Edit Desk: Oiling your wheels

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Every day, we wake up and expect our cars to start, our lights to turn on and our heaters to keep us warm. But do we ever stop to think about how these processes work?

Erica Ashby

Recently, I have devoted more time to learning and understanding the processes behind some of these everyday technologies. 

Over quarantine, I developed an interest in biking. Every ride, I would hop on my bike and assume the gears would shift when I pressed the shifter, the bike would brake smoothly when I pressed the brakes, and the wheels would be perfectly in line when I peddled.

But that wasn’t the case, and I took my bike to the shop three times because of it. Each time the mechanic handed over my bike, I never asked him to explain why the problem occurred or how I could fix it on my own.  

When I left home for Bethlehem in August, I abandoned my bike due to the inability to travel with it. Despite this, I was still eager to keep riding while in Bethlehem. A local bike shop in Bethlehem recommended me to The Coalition for Apropretite Transportation (CAT), a bicycle co-op founded by Lehigh students in 1994 with the mission to provide alternative and sustainable modes of transportation.

I made an appointment and gathered a few rusty bike wheels and seats from Craigslist, hoping to trade them in for a used bike. I was greeted by the director who led me into a basement with hundreds of donated bikes lined up against the walls.

After digging through various rows of bikes, he handed me a dusty royal blue 1999 special edition Gaint mountain bike. I was ecstatic. 

We made a deal that if I became a member of the coalition, traded in my pretty much worthless bike parts and spent a day fixing the bike with him, then I could have it — which I think was an amazing bargain.

The next day I spent six hours remodeling the bike at CAT. The first thing we did was open up the wheels, grease the bearings and tighten the spokes. We also disassembled the brakes to oil them and did a readjustment on the shifters that weren’t working properly. When putting everything back together, I began to understand why holding the brakes causes the bike to stop, how clicking the shifter causes the gears to change and how to perfectly align the wheels. 

Now every time I ride my bike, it’s a more fulfilling and completely different experience because I understand how all of the parts come together to make it move.

Soon after learning the processes of a bike my friend taught me how to drive stick shift. As he walked me through the motions I asked, “Why do we need to shift the gears?”. 

He told me to think of the gears in a car as the gears on a bike. “The engine is like the energy you get from pedaling but the gear is what really determines how you move.” 

While learning, every time I maneuvered the shifter I imagined the gears inside the car clicking, like the chain on my bike. This made driving shift stick so much easier and quite frankly intriguing. 

Since my experience fixing up a bike and then learning to drive a manual transmission, I have begun to question the mechanics of other machines in my daily life, such as how lights turn on. Through asking why, I have learned more about how cars distribute power from its engine in order to move and how water is used to create the heat in my bedroom’s radiator.

Now when I look at a problem my first instinct is to understand why it happened. I then come to understand the processes and other mechanics connect to the issue. From a broad scope I can then set steps to fix the root of the issues and aspects connected to it. 

Taking a moment in life to ask why and understand how things work leads us to a greater appreciation for the basic processes in our daily lives. 

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