Pop’s Presence

It was spring of 1984.
Pop had brought home a new car for the family, a baby blue Ford Escort. Being the handyman/mechanic/fixer-upper that he was, he wanted to see what he had to work with for the engine. I was coming out to see the car as Pop was lifting the hood. He propped the hood up and started taking it all in (it’s an Escort, so there’s not that much to take in, but compared to the Pinto that preceded this car in our family, this was definitely a step up). I never was very into engines, so I was more interested in what features were in the car. But given where Pop was standing, I figured it would be best to join him. Everything seemed routine about his demeanor until his eyes landed on the box sitting on top of the engine, with the letters E F I on it. This is when his expression changed to a look I hadn’t seen him make before. This piqued my interest so I started to pay more attention to the “mystery of metal” in front of me.

I can tell you now, after seeing that expression many more times since, that the name of this expression is something like “here we go” or “this is the beginning of the end.” It’s somewhere between frustration and disgust. He said, “EFI. Electronic Fuel Injection. You know what that means?”
My knowledge of engines got me far enough to recognize the word “Fuel” in his statement. “No.”
“That’s a computer that puts the right amount of fuel in the cylinders. I can replace spark plugs and belts. I can work an engine. But I can’t do anything with that.

It was spring of 1989.
I was out front of my collage apartment in Blacksburg. On the ground in front of my was my twelve speed bike, with the drivetrain completely disassembled. The chain, cassette, chain rings, derailleur, bottom bracket, and all the loose bearings were all laid out and drying, having just finished my cleaning process. It was no car engine, but for me it was a feat. I was proud of my understanding of the system and my ability to make it this far. And then I put everything back together and took the bike out for a test ride, where it purred.

It was spring of 2015.
It was shortly after destroying my road bike (In a Blaze of Glory | Ride | Strava), and I was riding on my new Felt Z2. The rear derailleur stopped shifting, so I got off the bike to try to fix it. It was then that I remembered that model # that I had not paid much attention to when I was buying the bike: Shimano Di2. Di2 stands for “Digital Integrated Intelligence.” You know what that means?

I was out of luck. Nothing that a multi-tool could correct. Nothing that a piece of popsicle stick could hack. I was riding a two speed for the rest of the ride. I felt Pop’s expression appear on my face. And up in heaven he was giving that Di2 a knowing tsk tsk.

It was spring of 2021.
After 14K miles with “generous shifting” of that Di2, on a short bike ride after dinner the derailleur stopped shifting, and started making a very sad sound that I can best describe as a “sad servo.” It sounds like it really wants to change gears, but has “fallen and it can’t get up.” So this weekend I tried to “fix the bike.” When I plugged the bike into the computer to get diagnostics from the derailleur, I was laughing at the thought of the juxtaposition of this image to the image of me in 1989. I went from being able to fix anything to being able to do nothing.

My next bike will be dropping the electronic shifters. And I will name that bike “Pop.”

Miss you, Pop.