Spokes

The sun was low in the sky on what had been a brilliantly cool desert day. We were on our second of three straight 60-plus-milers, and a welcome tail wind blew out of the north. We always gladly traded warmth for speed. 

We were descending from a 6800 foot pass on Interstate 15 headed for Beaver, Utah, where our beds were. We were tired. Traffic sped by at 75 mph, and on the steepest downhill portions I was holding my own at 39 mph. The exhilaration helped offset the fatigue.

On a flat stretch five miles from Beaver, I felt something strange under my bottom, that for once wasn’t pain. It was like the feeling you get when a car hydroplanes in heavy rain. I looked down and could see the rear wheel wobbling between the forks. I had broken a spoke. 

The last time that had happened to me I had remembered a sharp report, like a rifle shot. Apparently the highway noise had muffled that. A bad break, but really a lucky one. Often when a spoke breaks it takes a few of it’s neighbors along with it, and the results can get ugly. Particularly if it had happened a few minutes earlier at 39 mph. I refused to think much about that.

I had also never thought much about bike spokes. They were always just there, spinning around, behaving themselves. As a kid, I remember cleaning them so they sparkled, just like new bikes the week after Christmas. 

Later in the motel I did some internet research. As I was soon to learn, spokes are the “sine qua non” of the bicycle. First and foremost spokes supported my hefty derriere, all my luggage and occasionally the more than 10 pounds of water I carried. As importantly they translated torque from my pedals and chain to the wheels which made the bike go. 

Sometimes more importantly, they translated braking resistance from my levers on the handlebars to the tires that made the bike stop. The rub comes in when one of these guys breaks, and they will break, particularly on a bike weighted down in what is called “touring configuration.” That means overloaded. It’s just impossible to predict when they will break, sort of like forecasting an earthquake. 

But you don’t just put on spokes and ride away. Not only is installation tricky, but they each have to be tensioned just right, to do their enormously important tasks. That’s why as I type, we’re waiting at a truck stop for the 4:20 pm shuttle to Cedar City where they have bike shops. When your well being is on the line, let the professionals take over.

To be continued.

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