It’s that time of year. Generally, by this point I’ve thrown in the towel. The weather’s less than ideal. The days are shorter. Early mornings or evening rides are off the table as a result. This means throwing away a good portion of daylight just to crunch any miles. You move slower, make more stops, and pressuring yourself to ride requires more discipline. It’s tough. There’s other influences as well. Take the bike for instance. I’ve learned to keep my bike squeaky clean. In Chengdu, with the type of grime you encounter on the regular here, it’s important to keep every moving bit free and clear of dirt. Despite these efforts, however, the result is one beat-ass bike.

I can’t blame her. My primary ride this season has seen some serious miles. In fact, I have reason to believe this is the most km’s I’ve ever clock in a given year, and by a stretch. I’ve tended to the bike as necessary, applying much needed upkeep to insure no other serious mechanicals come about. For this, you can mostly rely on regular cleaning, lubing, and adjustment of moving parts, as well as making sure your bearings aren’t overly loose or tight. It’s pretty straight-forward. Granted, as the miles roll by you hit the inevitable wall, where mechanically your bike says, “Enough is enough.”

My first indication of this was a series of flats. I totally massacred a tube one day, then day-after-day, ride-after-ride, was met with a new flat, a new patch, a new tube, or a new boot. I’d shredded the sidewall of the rear tire months ago while on a tour, but it’s held up since (kind of). For those that know, over time, a sidewall tear gradually gets worse as the pressurize tube inside breaks the threading of the casing, string by string, until finally it pops out. You can handle this by “booting” the tire, either with a folded up dollar bill (in my case a 五毛 note), a strip of plastic (I got about 500km out of a re-purposed ramen packet), a piece of old tube (what I’m using now), or anything folded up and shoved between the tube and tire (for instance, when the ramen packet finally gave out, I replaced it with a folded-up, plastic-lined, paper sleeve used for serving up 煎饼 [Chinese crepes]). Needless to say, in my experience I’ve determined one thing; If a tire is at the point of getting a puncture every other ride, then it’s time for new tires.

This isn’t the only thing that’s gone kaput. My endlessly groaning BB more recently developed some play in it. This took a few weeks riding to wrap my head around. It wouldn’t have been difficult to diagnose it, if it weren’t for the fact that my clipless pedals also started acting up. It’s hard to know what’s the cause of an irregular wobble, when you’re not sure if it’s your BB, your pedals being busted, or maybe your cleats are just worn the hell out. As such, each ride is prefaced with a quick mechanical check. While riding, each snack stop is also used to give a quick once-over of the bike.

This is how I know it’s that time of year. As a cyclist (more importantly, as someone who’s always struggled financially), I can appreciate delayed gratification. I’m not a fan of the hyper-consumerized motives within the industry, the regular push to buy new or upgrade. My favorite bike, or bike part, is one that keeps working, beautifully, as intended for years at a time (like the Shimano 600 hub set I have on my Cannondale). Alas, sometimes you just have to throw down the coin, to keep your ride ticking. This kind of regular maintenance prevents bigger costs of refusing to do any sort of regular service. Needless to say, there’s also something rewarding to know that you literally rode your bike into the ground. This is the very reason I time this bigger overhaul with the conclusion of my riding season. It’s an added struggle knowing that each ride my bike, itself, is revolting against the fact. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Soon I’ll wrap up my rigid riding schedule. Then, I’ll be sure to give my bike everything she needs, to have her riding like new, when my heart and my legs are back in it.

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