Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

I can judge my spiritual fitness by the condition my bike is in. Right now it’s spotless.

I took a damp rag and scrubbed the frame washing off dirt, grime, and salt. Winter-time. Salt is the worst. It chews away at whatever it can get its teeth on: your wheels, gears, shifter, screws, cables, and spokes. That’s why it was a big deal for me to scrub my bike clean, to get all the salt off.

When I finished scrubbing I noticed there were tiny areas throughout the bike that couldn’t be reached with the rag. So I got a pipe cleaner out of the tool box and, with gumption, went to work. I squeezed it in between the tiniest cracks and moved it rapidly back and forth, throwing clouds of particulate into the air. I changed angles, adjusted how I sat, and continued, cleaning every square millimeter of the bike.

Then, I went back again, noticing crevices I didn’t see the first time around. With consistent effort and concern for detail I cleaned them all. In the process I discovered parts of my bike I didn’t even know existed. Next, I took a bottle of lubricant and oiled the chain, the brakes, derailleur, the point where the handlebars turn, every part that needed it.

I kicked the kick-stand in order to let the bike stand in the sun, admiring my work. Radiant. Hadn’t looked that good, even when I bought it.

Finally, I was ready to ride. I got on the bike and started to pedal. I went a block and a half. Then a car pulled in front of me and I had to slow down. I hit the brakes but the back one didn’t work. I remembered, then, that the last time I rode the bike I was in an accident and broke the back brake but forgot to fix it. To avoid crashing into the car in front of me I had to swerve into the opposite lane. Thank god there a car coming in the other lane.

My bike is spotless. But it doesn’t brake properly. I can judge my spiritual fitness by the condition my bike is in.

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