Jen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

Jen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

by Jos Claerbout

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in
1974 was a popular philosophical autobiography.

The day was as bad as those before it, my life was steeped in melencholy. I felt fat and lazy and those feelings were back. The reason was obvious. I was in heat. I stumbled from class to class, thinking not of Spanish or Human Ethology but instead of females and their ilk. Yes, I had felt like this before and it had not been pretty.

Dousing myself in Polo® I would walk up and down College Avenue, hoping that my scent would fall upon sympathetic nostrils. At best, I was ignored. At worst, I was avoided. Sadly, the truth became evident. I was out of season.

One night, on my fifth lap and second bottle of cologne, I saw a heavenly apparition outside of Harwood Dorm. It was a woman. Working on a bicycle. As the night was drawing long, I walked up to her and tried a line.

"Gee, you know, I find it appropriate that a bike of such perfection is being worked on by human of the same caliber."

She cast an eye in my direction while her body, clad in a flowing white robe, paid attention to the bicycle. While her hands touched the grease of the drive train, they were not consumed by it.

"You must be in heat," she wryly commented.

"Does it show?" I asked, trying to fan away the fumes of Polo haze that were dangerously close to giving me away.

"Does a bear shit in the woods?" she retorted, adjusting her headset with only her thumb and forefinger. "No, don't answer that. I know what you need. You need to understand the art of Jen Buddhism. That is the only way that this heat that has afflicted you will be lifted."

"Is that your name then...Jen?"

"No, It's Ahimsa. And yours?"


"What a weird name. Are your parents hippies? No, don't anwer that. Here..." At this point Ahimsa took some spare brake cables and a freewheel and fashioned me a bicycle seat, which she mounted on her handlebars. "Jump on, we don't have much time to waste." I did, and Ahimsa began to pedal, merging us effortlessly with traffic. Probably because we were going 35 miles per hour.

She pointed to the snow capped tip of Mount Baldy, saying, "There... there Jos is where you need to be. There I will teach you." With that, she shifted into a higher gear and sped up to 55 miles per hour, which Ahimsa said was a reasonable pace for climbing Mount Baldy. Besides, any faster would be illegal.

My lungs began to ache from the smog about halfway up and I pleaded with Ahimsa to stop, but she continued on, saying we were almost there. "Besides," she commented "You're not even pedalling." I sat back, desperately trying not to throw up and offend my new mentor.

What seemed like days later, we reached the summit. Ahimsa looked at her watch with a disappointed scowl.

"Shoot, 13 minutes, I'm getting slower. I guess my legs are getting flabby." I touched a twig to her muscular pulsating thigh to see if I could find evidence of any fat. The twig stattered upon touching the leg, evidence that I had discovered a material harder than granite.

"Alright Jos, I will save you from your foolish sexual drives now. Sit on the ground." I did as I was told with my legs crossed, just as Ahimsa, although I was unable to match her lotus position. "It is now, Jos, that we begin."

"What is the sound of one crank turning?"

"If a chain has no oil, but there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

I was dumbfounded. I had never before been forced to come to terms with such existentialist bicycle philosophy.

"Let's try something easier." she said. "This is just for you. Let us consider the baboon. This baboon is named Lyle. Lyle gets hungry. This is called his hunger drive, not unlike your sex drive." I smiled and nodded, my legs were becoming tired. "So when Lyle is hungry, what does he do? He travels the forest, looking for food. He discovers new places, perhaps even other baboons. His drive gives him the motivation to explore and create. However, once he encounters the food, he no longer has the drive. It is fufilled. Jos, what would happen if Lyle did not eat?"

"He would die, " I responded. "Geez, this was going to be easier than I suspected," I thought to myself.

"Now, if you did not fufill your sexual drive, would you die?"


"No, Jos, you would not die. If Lyle never fufilled his hunger drive, yet did not die, do you realize what he would accomplish? He would acquaint himself with the entire jungle and would be constantly active. He could design an ape language or perhaps even learn to play the guitar. These would be accomplishments, but they would not bring him peace. There is only one way to achieve inner peace, and that is by the continual upkeep and maintenance of the bicycle. Jos, you must take this sexual drive of yours, this energy, and funnel it into overhauling bottom brackets and cleaning drivetrains. It is only then that you shall enter the kingdom of Jen Buddhism. Jos, do you think you are ready?"

I was tired and had to pee, so I said yes.

For forty days and forty nights, Ahimsa and I stayed on the top of The Mount, truing wheels, adjusting brakes, upgrading components, wrapping handlebars, cleaning rims, fixing flats and adding deflectors. During this time I did not have sex, nor did I eat. I channeled these two drives into the maintenence of the bicycle, and although at times I got hungry or horny, I would merely work harder and the feeling would pass. I eventually conquered them both, and as Ahimsa and I spent our last night on the mountain burning a pair of "Rapid Fire Under Bar" shifters I realized that it didn't matter if I never met a woman. I had my Nishiki. I finally understood Jen Buddhism.

Now on to .. and the art of Chaos maintenance.

The author Jos Claerbout preparing to assemble eight bicycles

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