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Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance November 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, life, reminisces-1990s.

For the last 2 weeks my bicycle tires deflated on their own (volition??) and that made for depressing days 😦 . The front tire would deflate in about 18 hours and the back in 3-4 hours. The simple solution would be to just replace the tubes for a not-at-all princely sum of $16 for 2 tubes. Or else you can buy yourself a patch kit – a little box with glue, patches and sandpaper and then patch the tube by yourself. What did I do ? Surprisingly this time I turned to the latter option.

And there is a reason I choose the word ‘surprisingly’. Over the years things have turned out such that given a choice between working with my hands versus the mind, would prefer the latter (exception being my love of cooking (an earlier konfession). It was not always like this – my free time as a young teenager was spent in the garden digging pits, watering plants, climbing coconut trees, painting something (not art, maybe furniture, walls etc.) or cleaning something else.

This was until about 1996. Starting class XI (1997) though I got busy with books and learning – of all kinds , including of course academic. Most of my vacations were spent doing something to further career interests and general curiosity. If they weren’t spent on the IISc campus, they were spent in the MIT (Manipal) library catching up with (what were then) obscure periodicals like the HBR, IEEE Spectrum , Potentials etc. If one of those (vacations) was indeed spent partly at my native place, it was spent either online or at an old public library (where I first laid my hands on this disgusting book).

The long term optimization was heavily geared towards saving time, being efficient and quickly washing my hands off anything that uuh… required washing hands ! Lazy weekend meant lazily lying on the bed with the laptop. Anything physical that is broken would lay broken until it became life threatening and anything digital/virtual that were broken would be fixed as if it were (life threatening) when it almost never was. Reality became little more than a really really good simulation and the comfort of algorithmic certainty was too much to let go of in favor of something more nuanced that life’s realities tend to be.

Today 10 years after that phase of life began and after completing what might turn out to be all of my formal education, life seems to have come a full circle ellipsoid ! There is an incredible urge to open up those old cupboards of life-skills, hone them just a little bit and get my hands dirty.

So I sat down on the kitchen floor and before me was the ‘ungainly’ sight of my cycle on the floor (not this bad !), the tubes ripped out of the tire as if it were an accident spot. With some effort that involved dipping the tubes in water to see where the leak is, finding it, gluing in a patch, rediscovering practical physics 101 on the way and then putting it all back, blowing air into the tubes and leaving my cycle overnight (to recuperate (!)) to make sure its all okay. And it was !!

When drunk poets wrote about experiencing the joy of little things in life, it wasn’t the alcohol. 🙂



1. Ravi - November 20, 2007

Same here man! Did the punctures but the tyre went flat again, did this 5 times. would wait for your blog on “Use your mind to change a tube” 😛

2. Sharath Rao - November 20, 2007

I have gone over 30 miles since I fixed it and there is no sign of leak. You really the need the water if the leak is small ( i.e. if left to itself tire takes > 6-7 hrs, then your leak is so small as to req. this bubble method to pin down )

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