Last Friday I set out on my Milwaukee, a truly superb bicycle that, despite its pedigree, has taken on the unglamorous role of my wet-weather workhorse:
As I was reveling in its composed character, which was readily apparent even beneath a thick coating of grime, I became aware of slowly-emerging flat tire situation on the stern end of the bicycle. As I always do when there’s a sign that something’s amiss, I ignored it. (I adhere to this policy both on the bike and off of it.) However, once I began feeling the rim hit the road I realized I could ignore it no more, and so I stopped to repair the flat, which is when I snapped the above photograph.
When a bicycle is this dirty, repairing a flat is a sordid affair, and by the time I got the tire off both hands up to the wrist as well as both my knees (from bracing the wheel against my legs whilst prizing tire from rim) were covered in filth. I then replaced the tube with a new one, only to find it would not accept any air from my pump.
At first I thought maybe I hadn’t seated the pump head properly, but I tried it again and again, and despite my best efforts the tube remained resolutely bereft of air. My Milwaukee may be composed, but I am not, and I threw the pump into the soggy wood chips (a staple of suburban landscaping) in exasperation:
Ordinarily I’d have suspected a hole in the spare tube, but this one was brand-new, still in its Cannondale-branded plastic wrapper. (I often let bike shops up-sell me on inner tubes out of guilt for all the stuff I buy online.) The valve had a removable valve core, and I thought maybe my pump didn’t agree with the pronounced transition between the valve core and the valve stem. “No problem,” I figured. “I’ll just patch the old tube and use that.”
Unfortunately, this being a slow leak, I was unable to find its source despite inflating the tube to comical proportions. This left me with no other option but to reinstall the slowly leaking tube. By this point I was dirtier than a chimney sweep, and I rode off again with my rear end already looser than a Belgian doping control.
Fortunately there was a bike shop not too far away, and while they weren’t open yet, I figured maybe I’d at least be able to over-inflate my tire to take me the rest of the way home. Sadly, the bike shop did not have a pump for cyclists visiting outside of normal business hours. They did, however, have multiple EV charging stations, and I’d have been tickled by the irony if I hadn’t been so irritated. Ultimately I made it home with about nine PSI in my rear tire, and resolved to finally give the Milwaukee the overhaul it deserved.
That very afternoon, I procured handlebar tape, a new chain, and sundry consumables, and the next day I engaged in a fit of bicycle maintenance so intense that I lost all sense of time. My entire fleet needs serious attention, but for the sake of expediency (though I still wound up spending several hours) I targeted two bicycles: the Milwaukee, and my plastic Specialized. I ran back and forth from the hose to the basement and back again until the sun went down, and by the time I was finished, both bicycles were buffed to a high shine, and I’d successfully transferred all the filth to myself.
While the plastic bike now feels like new, when I headed out on the Milwaukee this morning the chain skipped as soon as I got out of the saddle, indicating my work on that bicycle is not yet finished, and that I need to replace the cassette at the very least. (The rear rim is also distressingly concave and it may be time for replacement.) In the iconic “University Challenge” episode of “The Young Ones,” (you know, the one with Motorhead), Vyvyan remarks that it is only the “stubborn understains” on his underwear that are holding them together, and as I’ve begun to suspect lately, that’s also the case with the Milwaukee. Clearly by cleaning it I’ve removed chunks of grime that were serving a structural purpose, and despite spending like half a day on it this past weekend, as far as restoring its integrity and rideability my work has only yet begun–and that’s not even addressing all the other bikes I haven’t gotten to yet.
Some dream of bikepacking trips or exotic training camps. I would give anything to be transferred along with all my bicycles to some lavish estate for two weeks where I could tend to each of them with a full complement of tools, detergents, and consumables. I’d spend half the day working on the bike, half the day riding it, and then the next day I’d move on to the next one. Maybe there would be some sort of on-site spa where they’d slough all the grime off your body and dig the crud out from under your fingernails.
In fact I’d consider opening just such a retreat myself, but I suppose by the time you can afford to go to a lavish bicycle maintenance camp you can also afford to have someone else fix all your bikes for you. Huh, I think I just figured out how capitalism works…