I pedaled the sweetest three miles on Friday night that I have ever ridden on my bike. I rode home on my new touring bike that I built myself.
I’ve put my blood, sweat, and tears into this bike over the past couple of weeks. You might recognize the frame as my trusty steel Miyata commuter bike, Delilah. I set her up with mountain bike components (Shimano Deore 9 spd), straight handlebars, a new rear rack, and new wheels and tires. Building my own touring bike was something I was really determined to do before starting my bike tour. I wanted the knowledge and confidence with bike maintenance out on the road.
It is extremely fortunate that Austin has an amazing non-profit called Yellow Bike Project. This is a place you can go to work on bikes for free. I was able to use a stand, bike tools, and the expertise of very patient volunteers during the shop hours. There are even shop puppies!
Until recently my bike mechanic skills have been pretty limited to tire changing, chain lubing, and basic tightening with an Allen wrench. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how difficult this bike building process would be. It isn’t necessarily the mechanics that are challenging. Bikes are pretty simple machines once you figure out how the pieces work. For me the real struggle was in the patience it takes to figure out what is wrong and fix and re-fix the pieces until you correct the problem. I hate doing things over and over again.
Another huge issue for me was that the available shop hours required me to go straight from work and stay in the shop until it closed at 10 PM. That meant I missed out on dinner on those nights. I know that there are some people out there who get to working on a project and time just flies by and they realize suddenly that they’ve missed out on lunch or dinner. I am not one of those people. A mealtime has never passed me by without my knowing. Even pushing a meal back an hour can send me spiraling into a low blood-sugar induced emotional breakdown. I just about gave up in a hangry (angry + hungry) fit after I discovered that nearly everything I’d worked on in the previous four hours would need to be redone. But, after eating a late dinner and getting a night’s rest I talked myself off the ledge and decided to give it another try instead of paying to have the work done for me.
It took me about 15 hours over four days to put my bike together. I must say it works pretty beautifully too! This little project not only taught me a lot about bike mechanics, but it was also a good lesson in patience. As frustrating as it can be to have to fix something over and over again until it is right, it can be incredibly exhausting to figure things out while traveling. While I envision myself pedaling effortlessly through breathtaking scenery I know that the reality of the situation is that I’m going to get lost and confused from time to time (probably often) and have to retrace my steps. The weather is not always going to be ideal, and I will probably even have to push on when I am tired and hungry (gasp!)
I really think every cyclist should take some time to learn basic bike repairs. Of course, not every city is lucky enough to have a fantastic resource like Yellow Bike Project and the task can seem very daunting to take on by yourself. However, you can learn a lot with just a few bike tools and YouTube videos. Also, the next time you take your bike in to the shop you can try sticking around and having the mechanic show you what is being done and why. And, in case you were wondering, I did give my darling frankenbike a new name. She’s no longer sweet Delilah – she’s Xena, warrior princess 🙂