Monday, October 17, 2011


You'd like to think it's not every other day that you find yourself an unwilling disciple of children's play equipment.

But twice in this last week I have been humbled by kids' stuff -- first, by a bicycle and then by a scooter. And I am contrite.

I used to work with someone who would say, "Experience is a tough teacher: she gives you the test first, and then she gives you the lesson." So damn true.

Test one: The handlebars on my eldest son's bike were loose. I decided to tighten up the headset, but then realised I didn't have a spanner large enough to tighten up the large nut on the collar.

This is embarrassing to admit, but I dug around through what I had and came up with a pair of multi-grips and ... a whopping big set of Stilsons.

You probably think it is impressive that I have Stilsons in my toolshed. You probably think it is less-than-impressive that I chose to use them to loosen off the locking collar. But I was desperate. It wasn't pretty.

It only took a few weeks for us to realise that the handlebars were still loose. This time I knew better: I asked my boss if he had a large shifter in his workshop. He did.

I tackled the headset with a combination of large shifter and multi-grips. The shifter held. The multi-grips slipped under pressure. I bent back a thumbnail and swore. Finally, I got it all loosened up, and then tightened it to a tension I was happy with.

The handlebars still moved. More swearing. Then I noticed the little nut on top of the stem at the base of the handlebars. I grabbed a little socket out of my box. Ten seconds of tightening, and the problem was fixed.

I felt like an idiot. The fix was there right under my nose all along. All the fooling about, and big tools and damaged paint was needless. A small socket was the answer.

Test two: I noticed that our scooter had two plastic screw covers that weren't sitting down properly. A quick inspection caused me to believe that the person who fitted the nuts-and-bolts had put them in the wrong way.

I pulled them out (fiddly), turned them around, and retightened. And the covers still did not fit. Then I realised that the fix was a lot simpler than I assumed: the covers simply needed to be spun around (hard to explain, even with a photo). The nuts-and-bolts were right the first time around. So I had to undo them and turn them back around again.

In both cases my poor diagnostic work forced me to rush to a solution that was no solution at all. In both cases a lot more time and energy was wasted than was necessary.

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