The point of mountain biking is to have fun in beautiful landscapes. If one excludes the possibility of broken collarbones, shoulders and wrists, it’s supposed to promote good health.
The majority of us have no hope of getting anywhere near the front of the race, and we come in all shapes and sizes, but at some point every one of us – as we go belting down single track, or weaving through trees – maps the experience onto pictures we’ve seen of pro riders doing the same thing. It’s sad, I know, but it makes for a good meme.
There is quite a wide spectrum of ability and fitness amongst us amateurs. Like weekend golfers, we start coveting better technology. Bigger wheels (29-inch) and lighter bikes (carbon frame) top the list.
It’s an arms race of sorts, which I have also joined. First it was the move from entry-level hard tail with old-fashioned block brakes to full suspension and disk brakes. The next jump was to carbon frame with top-of-the-range tubeless 29-inch wheels.
My first moment of technical inadequacy came when I wanted to remove the front wheel. The new technology here is the Maxle – effectively an axle that screws right out, instead of having attachments on either sides of the fork. I had to watch a YouTube video to learn how to do it.
Then, when the fabulous tubeless tyres had a slow leak, I discovered that I should have been topping up the sealant on a regular basis. Once again, there was a key ‘trick’, because the tyre needs to be reinflated in such a way that enables it to seat against the rim, thereby trapping the air. Doing this by means of a hand pump doesn’t work, because the air just escapes before the pressure inside the tyre forces it to seal against the rim. The only way to achieve that is to give it the full force of a CO2 ‘bomb’.
So far, so good.
After my experiences this weekend I can report that I have hit the wall. When it comes to technical proficiency I have reached the limit of my capabilities.
I decided that my brake pads needed changing (at just under R500 for the set it’s a lot less than the cost of brake pads for a car, but on a cost-per-kilometre-covered basis I’m sure the bike’s pads are more expensive). So, I dashed off to the bike shop just before closing time on Saturday. The shop owner gave me a little explanation of what to do.
Upon removing the worn pads I first had to depress the pistons that activate the brakes when the handle is pulled (it operates on a hydraulic system). If this is not done, the pads won’t fit, because the new pads take up more space than the worn ones. After losing all the fluid in the front brakes and failing completely in getting the rear pistons to budge, I gave up. Far from performing some maintenance that would keep the bike in tip-top shape I had rendered it unrideable.
I’ve always associated pistons with the internal combustion engine. Who would have thought they play a key role in enabling a human-propelled vehicle to slow down?
I may yet cling to the illusion that I’m a racing snake, a bike-riding machine, but I have no problem in relinquishing any claim to knowledge about the technical side of bicycles. What I Think I Know, and What I Really Know, as well as what the Bike Mechanic Thinks I Know, are all the same. Nothing.