My Felt 4C road bike was valued at $2300 new when it was named Bike of the Year by Bicycling Magazine back in 2006. I purchased the Felt from a local bike shop that let me try a few different models including the Specialized Allez and a Trek or two perhaps.
They recommended the Felt over the other models. Of course they likely had a stock of them to move off the floor, and the rep had likely given them permission to drop the price a few hundred, so I purchased the Felt for $1700. Then we added new Specialized shoes for $250 and some other gear as well. A helmet, yeah. Tire bars. Tubes. A new kit. No one said cycling is a cheap sport. But I was on the way to become a road cyclist.
Instantly I realized the stock seat on the Felt bike was not for me. So we traded that out for a Specialized split seat that did not make my nuts go numb. That was no superficial switch.
The first day I truly rode the Felt was a revelation. Speeds that were impossible on my Trek 400 steel frame (circa 1984) bike seemed completely manageable on the Felt.
Toward the end of that first ride I was feeling the joy of soaring downhill when a piece of metal flipped under the tire and PFFFFFFFTTTT! I had my first flat on the Felt. Changing that tire took 10 minutes or more but I was back on the road and happy for it.
Probably the best thing that ever happened to me as a cyclist was getting that flat at that moment. Had the bike gone unscathed for weeks it likely would have become like a crystal goblet in my mind. You know that story, right? The zen master who carries around a crystal goblet yet treats it rather roughly is asked by a student whether he was concerned with it breaking or not?
The zen master says: “In my mind it is already broken. Now I can enjoy it in its fullness and not be worried about its loss.” Or something like that. You get the picture.
The nick in the metal of the front wheel that came about from striking that piece of road metal never went away on its own. I tried sanding it down a couple times, but the metal was too tough. How strange that a piece of metal on the road could nick that surface yet a piece of rough sandpaper could not smooth it out?
That’s one of the tarsnakes of life. The damage we ride around with is often caused by seemingly small accidents that through persistence become a part of our existence.
At first we try to fix them, to no avail. Then we learn to live with them. Like floaters in our eyes, we learn to look around them. Then they become part of how we view the world, and even the things our lovers most recognize in us. The small scar on our lip or an indention below the knee from some childhood accident or mid-life surgery becomes a point of reference in our existence. We kiss these intimations and cherish the closeness they represent.
In some ways it is the same with our bicycles. My Felt has dings and scrapes on its carbon fiber paint job. I purchased some Testors red paint to cover the spots where paint flecked off from those unintentional encounters with a garage door or similar moments. I’m a little careless at times with my bike. That’s not something about which I am proud. I’ll lean the bike against the door and like a dog that does not want to sit or wait it will slide on its own, rubbing its top tube against the house. It picks up a line of paint that does not come off by rubbing it with a finger. I take those off with an application of Goof Off.
I try to be so much more careful with my girlfriend’s Scott bike while putting it in and out of the car. But still I caused a hairline scratch on the top tube. I feel guilty about that. But like all relationships and the objects we carry about in life, there are moments when we fail in attention to detail. For that we must ask forgiveness, and try not to do it again.
That is perhaps why I spent an hour cleaning my Felt bike yesterday. While riding with a friend last weekend I asked how it happened that his rear cassette was always so clean? Do you take it off the wheel, I asked?
Yes, he told me. For he is Mechanical. He fixes my bike. He’s always tweaking his bike even during the ride.
Me, I get on and ride. Often my bike is dirty. The chain and cassettes are black with grease. I spray more lube on them to make the ride go okay, but in truth I should be embarrassed. A dirty bike is not a point of pride.
That is why I purchased a can of chain degreaser at the local bike shop. It is called White Lightning and it works like it says. I sprayed it on the entire drive train and the black gooky grease fell away like magic. There is no disclosure needed here. I bought the stuff myself and this is an endorsement I make of free will and of no benefit. White Lightning chain degreaser works. My cassette shone in the afternoon sun. I wiped down the chain with a paper towel to remove the residue and replaced the lube with a shot of Finish Line Dry Teflon Bike Lube.
But I did not stop there. The degreaser also washed away flecks of grease clinging to the frame in places. The bike began to look a lot better. So I pulled out a tub of Turtle Wax car wax and gave the bike a nice shine.
I’ve never done that before, but the Felt deserves a little good treatment. It has carried me tens of thousands of miles now. It will likely carry me tens of thousands more. Sure it needs new shifter cables to match the new brake cables my mechanic installed, but life is always a work in progress. The Felt succumbed to bike wobble on a Wisconsin hill and yet we both came out with only minor repairs.
And when I toe the line for a criterium in the next couple weeks I will not be instantly shamed by the condition of my bike compared to those shiny new jobs with shiny new riders. My cassette will be clean, as will the chain. My frame will shine along with the finely shaved skin of my legs. There is something to be said for feeling the part as well as training to ride. There is something to be said indeed.