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.