Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #48, published in November 1995. Words by Chip Baker. Art by Craig Foster.
It starts out innocently enough: Your chain starts skipping manically over your gears for no apparent reason—as you’ve worn out your welcome at Sid’s Bike and Tackle Shop, you think “why not fix it myself?” You’re tired of Sid’s sour repartee and his demands for a constant flow of suds for even the most simplistic of tasks, like the bottom bracket overhaul he did for you last Friday at 4:45 p.m. He shouldn’t be so cranky, it’s his job to serve the public. And let’s face it, Sid certainly doesn’t look like a brain surgeon. What the hell, he probably didn’t even finish high school and suspiciously appears to be the product of years of inbreeding. Why should you give him your hard earned cash? “I’m way smarter than Sid,” you mutter to yourself as you take the first step into the abyss.
With all the confidence of a lemming on its first and last full-throttle suicide plunge over the edge, you rifle through all the back issues of bike mags for one with a how-to on gear adjustment. Leafing through the coffee stained pages you find it. OK, looks easy enough. You go out and spend $55.95 on tools at a bike shop other than Sid’s Bike and Tackle of course, to avoid the heckling that would result from your “shopping spree.” Back at home you lay out your tools and have a go at it. The disassembly and inspection are going great. “This is cake, why did I ever bother trying to be nice to that guy Sid?” you say to yourself in your best “I am a god” voice.
Then it starts, dull and low, like a swarm of bees right before they come raging out of their hive to see just who was fool enough to disturb their queen while she was enjoying her honey and punish their sorry ass. After a year’s worth of grime your cable housing looks nothing like the clean, crisp one in the photos, and the cable doesn’t seem to even budge when you tug on it. A minor setback you think as you head out to spend some more cash. Now assuming all things go as planned, you’ll only need two, maybe three, more trips to the shop, tops.
After hours of frustration, sweat and grease the work has been completed. All that’s left to do is tighten down the bolts and see how she runs. As the last time you spent any time with tools was eleventh grade metal shop, where Mr. O’Grady always reiterated the value of “putting some weight behind them tools,” you bear down on that derailleur cable bolt like there is no tomorrow. With a loud CRA-SNAP! the Allen key flies out of your hand. When the dust clears enough to inspect the damage, you look down to see your $150 XTR derailleur turned into a shiny paper weight. Please repeat after me: “My name is (state your name here) and I am a hamfist.”
A hamfist by definition is “a person or persons who through lack of wit and excessive testosterone do gross, irreparable damage to bike and body under the guise of repairing the aforementioned bicycle.” Make no mistake, there are only two types of bikers: wrenches and hamfists. Don’t be fooled by anyone on your side of the counter who appears to be mechanically inclined. Under close interrogation they will crumble and confess to their hamfist ways. You see, the silver lining to being a hamfist is that if you spend enough time destroying…er, I mean, fixing your own bike and don’t throw all your tools through a fifth story window, you will move on to a state of peace with your hamfist nature. By breaking every nut, bolt and binder on your bike, you will by example understand how not to break your bike. And by default learn how to maintain your bike. This of course only holds true to that which you have previously broken. Just because you may have mastered changing flats, dialing in your brakes, headset adjustment, etc., don’t think for a second that the hamfist monster won’t jump out and bite you if you try and overhaul your Mag 21 for the first time. The golden rule of the hamfist: Once a hamfist always a hamfist.
Now, you may find this all a little too much to take. All you really wanted was to be a little more self-sufficient, have some fun tinkering with your bike. Well, bubba, I’ve been there. Believe me, I’ve been there. The madness must stop. As the saying goes, “if we cannot learn from the past we will surely be domed to repeat history again and again.” So, from one hamfist to another it is my moral obligation to not just sit idly by while you flail about wildly with expensive tools, doing damage to everything you touch. Below are some rules to live by. They certainly will not prevent you from being a hamfist. That, my friends, is impossible. They will, however, keep that big hairy hamfist monster from getting out too often and stirring up all kinds of trouble.
#1. The One Beer Limit
Blasphemy, you’ll say. But trust me on this. Just like playing pool, one beer will loosen you up and help your shots. Two and you start getting sloppy. Three and that guy over there in the corner who’s been giving you the stink eye better quit it or else you’re going to go over there and kick his ass. Ugly. Beyond one beer you start making stupid mistakes. You forget which crank arm has the reverse threading and turn your beautifully made White Industries jewel into just another trash heap candidate. Leave the heavy beer drinking to the professional mechanics with years of experience, or for later to celebrate a job well done.
#2. Bonzo’s Law
Attributed to John Bonham, the deceased drummer of Led Zeppelin, it goes as follows: If it moves smash it, and if it doesn’t move smash it. In the hands of a trained wrench a hammer can be a very useful tool. However, in the case of a hamfist, it can turn into a weapon against bike and body. The same applies for large Crescent wrenches, headset wrenches and crankset removers. Exercise extreme caution whenever utilizing the above.
#3. Might isn’t always right
There is a significant difference between tightening a bolt and snapping it in half. Most mechanics have Popeye-sized forearms capable of ripping the top off a can of Budweiser without blinking an eye. They also know their own strength and when to use it. When tightening anything, always try and feel the bolt; once it stops turning, back off or you’ll be making scrap metal once again.
#4. Never, ever, work on a friend’s bike
You might be able to forgive yourself when your front brake pad dives under the rim or your wheel and sends you flying over the bars at warp speed. Perpetrate such a heinous act on your friend or spouse and once the swelling subsides don’t expect such forgiveness in return. Remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions and friends are far too precious to risk so haphazardly.
#5. “The Wrench” is your friend
Probably the most important law of all. A long term relationship with a good mechanic may be the best way to exorcise your hamfist demon. He or she has seen it all. Don’t be ashamed to ask for their help. Yes, they will probably heckle you, but that also is part of the lesson. Treat them like the deities that they are. Show your adulation by plying them with copious amounts of beer, caffeine and thanks. Because, after you’ve destroyed your bike for the fifth time in a week, they’re going to be the ones that pick up the pieces and make it whole again.
We’ve published a lot of stuff in 26 years of Dirt Rag. Find all our Blast From the Past stories here.