The Web Monkey Speaks: Bikes are simple

By Vernon Felton

"Well, damn."

This is all Joe The Mechanic has to offer as we watch my Autolite 2100 projectile vomit petrol. The old Ford 302 is gamely coughing and sputtering up a storm--kind of impressive, really, when you consider that at least half of the gasoline that should be whirling down the carb and into the intake manifold is, instead, Jackson Pollocking all over my engine compartment.

One of us should probably shut off the engine before my beloved Bronco catches fire and barbecues us alive.

So, damn. Yeah, that about sums it up.

Oddly, however, I'm not really bummed at all. I am, in fact, sort of relieved, despite the fact that Joe had called earlier and told me he'd fixed the now-flailing Bronco.

I've been struggling with the Bronco's fuel system for a couple of years now. But, then again, I'm the kind of guy you'd expect that of. I had friends whose dads drag-raced on the weekends. Kids who could rebuild a four-barrel Holley carb in less time than it took to polish off a cherry Otter Pop and watch an episode of Thunder Cats. I wasn't one of those kids and, forty-odd years later, I still haven't grown into one of those guys. I'm reasonably handy, sure, but I lack that Yoda-like mastery of the mechanical world that some people possess.

So, after two years of banging my head against the wall, sorta fixing the car and then calling AAA road service from all sorts of remote and scary places, I decided I'd give up, surrender my man-card and hire someone else to iron out the Bronco. It felt like defeat. There's a part of me that just can't respect a man who can't fix his own car. And now I'm that man.

But here's the silver lining: Joe The Mechanic is apparently also that man. Joe's failure to figure out my fuel system woes is actually kind of comforting--proof that it's not just me. Standing there with my baffled mechanic almost feels like some kind of group therapy moment. You know, a bunch of people sitting around in a circle, drinking shitty coffee and telling each other that things are bad, but at least none of us are alone in struggling with this problem - that kind of thing.

Bikes are simple
My gasoline orgy also reminded me of why I love bikes so much. In a way, bikes are everything cars are not. Sure, both are modes of transportation, but bikes are simple, and just how wonderful that fact is cannot be overstated. With bikes, there are no puking carburetors, no slipping clutches, no faulty oxygen sensors, no ominous grinding noises in your differential. Instead, a bicycle has a chain. It possesses two-at-most derailleurs and a couple of cables.

Your rear derailleur isn't shifting up the cassette? The cable probably stretched--you need to turn that barrel adjuster a quarter turn to add some tension. That didn't do it? Maybe you bent your derailleur hanger and it needs straightening. Or, less likely, your set screws are off. That's about it for shifting, which is actually the weakest, most histrionic link in the whole cycling affair.

Keeping your bike running ain't rocket science. Sure, there are creaking bottom brackets to contend with and rebuilding a fork ain't exactly child's play, but when you compare a bicycle to your garden variety motorized vehicle, the bicycle is about as complex as a bag of rocks.

And simple is good
Few things, it turns out, are simple. There is no Santa Claus, your goldfish/guinea pig/sea monkey didn't make it to Goldfish/Guinea Pig/Sea Monkey Heaven and even though no one in America will admit to even liking WalMart, those things just keep popping up. Life, in short, is complicated. Bikes are not. You keep them lubed, you put air in the tires and the things just keep on working.

Your bike needn't cost five bills or be made of carbon fiber or sport the latest electronic shifting. Your bike doesn't require monthly oil changes, hours spent desperately pawing through a Chilton's repair manual or an annual visit to a mechanic, who earns as much per year as an Orange County breast augmentation specialist.

Climb on your bike. If it has pedals, turn them. Turn them a lot and the most amazing thing will happen: your very simple bike will make life's complications seem, well, simple. There's nothing complicated about it.