Usually, when the Tour de France is spinning its irresistible soap-opera through the Pyrenees, I can’t help but charge out for a few miles of Walter Mitty time: the fantasy of the road.
But for the last couple of weeks my bike has been out of commission. It started innocently enough on a trip to see the grandbabies in Albuquerque. Son-in-law Adam was working on his mountain bike in the garage, fiddling with handle bars and stem angles in an effort to take some of what he called the jitter out of his steering.
Adam knows bikes. He rode professionally for years after college. He loves nothing more than bicycling, except, of course, his wife and their two children. Adam suggested we upgrade the components on my old Stump Jumper. A mountain bike makeover!
He could see that I needed new cables and a new chain. He had some carbon-fiber handlebars that he couldn’t use and matched them with a surplus stem that would give me a slightly more upright position, something I wanted for my new hips. And, finally, Adam decided to replace my Shimano XT rear derailleur with the lighter, quicker XTR from his old racing bike, The Sexy Beast.
The Sexy Beast’s frame, with a tiny but terminal crack in it, is retired, hanging like a piece of art on the wall of the kitchen. Adam has no use for the XTR components, so, in his generous, enthusiastic way, he spent several happy hours putting them on my bike.
Adam warned me, as we were heading back to Colorado, that we had, in fact, only done a partial job. We hadn’t purchased a new cassette, which some people think is mandatory when you install a new chain – in the way you never change the oil on a car without also replacing the oil filter.
And Adam thought my middle ring up front, where I spend the majority of my miles, showed quite a bit of wear. We tried to put a new one on but were unable to get the cranks off, since Adam had recently broken the special tool needed for the job.
So, he said, be prepared for the possibility of “chain pop” or “ghost shifting” upon resuming my regular rides. If a simple adjustment of the derailleur doesn’t fix it, he said, head down to Randy’s and have him put on the new parts.
And that’s just what happened. There’s nothing more frustrating, other than a chain breaking, than to have your power train lurch and jump, leaving you briefly pushing against nothing, like an engine misfiring, only to re-engage and then miss again.
It took me a while, but I finally got BB (for Black Beauty) to Randy’s Peak to Peak Bicycles in Ridgway, where he fixed me up. Today was my first time out on the fully refurbished beauty. There was the delicious feeling of a precision, smooth-shifting machine, now without the worry in the back of my mind that I could stumble in the pedals at any moment. A flick of the finger, or the thumb, and I was up and down over hill and dale, past sweet-smelling sage on the side of the adobe track, bouncing through dry creek beds, grinding up OHV ruts pressed into the mud of the last thunderstorm.
Coming home on Buckhorn Road, the first of the late-summer sunflowers nodded their yellow heads on the shoulder. Just like the fields of sunflowers beside the peloton in Bordeaux. Just like that, only different.
On pavement again, I am in the final time trial, exhausted from an hour at maximum effort. I’m focused on every centimeter/second of speed. It’s just me and wind. There is no atmospheric wind; it’s the wind of my own friction, my hands, my helmet parting the air in front of me. And look! There’s the back of Alberto Contador’s jersey. I’m gaining on him! His Tour is over; he’s mine!
Peter Shelton’s blog is peterhshelton.wordpress.com