Sunday afternoon was so sunny and warm, I couldn’t help but set my homework aside for a while, pull on my favorite orange biking bibs and grab my bike off its hook in the garage.It was the perfect day for a ride, but before I started, I gave my bike my usual inspection. The tires were full — good — but the frame was spotted with flecks of mud from the few slushy rides I’d done over the winter, and the drivetrain and chain were full of black gunk (fun fact, a bike chain is actually silver when it’s clean!).
Before I could start, I knew my bike needed some care. So, I filled a bucket with warm water and dish soap and scrubbed the dirt and grease away with an old toothbrush.
After drying off the water with a towel, I squirted grease into all the moving parts and used a rag to rub it into the chain.
Biking across the United States last summer, I learned that an unhappy ride makes for an unhappy rider. So I take care of Stuart Little (my bike) with the same care I show my own body.
I grew up in a society that taught me that the thing to do when something breaks is to throw it away and buy a new one. Learning to take care of my bike so that it kept running day after day was really satisfying.
The day after my trip ended, the free wheel agent on my bike stopped working. A friend took me to the house of Ben Wyse, a bicycle mechanic and bike travel advocate in Harrisonburg, Va. to get it fixed.
As Wyse installed a hub he had salvaged from an old bike and counted out new shiny bearings, he told me about his philosophy for bike maintenance, and life.
He started with the familiar motto “reduce, reuse, recycle.” “But what’s missing?” he asked me. His answer was “repair.”
Reducing the amount of materials we use is good. So are reusing products and recycling materials.
But to Wyse, who is devoted to providing free bike maintenance for those in his community, repairing items so they can be used for a long time is just as important.
The U.S. economy is based on a relentless flow of resources from the land to the consumer to the landfill. This is not sustainable.
By repairing our belongings and continuing to use them, we can keep them out of the landfill and keep new materials from being extracted from the environment. Doing this also teaches an important lesson on how to care for things other than ourselves.
Every time I fix a flat tire, pop the chain back together, tighten the brakes or clean and lube the chain, I build a deeper connection with Stuart Little.
My bike is not just a possession anymore. I know its quirks and its best qualities. I know the feeling of bounciness that means one of the tires is going flat and the chirping noise that means the chain is getting dry. I couldn’t throw Stuart Little away if someone paid me to do it.
Overcoming climate change requires not just reducing the amount of materials we extract from the environment and doing a better job at managing the resources we’ve got. It requires active work to repair damaged populations and ecosystems and communities.
The truth is, the time I spend on my knees scrubbing Stuart Little’s chain with an old toothbrush is a fulfilling part of the biking experience that I wouldn’t want to miss.