Monday, June 27, 2005

Morning Commute: Not Today

Today I decided to rely on public transportation to get to work. The bike stayed at home for one reason, a reason that made my afternoon commute home last Thursday more challenging than it usually is: my rear brakes died on me.

Well, to be specific and technical about it, my rear right brake shoe fell off. The brake shoe is the cyclist's term for the brake pad, which is fastened to the brake itself by way of a two-pronged pin. I knew my rear brakes were due for replacement -- it was taking more and more pressure to slow me down, let alone bring me to a full and complete stop -- but I wasn't expecting to face an entire 5 mile ride home without the convinience of being able to stop. All seemed fine as I took the streets late Thursday afternoon, until I tried stopping on the corner of 29th and M Streets in NW. My brake lever hit the handlebars, a sure sign that something is amiss, and I found myself not slowing all too much. I made it across safely, only to find that the piece of rubber separating comfortable and convinient riding from unwitting bike death had fallen off somewhere down the road. Here I faced an obvious dilemma -- Should I take my chances on the ride home or head on down to the local bike shop for a quick repair? Most cyclists would have chosen the latter, but knowing that I had a brand spanking new set of brakes waiting at home, I really didn't want to have to spend money on having my shoe replaced (anyone who has worked at a bike shop knows that service charges are possibly the biggest bike-related racket there is). So, I pressed on, brakeless.

Riding without the safety of knowing you can stop on a dime -- a necessity in city traffic -- is like walking around your neighborhood at night, completely naked. You can do it, sure, but you probably shouldn't, for the obvious reasons. I pedaled on, praying to myself along the way that the gods of D.C. traffic wouldn't choose to throw any ill-timed pedestrians or cars in front of me. Approaching every red light became hoping in vain that it would turn green at the right moment, to spare me the indignity of relying on my front brake (which squeaks like hell and, if squeezed hard enough, would have the effect of launching me over the front end of the bike). I made it home safely, completely relieved that the worst had not come true, and convinced that it was something I would never want to do again nor wish on anyone else. Thankfully, D.C. is a flat city -- God forbid having to ride home, brakeless, in a city like San Francisco.

So the bike is at home today, and I am at the mercy of the Metro.


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