September 18, 2018

bike wheel1

The other morning I rode my bike to the U of T bookstore to look for textbooks for my graduate course, ENV 1008: Worldviews and Ecology. I arrived early, because at this time of year the place resembles Union Station at rush hour. The shelf was empty; a staffer assured me that, “The books are on order. The prof knows.”
I walked out and found my front bike tire flat.
Life is like that some days.
I rolled my bike over to Bike Chain, a service of the university for which students pay an annual $1. Bike Chain lives in  a nook on Bancroft Avenue in the Earth Sciences Centre, where I study. It didn’t open until 10, so I went off to run some errands and got back at around noon.
Bike Chain is windowless; it smells of bike grease, and young men and women walked around purposefully in a way I found slightly forbidding. A sign at the entrance read, “All bays full. Add your name to the wait list.”
Just then, though, someone completed their job. A gentleman with a big tuft of dyed blonde hair ushered me in and I lifted my Simcoe 3-speed onto a bicycle repair stand and clipped in the frame. For the first time in my life I had a proper apparatus to work on my bike. A helpful staffer pointed to a wall of wrenches and said, “You need a 15 (mm) to take off your wheel.”
Upon inspection, I learned that some trauma had shredded both my tire and innertube; Bike Chain sold me a new tire for $20 and an innertube for $7. That’s a pretty good deal.
As I worked I looked over and recognized someone.  Claudine. They stood in a corner, slowly spinning a bike wheel that sat on a specialized rack. At intervals, they adjusted the forks. Claudine used to work as a caregiver at my childrens’ French daycare, many years ago.
“Bonjour, madame,” I called cheerfully across the busy bike repair garage.
The worker smiled. “Bonjour. Mais il faut dire monsieur maintenant.”
I gulped. So stupid of me. Then I remembered: last time I saw this person, as we rode west on the Harbord bike lane, I said, “Bonjour, Claudine,” and the reply came, “C’est Claude maintenant.”
After I replaced my front tube and tire I thought to myself: it’s September, I need my bike in good working order, I don’t have to be anywhere; maybe I can true my rear wheel, which was pretty wonky.
I asked a staffer about truing a wheel.
bikes“Take off the wheel and take it to Claude over there,” he said.
I kind of hate taking off my rear wheel, because I have to remove the gear shifter, take off the chain, etc, and it’s always hard to get it back on, but I bit the bullet and took the wheel over to Claude.
There we stood, for a long time, in the corner. First he taught me to squeeze my spokes, two at a time, to see which were tighter or looser. Then we used a spoke tool to tighten and loosen spokes. Then we used a little device that measures the tension of each spoke. Lastly, Claude taught me to play the spokes as with a guitar. A native of Switzerland, he seems to prefer to speak English than French, these days.
“You can hear when you pluck the spoke, which is tighter and which is less tight,” Claude explained. He went back to his wheel, and we stood there silently for quite awhile as I tested and plucked and adjusted my spokes, until my wheel seemed pretty okay.
I said goodbye, put my wheel back on, and rode away happy.
This whole experience makes me think of our first reading in Worldviews and Ecology, a 1991 screed by David Orr of Oberlin College, in Ohio, titled, “What Is Education For?” in which he rails against the absurdity of formal university education.
At the close of this essay Orr offers a list of practical skills no student should graduate without, including, “growing food; building shelter; using solar energy, and a knowledge of local soils, flora, fauna and the watershed.”
To fight global warming we need as many people as possible on bicycles. So I would add to Orr’s list, basic bicycle repair.
My bike slides smoothly today. I learned to true my bike wheel at the University of Toronto. Merci, Claude.