The Learning Process

This week, I learned how to do something new. It was a direct result of something new I learned about 3 months ago, and that was an offshoot of something I learned 2 months before (and that was probably a culmination of other random learnings).

Am I a master of this new skill? Would people pay me to provide this service for them? Probably not. Does it matter? Heck no! Why doesn’t it matter? Because I put in my best effort and learned how to do something I couldn’t do before!

Even though this time everything didn’t go perfectly, I refined the skills I already had and started working on a new aspect of skills I never even knew existed.

What was it? The specific achievement isn’t as important as the process and learning how to learn. Nevertheless, for those inductive learners needing an example, it was simply changing a bicycle crankset.

The Story

Five months ago, my pedal stripped the threading on my left crank arm. I talked to folks at a few shops. I learned about how to change crank arms, learned the difference between horizontal and vertical arm alignment. I learned how much more complicated a high-end gruppo crankset would be to change (God bless old blue steel). One shop wrench even warned me that during follow-up to keep retightening the cranks. I learned proper torque (70 N-m). Partly in thanks for all the technical support, I went ahead and bought the parts full price from the local shop.

That night, I went home and put on all the new parts. I kept the old chain ring (a smaller size), so that I could keep the old chain. Success! Everything seemed to go on the way it should, and I was back commuting to work the next morning. I had learned (for the most part) how to change a crankset!

No reason to get your hands dirty, if you don't have to...
No reason to get your hands dirty, if you don’t have to…

Everything felt awesome for a couple weeks. The cranks felt solid. Every few days, I would pull out my little hex wrench and tighten the bolts (as directed). Eventually I stopped thinking about anything more than how good the new parts looked on my bike. Then, after about a month, came the looseness.

When it started, I was riding to work. I was about midway through my 5 mile/5 am commute, when I first felt a looseness in my left crank arm. I figured I could easily make it to work. Unfortunately, things got much worse much faster than I expected. At a few lights, I hopped off my bike an pressed my thumb into the bolt, trying to finger tighten it. By the time I made it to work, I was basically just pedalling with my right foot.

At work, I called my wife (girlfriend at the time) and used a couple of saved up brownie points to ask for the huge favor of having a metric hex wrench set delivered to work over my lunch break. Thankfully, her office is near a home depot and fairly close to my office.

After work, I tightened everything with body weight and made for home. In that twenty minutes of riding, experienced mechanics won’t be surprised to learn that the bolt was loose again.

I proceeded to hop online and research solutions. I eventually nursed my bike to a shop where they used an actual torque and some epoxy to tighten everything into place.

This mostly solved the problem. The cranks stayed on, I generally avoided putting too much pressure on the pedals by doing things like standing up out of the saddle, and dealing with a metalic creaking noise. On the plus side, the noise was loud enough that people heard me coming and I could save my voice from yelling “on your left”.

After about a month, I started to get used to this. After another month, it got annoying enough that I worked up the courage to try the crank repair again. I laid in wait for a decent crankset to go on sale, and finally sprung for a deal on nashbar which cost about 30% of what I paid for the first set at the LBS. I never could bring myself to spring for the torque wrench set, despite all the certainty of setting the dial to 70 N-m and really flogging that crank bolt.

When the parts arrived, I used all my recent experience and newfound skills to make short work of changing the crankset. Everything went on and off the bottom bracket easily. However, when I went to change the chainring, it didn’t fit. I pulled the new chainring off and was trying to install the old one before I realized the incompatibility. Thankfully, my frame has horizontal dropouts and the chainrings were similar in size, so I was able to fit everything with into the old chain.

Of course, with the tighter tolerance, I noticed the chain tension changed as I spun the crank. A little research on spiders complements of sheldon brown’s website showed me that I had bought a crank with a different BCD and that I now needed to center the chainring. I had never heard of any of this before, but here I was reading about it and putting it straight into practice! Awesome!

So what does all this mean? Success! Growth! A sense of satisfaction and accomplishment! Could someone else inspect my work and find fault? Could someone more ambitious outcompete me and do it bigger? ..better? Could I have messed something else up this time, again requiring me to replace the crank set? Yes! Of course! But guess what. That doesn’t matter!

Why not? Because this wasn’t some project I had to complete for a deadline. I don’t have to report progress back to anyone. I don’t need a management review so that I can re-review it with my manager’s manager in another week. I won’t be ranked (or rated) against my peers at the end of the year for how well I completed this.

I did this for me, to the best of my ability. Was it frustrating at times? Yes! Was it challenging? Yes! And all of these difficulties make even my small level of success even sweeter.

I learned something new. I learned more about how to teach myself something new. All of this folds into the great experience that is life, and by all personal measures, it feels pretty damn good!


Here at Easy Does It FI, doing what you can do each day (and not doing on those days you can’t) is the preferred method. I once heard a yoga instructor comment, “Make the practice hard. Never stop pushing, so that you never stop growing. However, do not make it so hard that you cease to enjoy the practice. You must come back to it every day, joyful and refreshed, to really reap the lifelong rewards.”


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