This is a story of mechanical dirtbaggery from my twenties. Fifteen years later, I’m still involved in mechanical mischief despite my improved circumstances begs the question, “why?” The answer to this question gets to the heart of why I love mountain biking.
In the past
The year is 2013; I’m working at The Hub in Pisgah Forest, NC as a mechanic and riding my bike an absurd amount. At this point, I’m basically “pretired,” a term I made up to describe not having a career yet but enjoying my life like a retired person. I’m really poor and really happy.
I’m riding the wheels off an electric blue Transition Smuggler, one of the first of a breed of short travel aggressive 29ers. When I say riding the wheels off, I mean it. The Smuggler could crush trails for its time, but it didn’t have the travel to back it up. So my wheels would frequently take on a twisted octagon shape, and I’d flat my tires frequently, even running 29-31 psi. In the first month, I ruined the casings of multiple tires. I plugged the holes with sticky brown automotive tubeless worms and looked for alternative options.
This was about 5 years before Cushcore, and other tire inserts became available. A now-defunct product called Schwable Pro-Core was essentially a pneumatic tire insert/bead lock that did exist, but being a cheap dirtbag, I looked for sketchy and free solutions.
For years, the hare-scramble moto crowd has been using inflatable bead locks for tire retention and pinch flat resistance. An inflatable bead lock sits on your rim between your tire’s bead. When inflated, it “locks” the bead into the rim with pressure and then also functions to guard the rim against rock strikes.
Eventually, I decided to make my own bead lock with useless stuff I had hanging around the garage. Using a tubular road tire (a tire with the tube inside the casing) as an inflatable bead lock worked brilliantly with only a few significant problems:
- I didn’t want to drill another hole in my rim for a second valve. So I had to inflate the tire chamber with a ball needle and a hole in the tire, quickly patched with another brown worm.
- Air and sealant would leak out of the valve hole. Some silicone caulk resolved the situation.
- The tire was nigh impossible to mount.
It was almost impossible to fit both tire beads on either side of the tubular tire. Picture the birth of your first child, but with more blood and screaming.
Even though the system worked pretty well, inflating my tire by puncturing it with a ball needle was too sketchy, even for me. I also realized that if I ever did flat, I was ensuring myself a long sad walk home under my own personal rain cloud. So if I remember correctly, I cut that tire off the rim because it was so stuck.
The future is good
Fast forward almost a decade, and life is good. I’m not sure if I even qualify as a dirtbag anymore. I own a home, have a family, a car worth more than my bike (gasp), and a steady job. Yet, even though it probably makes more sense financially to bring my bike to a shop for service, I refuse. I like tinkering. I recently spent 2 hours turning a hunk of aluminum scrap into a disc brake mount. If I value my time at around $40 an hour, this $7 brake mount suddenly costs $80.
It’s easy to view problems through a financial lens, but that misses the point. We weren’t put on this earth to just compile money and die. We want to live well and to feel alive. These days tinkering on bikes is a hobby as much as riding them is. It enables me to solve minor problems one at a time, care for something I value, and learn how things work. Spending hours in my shop futzing with my bikes or other machines is not wasted time; it’s therapy. Mountain biking, and all the futzing it entails, helps us live well. While riding, I’ve had many life-benefiting conversations, and I’ve processed some of my most challenging moments while tinkering.
To paraphrase famed Oregon cross country coach Bill Bowerman–
"Mountain biking is basically an absurd pastime to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning in mountain biking, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd pastime: life."
Whether pushing his limits on technical trails, seeing what’s around the next corner, or tinkering in his shop; Peter enjoys life to the full. In addition to bikes, he enjoys frame building, graphic design, and math. He lives in Asheville, NC with his wife and son.
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