The Life of del Fuego

Recently, while biking my Bruce Gordon Rock ‘n’ Road Tour-Ex uphill in San Francisco, my handlebars snapped just below the right break lever. The aluminum had fatigued from the months of my leaning on it and the other abuse — being thrown on its side in the back of pickup trucks in Venezuela, having cargo leaned against it during a boat passage up the Amazon River, and being dropped on the ground many times less-than-gently. I managed to keep my balance (the benefit of biking uphill is that you’re going slowly), and felt a wave of pride: the handlebars were almost the last piece of the bike that has not yet been replaced.

I looked over the bike and counted the parts that had not been replaced:

The frame (but not the fork)
The front and rear hubs (but not the ball bearings)
The rear XT deraileur
The rear axel (but not the front)

There’s something deeply satisfying about wearing out bike components — a pride in knowing that I have deformed and outlived steel and aluminum with only the force of my legs. When I wear out a component, I feel as if I better understand it, and I know exactly how long a rim or tire or bottom bracket can last. I also feel as if the bike component, if it failed through overuse and not neglect, has served its mission.

Inspired by my successful wearing-out-of-the-handlebars, I looked over my journals and realized I could map out my journeys with when I had replaced worn out or faulty parts. I then made the following graph, showing how many miles per month my bike traveled (pedaled, of course, by me) and when each component was replaced.

I quickly realized that many of the times I replaced components wasn’t because the part wore out, but rather because I used it incorrectly, or I decided I wanted new parts to improve comfort, or because, well, the bike was run over by a truck. But that is also the fate of a bike that is used out — it will be subject to mishaps and misuse, just as the rider is.

I plan on writing more about the actual events of when parts were replaced and why, but for now, here is the image (taken of my bike after I reached Tierra del Fuego — and after a truck ran it over) and the graph.

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One Response to The Life of del Fuego

  1. Yeah, I remember #1, when the pedal fell off your crank arm on the third day from the Atlantic, on our cross-country bike trip from Virginia to Oregon, May 6, 2003. Operator error, it seems, stripping the threads of the pedal while installing it!
    New crank arm from Cycle Ed in Ashland. You’ve come a long way since then.

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