When I came back to SF I got my bike out of storage. Bicycling is one of my great joys in life, as I describe here.

I had forgotten that my rear brake wasn’t working, so I biked around the city for a few months with only one brake. (Sorry mom!) Even with the brake lever pulled all the way down, I had no stopping power at all.

I thought that the alignment must be off, and spent an hour last week trying to fix it. I watched a youtube video, followed step-for-step, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get the brake to strike a balance where it both provided stopping power, but didn’t rub on the wheels when it wasn’t pulled down.

So I took it to a bike shop, where they told me that I just needed new pads. The old ones were completely worn down.

A few lessons here:

  1. You can be as diligent as you like, but reality doesn’t care if you’re focusing on the wrong problem.
  2. Professional advice is often worth it. I like my self image as someone who fixes things and doesn’t rely on professionals, but sometimes just a little bit of expertise goes a long way.
  3. It can be hard to know whether you are “doing it wrong”, or just taking the wrong approach. When you’re really trying at something, in the middle of it, thinking that you don’t have the right equipment is often a failure mode: you often do just need to work hard. But sometimes reflection on a different angle, or an adjacent problem, lets you solve it.
  4. If you only pay attention to a system when it’s broken, you may not know what correct functioning even looks like. I didn’t see the brake pad had worn down because I hadn’t paid attention to them before – I didn’t know what they were supposed to look like.