‘Not a tinkerer nor a tuner am I. I am a doer.’ This is the prose-like opinion on myself that I offer up when the mood suits me. And the mood usually suits me when I am sullied from hands to elbows in engine oil, grease or worse, clutching a random mechanical or auto-electrical component. You see, whenever the task extends beyond replacing a spark plug, swapping out a delaminated tyre or wiper blade, then I’ve officially ventured into ‘ambitious but rubbish’ territory. Obviously I love cars, revel in driving them, am deeply enthralled by the sights, sounds, smells and tactile experiences within the realm of the motorcar. But that doesn’t necessarily imply that I know which way to spin a spanner.
Actually, that I can just about do. When I bought my 1983 Toyota Celica Supra five years ago, it was under the guise of a ‘project car’. I envisaged a great insurgence of knowledge and experience during bouts of reparations and improvements – a sort of mutual symbiosis whereby it and I would grow. But when the going got tough, I got a mechanic. Then I got another one. And then I replaced him with one that actually knew what he was doing. But then it needed its engine replaced.
I’m a big believer in outsourcing, you see. When going balls-to-the-wall around a hairpin bend I need to know, with confidence, that the wheels are kept on by more than my own oafish mechanical efforts and with stronger stuff than the arbitrary bolts I found in the garage. Invariably the Supra needed a tune-up, so this meant strapping it to a ‘rolling road’ dynamometer device to measure its power and torque curves and so on, which is usually an indication that you’ve started to take things a bit too seriously and that your days of getting your hands dirty are long over.
And that’s part of the reason why I love bicycles now. They’re simple, purely mechanical objects that require mild fettling to keep them running smoothly. In fact, if you fancy a retro two-wheeler you can fix almost any job on them with a pair of pliers and an assortment of hex keys. Except when the cotter pin goes wonky and you need someone smarter than you to repair it, or else ride with a slippy crank. Enter a new kind of mechanic – the bike mackie, a new man to tinker with my toys.
The toy in question is an old school 12-speed (ten of them working) Western Flyer road bike, inherited from the yard of an old schoolmate. “It’s better this way,” I initially told myself, allowing me to simply enjoy my bicycle as it means I get to ride it without the hassle of keeping it running sweet. Since then he’s converted it to a single speed, because those are cooler, but ultimately it means I have no hope of climbing up any sort of slope with a one degree or more gradient. Luckily I have a mountain bike with a million gears for that, and a different mechanic for it. And this was great for a while too, until he referred me to a ‘bike-fit’mechanic, who would be able to tune my body so that my bicycle and I would be in harmony. And I was fine with this. I was fine all the way to my appointment, and I was even fine when I met the kind lady with her icy cold hands. But I was most certainly not fine when a moment later I was plonked onto a faux bicycle on what looked suspiciously like another rolling road dyno and told to pedal for dear life. Rolling bloody roads. They’ve crept into everything I love in the pursuit of measurability, and frankly I’m sick of it.
Driving an old Japanese coupé should be fun. Riding an old steel bicycle should be too, so what if my knees come dangerously close to dislocating my jaw each time I pedal, or that when I ride downhill my eyes can be located peering up from beneath the handle bars? While it hasn’t put me off the sport itself, I have diversified in mild protest.
Yes, my latest conquest has become running. Or in my case, strained jogging. No spare tubes are needed, no pump, no complicated gears or brakes, or anything else for that matter. You don’t even really need shoes, although I’ve been advised to get myself a good quality pair by my new sports therapist – that’s sort of a ‘running mechanic’. This hasn’t been easy, as my feet need to be measured, my gait needs to be monitored and then they need to determine if I pronate, supinate, or neither, which has something to do with how I put my feet down to the ground. I hear it’s not complicated. I simply have to run on a treadmill which has been hooked up to a computer which will measure me sort of like a… dyno.