#401: Three (More) Meditations on Maintenance

Black and white photo: cavelike full of old bikes and tubes, standing in rows and hanging from racks.
Cass Corridor, Detroit, MI

Julia and I have been taking an eight-week bike maintenance class at a local non-profit bike shop. Every Tuesday night, we go in and spend an hour watching the instructor demonstrate the process for a specific part or set of parts. Then we spend a second hour tuning up those parts on used kids’ bikes that are to be given away as part of the shop’s youth programs. There are six of us in the class, including me and Julia. We’re constantly joking about not screwing up our project bikes for their eventual riders.

I’ve only ever done very basic work on my own bike, swapping out and adjusting tubes, seats, and handlebars. Lubing a chain or two. A simultaneously enlightening and infuriating part of the first demonstration hour is that the instructor will show us most of the possible variations of that part we might encounter in the wild. Infuriating because there are so many variations: Three-piece and one-piece bottom brackets, cup-and-cone and cartridge styles. Index and friction shifters. Trigger, twist-grip, bar-end, stem. Steel, alloy, carbon fiber. Sometimes the industry will use the same 15mm part for decades and then a new company comes along with a 16mm one.

If you buy a bike and learn to maintain it yourself, you get to know the quirks of that specific bike. If you work at a bike shop, you get to know the quirks of the entire industry. You’re warier of new technologies that haven’t yet become standards. Because you’re the one who will be stuck hunting down that obscure part, servicing that hard-to-access shifter cable.

I recently acquired a Vitamix on Facebook Marketplace. I hadn’t realized this going in, but unlike other blenders I’ve used, the blade assembly is integrated into the cup, meaning you don’t unscrew the bottom for washing. A rotating knob on the base controls the speed of the motor, and if you turn the knob gradually, you can avoid that centrifugal explosion that sends ingredients shooting up the walls of the blender cup. In short, it’s easier to clean. And because it’s easier to clean, I end up using it more.

JB was in town from New York for a few days, and at dinner we both gushed about our integrated-blade blenders, and she mused on how when she was growing up, her mother would always be able to foresee the maintenance costs of new purchases—costs that hadn’t crossed JB’s mind. We talked about how we ourselves were starting to think about those same costs, consider the burdens we put on our future selves. Maybe this was just a factor of having more experience living with the consequences of our past decisions. Maybe a natural part of getting older is deciding not to buy a white sofa.

I, like a hundred million others, am now on Threads. What’s impressed me about the app so far is the restraint exercised on the product side. There are big features missing, and my hunch is that that is no accident:

Post by @jackcheng
View on Threads

In other words: they’re missing because of their maintenance costs. Threads, to me, has the fingerprints of a mature product team. Of folks who’ve seen firsthand what happens when you move too fast and break too many things. While the moment is rife with Twitter comparisons, it makes more sense to me to think of Threads as Facebook distilled down to its very essence. Facebook minus two decades of bloat, which turns out to be 95% of Facebook.

On the user-side too: For folks like me who are still begrudgingly on Facebook, whose pages still have artifacts of high school acquaintances they wouldn’t have been associated with in high school, and bands or movies they liked in the early 2000s and missed removing when they later tried to tidy their profiles, Threads is a clean – or cleanish – slate, just as Instagram was in the early 2010s.

Come to think of it, maybe Meta is the Ise Jingu of the internet; every ten years they rebuild Facebook.

Enjoy that new-shrine smell,