Question: If you borrow a bike from someone and, after a few gentle days of riding, a section of the rear wheel where the brake pad squishes decides to lift and separate a mere three inches or so, are you obligated to replace the wheel?
This classic morality tale played out in Tallahassee a couple of days ago, over the Easter weekend, when Jesus not only rose again, but borrowed and broke Ken's bike when we weren't looking. Okay, I did try to do the right thing, but neither of the two places I went to had a 36-spoke, double-walled, 26-inch wheel, and I didn't want to put a lesser-quality part on the Surly Long Haul Trucker. Granted, Popeye's Chicken and 7-11 haven't carried that particular size of wheel for some time, but at least I tried.
So with only five days to go before St. Augustine, "we" decided to take a chance that the wheel wouldn't continue to deteriorate. Emer seemed to think that an inferior but stable wheel was a better choice, but I asked him to picture Ken's face when we returned the bike with a Dollar General wheel. "Would he prefer it returned with a broken wheel?" he asked. "Yes." I said, "He would."
Not that this excellence-and-only-excellence strategy is without risk. Because of the pesky delamination of the metal sidewall, the rear brake had to be disengaged. To compensate, we put new brake pads on the front (and unused rear) brakes - a pretty serious investment. We're also travelling through some relatively uninhabited backwoods country for the first three days, an area scoring low on population and income, but high on "Trump for President" signs. The good news is, if we do break down and need a lift, the statistical likelihood of the next vehicle coming along being a pickup truck is off the charts.
You can imagine how pleased Emer was when, after twenty miles into gator country, the rear tire went flat. "Don't jump to conclusions!" I didn't say. "It may be unrelated to the profoundly unstable sidewall issue!" I didn't say it because, like Emer, of course it was the goddamned cracked wheel that, with a degree of asininity rare even for me, I had decided not to fix.
Except that it wasn't. It was a flat in a completely different spot. As the redemption music swelled in my head I took the opportunity, during the repair, to cover the ridge-over-troubled-metal with Gorilla Tape, adding another layer of confidence to my dubious proposal to proceed into Swamp-People wilderness on a brokeback bike. I mean, to make Emer proceed into Swamp-People wilderness on a brokeback bike.
And now to the Present: two days down, three to go in the quality-first, money-second Wheel-Twubble experiment. The Gorilla Tape is holding, and Emer has even started to sing again. Emer's singing has been a fairly obvious is-my-child-happy barometer throughout the trip, and it's nice to hear him letting go of petty fears like getting stranded in the middle of a bog where his pretty mouth would single him out for special attention. If we make it to Gainesville tomorrow, the back country will be behind us, and the cultured road to St. Augustine will ring with his song.