Thursday, 2 June 2011

67. Cooking in the bicycle kitchen

Being back in an anglophone country seems to have eaten heavily into any reading and writing ventures. I picked up a copy of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury in a used bookstore in LA and I've read the first hundred pages several times already. Each time feeling like the first. The last entry in my journal was written exactly one month ago, the day before we left Mexico.

We reached San Francisco last Saturday afternoon, after fourteen days of cycling up the central Californian coast, our arrival into the city heralded by a downpour and a slippery descent through the rain soaked streets. My brakes seem to have developed an intolerance to wetness and I had to grind my bike shoes into the ground to slow a giddy Rocinante down as we rapidly approached a busy intersection at the bottom of the hill. Ellie's finely tuned new touring machine, a Surly Long Haul Trucker, coping much better with the conditions.

We're staying in the Mission district, the predominantly Latino enclave, with Rowan and Hanna. Rowan was one of my early cycling buddies, since we started going to school together twenty seven years ago. After spending the Memorial weekend having a look around the area, we began attending to some bicycle business. After almost three years on the road, Rocinante was in need of some TLC before we cross over to Asia later in the summer. A trip on the BART across the San Francisco Bay to Berkeley and we visited Neil at Cycle Monkey, the US distributor for Rohloff, who build the internal gear hub that I use. Neil's workshop is a cosy shed at the bottom of his garden and in a couple of hours he was able to replace the seals on the hub bearings that had been allowing oil to leak out as well as replacing all the internal and external cables on the Rocinante's Speedhub. Back in the Mission district I inquired in local bike shops about servicing several parts including the front hub and the bottom bracket, but all the hourly rates were about five days worth of traveling in most of the countries we've been through. I can do most of the tasks I need to do to keep Rocinante running smoothly but the more difficult tasks I have always tried to leave to the professionals or the ones who pretend to be. 

Most children develop their mechanical know-how as they follow older members of the family through the workshop, learning which tools to use where. Growing up I had a plentiful supply of tools and bikes to play with but the demolition of my grandfather's hand-built antique road bike and the subsequent failure at putting it back together again, seemed to instill a sense of caution rather than confidence when it comes to more complicated mechanical tasks. Then Rowan mentioned the Bike Kitchen earlier this evening and I rode over to their modern and well-stocked workshop a couple of blocks away. For a few dollars you get to use their tools and facilities and can rummage through their ample collection of spare parts. Bike savvy volunteers guide hip youngsters, single mothers and round the world cyclists in whatever task you have chosen to undertake for the evening. 
For an entree I decided on regreasing my front hub. I waited in line for a workbench to come free and then popped off the seals and opened up the bolts to reveal some pitted cone races and grease-starved ball bearings. There was initial hesitation when my mentor consulted his colleagues about the state of the cone races. It was agreed I could continue using them and I packed the bearings back with grease and then finished the more delicate job of ensuring the hub was not overtightened but also not loose. A few minutes later I left satisified with the job completed and happy that I understood a little more about what makes my bicycle go round. And I remember that man I met in a bike shop in Dublin shortly before I left who had laughed wholeheartedly at the proposal that I was going to cycle across Africa with only a hazy theoretical understanding of how to true a wheel and an even foggier one of how to build one. I guess we learn along the way.
San Francisco, USA
Trip distance: 46,080 km