Its ZAMM: Patience And The Art of Bicycle Repair

Only months ago I wrote a piece on the virtues of cycling in Berlin. It seems that in the heat of those summer months, drenched in late July sun, the bicycle captured the essence of the city. It signified the simplicity and ease with which one could move from A-B, unencumbered, and all with the cool lick of a breeze against a sweaty brow.

Although the seasons may have changed, the bicycle remains the same. The sun has retreated behind an impenetrable layer of grey that now languidly hangs over the city. And most have foregone their bikes and opted for public transport. Others, more foolhardy and masochistic, myself included, have remained true to their two-wheeled friends. Battling rain and sleet, meeting sub-zero winds eye-to-eye in a bid to capture the freedom bestowed to those that cycle in the city.

At the time of completing the pervious article I had just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM). If you are unfamiliar with the work of Robert M. Pirsig I cannot recommend it enough. Written during the mid 70’s, Pirsig takes the reader on a journey of discovery through important philosophic quandaries of mainstream society, and back again over the vast plains of Middle America. It remains to this day as an extremely influential piece of writing that has shaped countless peoples values and perspectives.

It would be months later before the wisdom instilled through Pirsig’s words would really resonate with me. So as summer slipped away and the light blue skies receded into heavy greys, another change was quietly underway. My bike and I seemed to be entering a new stage in our relationship. Long gone were those warm nights where I would be carried across the city without so much as a complaint. Now I watched as the bike began to deteriorate bellow my very ass. And as one problem arose, you could be sure another was waiting with the next revolution of the wheel.

It began with a string of flat tires. The punctures marking the start of a cause and effect chain set to test both my patience and mechanical skills.

Now I’ve seldom considered myself the most mechanically minded. Often proclaiming appliances are broken when they are merely unplugged or without battery. Yet I was vaguely familiar with the basics of bike mechanics. Having spent many a childhood year riding through the Scottish highlands had endowed me with a modest understanding when it came to their general upkeep. However as the problems with my bike intensified I was brought deeper into the uncomfortable world of bicycle mechanics.

This is perhaps not an alien sensation. Most of us feel out of our depths when the technology in our lives fails to function. We are often at a loss, unable to find a simple solution. And this is exactly the thread that Pirsig pulls on in ZAAM.

It has been this way for years now. Technology marches on relentlessly and we
as individuals try in earnest to keep up. Yet most tend to remain ignorant to the technology in our lives. And as the margin between humans and technology continues to widen you begin to realise that so much of the stress akin to our existence is a direct result of the technology in our lives not working the way we expect it to.

So as I stared at the umpteenth flat tire in as many days, shifting my eyes over to the gears that no longer responded, and peering downwards to the light cable that was now severed, I knew I had to do something about it. It would have been easy to take it to a trained mechanic and unburden myself of the work. And perhaps I would have if it had not been for the words of Pirsig echoing in my ears and for the mothballs in my wallet.

I took my bike to Lausitzer str, where at Regenbogenfabrik Fahrrad you can work on your bike in their werkstatt, with the aid of friendly staff and ample tools. In a brisk four hours, and with the help of their team, I succeeded in rectifying all the wrongs with the bike. As I rode it home I couldn’t remember the bike ever riding so well.

Taking the time to fix something yourself, be it a bike or any other piece of technology, is an important aspect of life. Not only is it a great sense of achievement, it aids our learning and pushes us to the next stage of understanding. The more you tinker and get hands on with the intricacies of the bike the easier it is to move beyond object and person. It is exactly this duality that we have that stands as a frontier between technology and us. We constantly remove the interconnectedness between all things, and see ourselves as detached. It is this gap that leaves us feeling lost and despondent when, say, our bike breaks or technology goes awry. Yet the more engaged we are, the more patience we exude, the easier it is to find a solution and begin repairing it ourselves.

I’m not in anyway advocating that when the refrigerator breaks you yank it out from the wall and start bludgeoning it with a spanner in a vein attempt to fix its air conditioning system. Merely that we should be more engaged and active with maintenance and up keep of things we can comfortably and safely do.

Many that have watched me struggle, seemingly caught in an endless circuit of bike mechanical problems have insisted that I launch it into the Spree and end this bad luck. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t contemplated it at several stages. But when I ride it now there is a real connection. I know everything about it, each noise indicates its general wellbeing and each new noise is an indication of potential troubles. Yet I’m now confident I could fix it by myself.

The price of having someone else repair it is a price that we cannot afford. It is a cost that exceeds monetary value, and it’s a cost that we continue to pay all our lives if we don’t take the time to learn how to fix it for ourselves.

By Liam McGuckin

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