pieces of tools: first tool fits into middle of the cassette around the axle of the wheel, then it is secured with a wrench of an appropriate size and finally the whole cassette is unlocked by a speciality called “chain whip”, with which you pull against the wrench (you’ll probably find a more consistent description of this operation elsewhere as this is just a reflection of the process of my own understanding the whole thing)
However, for the purposes of cycle touring, compactness, size and weight are the absolute values. Every single thing is weight several times and its necessity on the road is thoroughly considered by implacable catastrophic scenarios, that will ideally never happen. In this case, you really wish you would never need to replace any broken spokes or worn out bearings on the side of the road.. but again, you know it is inevitable you will have to at some point.
And here I finally get over the introduction to the source of my excitement and fascination over the perfection of the bicycle and geniality of effective design. After a thorough investigation I found a miniature alternative of those three tools I’ve mentioned and ordered one from a Slovenian manufacturer Unior. It does the same job, costs a fraction of the price of the three tools and weights only 18 grams!
So when I could easily replace the spokes that were broken on my city bike and clean properly all the gears, so they work smoothly again, I was experiencing genuine euphoria. You know that feeling, when something fits the gap and it couldn’t ever be better? Such satisfaction does not stem out of my own success, a triumph of a rational mind over a complexity of mechanism, but from a perfected effectiveness and crystal clear simplicity, with which one results into the next, first step follows the other.. true Zen!
If I was to rate this, it will be 10/10 but it won’t be the whole truth anyway…
Now we’ll be able to pack loads of useless trinkets and fashionable junk instead of these heavy bulky tools!
ps: in this context I have to mention a book by Robert M. Pirsig “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (1974), describing very similar sensibilities evolving around his motorcycle while riding with his son through the US (I thank sincerely to Jordan from Sandbar for his recommendation.)