Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Beatitudes and the Art of Bicycle Maintainence

Posted by BrianJ on May 10, 2009

Spring is here and so is bike to work month, so I decided to do a series of cycling-related/-inspired posts. Hopefully you’ll be spiritually edified—and physically motivated to get out and ride!

Two years ago I was preparing notes for my upcoming lesson on Matthew 5, the sermon on the mount. Searching through various online sources, I found numerous interpretations* of the famous Beatitudes that tried to extract some structure from the order each virtue was presented by Jesus. For example, there is the chiastic approach, which gives mercy centrality, or there’s the progressive order favored by many commentators, “with each preceding [beatitude] preparing for what immediately follows.

As it happened, at the same time I was working on my lesson notes (a process that takes me days or even weeks), I was also building a bicycle wheel (which takes me about an hour). While threading and weaving the spokes through the hub and rim is not exactly straightforward, the real work of wheel building comes after, when it’s time to true the wheel. Before you dismiss this as something only a bicycle <strike>nutcase</strike> enthusiast would do, even if you don’t ever build your own wheel you should still learn how to true one as part of routine maintenance. (And if that doesn’t convince you, then you should at least keep reading for the gospel analogy.)

Four potential wheel problems.

Four aspects of true

Wheel Truing: two approaches

There is more to truing a wheel than just making sure it is round (radially true)—if it isn’t also dish (no concavity to either left or right), for example, then it will rub one side of the brakes or frame (see figure). Still, it looks easy enough, right? Put the wheel on a truing stand, give it a spin, and when you find any spot that is “off” just tighten/loosen until that one spot is radially and laterally true, dish, and properly tensioned; repeat with each trouble spot; done. In other words, perfect one spot at a time.

Another approach would be to focus on one of the four aspects of true and get that right all the way around, then move on to the next aspect. For example, maybe you make sure it is perfectly dish, then move on to lateral true, etc.; instead of focusing on one spot on the rim, you focus on one aspect of the entire rim—one “virtue” at a time, we might say.

Pick either of these two approaches and run with it: you’ll be up and riding in no time.

If you said “yeah, that sounds right,” then you just spent several long hours making adjustments that will snap your spokes and probably ruin your rim.

…and then the right approach

So, what’s the proper technique? Without getting too technical, I’ll quote the expert:

As you proceed, keep checking all 4 of these factors, and keep working on whichever is worse at the moment.

Try to make your truing adjustments independent of each other. For lateral truing, spin the wheel in the stand and find the place on the rim that is farthest away from where most of the rim is. If the rim is off to the left, tighten spokes that go to the right flange and loosen those that go to the left flange. If you do the same amount of tightening and loosening, you can move the rim to the side without affecting the roundness of the wheel…. After adjusting the worst bend to the left, find the worst bend to the right, and adjust it. Keep alternating sides. Don’t try to make each bent area perfect, just make it better, then go on to the next. The wheel will gradually get truer and truer as you go. [emphasis added]

Any alternative to this “gradually truer” approach will inevitably lead to spokes that are over-tensioned. Major adjustments to one spoke affect several other spokes—both those that are adjacent and those on the opposite side of the hub. By focusing on a single spoke until it is “perfect,” you throw other spokes off, then you over-focus on those spokes and throw the first one off. Over and over and over you will adjust those spokes—mostly tightening them to force them into perfection—until you have a wheel that looks perfectly true and dish. You take it out for a ride, hit a bump, and snap! one of those tight spokes breaks. The loss of one spoke puts a little extra strain on all the rest, and because they are all over-tensioned, a few more also snap (like sticking a pin into a balloon). Snap! snap! sproing! snap! The remaining spokes—still over-tensioned—yank the rim to one side, causing a huge warp that throws the rim unexpectedly into your brakes, causing you to skid and likely spill off your bike. Your spokes are toast, your rim is warped, and you…are tasting pavement.

Is it possible to approach the beatitudes the same way? Rather than trying to become perfectly meek before working on being merciful, and so on, could we not simply do a little better with whichever virtue seems most “off”? Today it’s meekness, tomorrow it’s purity of heart, and next week it’s meekness again. Avoid the over-tension that comes from impossibly insisting on perfection in any one virtue. Little by little, line upon line, grace for grace, until we are “perfect, even as [our] heavenly Father is perfect.”


* I do not present this as a rebuttal to any of those approaches. The merits of my suggestion, if there are any, are not meant to exclude the merits of the interpretations of others; i.e., unlike most of my cycling, this isn’t a contest.

4 Responses to “Beatitudes and the Art of Bicycle Maintainence”

  1. NathanG said

    On my mission we would focus on different skills in missionary work, often with a lot of attention to one aspect of the work each month. After several months of getting better at individual aspects, the things worked on in the previous months would slide. My mission president pointed this out in a moment of frustration and said he wanted us to remember what we had already mastered. Seems like a real life example of what you are saying.

    Oh, and thanks for the brief instruction on how to true a wheel.

  2. Robert C. said

    Brian, I like this way of thinking about repentance: start with the biggies and don’t over-obsess with little “mote” sins/correction when there are “beam” sins/corrections that need attention first! Thanks.

  3. BrianJ said

    Glad you guys enjoyed. Now when are we going riding?

    Robert: I hope it was clear that I wasn’t just suggesting a “tackle the big problems first” approach, since often that puts people in the position of tackling a big problem and sticking with it until it it no longer a problem at all. That “over-emphasis” on a single issue is almost always self-defeating. So (to switch to your mote/beam metaphor), rather than trying to extract a beam from your eye, just whittle it down a bit and then get to work on that beam in your leg, or ear, or whatever.

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