Many makers can pinpoint their origin story. Though I’m a novice, I can see mine well enough. I decided to go on a bike tour — a big, long one, across Africa. Like many people, learning to ride was part of my childhood. I was comfortable on them, familiar with them, but what did I really know about them? Not that much. Most crucially, bike repair was a mystery to me.
Bike touring has one particular characteristic in common with making: Self reliance. You can’t carry all the tools and parts you need to fix a bike, and chances are good you’ll be far from the nearest shop. And you will break down, so you better be prepared.
With that in mind, I figured the simplest way to prepare was to build one myself. With a $40 frame from Craigslist, I hung around a local bike shop until they took pity on me and started giving me pointers. (It helped that I bought most of my parts, including wheels, from them.)
A bicycle is a remarkable machine in its simplicity. You can figure out how most of it works, if you examine it closely. And for tougher problems, a guide like Howard Zinn’s helps a lot.
A touring bicycle is a bit different, and can be customized any number of ways. Typically, they’re built for comfort and durability over speed. But that’s getting away from the point at hand: Putting it together yourself.
There are plenty of bikes designed specifically for touring. Many of them are very good. But when you build one, it’s yours, you know it with an intimacy you wouldn’t get from a store-bought bike. And that intimacy only grows as you ride it, discover its quirks and failings and deal with them.
But that’s just the bike — the tour had just as much to do with making. More than anything, it evoked a change in mindset. I watched my riding partners make flip flops out of scavenged retread and cargo webbing. We used sticks, cut to the perfect length and shaped to hold our bikes, because no kickstand could handle their weight. I was forever sewing old inner tubes and other add-ons to my bags so I could carry more water.
Years later, this outlook carries on. When I want to do something around the house, I look for what I can rig up using the things I have. When I see a lonely, unused piece of sporting equipment, I want to buy it, fix it up, turn it into something new, and (of course) use it.
It is high summer, and this week we are celebrating with five days of outdoor sports-themed articles, pictures, videos, reviews and projects. We’ll be here all week, so check back often and get out there.
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