Friday, August 31, 2012

Peace in Imperfection - The Quest for a Quiet Bike

It happened every pedal stroke - tinnnngggg,  tinngg,  ting,  t-tinngg, _____, tinngg.  The incessant, insistent, and maddening sound reminding me that my machine is not ideally tuned and/or cleaned, leading me on a chase to find the offending noise producer.  Digression - Yes, my maintenance standards, while still higher than the average Joe Racer (or so I think), have slipped over the past five years or so.  In fact, I was roundly mocked a few weeks ago at the top of a local "hill" at the sad state of my bike's cleanliness - as I trundled up at the tail end of the group (I am NOT always there - thank you very much!) a comment was lobbed my way by one of those insufferably skinny guys with a super-flashy carbon-of-the-moment ride like "well, if you cleaned that pound of s$%t off of your bike you'd be faster".  Well, maybe, but jettisoning the 15+ pounds around my middle (and elsewhere) would probably help more there jackass...anyway...back to the whole "imperfection" thing.

So, as I obsessed about what could be causing the Chinese Water Torture of bike noises, alternating my weight on the saddle, standing up (it got louder and more pronounced - I could almost feel it), riding no hands, loosening and tightening bolts, taking the bottle cages off, removing the seat post, smashing my fists against my head in rage and frustration, I started thinking about what it was that was driving me so friggin' insane about this noise.

Was it the noise itself, or what the noise signified?

First off, there's the anal element of working on one's own bike, especially for anyone that races, used to race, or wants to race - all that preparation, tuning and tweaking to get ready - mostly an exercise to keep nervous energy utilized.  What's going on with your body is more important.  Of course, there is a baseline level of bike tuning required to prevent a mechanical failure which can ruin your day.  Creaks, pings, tings, and any other unwelcome noise signifies a possible mechanical problem.  Is there something broken?  Crap.

There's the failure the noises point out.  So, when I threw the directions for that new stem in the garbage and just installed it (what torque spec? This things ain't magnesium.) did I really need those specs?  Did I fall victim to my desire for expediency and screw something up?  Idiot... What about that cable routing, did I make one of them too short or too long, causing unnecessary movement back and forth in the cable stop, miniscule enough to appear insignificant and large enough to send a vibration ringing throughout the titanium frame?

It's just one more problem in the world that needs to be addressed. (cue the dramatic music)

I consciously worked on accepting the noise as merely that, a noise, and thought about how fortunate I was to be riding my bike to work on an absolutely beautiful late summer morning. I noticed the reflection of my newly re-installed TA Specialities Alize crankset (re-installed to see if it fixed the blasted tinging and also because it's nice) chain rings on the pavement and curb beside me.  The low morning sunlight filtered through the trees created a reasonable facsimile rotating along the ground next to me.

I raced my shadow...we'll call it a draw.

I remembered racing my eighth grade best friend down the big hill (seemed big at the time) near my house as we rode to school (cue idyllic photo montage music).  My books, faithfully strapped to the spring-loaded rack behind me, carried along with me to their destination on a brown Vista 10-speed bought from my uncle.  I put into practice what I learned from watching Buddy Baker, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarborough in that weekend's NASCAR race - before most people knew what NASCAR was (and before restrictor plates) by sitting behind my friend before shooting by as I gathered momentum in his wake.  Helmetless, my cheesy K-Mart mechanical speedometer needle pushed 40 (or maybe it was 30).  Whatever it was, it felt insanely fast. That hill sucked on the way home.

Soon enough, the noise faded in its importance.  It was still there, and probably will be off and on for a while.  I'll keep chasing it, maybe I'll find it and maybe it'll come back again later. I'm getting better at saying "whatever" to stuff like this.

The simple lesson I learned today?  Pursuing ideal solutions is fine, and it will make life easier if you're willing and able to accept the now with all its faults and imperfections.

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