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I spend my day to day surrounded by bike wheels. Frankly, as scrambled as I’ve been by this summer of the coronavirus, I’m basically buried in them.

A bicycle wheel is a simple structure. It really is just three elements; a hub, a rim and a handful of spokes. When properly built, a few-pound bicycle wheel can easily support a 300-pound load. It’s an amazing, simple design that hasn’t fundamentally changed in over a century.

The spokes are especially remarkable. On their own, a spoke is just a slightly modified wire that a determined child could bend in half. A standard No 2. pencil is stiffer. But when joined by a few dozen other spokes, they form a durable, lightweight wheel that will withstand a surprising amount of abuse.

But snap even a single spoke of a wheel, and that structure begins to come apart. The only way a wheel works is if every spoke is equally tight. If you’ve ever had a brake that rubs against the rim, a loose spoke is almost certainly to blame. If left unchecked, a single failed spoke turns into two, into three, until a cascade of failures causes the entire wheel to collapse.

This isn’t a long-winded public service announcement about the importance of bicycle maintenance, so much as it is an attempt to think about who you are in your community.

In our nation’s history, we’ve always celebrated the individual, and that individual working hard, finding success and making a better life for themselves and their children. That’s all well and good. (Like so many of you, I’ve worked hard to buy a house and my wife and I each own our own small business. No dog yet, but I do have a cat.) But sometimes it uncouples us from feeling that our individual actions are, in fact, affecting our larger community.

We are all being asked to consider our individual actions in a new light. We’re supposed to keep our distance, wash our hands and perhaps consider the weirdness of wearing a mask. I know many of you have trades that require a mask already. (I did my time in hog confinements and woodworking shops, including several months in a full face respirator, so I dislike wearing them as much as you do.)

And that mask one is especially aggravating. Losing the ability to see the lower half of someone’s face presents loads of opportunities for embarrassment. (Not recognizing longtime customers has been getting me of late). They’re generally uncomfortable and hot, and really not anything we would voluntarily choose to put over our face.

But we have to understand a reality of two of our local senior care facilities being given “outbreak” status, and three of our county’s residents dying from the coronavirus. We’re also approaching a sort of deadline as our children begin returning to school in the next several weeks. I want my kids to be able to benefit from the fantastic resources of our local schools, but I also don’t want them to be put at unnecessary risk or become a risk to those around them.

I’m sure none of you would care to hear me harp on you to wear a mask, or to stay clear of people outside your immediate family, but in each of your actions in the coming week, consider how what you do affects the health of those around you. We’re all spokes in the wheel, and if we cannot come together for the health of our community, this virus will continue to dictate our daily decisions.

Nathan Nykamp is owner of Brothers Bicycle Shop in Sioux Center. He lives in town with his wife and three children.


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