I dusted off the seat and knocked the spider egg sacs out of the spokes. It was Ride Your Bike to Work Week, and I was going to join the fray.
My physical conditioning, it turns out, was not up to the task.
Later that day, after I leaned my bike against a tree to make the short walk to the office door, part of me hoped it would get stolen so I wouldn’t have to ride it again. The other part knows I can’t afford another bike, and on the outside chance I’ll want to ride it in another couple years or so, I might need it.
I’m starting to think the same about our our minivan.
A college graduation present from my wife back in 1993, the bike has served me well. I can’t remember doing anything to maintain it during the past 14 years, so I haven’t exactly returned the favor. I haven’t even taken the poor thing for a spin in the two years we’ve lived in Texas. It’s no surprise, either, that the 14-year-old tubes go too flat for riding within a few days.
Homer, on the other hand, a much younger vehicle, had to go to the shop this week. His check engine light was on and the codes that came up caused him to fail the environmental part of the inspection. I understand the motive behind such stringent vehicle emissions standards, but nearly $300 later, I’m not very happy about them.
This bill was for cleaning out a plugged exhaust manifold and inserting a stainless steel tube to prevent future buildup (“think of cholestorol on your artery walls,” the mechanic said). Could Honda’s experience making cars not have told them this part needed to be stainless steel before an Odyssey ever came off the line? Regardless, that should have been the end of it.
Most of you have visited my world enough to know that’s just folly.
But back to the bicycle. I just learned the day before that it was Ride Your Bike to Work Week. Apparently people across the bay from San Francisco flocked to the ferry on their bicycles, where usually a relative few straggled in via pedal power. Out there, where gas costs nearly double what it does everywhere else in the US, there’s more than just an environmentally friendly motive to utilize human-powered transport.
I wouldn’t feel safe riding all the way from home. It’s a 12-mile jaunt over four-lane roads, where the cars go zipping past and the rushed commuters aren’t paying much attention to anything but their clocks or their mobile phones. I considered driving to a point where it gets less busy (most folks are headed to Dallas proper, but not I) and leaving the car in a grocery store lot. However, after being reminded that I had to take Homer to the shop for, you guessed it, the check engine light shining brightly the morning after the aforementioned repair, I hatched a new plan: use the bike to ferry myself between the auto shop and work.
After giving the mechanic the van key, I wrangled my bike out of Homer’s cargo area. I whipped out my handheld pump and got to work bringing the old Murray back to life. Already pouring sweat after the front tire, I counted the 125 pumps before the pressure hit about 45 psi on the back. Sorry, no graphs.
I tried to ignore the cars zinging past me, and rode on the sidewalk when I could. I know that’s not allowed in some places, but since nobody I know has received a ticket for it, I figured it was a reasonable risk. I so enjoyed the ride that I barely considered the large, unnaturally heavy vehicles ready to crush me at any moment.
Flashbacks from childhood winter bike rides had me constantly checking to make sure my jeans didn’t get pulled in between the chain and the front sprocket.
Very unlike childhood, for at least 15 minutes after I sat back down at my cubicle, I spoke between labored breaths and wiped sweat off my brow. Those six weeks of diligent cardio exercise back in August and September clearly had worn off.
The mechanic told me that this second check engine light in as many days is related to the catalytic converter. He couldn’t be sure of the problem until he raised the van and checked it. My lamentations about having just had $300 of work done guilted him into not charging an hour labor to diagnose the exact cause.
Hey, whatever works.
Although my holistic side sees the importance of protecting the environment, I’m tempted to move to an outlying county that inspects for safety only and screw what comes out of your tailpipe.
Well, not your tailpipe. And not literally… nevermind.
Of course, then I’d just burn even more gasoline.
I pedaled back to the shop with my full laptop bag hanging off one shoulder, my video camera bag off the other, and my camera strapped around my neck (in anticipation of Ben’s tee ball practice later that afternoon). My butt protested with all the extra weight against the seat, so I stood as much as possible. That sent my camera swinging like a pendulum, threatening a severe case of Nikon kneecap.
Turns out Homer required a new catalytic converter. “I’m surprised it lasted 128,000 miles,” the mechanic said. “Usually they have to be replaced before that.”
How ridiculous of me to hope that it would be something wrong with the replacement engine, still barely within the 6-month, 6,000 mile warranty (I think). Remembering there is a mechanic in the family, and that we would be visiting him in about a week, I opted to take Homer out of my local mechanic’s care.
What was supposed to be a great investment, a venerable Honda Odyssey minivan, has turned out to be a money-sucking machine. Yes, the biggest single expense might have been my fault (running it with no oil is very difficult to blame on someone else), but now that it has a replacement engine, problems are cropping up in other areas. Even after I killed the original engine, I would have sung the Odyssey’s praises as the flagship of the “Honda certified pre-owned” vehicles.
I called a local auto parts store to get an idea on a price for a catalytic converter. “That won’t take a universal, so it will run you about $278.” I’ve since found them online for $158.
When I started writing, I just wanted to tell about the wind whipping through my hair and the geeky video I made while riding my bicycle. About how free I felt while moving myself along with power from my own body.
Instead, I’m ending this pissed at myself because I’m a tall, slender idiot with no physical conditioning who didn’t check his oil when he should have, and is finding out why foreign cars last so much longer than their American counterparts: their owners can afford to replace very expensive parts.
In contrast, I’m just struggling to keep my vaunted van from becoming a classic POS. I have to remind myself that I’ve never owned a car past the 135,000-mile mark, and that once we replace a few things, Homer probably will go another 100,000 without complaints.
Then the other major benefit of riding a bike hits me: I could buy and maintain a bicycle for each day of the week for what it’s costing to do the same for one vehicle.