In which I am grateful for a broken brake cable
In Tom Cuthbertson's 1971 classic Anybody's Bike Book, he opened the chapter on brake maintenance with something to the effect of, "You're screaming down the Italian Alps on your Cinelli, or maybe you're going to the market on your trusty rattletrap 3-speed. You squeeze the front brake lever and nothing happens. As you watch the ground come up to meet you, you have time to think, 'Brother, you should have serviced those brakes.'"
I had been using the same cables and housings for about a decade. Until a week or so back, the handlebars, tape, brake cables and levers, etc., had been pretty much untouched since, oh, 2003 or so. When I dismantled my Rivendell to sell it, though, I decided I would keep the lovely lugged Nitto handlebar stem and transfer it to my daily driver, Julius the Mercian Vincitore fixed-gear.
This necessitated unwinding the double-layered cotton Tressostar handlebar tape on one side, removing a bar plug and brake lever, then sliding the bars out of the stem that had been in place since, oh, 2002, and putting everything back together around the jewelry-like Nitto stem. This operation was accompanied by a most impressive dusty spray of a decade's worth of shellac coming off the tape.
Of course I chose the left side, which holds the front brake lever, which meant that the cable probably got tweaked somehow. I got it all back together somehow, and applied multiple layers of shellac on the tape and almost
matched the right side. Another coupla years and no one will ever know, right?
Friday afternoon, I was mounting up to ride back to work after lunch, and in proper fixed-gear mounting fashion I put my right foot in the toe strap, squeezed the brake lever and pivoted the front wheel a millimeter to allow rotation of crank, pedal and rear wheel to allow me to cinch the toe strap. Note that this is all faster than thought, describing the process takes forever. At any rate, when I released the brake lever, for the first time ever, it stuck in a partially depressed position. Hmmm, I thought, and rolled on down the driveway.
Now, I know I used the front brake for speed modulation on the way back to work, but it was gentle pressure at most. But something nagged at the back of my brain, and when I rolled up to the loading dock and stopped, loosened the toe straps and put both feet flat on the ground, something possessed me to squeeze the brake lever HARD. I was rewarded with a pop and a flopping lever.
When are we thankful for a broken brake cable? When it breaks while standing still in a parking lot, that's when. Thank you, LORD.