Discovering Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance

There aren’t that many parts to a bike.

Yet for such a simple machine, there are countless secrets and opportunities for joy embodied in its makeup.

Some might argue everything important is symbolized by a bicycle. I’d be one.

There is no doubt the act of physical exertion in the form of cycling leads to fitness, and healthier lifestyles lead to less sickness, more energy, and so forth.

But I’m talking of the benefits that are less defined but rooted in more tangible experiences. Long left in the realm of awe and whispers are the amazing benefits of becoming intimate with the simplicity of the machine itself.

Bike mechanics know this well, but in general don’t share the deeper secrets they’ve gleaned from truing wheels and adjusting shifters. It’s a personal knowledge that embeds itself in thin layers of grease caught under fingernails, and is as unique to each wrench wielder as the inevitable oily fingerprints left on everything touched throughout the day. These are truths bred in meditation. Epiphanic.

Little has changed to the bicycle since it was rolled out in 1885, yet it continues to provide solutions to some of the world’s most complex issues. Its simplicity makes it ideal for places where resources are pinched, where ingenuity abounds.

This past weekend I was able to, for a brief moment, unlock the answer for myself. And I did in my living room, with nothing more than a broken bike and an Allen key.

Five years ago, I bought my first new bike in 20 years. It was fierce, unfaltering red, burning with unabashed enthusiasm, ready to roll over any obstacle.

Like its rider, the unforgiving march of time has given it new colour, not through fading, but through facing the challenges of the road.

Over the years, it has morphed to a dirty red, a scarred red, a scratched-and-muddied-and-bloodied red as it kept its promise, rolling over, and sometimes under, anything that got in its way. It has been beaten, broken, bent and bruised, and it has never quit, never given up.

It takes abuse and mistreatment in its stride, this bike of mine, and continues to barrel me along in the reckless pursuit of the undeniable desire —  freedom to fly.

It’s a machine built for escape. Built for one. A selfless mobile steeped with selfish appeal. This past weekend I bent its chain ring. Crushed it in an act of folly.

It was on the eve of Bike to Work Week. You can imagine the bike shop’s velo-virtuosos were already swamped, their mechanic dance tickets making them belles of the ball.

I had to take matters into my own extremely unhandy hands.

In doing so, I rekindled the relationship between myself and patience. I once again discovered the joy of doing something simple, one step at a time, with full concentration, until completion.

One small task, performed in the moment, performed well, and completed, is the secret. It’s how we can solve every issue plaguing us, no matter how big. One small action at a time.

This week, you can find camaraderie and maybe learn some of your own truths by joining Bike to Work Week at biketowork.ca.

And in June, throw your support behind Ride Don’t Hide and spread the pedaling power even further. You can register at ridedonthide.com and support Canadian Mental Health Association’s good work.

Aaron Bichard writes for newspapers and recycles them. Connect with him at cowichanrecyclists@gmail.com.

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