In case you have before never questioned my sanity, I am riding in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic this weekend. The purpose of this event is to pedal—using one’s own legpower—over two toes of the Rocky Mountains. The spirit of the event is to do so without hitching a ride or horking on the other participants.
And here’s the crazy part: I am attempting this feat for the third time.
Been there, done that, right? Not right! This year, I added a new wrinkle to my training regimen, or if you look really closely, lots of new wrinkles: I got old.
I have always looked forward to being old. Old men can wear dapper tweed clothes, and smoke pipes, and flirt harmlessly with waitresses, and fart at Thanksgiving dinner, and generally say anything they want while feigning total hearing loss when anyone complains.
I’m not exactly rushing into my golden years. But by investing in these eventual perks, I am ensuring my future quality of life more reliably than any standard retirement portfolio. Why wait for the Irish Republican Army to blow my funds? I always donate my spare change to myself. Especially during bike season.
I’m not even talking about paying for Spandex shorts and other performance enhancers. I’m talking about springing for bicycle maintenance. A standard-issue road bike requires more attention than a thoroughbred. Practically every time I scrabble onto my bicycle, it makes a new and unsettling sound.
I’m no machine whisperer, so I cannot always determine whether the sound is a handlebar falling off or frogs chirping in a puddle somewhere off the road. But I am pretty certain that some of these “click” and “pop” and “takatakatakatik” and “ba-DUNK” sounds are genuinely located in the bike itself.
When these noises crop up, I do what the professional blood-transfusing cyclists do: I ignore them and keep riding. Any problem is more likely to vamoose on its own than under the influence of my tampering. (This is also my has-yet-to-kill-me approach to automotive and digestive issues.)
Sometimes, though, the noise persists. This is when I try to “isolate the sound.” Some questions to ask when isolating the sound include: Does the queeeeek-queeeeek happen every time I turn the pedal, or every time the wheel completes a rotation? Is the crik-pop happening with every exertion, or only the times I am actually in motion? Am I certain, positively and definitely, the sound is not my own breathing? With these answers, I can Google such precise terminology as “the part that makes my fingers dirty when I touch it.”
Then I visit one of the bicycle shops in town. You know The Guys at bicycle shops; they all fix their own plumbing without checking YouTube first. The Guys always encourage me to describe the issue with sound effects. I’m pretty sure they secretly record my diagnoses and play them at their Mechanically Inclined Dude Rallies.
Before you ask why I don’t bring the bike to make its own noises: I can’t. The bike has performance anxiety, which it must have picked up before I adopted it. It only makes sounds when it will embarrass me in front of other cyclists.
“Hmm,” The Guys say in manly chorus. “Sounds like your bottom bracket needs replaced. Or if you’re lucky, just greased.” I have never greased anything more complex than a frying pan. I also have no idea if a bottom bracket is a real thing that has been invented. So The Guys sell me a tool I may or may not be qualified to use, a specialized device that costs more than all three of my other tools combined, and send me on my way.
A gentleman doesn’t disassemble and tell. Unfortunately, this rogue lacks the mechanical suavity to tell what, exactly, he disassembled. Suffice it to say, he got actual grease under his cuticles. And then he tried standing up. There—the culprit! The confounded sound! Krikking from his own two knees.
Egads. I nearly called it quits, except that the Iron Horse registration fee is non-refundable. Also, judging from the trainees that pass me on the road, I am but a Cretaceous chicken to their Triassic Thotobolosauruses.
These gals and guys have been old for a LONG TIME. If they can climb these Colorado mountains, anyone else with creaky legs and a fuzzy memory can, too. So I’m not throwing in my towel. I’m riding over those mountains all the way to the finish line, where I will receive a complimentary T-shirt. I hope it goes dandy with tweed.
This piece originally appeared in The Durango Telegraph and The KC Post. Longtime Fool’s Gold supporter, the New Mexico Mercury, is undergoing a period of transition; we hope to renew Fool’s Gold there in the near and exciting future.