Although I’ve been riding a bike to commute since I moved to Philadelphia, and in 2007 I spent the summer biking from Virginia to Oregon, I shamefacedly must admit that I don’t know a whole lot about bike repair.  I can change a tire, and with the help of Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance and a lot of swearing I recently replaced the chain on my Raleigh, but beyond that I usually have to hit up my local bike shop.  This is a) embarassing and b) expensive, so for the month of August I’m taking a weekly bike repair class at Neighborhood Bike Works, a bicycle co-op in West Philly.  Tonight was our second session, and we covered how to replace bearings–the little metal balls that help wheels, headsets, pedals, and bottom brackets all turn smoothly.  My headset, which holds the front fork in place, felt a little loose, so we started taking it apart.  The first bad sign came when a bunch of rusted ball bearings clattered to the floor.  The headset was totally dry–not a dab of grease left in the whole thing.  Turns out the culprit was a nasty crack in the front fork itself:

Crack kills!
Crack kills!

That dark line running from the top of the tube had let water in and grease out, hence the rusted bearings.  Fortunately, NBW has an impressive selection of used forks.  Unfortunately, Raleigh makes pretty much everything to their own ridiculous spec, meaning that Raleigh bikes tend to be compatible only with Raleigh parts.  So after much rummaging, we came up with a fork and a collection of parts that our instructor, Liz, was pretty sure would go together into a functional headset, and our lesson on how to repack bearings turned into something much, much more involved.  The good news is that we (really, Liz) got the whole thing back in working order, and my bike is no longer a ticking time bomb waiting to explode with every pothole we traverse.  The bad news is that now my front fork doesn’t match the rest of the frame.  In fact, it’s a particularly offensive shade of lavender gray that clashes with the lagoon (Raleigh came up with the color name, not me) accents.  Here’s what my bike looked like before:

In happier, sunnier, softer-lit times.
In happier, sunnier, softer-lit times.

Yes, I like to shoot my bike in soft focus.  My bike is like Barbara Walters that way:

The hand that feeds Elizabeth Hasselbeck.
Rub some more vaseline on that lens!

Anyway, this is what it looks like now:

Don't look at me, I'm hideous!
Don't look at me, I'm hideous!

When I was on Bike and Build I named by bike Hedwig, after my favorite movie of all time, and when I bought the Raleigh, I’m pretty sure I named it Kilgore, after Kurt Vonnegut’s recurring character/reflection of the author, Kilgore Trout.  Now, however, I think maybe they should switch names, because the Raleigh is now an exquisite corpse of bike parts.  Incidentally, this brings to mind today’s page on my desk calendar of medical fun facts, entitled Why Do Men Have Nipples? which tells us that upon its 1931 release, the movie Frankenstein “was banned in Kansas on the grounds that it exhibitied ‘cruelty and tended to debase morals.'”  So there you go, bikes, Hedwig, and and my desk calendar all come together on the same day–it’s the lattice of coincidence.  Makes me hungry for shrimp.


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