Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Bike and Relationship Maintenance

Recently, after pedaling home well after dark, I decided to stop by Single Track and pick up a rear view mirror and headlight.  Normally, I would have just asked the manager if he would attach both for me before I left but lately I've been feeling ashamed of not taking a greater responsibility for my own bike maintenance.  About the most I know how to do (or really want to do) is put air in my tires. 

My personal bike mechanic.
Usually, I'm perfectly happy to let Bob take care of my bike upgrades since Bob seems to genuinely like helping me with tasks, both large and small.  Surprisingly to me, sometimes maintaining a few of the traditional gender roles seems to serve a practical relationship function.

He performs many helpful tasks and looks good in a suit.

Bob, me and my romantic advisor, Winn.
I must digress for a moment.  I have always been very self-sufficient but when Bob and I were first dating I was cautioned by most of my friends, both male and female, to reign it in a bit, that most men really want to be able to "fix stuff" for their girlfriends in order to feel valued by them.  I found this concept utterly absurd.  If I were a man I would be annoyed by a helpless woman who needed assistance with hammers, paint brushes, and electric drills.  Nonetheless, my friend and romantic advisor Winn repeatedly stressed to me that men were "simple creatures" whose brains are mostly preoccupied with sports, pizza, beer, and boobs, and that after the initial excitement of regular contact with boobs they like to "perform helpful tasks" as a way of showing their love. 

Is my mother smiling because she thinks I still don't know??
After, checking in with other men and my girlfriends who were in successful relationships (including my sister Alison who is married to a really great guy), shockingly, EVERYONE agreed with Winn's theory.  Winn and friends also agreed upon several illuminating theories that they shared with me, very much in the same manner as would share, say, the launch code for a nuclear missile strike.  I will not go into their conclusions in this post but I am quite sure they DO NOT APPEAR in any graduate level psychology textbooks.   I would also like to take this moment to ask my mother, why if these notions are so universally held, did she never bother to explain them to me?  Apparently, she explained them to my sisters . . .  Anyway, over five years with Bob, I've tested all the theories and found each to have some validity.  After we got engaged I ran each by Bob, and to which he replied, "Yes."

So, back to bicycles and guilt.  Bob has previously lovingly performed the tasks of installing fenders, bike racks, headlights, rear view mirrors, bells and seat posts on to my other bikes.  The guilt comes in when I read posts by other women bloggers who are personally, with their own manicured hands, putting studded tires on their rims, sand blasting and soldering rusted old Schwinn frames, and rebuilding vintage Raleighs.   I'm not doing any of those things.  I'm not even sure I want to either but you can take the Catholic out of the girl but never the Catholic guilt. 
Two rubber washers are attached to the screw to secure tightly in the handlebar.

So after watching the mirror and the headlight sit idle on the coffee table for several days, I thought to myself, "I can do it!  I can do it."   Bob asked me if I needed help.  I told him that I just wanted him to take pictures as photographic evidence that I really did it by myself.  "Oh, yes," he said, "you really should learn a little bike maintenance just in case something happens and you're out by yourself."  Well, if you insist!

A cap at the end of the handlebar was easy to remove with a butter knife.

Twist and push.
So I found that there is nothing to installing a rear view mirror, especially if your bike has a little cap at the end of the handlebar that can be easily removed with a butter knife.  I hate it when special tools are involved.  

Really, the most important thing to remember about attaching new accessories to one's bike is not the toss the instructions in the recycling bin.  Look at them.  Match the various parts to the enclosed diagram.   Read the instructions a couple of times.

I learned that it really is just fine to ask for help.  The garage was freezing so I accessorized my Dahon in the living room and asked Bob turn on the overhead light so I could see better.  I also asked him to steady my bike a couple of times and one time I asked him to unscrew a bolt that was too tight for me to manage on my own.

Mirror installation complete!

Cat Eye headlight
I moved on to the headlight.  I bought a Cat Eye, by the way.

Attaching the bracket.
Even though I really wanted, indeed, needed, to attach the headlight on my own, I struggled just a bit with fitting the mounting bracket and accepted some critical feedback from Bob when he pointed out that I was attempting to put it on backwards.  I have a bit of a tendency to reject assistance in a defensive manner but I was extremely proud of myself for balancing Bob's need to perform a helpful task with my need to be self-sufficient and capable. 

Adjusting the Ziptie.
Attaching the light really was stressful.  I remembered that among Winn's sage advise was "Let him show you how to do something."  The little voice inside me kept whining, "But I want to do it."  Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to get the attached Ziptie to tightly secure the mounting bracket.  The thoughtful solution was to allow Bob, who was clearly biting his tongue, to demonstrate how to do it and then try it myself.  And that is what I did.  Bracket securely attached.  Both marital partners have their divergent emotional needs met.

It works!
I'm really pretty pleased with myself.  I've pedaled around a couple of times on the Dahon since then and found everything functioning well.  I'm looking forward to purchasing a rear rack for the Dahon and mounting it on my own.  I don't know how that compares with rebuilding your own drive train but just about ready to declare myself Bike Shop Girl 2.0!

As for helpful tasks performed by Bob, he's been on a bread making frenzy for  the last two months.  He's been getting a great deal of satisfaction every time he hands me a slice of warm Italian bread, slathered with unsalted butter and seeing my eyes promptly roll back into my head.


Cynthia said...

TOO-OO-OO-OO funny! And SO true!

I could write volumes about the Adventures in Tire-Changing that have taken place on my deck - my missteps and the advice rendered by male passers by (bless their hearts).

On the other hand, I could write at equal length about the Headlight That Flops All Over - and it was installed by a guy, adjusted by another guy, adjusted again by yet another guy, RE-adjusted by... yeah. I've decided what I need to do is take it off and put a little strip of that gripper stuff between the mount and the handlebar. You know, the rubbery mesh-looking stuff they sell in 6" circles to help you unscrew tight lids if there's no man around? (They also sell it in long strips to line cabinet shelves, if you don't want to use the vinyl stuff.) I'm thinking I could cut a 1" x 4" piece to use as a shim, and that light wouldn't budge again for many seasons.

Which brings me to your butter knife: Guys need special tools. I don't know why. They're always alarmed to find they don't have just the right drill bit or socket wrench. And God forbid they should have to use pliers instead of channelocks! (or however you spell it...)

Whereas women are inventive. No screwdriver? Pass me a butter knife. Socket wrench too big? Stuff a little of that grippy stuff in between. No hammer? Well, I just happen to have a good, solid, flat-soled leather shoe right here - let me at it!

The best part is watching the look on the guys' faces go from "OMG, she's not really using that..." to "S*%&#, it worked!" :-)

Cynthia said...

P.S. If Bob is baking bread, he's earned his keep already. Tell him to keep up the good work!

Beany said...

You know what, I only just (in this past year) realized that lesson - that I need to let people help me. I need to let men (including my husband) help me in their manly ways and then sit around and admire their manliness. That has been such a hard, bitter pill to swallow. Because I LOVE doing everything on my own. I am so terribly afraid that one day I'll be alone and I won't have a clue to fix anything. And I'll also be honest, I do despise the women who can't screw in a light bulb...because really how can one not know that? So I constantly think that I will be one of those women incapable of screwing in a lightbulb and waiting around for someone to walk in and screw it in for me (I know puns-a-rama). But thank you for writing that.

Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

There is a happy medium to be met between the 'mr.fix-it' roll of a man and the woman doing tasks herself that she would normally leave for the man. Yes I readily do things for her. It is my way of showing my love for her, validating myself as Winn said, I get satisfaction from doing things for her and maybe earn a plate of tacos for dinner in the bargain. But it is a two-way street. At times she'll take on a household repair herself. She'll tell me about it later. Not only is she proud of herself but I am for her too. We need to know our woman is not helpless and will be absolutely fine on her own if that day should ever come. I know mine will be. I don't expect her to change the oil in her car but she says I should learn how to operate the washing machine. She's probably right.

Cherilyn said...

Hilarious!! And dead on.

I also have an extremely helpful husband who ADORES helping me. Like you, I often do the dance between independence and interdependence. Trickier than the tango.

Congrats on the equipment installed and the relationship preserved!

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