Maybe it’s because I’m reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and thinking about “quality”, but revelations about the big ideas in life are currently coming in the form of machine metaphors. My machine is a bicycle. My bike is my solace, my left arm, my drug. Since I’ve come back to Montreal I’ve hit the bike hard, rediscovering old routes, some deeply embedded in muscle memory. I’ve been riding maybe 30-40 Km/day, most days, weather permitting. That works out to ~ 200 Km/week. Not bad, all considered.
But something has been bugging me the whole time…The bike itself. I had it tuned up when I got here and, as in the past, asked if maybe the chain and cogs should be changed — I complained that they were slipping when I really started to pound the pedals out of the saddle, and the drivetrain felt soft. Like many mechanics before, this one suggested it needed a tune up and cleaning, and after that it was OK. But just OK. There was still slipping, still this sense of losing power with each pedal stroke. The amount of energy I put into a ride seemed disproportionate to my speed and distance. It was annoying.
The other day I got a flat…A bad one, a broken valve on the tube. I needed a new tube so decided to just bring the bike in. I asked this mechanic the same question…Should I change the cogs and chain? And, unlike everyone else before him, he thought about it, agreed and did exactly what I asked. He went into the back to find the parts, and they weren’t even that expensive. The whole deal cost less than a major tune-up.
And the result? Phenomenal. I feel physically down today, battling a chest cold, but the bike, the bike is beautiful. Fast — all the energy of each pedal stroke transferred perfectly. Even though I was sluggish, the bike wasn’t. A problem that had been bugging me for months, maybe even a year, was solved. No big deal. And it was solved the way I thought it would be all along…
I feel as if life is coming around to this too. Like the drivetrain is getting a refit — and power transfer to the proverbial pedals of existence is moving towards 100%. It’s amazing how these things happen. You can go forever just making minor repairs, or fiddling, and hope that makes the difference. But until you deal with the underlying issue there will always be slack and lag. Then, overnight, you spot the true crux of the problem. And here the emphasis is on you. You know better than any expert or mechanic what the problem is, since you “ride the bike” everyday. Sometimes you just need to insist on the validity of your own perspective, and fight for what, instinctively, you know is good for you.
When that all comes together it can be a beautiful thing, a smooth and effortless ride where all your energy is properly transferred to movement. Oddly, you find this dynamic space so often follows a sense of being totally sluggish or stuck.