Your long-term success as a cyclist will likely involve gaining some familiarity with tools, when, and how, to use them. Today we will consider one of the more poorly understood tools, the hammer. It is amazing that such a seemingly simple implement could be so consistently misunderstood, but lucky for you, I am here to disabuse of your misguided notions vis a vis le marteau (French) or Hammer (German, note the capital ‘H’).
For starters, I have collected some hammer-related wisdom from friends who are more adept with tools than I am. Matt said, “If you’re working on a bike, and you think ‘Oh, I need a hammer,’ then things have gone wrong.” Terry said, “Never, under any circumstance, use your hand as a hammer.” This latter dictum is particularly valuable in helping you avoid stupid bruises and embarrassing trips to the emergency room.
The hammer is, generally speaking, not a nuanced tool, and as such will be of no help in fine-tuning brakes or shifting accuracy. One might dislodge an oxidized part or seized set of threads with a hammer, but a powerful solvent is the right way to achieve those ends. The hammer is only really effective once you’ve gone past the limits of your patience and reason and are resolved only to destroy the bike once and for all, in which case, I would just say to you, “Walk away. It’s not worth it.”
The hammer is also powerful in our cyclo-verse as a metaphor. Cyclists pedaling at the limits of their physical capacity are said to be ‘hammering.’ And if you think about the sound that hammering makes, the metaphor is pretty apt. More or less any time I hear someone hammering, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, I want them to cut it the hell out, just like when one of my riding companions decides to ratchet the speed up to the absolute limit.
I remember being on one particularly spicy group ride when my buddy Matt jumped on the front, took the speed up to 32 or 33mph, and then as he peeled off, totally blew up. It’s like he had lit a firecracker and forgotten to throw it, so it just went off in his own hand.
The French call hypoglycemia, what many Americans refer to as bonking, “going to meet the man with the hammer.” This man is not charming. He will take your dignity and make you eat the most retched things while you sit, legs akimbo, on a parking slab. You’d be drooling on yourself, but he has also robbed you of the ability to drool.
They say you’re either the hammer or the nail, but I think there’s actually an array of tools and hardware you could be. You can put the screws to someone. You can ratchet up the pressure. You might be a wingnut or a laser-levelled stud finder. No. Not that last one. And actually, if you think about being either the hammer or the nail, most of the time the hammer is also nailing him/her/themselves as well (see above, re: Matt).
For my money, you’ve got to take the advice of the great MC Hammer, who said “You can’t touch this,” which is to say, don’t do that. Don’t put the hammer to someone you’re riding with. Don’t go meet the weird French guy with a hammer. Don’t use your hand as a hammer. Don’t hit your bike with a hammer.
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