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Tales of the Big Lizard — October, Part 2

Big Lizard shadow

The ups and downs with Greg and his trusty Giant Iguana mountain bike, aka Big Lizard, as together we embrace the grind. No excuses. Do the work. Because “you can’t bullshit your way up a mountain.”

The second dirtiest word in bike parlance — right after crash — is “mechanical.” Short for “mechanical failure.”

I’m starting out on an AM ride on the Miramar Reservoir loop, one of those Chamber of Commerce mornings in San Diego, shirt-sleeve temperatures, cloudless sky, a gentle breeze. The kind of day that seems too perfect for anything to possibly go wrong.

I’m about five minutes into it when Big Lizard starts making unfamiliar rubbing noises, regular as a metronome. I look back at the rear wheel and for the barest instant, catch an odd flash.

Have I broken a spoke? Is my rear wheel now warped, out of true?

Things like this happen when you hit something — a rock, a line of heat-buckled asphalt, a pothole, all of which San Diego has in abundance. Whatever we hit recently, we hit it hard…and it hit us back even harder.

The Lizard has a mechanical.

When you break a spoke, especially on the rear wheel, a domino effect sets in. Another spoke goes and then another, in rapid sequence, until the wheel will no longer support you.

At that point, you either stop or crash.

I walk the bike back to the car and drive it to Black Mountain Bicycles, where Chris, aka The Bike Whisperer, works.

“You don’t have a broken spoke, he says. Before I can breath the sigh of relief, he adds, “You have two. And the wheel’s out of true. I think I can fix it.”

When I get it back a few days later, the new spokes are in and the wheel is 95 percent back in true. That’s the good news.

The bad news: 95 percent is as good as it’s ever going to get.

“You can still get a few miles out of it,” The Bike Whisperer assures me.

He also recalibrates my old Echo F2 bike computer, mounted on the front handlebars. It works again for the first time since the second Clinton administration.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m a test pilot with pedals, riding a lot slower and with supreme caution, looking, listening, waiting for something to go wrong.

Big Lizard issues all manner of strange pops, clicks, bangs — and something that sounds like wind singing through misaligned wires.

Little by little, though, day by day, the strange noises subside as the new spokes settle in to their new home. By the first week of November, the Lizard is feeling and sounding like his old self.

I, however, am not. The time away, followed by more time at half-pace, have taken their toll. I’ve lost some of the strength I built up over the past several weeks.

Time to start building it back.

The weather forecast for the week says it’s going to rain Friday. Today is Thursday. Now or never.

The plan is two laps around Miramar Reservoir. Ten miles.

I cruise the first lap, just to warm up a bit and see if bike and I are feeling it today. I’m ambling along between 9 and 11 mph. Younger, stronger riders on lighter bikes blow past me. I ignore them. This is no time to let ego take over.

But by the time I start the second lap, I’m remembering my motto: “No excuses, do the work. You can’t bullshit your way up a mountain.” I look down at the bike computer. My time for the first lap: 28 minutes, 15 seconds. Too slow, even for a cruise.

“You gonna cruise again?” Big Lizard seems to ask me in mocking tones. “Or are we going to put in some work?”

I kick him one gear higher and we start the second lap. And this time, we hammer — 13, 14, 15 mph almost the whole way.

Time on the second lap — 21:15. I’m thinking that sounds okay.

Then I check my last best time for this five-mile loop…22:05. When the shock wears off, I am giddily happy. The Lizard and I are back.

I’ll eventually have to replace his rear wheel, but for now, we’re rolling again.

And as soon as San Diego’s uncharacteristically heavy rains dry up on Monday, we’ll be back on the grind.

Tales of the Big Lizard — October, Part 1

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