Ask not for whom the rear wheel spins

Yesterday, I felt emotions.

Out of an abundance of caution during the pandemic, I’ve spent the last two months solely spinning in my garage during our shelter-in-place order. Last night, I finally took my bike off the trainer to clean the chain. Maybe it’s because riding on a trainer doesn’t feel like real cycling, or maybe it’s because I don’t feel peer pressure from group rides, but I’ve been procrastinating on doing this basic maintenance that in previous years I would be doing weekly by now.

Last night, it had gotten to the point that the sound of the chain running through the cassette was making a grinding noise and it was getting louder. I had even started to feel it in my feet and so it was obviously long overdue for a clean. I finally resolved to do it and as a bonus, having to clean the chain would also give me the opportunity to use the new bike work stand I purchased. I bought it after I strained my back two months ago but hadn’t used it since it arrived — the stand has been sheltering-in-place in its box as long as I have been in mine.

My bike off the trainer, I tried to carefully align the rear derailleur on the bike with the cassette on the real wheel, and with the expected chunk!, I let the bike drop on to the wheel. I didn’t stick the landing, though, and misaligned the cassette and disc brake. I had to fiddle with the wheel and quick release skewer a bit to get it all straight, but it was clear that I was out of practice putting my rear wheel back on.

I hadn’t seen my bike in its fully assembled form in some time. I took a moment to enjoy a sense of nostalgia about my self-powered freedom machine, but it was time to be a pretend mechanic and get to work. I propped my bike up on to the stand and went through the sloppy process of degreasing the chain. As I spun the chain backwards through the cleaning device, jet black drops of chain juice dropped on to the floor.

After about a minute, the chain started to sparkle. I wiped it down, feeling almost anew the sensation of the chain links passing through my fingers.

I was done degreasing, but with my bike still suspended up on the stand, I wanted more time with it before I had to remove the rear wheel to put my bike back on the trainer. I turned the crank forward a few rotations and watched the rear wheel spring to life. In its highest gear, turning pedal made the wheel take off with full enthusiasm. The clicking of the hubs sounded an excitement while the tire and wheel labels blurred in a circle in front of me. I turned the pedal a few more times, and the buzz from the hub increased the call. My bike seemed like it wanted to be out on the open road again.

For the experiences you get on it, a bike is greater than the sum of its parts. Spending a little time working with a few bike parts last night reminded me of the art and science that is symbolized by this bike. I had already started to feel worn out with indoor training in the past week, and last night it occurred to me that perhaps the time has come to experience a real ride again.

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