Zen, and the wisdom of a bike mechanic

There’s a particular mechanic in my local bike shop; one of those man-of-few-words types who seems to exist in a permanent state of zen-like calm. It’s easy to imagine that his workshop is neat and ordered, repairs are carried out with methodical accuracy, and he never gashes his hand on a chain-ring or drops an allen key down a grid.

Whenever my bike shows signs of any mechanical failure beyond the reach of my limited practical ability, he’s the man I go to. Before I’ve wheeled it half way down the shop towards his pristine little world out back, he has greeted me by name, asked me how the wife and kids are, and diagnosed the problem with my bike in such a way as to avoid making me feel inadequate about my limited mechanical skills.

The neat and ordered world of the bicycle mechanic (Photo: keithonearth)
The neat and ordered world of the bicycle mechanic
(Photo: keithonearth)

He never tries to sell me things I don’t want, and never claims to have the answers to life’s great riddles, but occasionally he dispenses little pearls of wisdom that are beautiful in their simplicity. As a recent dabbler in mountain biking, I thought I would pick his brains about bikes and kit; just gently chip away and see what nuggets of hard won experience fell my way. So I asked him a stupid and vague question, something along the lines of “so, err,  mountain biking then…?”

And he replied: “I don’t mountain bike much these days, but the reps from Trek come in a couple of times a year and take us out for a ride, which is nice because we get to ride the latest £5,000 bikes. Bikes like that are the same as any other mountain bike really…just more expensive…and better.”

Which seems to me to be just about all you need to know about a £5,000 mountain bike.

So I continued to probe. Being new to mountain biking I own no mountain bike specific kit whatsoever, but due to an upcoming trip to a Welsh forest for a weekend of weaving up and down muddy hillsides and trying to remain upright, I thought I’d better invest in a pair of those baggy mountain bike specific shorts that they all seem to wear – you know, the ones with zipped pockets for MP3 players and phones, and bits of cord to clip things to and hang things off. So I asked my friend’s advice, and yet another response of staggering simplicity came my way (and remember, he’s a shop employee – it’s in his interest for me to buy some kit from the huge array they’ve got on display).

“To be honest”, he said, “I mainly road bike, so when I do mountain bike I just tend to wear my lycra, which works fine. Unless, of course, you want a bit more dignity….in which case buy the shorts”.

Once again, he nailed the subject in a couple of sentences.

It’s fair to say my mechanic friend and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to expressing ourselves. If you want pithy and succinct analysis, he’s your man, but he’s just not given to exploring the English language and expressing himself expansively. He produces a succession of tightly crafted aphorisms without a word wasted, whereas I pick a topic and riff and write all around it for 800 words.

So actually, on second thoughts, he’d probably make a great blogger too. I’m starting to go off him a bit now…smart arse!

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