Friday, September 17, 2010

Good ol' Monkey

I have a confession to make. I don’t really enjoy being the owner of five bicycles. They’re large. They’re cumbersome. They take up a lot of space in a one-bedroom apartment. And, most irksome of all, they all require a lot of maintenance. It’s like having five dogs, when really one is all the pet you need. Five will pull a sled more effectively than one — and my five bikes all have a particular function that I *Can Not Live Without.* But, like dogs, at home they just crowd you in and require a lot of care.

I own a touring bike that hasn’t been without some kind of mechanical problem since 2006. Right now, it has a broken brake lever, a sticky headset and both derailleurs in need of replacement. The broken brake lever prevents me from riding it, but I have been reluctant to pour any more money into new parts, because I just had a bunch of stuff repaired earlier this spring, and still more stuff before that, and I had the wheels rebuilt before that, and this was only a ~$500 bike to begin with, seven years ago. I think about donating it to FreeCycles, but I reason that I can’t give it away because it is the only “road bike” I own. The truth is, I can’t give it away because I am seriously emotionally attached to it.

My snow bike, Pugsley, has a flat tire. I can’t fix the flat tire, because I need to buy new tubes, which I can only order online. In the mash of life, ordering tubes online has somehow managed to fall low priority list, even though it would only take about five minutes and cost about $30. Meanwhile, Pugsley sits in a closet, gathering dust.

My fixie commuter was built with the intention of being “Jill-proof,” but I still managed to crack the top cap and have been riding it without one, which can’t be good for the headset. (Yes, I know, it's only another five minutes online and $5. I am so lazy.) It seems whenever I have finally settled on the decision to get rid of Roadie and make the fixie my “road bike,” I take the long way home from work and hurt my knees during the piston-like beating of a long downhill. I think the fixie is perfect for commuting, but I do not think I am cut out to be a long-distance fixed-gear rider.

Then there’s the Rocky Mountain Element. I love this bike. I’ve been riding it for three months, and made it mine about a month ago. But I have to admit, this bike is a bit of a princess. It was almost new three months ago, and I feel like I’ve done a fair job of keeping up-to-date with the basic maintenance. But the rear tire has several slow leaks and the rubber is worn almost through. I can’t replace the tire myself because it’s a tubeless system, so I need to take it into a bike shop for mounting and sealant. Then there’s the rear brake, which is rubbing randomly and the brake lever is sticking. I can’t fix this, either, because I don’t understand hydraulic brakes. I don’t understand tubeless tires either. I don’t even understand the through-axle fork, except for that it prevents me from mounting it on my car rack, and that I am terrified of stripping the threads. I am not wise in the ways of bicycle technology, or bicycle mechanics, or even bicycle riding for that matter. Taking the Element to the bike shop hasn’t worked its way up the priority list. Meanwhile, it hangs from an indoor bike rack, gathering dust.

If there’s any bike I can get rid of, it should be my Karate Monkey. I mean, I just bought a new mountain bike. This is just the high-mileage version of something I already have. But right now, it’s the only “non-broken” bike I own, so it’s the one I’ve been riding all week. And I have been reminded how much I *love* my Karate Monkey. I have put this bike through all kinds of indignity (skinny tires and fenders for two 370-mile tours of the Golden Circle) and abuse (two full winters perpetually coated in grit and slush on the icy streets of Juneau.) Oh, and there was the time I rode it 2,800 miles down the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, through all manner of rain and dirt and wheel-sucking mud. The only maintenance I did myself during the race was put lube on the chain and pump up the increasingly swiss-cheese-like tires. I had the bike almost completely overhauled once, but only once, about 1,500 miles into the ride. (As opposed to Princess Element, which enjoyed three overhauls during the mere seven days of TransRockies.) The Karate Monkey still has its original wheels. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had something close to 13,000 mostly dirt miles on them — with only one broken spoke in that time and one replacement of the freehub. I’ve also had the Reba shock rebuilt, a few drivetrain, brake pad and cable replacements, bottom bracket replacement, saddle replacement, and front brake and rotor replacement. The rest of the parts also have ~13,000 miles on them. And while the rest of my bikes fall victim to my ignorance and neglect, the Karate Monkey keeps plugging away — rust-coated, heavy, and completely reliable.

No, I can’t get rid of the Karate Monkey. Which means I’ll just have to justify her place in the kennel by turning her into a singlespeed.


  1. The top cap doesn't serve much purpose once you have the stem installed. On the other hand, how on earth do you break a top cap?

  2. Anon ... I'm not even sure. By tightening the headset too much? I am seriously bad with bikes. And things in general. Even my pairs of running shoes all have problems, from shredded shoelaces to ripped soles.

  3. :) can I just say, I'm so glad I'm not the only one with this sort of "problem"?! also, fabulous pics...they make me a tad homesick!

  4. KMs have that kind of effect on people. I know I have a somewhat of an irrational affection for mine.

  5. Look after that Monkey. He's looked after you.

  6. Now if you'd just hook up with Jason... ;) a few problems solved...

    See ya in Vegas!


  7. As I read your post it made me think of the money that's been poured into my 2006 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR, most likely close to the original value I paid for the bike. Why? because I love my bike and like it to be in decent operating condition.

    I ditched the hydraulic brakes a couple of years ago and went with Avid BB7 mechanical brakes; there is decreased modulation but a fair trade off for me, a female, when it comes to maintenance and repair.

    I have 4 bikes, 2 which get used consistently for either trail riding or commuting. For the other 2, one is a Specialized Dolce road much as I try to motivate myself to go for a road ride I simply don't ride pavement for fun and considered selling it this past spring and may do so next year. The last one is a 1993 Kona Fire Mountain which is too big for me but I can't get rid of it because it was the first bike I bought.

    I've followed your adventures for a couple of years now so I have some appreciation for what you've put your bikes through. Give them some TLC and they will justify their existence in your small apartment once again!

  8. Jill, you really smart girl who has survived on wits under dire wilderness situations. You can learn quite quickly how to deal with both tubeless tires and hydraulic brakes. It's not that hard, just requires some attention to detail. Your writing clearly shows you're capable of that.

    It all starts here:


  9. There are formulas for the correct number of bikes:

    N+1, where N is the number of bikes you have currently.

    For married folks:

    S-1, where S is the number of bike that will get you divorced

  10. it is like a little family of bikes you have there. one day there will be an all purpose, all singing all dancing bike for every occasion. A bit like a swiss army knife but in bicycle form!

  11. Maybe date a bike mechanic?

    Our 23 year old daughter was having lots of computer problems with her old laptop....

    .....she started dating some guy that works as a Apple Store Genius-computer problems solved:-)

  12. Get rid of the fixie. All the cool kids are commuting on Pugsleys now.

  13. Jill, pop that tire off the Rocky and put a tube in it. You should be carrying a spare tube regardless. It will bail you out when the tubeless fails! Keep the Monkey as well. I miss mine at times.

  14. There is nothing wrong with the number of bikes you own. While you could read your blog to evoke memories you could just as easily look at the bikes and relive those moments in time. I think you should resolve the issue by getting a larger apartment.


  15. Uni-Tom is right on the money with the link to Sheldon Brown. I managed to unstick a seat post that had been seriously stuck for THREE YEARS thanks to Sheldon Brown's advice. He is now my go-to guy for most things bike related. Also, take time to get to know some of the LBS's in the area. C'mon, this is Missoula we're talking about! There's got to be at least one good LBS.
    from a Juneau biker

  16. Yay gear! Keep all the bikes for sure.

  17. I feel you on the emotional attachment to bikes. I've been "meaning" to sell my S-Works HT for about a year now. I've even stripped it down to a frame to sell and ended up building it back up a few times. Well, I finally sold it on ebay over the weekend and I have to say... it kind of hurts...

  18. The KM yearns for just that one gear...let the Monkey have its way. Big wheels, one gear, mechanical disc brakes, rigid fork...ride it, put it away, ride it the next day.

    Careful what cog you put on it though - you'll hear 20t a lot in missoula but a 22t works great in the 'snake; you won't have to mash so much esp on SB Overlook and Ravine.

  19. If I buy A bike it is going to be A Karate Monkey!

  20. Single speed "fixie" bikes are just trendy douchebag poser mobiles. There's a reason derailleurs and freewheels were invented, so you don't wreck your knees. I was at a 24 hour MTB race a few weeks ago and watched a guy doing a climb on a fixie, he was obviously killing himself and breathing hard with the wrong gearing for the climb. Just a minute or so later I watched a woman pedal past on a bike with a derailleur and she had the proper gearing and was spinning up the hill with no problem. The only place fixies belong is in track racing, other than that they are just a fashion statement, about as trendy as neon colored cycling clothes were back in the 80's.

    One thing I noticed in anon's post above was the I'm just a female copout about not knowing how to do bike repairs, that's just lame. I have no respect for any woman who uses that as a reason for not learning or trying to work on your own bike.

  21. Hi,

    I am planning to ride the divide this summer and am very close to purchasing a Karate Monkey. I would love some advice as to how you set it up for the tour. I.e. drivetrain, components, fork, tires, handlebars, storage, etc...

    Anything helps!




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