Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 8-Speed LHT

Well, the LHT project mentioned last time is rolling inexorably toward completion, but not without some predictable bumps in the road. Here’s another problem: Steve-O is an experienced cyclist. He’s put in enough miles to know exactly what he wants and needs out of a bike. What he lacks is any experience with what products are currently available and how a modern bike works. We discussed previously his expectation of 20,000 miles out of a drivetrain. At first blush, this seemed absofuckinglutely ridiculous, but I wanted to know where that expectation had come from. He had gotten that many miles out of a drivetrain once. I believe that drivetrain durability has increased due to better materials and manufacturing, two inevitable products of a technology-driven industry. So what would prevent him from getting 20,000 miles out of a modern drivetrain? Well, we also discussed the likelihood that Steve-O’s previous drivetrain was an outlier; one of those situations in which all the variables that affect longevity swung in the right direction. That’s not an adequate explanation.

Upon further consideration, I came to a startling realization. Steve-O has NEVER had a bike with indexed shifting. It’s true a severely worn chain is more prone to breakage, but if it’s coddled, that may not make any difference. What would become apparent far before that became an issue is the poor shifting performance brought about by a chain that had grown too flexible. Sure, Steve-O may get 20,000 miles out this drivetrain, but his shifting is gonna shit the bed long before his odometer trips five figures. That will be a fun conversation…

“Hey ABW, I was wondering if you can take a look at my shifting; it’s not hitting the gears.”

“Sure,” I’ll say, grabbing the chain-checker, as I do with pretty much every bike I put in the stand for diagnosis. I’ll pop it on the chain, press the little, black, pie-shaped wedge, bottoming it out, and then I’ll wiggle it back and forth, verifying that his chain is well past the point at which it alone can be replaced.

“Well, you need a new chain and cassette…” I’ll stoop to take a look at the teeth on his middle chainring, noting their hooked, shark-fin profile. “And maybe a middle chainring.”

There will be a pause while he digests this, and then we’ll get to the good part.

“You mean I paid 1700 bucks for this thing two years ago and it already needs a new drivetrain?”

I’ll bite my tongue, and my cheek, and do my best to explain to him that which I’ve tried to explain a dozen times before, and it will do no more good this time than it ever has in the past, and I’ll look at 8-speed cassettes and note that, since they are obsolete technology, the only one with a cog larger than 30 teeth is a MegaRange piece of shit, and he’ll bitch about the jump to the large cog, and it’ll all go round and round and round again. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back to Plan A. The LHT is sold as a complete bike with a 9-speed drivetrain. Aside from the extra cog, Steve-O had only minor quibbles with the rest of the parts spec. He was suspicious of the Andel cranks, but I noted they had forged arms and a common BCD, which makes them more than adequate. I told him they would probably work OK with an 8-speed chain, but he worried that the chainrings would be narrower than 8-speed rings, and thus less durable. Pause to bang head on top of bench. OK, we can swap to a Sugino crankset. Nothing wrong with Sugino.

Next problem was availability. Note that Steve-O’s last new bike was purchased 32 years ago. Well, the complete LHT with 26” wheels would not be available until spring. All of a sudden, it was important to have this new bike in time to do a tour in Texas this January. With that constraint, we didn’t have much choice but to buy the frame and parts and do a pro-build. No problem, since he’s particular about parts anyway, and this is an opportunity to get exactly what he wants. On to Plan B.

Immediately, gearing becomes the focus of discussion. He has Excel spreadsheets of the gear ratios of all his other bikes, I shit you not. He brings these in. He notes that his Kabuki has a granny of 22.3” and he’d like something a little smaller than that. No problem. He also notes that he’d like a top gear in the 110” range. Fuck. This brings up a whole new discussion, during which I try to explain things like the capacity of derailleurs, to no avail. I finally tell him flat out that, given the parts that I know to be available, he cannot have a 19” granny and a 110” top gear. He seems to grudgingly accept this.

I thought that was a victory, but it didn’t last. I put together an exhaustive parts list, based in part on feedback I’d gotten from a friend inside QBP, Fred. Fred was service manager at Any Bike Shop three service managers before me, and had earned Steve-O’s trust in a way I could only hope for. I was under the impression that Steve-O and Fred had discussed pricing, so I told Steve what it was gonna cost. Steve-O adds it up to arrive at a figure of about 1700 bucks. Pregnant pause. Steve-O goes to the computer and punches up Surly’s website, noting that MSRP for the LHT complete is 1100 bucks. The pause is now giving birth. Note, we’ve got the frame hanging in the shop. We’ve paid for it, and we’re sure as shit not eating it, but Steve-O decides at this point to question that $600.00 difference. I know, my fault for assuming Steve-O and Fred had discussed pricing, and my fault for assuming Steve-O understood that building a bike frame-up will always cost more than buying a complete bike. You know what they say about assuming…

Bossman and I start throwing out explanations, a tinge of desperation on the perimeter of our comments. We do not, nay, we cannot eat the cost of that frame. Other bikes shops might be able to, but we’re in dire straights here. Hell, maybe we’re in these dire straights because we get ourselves into situations like this, but I don’t think so, and I’m not going to dwell on that right now. We talk about how he’s getting a parts mix that fits his needs perfectly, and hand-built and tensioned wheels, and the quality of our pro-build, etc. He’s still not quite convinced, and patience, already thin, is waning. If he had said at that moment that he’d rather wait for the complete bikes and swap out the 9-speed stuff for 8, I would have walked out the door. That pregnant pause had given birth, and its offspring was writhing around on the floor, screaming its head off.

“OK, let’s do it.”

I said a silent prayer. Dear God or gods, if you’re out there, if you’re listening, and if you care, thank you for pulling Steve-O’s head out of his ass just long enough to acquiesce. I promise I will assemble this bike with as much care as I can muster. I will answer his gearing questions, and I will fiddle with his fit, and I will deal with his general obsessive compulsion, and I’ll not complain, as long as we make money on this fucking bike. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Beginnings

Well...shit. We just lost our biggest line. I guess I never like Trek anyway. Well, that's not true. Truth is, I respect them as a company, find no distinct fault with their products, but also never really found them to be particularly exciting. They're like Budweiser. Consistent, dependable, and likely to appeal to the greatest number of people. Great, but that also means you're not going to inspire the true connoisseurs. (As an aside, I just fucking spelled "connoisseur" correctly without looking it up. Fucking mad skills off the bike as well.) There's a reason Pegoretti sells only a few hundred frames a year - they don't appeal to the masses. But, to those for whom they are built, they are the most beautiful frames in the world.

I don't know what this means for me. Probably nothing. What difference does it make if I'm selling a Trek to a fat Midwesterner or a Giant or a Specialized or any of the other Big Guys? Still selling underappreciated bikes to DBs who'll neglect them and then complain when I tell them how much it'll cost to make it work again. Well, it means I get to field some awkward questions when people walk into a bike shop that's got four fucking bikes on the floor. Fuck.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Steve-O and More Planned Obsolescence

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to put these Angry Thoughts down on paper, but such is life. I’m compelled to mention the confluence of events that precipitated this post. I’ve already mentioned the way the cycling community in the Midwest disappears when it gets cold, like your testicles when you jump into 32 degree water. That is Exhibit A. Exhibit B is the organization to which I belong, which as of 12 months ago included three locations and now includes but one. Yeah, the last year has been tough. Well, the boss took a week off for personal reasons, and while he was away, a paycheck bounced. I’d like to say it was a horrible surprise, but it was the third time it’d happened, and I wasn’t surprised at all. We’d discussed laying me off in January anyway, since Uncle Sam has so much more money than we do. Well, when he got back, he asked if I wanted to take December off as well. I did. The shop has been driving me fucking bonkers for the last six weeks anyway, and I’ve got some personal projects I’ve been neglecting.

A couple of weeks ago, a regular customer, let’s call him Steve-O, stopped in. Steve-O is a fairly hardcore tourer, and the quintessential retrogrouch. Steve-O has never owned a new bike. He was now looking at the Long Haul Trucker from the Midwest’s favorite illegitimate child, Surly. I have nothing bad to say about the LHT. In fact, I own one myself, and if you put a gun to my head and told me to pick just one of my six bikes, it would be the LHT. My greatest hope in life is to find the female equivalent of the LHT: simple, sturdy, strong, and easy on the eyes in a utilitarian kind of way. She is a beautiful machine. I mean the bike, although I hope the woman will be a beautiful machine as well.

Steve-O’s problem with the LHT is not with the frame, but with the mix of components those crazy bastards at Surly have decided to hang on it. Put simply, he’s suspicious of the durability of a 9-speed drivetrain. Here we go.

At first blush, his logic seems sounds: in order to accommodate more gears, chains have gotten narrower. A narrower chain must contain less metal. A chain cannot be more durable if it contains less metal. Ergo, a 9-speed drivetrain is less durable.

I know what you’re thinking. You think you’re clever, but I’m a step ahead of you. You recognize that Steve-O’s logic does not take into account the quality of the metal, the construction of the chain, or the diligence with which you might care for your drivetrain. You’re thinking that you’d bust out some commentary about steel alloys, or bushinged vs. bushingless, and tell him that, in eleventy billion miles of riding on 9, 10, and even 11 speed drivetrains, you’ve never, ever, broken a chain. You think you’re so clever, you naïve son of a bitch. But you lack the advantage of having experienced Steve-O’s existing bikes. They are the most marvelous and neglected pieces of shit you have ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. His bar tape hangs in tatters from the drops. His cable housing is riddled with cracks, and his cables are always, always, frayed. He brings his bike in, complaining of a “creak in the bottom bracket,” and it is always the chain, protesting its neglect in frequencies heard only by Andy, our loyal shop dog. With this knowledge, I fortified myself and made preparations to lose an argument.

“So, what are your reservations about the 9-speed drivetrain?”

“I read on a touring forum that some guy had broken a 9-speed chain.”


In my defense (or yours), I made all the aforementioned arguments. I had seen his bikes, but I thought he might understand that better alloys and better construction could yield a bike with more speeds and better durability, but he would hear nothing of it.

“In the good old days, you didn’t have to replace chains, or drivetrains. I’ve got 20,000* miles on the drivetrain of my Kabuki.” (* This is not a typo. That’s Twenty. Thousand. Miles.)

Deep breath. Collect your thoughts.

“Well, I’m afraid if your expectation is 20,000 miles out of a drivetrain, any drivetrain, you’re going to be disappointed. Chains just weren’t designed to last that long. I mean, that’s like hoping for 10,000 miles out of an oil change.”

HA! Check! There is no defense to the Automotive Analogy.

“No, I don’t expect 10,000 miles from an oil change, but I do expect 400,000 miles out of my cars.”


This tidbit of information revealed to me that I could not win this argument. Yes, some vehicles last for 400,000 miles. Some drivetrains last for 20,000 miles. Some people live to 110. They are the outliers, but it does happen, and if it happens, then it means that, in his mind, Steve-O’s drivetrain is as likely as any to last for 20,000 miles. It turns out there is a counter to the Automotive Analogy. It is the Outlier As a Standard Worldview.

I threw in the towel, because after all, what the fuck does it matter to me? My motto is: “Give me enough time, money, and beer, and I’ll fix a rainy day.” Sure, I can build you an LHT with an 8-speed drivetain. Give me time, money, and beer. While doing inventory, I came across a set of 8-speed Ultegra bar-end shifters. I shot Steve-O an email and told him that all we needed now was an 8-speed cassette and we’d be in business.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

'Nuf Said

Again, my loyal followers, apologies for irregular updates. I suppose I could wax poetic about how much there is to make me angry in a slow shop, but mostly it just depresses me, and I'd rather not bring you down. Will do my best to update regularly in the future.

In the meantime, there are a few websites I check regularly to keep abreast of developments, learn new shit, and reinforce the shit I thought I knew. Rivendell Bicycles, founded by Grant Petersen (formerly of Bridgestone), is one of those sites. Petersen is among the more polarizing of figures in the industry. His opinions about the "right" way of doing things, including fit, component selection, and frame material are by no means the final word, but those opinions are also based on decades of experience, above-average intelligence, and a lot of common sense. I've copied below the tips for happy riding found on the Rivendell website. I dare you to argue any of them intelligently.

Original content can be found at:

Tips for Happy Riding

Learn right away that the front brake is the most effective one, and to never lock the front wheel in dirt (or on the road, but it's more likely in dirt). Learn how far you can lean over without scraping a pedal.

Learn to keep the inside pedal UP when you corner, and learn to ride safely in all conditions. Be the master and commander of your own bicycle.

Signal your approach to pedestrians, especially if they're old, and a bell is better than "On your left!" If no bell, try clacking your brake levers. If all you got is "On your left!" that's fine, but if you ride a lot on paths, get a bell.

At least one ride in 10, go without your sunglasses and gloves. Sometime next month, put some double-sided cheap-style pedals on a good bike and ride in non-cycling garb. It works shockingly well, and sends a good message to would-be bicycle riders.

Carry an extra tube you can give to somebody with a flat tire and just a repair kit.

If you're a guy, don't try to be a mentor to every female cyclist you meet.

Don't ride in shoes you can't walk through an antique shop in.

Don't wear clothing that makes your sweat stink even more.

Don't think you'll go faster in a significant way if you and your bike become more aerodynamic.

Put a $20 bill inside your seat post or handlebar and hold it there, somehow.

Don't ride until you're confident you can fix a flat.

If you ride more than one bike, have a set of bring-along tools for each one. Learn how to remove your rear wheel (put the chain onto the small cog, etc.).

If you ride in a group, bring food for you and somebody who forgot to.

Go for a one-hour ride underdressed sometime, because it's good to be really cold on a bike every now and then.The reverse (overdressing in hot weather) is not necessary!

Never blame your bike or your health or anything else if you're the last one up the hill or in to the rest stop.

If your brake hoods are black, wrap your bars with a different color tape, so it doesn't look like a one-piece set-up.

Never let your chain squeak.

If you pass another rider going up a hill, say more than "Hi," but if it's a woman and you aren't, don't assume she wants to chit-chat. Treat her as you'd have a generic guy-rider treat your wife/daughter/girlfriend.

If you're a woman and it's a guy, you can chit-chat all you like, they won't mind.

If you see another rider approaching you from the rear and trying to catch you, let it happen. Fun is more important than fast.

Don't put any cyclist up on a pedestal, except Lon and Freddie.

Sometimes, bring normal food on your ride. Sometimes bring none. If you're reasonably well-rested and have eaten anything at all in the last eighteen hours (and are not diabetic), you should be able to pedal your bike for two to three hours without supercharging your system with carbohydrates. Believe it or not, carbs really do make you fat, and are necessary only for long, hard rides.

Shoot photos on your rides and give them away.

Feel comfortable mixing high tech and low tech, old and new parts and technologies, and don't apologize to anybody for it.

Compliment other people's bikes, especially if they're new.

Buy the cheapest helmet that fits well.

Try seersucker shirts for hot weather riding, and long-sleeved ones are best.

Don't underestimate fig bars. If you get a new widget and like it, don't "swear by it."

Don't always shop by price and never ask for discounts at your local bike shop. Every time you go into a bike shop, spend at least $2, and if you ask a question and get good advice, spend $5.

If you buy a rack, don't ask for free installation.

Don't assume your bike shop is making money.

Ride only when you feel like it.

If you know a fast new rider, don't say, "You really ought to race."

If you see a stocky woman rider, don't suggest she race track.

Have at least one bike you feel comfortable riding in a downpour.

Ride in weather that keeps other cyclers indoors.

Never keep track of your pedaling cadence.

If you have a normal loop or ride, count the number of times you shift on it; then the next time you ride it, cut that in half and see if it makes any difference.

Learn to ride no-hands and to hop over obstacles, but not simultaneously.

Never hit a pedestrian. In traffic, be visible and polite. Don't feel as though you must be a role model for all other riders; be polite for selfish reasons.

If you have several bikes, set them up with different equipment but always ride the saddle you like best.

Don't try to keep up with faster descenders if you're not comfortable descending.

Never apologize for buying something that's not quite pro quality by saying, "I'm not going to race or anything."

If you buy a stock bike, do something to it that makes it the only one exactly like it in the world.

Don't think it's important to match front and rear hubs or rims.

If you borrow somebody else's bike, for a short test or a long ride, say something nice about it.

Always bring a pump.

Build at least one wheel.

Wear out something.

Don't ever describe any bike, no matter how inexpensive or dilapidated, as "a piece of crap."

If you get a fancy bike assembled by somebody else, allow them a scrape or two, especially if the bike is really expensive.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sincerest Apologies

My sincerest apologies dear followers for the dearth of recent posts. I understood when taking on the responsibility of informing douchebags why, in the context of bicycles and bicycle maintenance, they are douchebags, that it was a monumental undertaking. So many douchebags.

What I had not counted on was the fact that, in the Upper Midwest, service business falls off like a shot put off a kitchen table as soon as the leaves start changing. This means my contact with douchebags is limited to my coworkers, and though they all fall into that category occasionally, they really are douchebags of a different caliber and don't offer me quite the same material.

So, in an effort to keep you entertained and informed, I'll start mining some older work. While not current, the characteristics of the douchebag do not change so quickly as to render it obsolete. Coming soon: the many ways participants in organized rides can piss me off. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Flat Tyre Schema...

I just don’t get it.

Right now, I’m studying organizational theory and behavior, specifically social and interpersonal perception. It seems that “schemas” are cognitive frameworks that systematize our knowledge of…everything, I guess. We have schemas that make sense of ourselves, others, events, etc. They’re mental frameworks that help us perceive everything around us.

Well, I think I have a fundamentally flawed schema of flat tyres. In my mind, flat tyres are just like shit. They happen. You fix them. Then you get back on the bike and ride some more. That’s it. You don’t overanalyze them when they happen. You don’t reflect on your misfortune. You don’t hire somebody else to do it for you, since any cyclist should be able to fix a flat. And finally, you never ride in fear of getting a flat. They just happen. Flat tyres as much a part of the riding experience as the sun in your eyes or the sweat on your forehead.

Gentleman came in yesterday with a Trek 1000. I’m not so much a bike snob as to turn my nose up at an entry-level road bike. What turned me off immediately was the torn bar tape, the scuffed and misaligned brake lever/shifter, the filthy drivetrain, the small/small gear combination, etc. The bike had an aura of neglect about it. This guy rode the bike without any thought toward the service the bike was providing for him, and as such, he took it for granted. This is the guy who will bitch and complain when a mechanic tells him that his chain needs to be replaced. In his mind, a bike is no different than a plastic butter knife. You use it and throw it away when you’re done. I have no patience for this attitude toward bikes.

He’s got a flat tyre. Rather than communicate effectively to me that he wants me to install a new tube, he walks in and says, “Got a flat tyre.” Well, no shit. I’ve got two eyes, and even if all I had was half a brain, I could have figured that out. What the fuck do you want me to do about it? Tell you the proper sized tube so you can fix it yourself? Point out the tubes to you? Fix it for you? The information I need is what you want me to do about it.

After that ground breaking assertion, he proceeded to say something about the age of the tyre, and again I’m puzzled, because in my flat-tyre-schema, the age of the tyre has nothing to do with the frequency of flats, unless we’re talking about a severely worn tyre with a measurably thinner layer of rubber. Finally, after asking the right questions, I determine that he wants me to install a new tube. We could have gotten to this point in 5 seconds rather than 5 minutes. That’s time I’ll never get back.

So I fixed his flat, continuing to think about our differing schemas. In his mind, flat tyres are unusual and as such, deserve scrutiny and analysis. I suppose understanding that isn’t so difficult. What is difficult is reconciling his schema with my own.

The difference is based on experience. I’ve ridden more, gotten more flat tyres, and fixed more of them. So after all this rambling, what’s today’s take-home message? Just ride your fucking bike and learn to fix your own flat tyres. I promise it’s not painful and will make the whole experience better. Once your flat tyre schema and mine are aligned, then you can hire me to fix your flats.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ignorance and Laziness

"Any Bike Shop, this is ABW.” Unless I’m having an exceptionally shitty day, I normally manage to say that with a smile in my voice, and I was having an OK day.

“Uhm, yeah, hello?” There is the sound of a child or children screaming in the background. My OK day may be taking a turn for the worse here.

“Any Bike Shop, hello?” I’m still giving this caller the benefit of the doubt.

“Yeah, hi. How much do you charge to straighten a tyre?” Yep, my OK day is sliding right down that slippery slope. Really, I hear the straighten tyre thing often enough, you’d think I’d just get over it, but I can’t. It positively makes my teeth hurt. In my defense, I haven’t stooped to the level of my old mentor, Draco, who would launch into the conversation as if the customer had used the proper terminology. He’d sometimes talk about tubular cement and making sure the base tape showed evenly on both sides of the rim, or maybe he’d talk about contacting the manufacturer about the molding process required to center the tread between the beads, all to the consternation of the customer. Once that consternation was so awkward as to be undeniable, he’d say, “OH! What you meant to say was wheel.” The latter statement would drip with cruel sarcasm and the customer would be cowed into submission for the remainder of the conversation. It was a thing to behold. But, as I said, I haven’t stooped to that level.

“Also, how much to run those new, oh, whatdya call them, brake lines?” The child’s/children’s volume has increased and my masseters are aching like my quads would if I was headed up Alpe d’Huez.

“Well, I always hesitate to give estimates without seeing the bike, but a wheel true is 15 bucks per wheel; a new brake cable is 4 and 15 for the installation, which includes adjustment of the brake.”

“OK, then how much for a new one of those, whatdya call them, the little wheels, the little spiky wheels by the back tyre?”

I tried to say “cassette” and “sprockets” twice each, only to be interrupted each time by another misguided attempt to describe to me a part for which the owner didn’t know the right name. Despite all this evidence to the contrary, I really am a patient person, but this was pushing it. I have no patience for being interrupted by the questioner while trying to answer his/her question. I said something to the effect that, maybe it would be best to just bring the bike in.

“Oh, but that’s something you think you could fix.” Lady, give me enough time, money, and beer, and I’ll fix a rainy day.

“Yes, I’m sure that’s something we could take care of for you.” The screaming in the background intensifies. I hear the woman talking and realize she is no longer paying any attention to the phone in her hand. I hear her say something about slamming fingers in a door, and I can’t suppress a small smile of satisfaction, even though my frustration with the conversation had more to do with the woman’s lack of intelligence than her child’s/children’s behavior. I feel bad for feeling satisfied.

“Well, maybe I should let you go.” I agree with her and hang up the phone.

So many things went wrong with that conversation. I’m an exceptionally intelligent person, so there isn’t a lot about which I can’t converse intelligently. I’m not a doctor, but when I go, I know what my body parts are called. I’m not an auto tech, but when I take my car in, I know the difference between a water pump and an alternator. The issue is, I don’t see bikes as being as complex as the human body or an automobile. Despite my intelligence, I view my mastery of the bicycle as having much, much more to do with experience. I’ve known crackerjack wrenches that were dumb as rocks with regard to anything other than wrenching. They just loved bikes and immersed themselves in them. I don’t see why everybody can’t learn enough about their bikes so that, when the time comes, they can accurately describe what the bike is or isn’t doing. The issue then becomes not a question of ignorance, but of laziness. My patience for ignorance, while small, is larger than my patience for laziness. Just pay attention to your fucking bike and listen to the words coming out my mouth, and we’ll be just fine.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Douchebag Will and The Milf

Oh my god, where do I begin? One of my shop’s best customers also happens to be a stunning Milf. Over the span of a decade or so, she’s purchased no less than 17 bikes from our shop. She’s been there much longer than I. She’s extremely easy on the eyes even though she doesn’t have a hell of a lot going on upstairs, and she shrieks “high maintenance.” Milf can’t go for a ride without coordinating clothing to bike, doing her hair and applying flawless makeup.

Several years ago, Milf met Douchebag Will. There’s a complicated story than involves another couple, a hot tub, the MS 150, a keg of beer and a very intimate evening. I’ve heard the story half a dozen times, and I still can’t keep it straight. I know the evening they met, both were married and legend has it their marriages were but two out of three that were brought to ruin in that beer-hazed hot tub.

Needless to say, Douchebag Will (DW) is also high maintenance. He’s the guy that will be wearing the sleeveless jersey until the highs only make it into the 50s. I noticed with great relish the other day that, without exaggeration, his biceps are twice, twice the size of his calves. This is the guy that goes to the gym 15 hours a week and has no idea how to work his lower body. I’ve only just gotten to know DW, but my hunch is, like his new trophy, he also has little going on upstairs.

There are many truths in the bike industry that are not grasped by the douchebag customer. One of those truths is that the bike industry is technology driven and as such is subject to the same planned obsolescence that guarantees your computer is outdated six months after purchase. The retrogrouches out there can bitch about it until blue in the face, but another truth is that things are much, much better now than they have ever been. Aluminum rims are lighter, stronger, offer better braking and easier truing. Frames are lighter, stiffer, and more comfortable. Integrated shifting systems are easier to use and safer than anything from the past. The automotive analogy here has to do with cars that the shadetree mechanic can no longer work on. True, but I challenge you to get 35 miles per gallon out of your Flathead. Things are better now.

But, I digress. DW is the victim of planned obsolescence, at the hands of the most nefarious villain in that plot, Shimano. He had as original equipment on his bike Deore shifter pods with Tektro brake levers. His right shifter shit the bed (Shimano also being the most nefarious villain in the plot of shifters shitting the bed). I hopped on QBP to find a replacement. Hmmmm. Shimano no longer offers the Deore shifter pod. Well, what shifter pods do they offer? Saint and XTR. I begin compiling a list of options, as none will be perfect and I like to ensure my customers are fully informed before they fuck up a decision.

DW could upgrade to Saint or XTR. He could replace the right shifter and brake lever, ensuring they do not match the left. He could replace both shifters and brake levers, forfeiting years of use from properly functioning components. Or, he could go with a SRAM trigger shifter, the only moderately priced, Shimano compatible trigger shifter.

I offered these options to DW and recommended the latter, stating correctly that it will not be a perfect match, but that the quality of the shifter is comparable and it is the least expensive option. He acquiesced and I got the part on the next order. It was installed quickly and he was given a perfectly functioning bike with apologies for a process seemingly more complicated than expected.

Two weeks later, DW marches into my shop, bronzed biceps rippling in perfect harmony with his salt and pepper locks.

“I’m completely dissatisfied with this shifter.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What’s it doing or not doing?”

“Well, you told me that it would be similar in quality to the old shifter. You didn’t say it would function totally differently.”

This is true to the extent that “totally differently” means you must repurpose your thumb and forefinger and that your right hand will not be acting in perfect parallel with your left. An admitted inconvenience, but I would hardly consider it an insurmountable challenge. People have been running mismatched shifters since there were enough shifters to make an odd couple.

“OK, I hear that and I understand, and I’ll do my best to find an agreeable solution, but this puts us back in the boat where we began. They don’t make that shifter pod anymore.”

We walked into the parts department and I showed him an LX shifter/brake lever combo, from the year when the accent color was navy blue.

“OK, here’s one option. It would require replacing your brake lever as well, and obviously, it wouldn’t match your left shifter and brake lever.”

There was a pause I didn’t quite understand.

“Wait…you mean it would be blue?” This was uttered as if I had suggested he ride naked. Of course, given his vanity, maybe that’s not the best analogy.

“Well, yes, that’s the color of the part.”

“Wait a second. Hon? Hon? You’ve gotta come over here and let me know what you think of this.”

Milf marched her bronzed and Botoxed self into the shop, a decidedly rewarding thing to witness, and bless her vacuous head, rolled her eyes at DW. He decided the mismatched colors were a challenge more insurmountable than the current difference in function.

There ensued a discussion about what was meant by “shifter pod.” We looked in the catalog and I showed him the XTR and Saint shifters, told him they functioned as he wanted a shifter to function and told him the price.

“Wait, they cost how much? I swear I saw this shifter on the Internet for, like, 40 bucks.”

There, he had said the magic word. That glorious network that we can all count on to give douchebags just enough information to be dangerous, time-consuming, and fucking annoying. The Internet.

“Yes, that’s about what I would expect a Deore shifter to cost, but you can see we can no longer order one for you, although it’s probable that a shop out there somewhere has new old stock for sale. If you can find that shifter for sale, of course you’re welcome to purchase it and we’ll take the new shifter back.”

I’m pretty sure the latter sentence caused me physical pain not unlike the gas someone with lactose intolerance might experience after consuming a gallon of milk.

Well, DW was clearly not buying my statement that his exact shifter was unavailable. Maybe I could have done more. I consulted the distributors with whom we do regular orders, but maybe I could have sought out every distributor that might conceivably carry that part. I could have called Shimano to ask if they had any lying around. I could have called a couple shops in the area to see if they had any. And, maybe I would have been motivated to do that had DW conformed to the standards to which I hold reasonable customers. Reasonable customers accept that I am an expert and know what I’m talking about. Reasonable customers are allowed to make decisions based on color only when all other variables are equal. They are allowed to wear sleeveless jerseys only when the temperature tops 85 degrees. The do not do their fucking hair before going on a fucking bike ride. And they sure as SHIT don’t call their trophy wives over to approve component related decisions based on FUCKING COLOR. Since DW is not a reasonable customer, I will not offer him the full extent of my considerable talents. As I said, I have my standards.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Flat Tyres

I’d like to begin today with a public service announcement. Please listen carefully.




That’s it. No matter what you or I do, if your tyres roll on the ground, you will eventually get a flat. Furthermore, there is a law of statistics, I forget its title, that states that every event exists as its own entity. For example, let’s assume there is a 10% chance that on any given ride, you’ll get a flat tyre. So you went for a ride today and got a flat. This DOES NOT mean you will ride nine more times without getting a flat. Every time those tyres kiss pavement, there is a 10% chance of getting a flat.

Why, oh why, is it so difficult for dumbass customers to understand this?

Woman, probably a student at the local U, came in several weeks ago with a flat. My associate, who is good but young and inexperienced, fixed the flat and told the woman that her tyres were getting dry rotted and cracked, but that she could probably finish this season without a problem. I don’t know that I would have said anything different, but she was wrong. Last week, same customer came in with her mother and a flat and a heaping helping of indignation. The tire had blown out at one of the cracks. I looked at the tyre, told her she needed new rubber and told her how much everything would cost. I could tell they were dissatisfied, but as I have very little patience for adults who still need their mothers to fight their battles, I didn’t give a shit. They informed me that they would just wait until next year to get it fixed. Fine. Just get the fuck out of my sight.

They make motions as if to leave and make it as far as the back door of the shop. Three minutes pass and they come back. Here we go.

“We’re really just not satisfied with the solution you proposed. She’s already paid the eight dollars to have the flat fixed once, and we feel we got some misinformation when she brought it in the first time. If we’d been told she needed to replace the tyre, we would have done that. Is there any warranty on flat tyres? This Other Bike Shop advertises a 30 day warranty on flat tyres.”

OK. There are several issues here. First, OF COURSE you would have replaced the tyre if that had been recommended. You’re here quibbling about eight fucking dollars, so I’m certain that had we recommended a new tyre, you would have forked over the money without so much as a second thought. Now that we’ve proven the tyre to be worn beyond use, it’s easy to say you would have had it replaced if we had recommended it.

Second, I DON’T GIVE A GOOD GOD DAMN HOW OTHER BIKE SHOPS RUN THEIR BUSINESSES. How the fuck do you warranty flat tyres? Consider the variables that must be taken into account. I promise that, if we had a warranty on flat tyres, for any given situation, if the customer was intelligent enough, he/she could make a legitimate claim that his/her flat tyre was subject to warranty replacement. I’ve gotten up to eight flats in a given 30 day period. That $64. I can’t give that away. Furthermore, the level of service offered by a given shop is directly correlated with the amount of money that shop makes. I’m as good a mechanic as any, and I command pay commensurate with my knowledge, skill, and experience. A shitty shop that gives away labor cannot afford to keep me on staff, and somebody that makes less than me is not going to offer the same level of service.

I tried to explain this to the women, and to their credit, they nodded in the right places. I offered to sell them a new tyre, a tube at half price, and in this situation, I’d eat the labor. They were satisfied with that solution, and we got it taken care of, but it left me with a very sour flavor in my mouth.

I’ll tell you one thing. If/when I finally open a shop of my own, there’s going to be a big fuckin’ poster on the wall of the shop. On one side of the poster is going to be a steaming pile of shit. On the other, a flat tyre. At the bottom of the poster, it’s just going to say, “Both of these things happen. Get over it.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


“Hey, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m having trouble mounting my second bottle cage to the seat tube.”

It’s Tim (not his real name).

After some conversation, I determine the problem is a common one. He’s got a traditional, bottom pull front derailleur, so the clamp fits between the bottle bosses. It’s a problem so common the more considerate bike companies ship their bikes with nifty little aluminum spacers to take care of the problem. In the absence of those spacers, all is not lost. The most common solution is to put a couple of the little knurled washers that screw onto Presta valves under the bottle cage. I explain this to Tim, dig around in my parts bin and drop four Presta nuts into his hand. He looks at them a moment.

“Can I get four that match?”

I calmly walked back to my bench, closed the parts drawer from which I’d gotten the first four and plucked my pedal wrench off the wall.

“Sure, I think I see a couple on the floor over there.”

When he bent over to pick them up, I dug deeply into my cache of anger, anger I’d been collecting and storing for years. That anger surged through my arm and propelled my pedal wrench into the back of his douchebag head with a satisfying sound not unlike dropping a watermelon on a cement floor.

I walked over to my bench, pulled out the drawer marked “Valve Caps,” marched it over to the service counter, threw it in his general direction and, without making even the slightest effort to keep the impatience out of my voice told him to help himself.

The above represents a very common experience when dealing with Tim. The man is deficient in some way, but that way is not lovable like it was with Corkie on that one TV show. His way is just thoroughly maddening.

Another example. Three years ago, Tim purchased from us a Trek 1500 or 1.5, whatever they were calling it that year. He paid for the bike in full, we did the out-the-door check on it and it sat in our basement for two years because he was just too busy to swing by and pick it up. Tim delivers papers for a living. At night. And it’s not that he forgot, as Bossman ran into him frequently and reminded him often that he had a bike in the basement.

One final example before my recalling all this prompts me to go put my head in the fucking oven. Tim stopped in one afternoon asking if he could buy reflectors. Now, I respect The Number, but even I won’t stoop to charging for reflectors. I dug out our Bin O’ ‘Flectors and told him to help himself. He looked through the bin for a full 35 minutes, carefully comparing every wheel reflector to every other to make sure he got a matching pair that he liked. WHO THE FUCK DOES THAT?! After finding a pair he liked, he hung around the shop for another hour. We don’t have that much shit. He had to have looked at everything at least twice. But he’s not content to just look. He has to ask asinine questions about everything. God forbid he’s there when I’m trying to help another customer, because he feels it necessary to interject with his two cents’ worth regarding everything I say. Now, that is some shit up with which I will not put, and I told him so. I hoped my chastising him would get some message across, but alas, it did not, as he is still a regular at the shop. Tim’s existence is proof that natural selection no longer operates on humans.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Race

So first, an apology. I had aspirations of keeping this up on a daily basis. Turns out I just don't deal with enough dumbasses to have something to write about every day. HA! How I wish that were true. The truth is, between the job, school, and riding, I'm having a little trouble with daily updates. Fear not. This thing is cathartic enough I couldn't give up writing completely even if I wanted to. So check back every few days and you should be rewarded with writing of such profundity as to boggle the mind.
Yes, I raced weekend before last. I started penning this the day of but only just finished. Enjoy.
So, I raced today. But, before I get ahead of myself, I’ll inform you I’m a glorified commuter. I’ve got the competitive spirit, maybe too much, but I’ve never dedicated myself to any sort of a training schedule. I ride when the weather is nice and I feel like it, and sometimes when the weather is shitty and I don’t feel like. That’s usually for an hour or two a few days a week. When I lived farther away from work, my riding consisted almost exclusively of commuting, with the occasional shop ride on the day off. I still think of myself as exclusively a commuter. But, every now and again, I think it’s healthy to turn the pedals in anger, and my shop happens to sponsor a race every year. So, by sheer coincidence, we had coverage today and I was able to race.
Oh, how quickly we forget the pain of racing.
I ride by myself most days, and I’ve pushed myself to the point of vomiting by myself before, but that’s a rare day, when I’ve got a lot of shit on my mind and I just want the pain of the ride to make it go away. When racing, as I rediscovered today, I am nearly always nudging the red line. On our course, there is a moderately long and steep climb where the field has a chance to work itself out. I made it in the middle ring the first two laps and the granny on the last. Every time, I left everything I had on the trail and was in serious danger of leaving a little more than that. It doesn’t feel good at the time, but it feels good after, when you consider the wisdom of the cliché that pain is weakness leaving the body.
I quickly figured out that, while climbing was not my strong suit (go figure at six foot two and 185), my familiarity with the trail and technical skill were. As I slogged up the big climb, guys would surge past me and I’d lose in the ballpark of fifteen or twenty places. At the top where it flattens out and opens up, I’d push it into the big ring and drop the hammer, regain a couple of spots, and then it was into the singletrack. I’d consistently find myself in the back of a group of five or six, urging the guys ahead of me to keep the pace up and passing when I could, making up a few more places just in time to lose them on the big climb.
On the second lap, I noticed a pattern: I was always behind the same guy on the singletrack. I’d follow him, not worried about passing because we were fairly closely matched in the technical department and the two of us were making pretty good headway. On the open flats, I’d pass him, and he’d pass me going back up the big hill. It happened that way the first two laps. On the final flat, open stretch on the second lap, just before the big climb, I pulled next to him, intent on passing, saw who it was and said, “Ah fuck it, you’re just gonna pass me on the climb.” Well, I passed him anyway, and about thirty seconds later and twenty yards up the climb, I see him out of my peripheral vision and hear him say, “Yup, you were right.”

Well, it took me most of the third lap to get back to him, but I did. As I tucked into his wheel on one of the last singletrack sections, I said, “Well, if it isn’t my favorite view.” He replied, “Are you fucking kidding me?” I stuck with him until that same section of flat and open, the last before the finish. I didn’t have the gas in the tank to take him there. After that open section is an S-turn that takes you back into the final section of singletrack before the finish. As we rounded the second turn of the S, he figured out too late he was carrying too much speed. His front tire washed out, he wound up in the tape, I scooted neatly around on the inside and never looked back. I guess racing isn’t just about the gas in the tank. I tried to congratulate him on a great race after, but he was pretty pissed. I guess if I was him, I would be too. You just got schooled by a commuter wearing a Camelbak.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Well, nothing to report today except I'm going to race. Weather is shitty, I'm a glorified commuter and I don't shave my legs. I'm ready to see Jesus.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reasons My Head Explodes

Well, yesterday sucked, but not for the amusing, my-customers-are-so-fucking-dumb-and-I’m-so-fucking-smart reasons of prior posts.

“Hey, I got a call that the stuff for my tubeless conversion is in, so here’s the bike. Will it take long?”

Pause while head explodes. My disarticulated jaw, now lying under the bench near the truing stand, apologizes for covering the customer in completely pissed off cranial detritus. See, we’ve got the valves, but the rim strips shipped from Jersey, which takes two to four days longer than if they ship from Wisco. I knew this. I knew we didn’t have everything in place. Had I been consulted, we could've avoided this situation, but in our giddy anticipation of Pleasing The Customer, we jumped the gun. So now, rather than Pleasing The Customer, widely considered by industry mavens to be Good Business, we have dropped the ball. Again. This is widely considered Bad Business.

Did I mention this was the third, count it, third, time we had dropped the ball on this customer. She owns a Fisher HiFi Pro. Full XTR, Juicy Ultimates, etc. It’s a nice bike. First, we dropped the ball on her brakes. They were sucking, and for some reason, the problem remained unsolved until I took over and fixed them. Then, she was having horrendous chain suck, which had turned her driveside chainstay into something resembling a large diameter, carbon-fiber pipe cleaner. Again, problem unsolved until I took over. Now this. Why she continues to humor my pathetic shop is beyond me. Maybe she pities us. Maybe she gets a tax write-off for spending money at the Shop of the Cognitively Disabled. Who the fuck knows?

So now I get the joyful job of explaining to this patient and generous customer that we have dropped the ball again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Polishing Turds

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this phenomenon, but it seems American families of my generation (I’m in the ballpark of 30 years old) tended to fall into two categories: MASH watchers and Cheers watchers. My family watched MASH. Every evening, right after we finished dinner but before we had a chance to do dishes, we’d congregate in front of the TV to watch Hawkeye and BJ get up to no good. I remember in particular Charles Emerson Winchester III and his disgust at being a brilliant surgeon forced to work in conditions that continually stifled his genius. You see where I’m going with this?

In my tenure as a professional bicycle technician, which at this point has stretched to almost half my life, I’ve been fortunate to have worked in a variety of shops, from the bike shop that was really a hockey shop that sold bikes in the off season to a high end road shop where the aforementioned Look with Record and 404s became just another bike. Each shop offers its own unique experiences, some more positive than others. One of the things my current shop offers that is certainly unique is the chance to work on machines that are decidedly NOT bikes. I’m trying to decide if these experiences are positive or negative.

Rewind a week or so. A middle-aged woman wheels in some sort of four-wheeled contraption. There are no pedals, no chain, a bar that articulates the steering of the front wheels, a big chair made of webbing, and on the back of the chair, an enormous slow moving vehicle triangle. I look at the contraption, then at the woman.

“What the fuck is that?”

“It’s a dog cart.”

“You realize, of course, that this is a bike shop?”

Rewind again.

“Good afternoon, what can we do for you?”

“Well, this is my dog cart, and I need brakes installed.”

The well-intentioned Bossman strolls over to take a look and pronounces the ease with which V-brakes could be installed. Even from across the shop I can see the posts on the frame are well above the brake track.

“Uh, I think that frame is set up for U-brakes.”


I punch up the Q catalog on the computer and find the least expensive, quality U-brakes they carry, make sure they can be set up as a front brake as I’ll have no cable stops with which to work, give the customer a quote, add them to the basket, take the deposit, and the waiting game begins.

Fast forward to a couple days ago, when all the necessary parts arrived. I clear my bench, lay out the parts, move my repair stand because the cart is large and ungainly, and get started. Immediately, I start pondering Charles. Here I am, a wrench capable of overhauling an Ergolever or building light-yet-strong wheels. I can overhaul a Sturmy-Archer three speed hub with minimal help from Sheldon Brown. Most of the time, I don’t need to consult the owner’s manual to reprogram a computer. I got skills. And here I am, installing U-brakes on a fucking dog cart.

Well, my attention to detail and goals of perfection extend even to fucking dog carts, so the housing was cut to the perfect length, the ends sanded flat, brake levers positioned ergonomically, brake pads aligned perfectly, etc. And funny thing, when the job was done and I stood back to admire my handiwork, I was no less satisfied than after mounting a tubular or overhauling a Campy hub. If my goal is perfection, well…even a turd can be polished to perfection.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Little Victories

First, somebody finally read this fucking thing, allowing me to ignore the question, “Why bother?” So to Anonymous, thank you. Perhaps I can repay you by having your child.

Second, Anonymous asked where I am. I am everywhere and nowhere. I am every bike wrench you’ve ever talked to, in any bike shop, anywhere in the world. When you asked for a new tire because yours was bent and the guy behind the apron rolled his eyes? That was me. When you needed a new tube but didn’t know the size or valve type and the guy had to ask, “Does it look like the one on your car?” That was me. When you brought in your Huffy Roadmaster Mtn. Tamer (featuring Titanium Boron Steel frame tubes) and the guy put together the $300 estimate to fix it…yep, that was me too. The only difference between me and any of the other wrenches with whom you’ve dealt is I’m a better mechanic and I write about it.

On to little victories…

I remember the first Look I ever built. It was a 585, white with naked carbon for the graphics. I remember looking at the downtube, the virginal white contrasting with the flawless carbon, and it seemed I could stick my whole hand into the logo. I was mesmerized. On top of that, we were building it with Record and Zipp 404s. What a piece of shit. I’ve got pictures of that bike, and when I’m back in my old stomping grounds and stop by for a shop ride, the bike and its rider are sometimes there, and it’s nice to get caught up. That bike engaged in coitus with my psyche, and I’ve carried a Look love child ever since. You can understand my disgust that the shop down the road a piece is a Look dealer, while I am stuck selling cheap bikes to fat Midwesterners.

So yesterday, a fellow walks into my shop with a Look 555. Not as nice as the 585 of my dreams, but better than 98% of the bikes that normally walk through the door. Somehow, the ham-fisted owner had crossthreaded a bottle bolt and popped a Rivnut loose. No problem. Just grab my Rivnut tool…wait, I forgot. This is a shoestring, poorly-equipped shop and we don’t have a Rivnut tool. No matter. The Bossman, whom I love dearly but who has a hard time telling a Rivnut from a macadamia nut, takes a look. Immediately, he tells the guy that he might be better off taking the bike to the Look dealer down the road. See, those guys have a little more experience… He was going to say something else, but I stabbed him in the ear with the 4 mm on my triwrench. I politely interjected that I would like to take a look.

I ask the owner of the bike where he got it and how old it is. Internet and 3 years or so. I also stabbed him in the ear with my triwrench for shopping on the interweb. Well, I don’t know Look’s warranty policy, but I surmise it doesn’t cover interweb bikes. I tell the customer that, and explain I’m still a little wary because my proposed solution would probably void any warranty that might have been in play. As near as I can tell, bikes are like the Happy Fun Ball. Exposing them to Earth’s atmosphere voids the warranty. Anyway, I want to try dribbling a little CA glue around the Rivnut whilst wiggling it in the hope that it works its way around and locks it back into place, but that I don’t want to assume any responsibility should that fuck up his frame. The customer pauses, tells me to go for it and that I am responsible for nothing. I grab my ball-peen hammer and shatter his top tube and tell him to buy a new frame from a fucking IBD.

I take the bike into the shop, dribble the CA, wiggle the bolt, and it behaves exactly as I pictured it in my head. I can see capillary action drawing the glue into the void, and every minute or so, I wiggle it a little more, and as long as it wiggles, I dribble another drop of glue, and after five minutes or so, it doesn’t wiggle any more. I tell the customer I want to let is set for a couple more minutes to be on the safe side.

I grab my 4 mm hex and start on the bolt, slowly, smoothly, and carefully. Bingo. The bolt pops loose in a tiny shower of sweat-induced corrosion, and I back it the rest of the way out. I grab my 5 X .08 tap and do my best to chase threads that have been thoroughly raped. That done, I grab a random 5 mm bolt, grease it up and thread it in to check my handywork. Smooth as a baby’s ass. I hand the bike back to the customer.

“Make sure to thoroughly grease anything you stick into that hole, and tighten it as lightly as possible. Ten bucks.”

“Really? That was worth a hundred to me.”

“I’ll charge you a hundred if you want, but the shop rate is a buck a minute.”

“No, that’s OK, ten is fine. Thanks a million.”

He walks out the back door, thoroughly satisfied as I bid him good afternoon. That’s right Look dealer down the street. I just ate your fucking lunch, and it was delicious.

Monday, August 10, 2009

In the Name of Science

There is no fucking way. I stare at the last 14 inches of bead that still needs to be stretched over the rim. I double check the old tire. Yup, 26 X 1 3/8. Check the new tire. It’s the same. Check the ISO size. Both 37-590. Well, nothing for it but the metal tire levers.

Well, I finally get the tire onto the rim. My hands are shaking, my veins are pumped like I just got done climbing a 5.10, I’m sweating and breathing hard, but by god, that tire is on the rim. You experienced mechanics out there already know where this is going. What are the chances this tire will seat properly? About the same as Bruyneel calling me up for next year’s Tour.

But, hope springs eternal, so I pump it up. Sidewall says 55 p.s.i, so that’s where I take it. I give it a spin. Fully 2/3 of the tire is not seated. OK, the old frame-polish-on-the-bead trick has never failed me, so I put the wheel in the truing stand, deflate it, give it a spin whilst squirting polish between bead and rim on both sides of the wheel. Back with the air. Up to 55. Nothing’s changed. Hmmmm.

Now, I know from experience that the pressure rating on most tires has a safety factor of about two, meaning it should take about twice the maximum pressure listed on the sidewall to blow it off a wheel. Of course there are exceptions, and I welcome everybody out there to tell me I’m wrong or possibly an idiot. Your comments will be appreciated.

Our compressor is rated to 100 p.s.i. I start inflating slowly, in what I figure are about 10 p.s.i. increments. I see a little creep here and there, but when I get the compressor maxed out, there is still half the tire that isn’t seated properly. Hmmmm.

As you know, any 26 X 1 3/8 tire is cheap. We get $14.99 for ours, which means we probably paid five or six bucks for it. That’s just not that much money for the sake of adding to the overall body of cycling knowledge. I get out the safety glasses and the floor pump. I assume this will end badly, so I also cut some strips from a napkin and plug my ears. You know where this is going. I’m going to pump until one of two things happens: the tire seats or I blow the fucking thing right off the rim.

One, two, three pumps. 105 p.s.i. No change. Pump, 120 p.s.i. No change. Pump. 130 p.s.i. No change, except now I’m giddy with anticipation. I weigh in the low 180s, and it’s getting hard for me to pump, especially considering I’m trying to stay as far from the wheel as possible, even with the aforementioned safety considerations. Pump, 140 p.s.i. Still no change. My hands are actually shaking from the adrenaline. At this point, I know, on some level, that that tire will never seat on that wheel. Even if I could get it to pop, when I deflated it, it would drop back into the center of the rim. But, I’ve come this far…

So this time, I deflate the tire and squirt a little Triflow around the beads. I’m feeling a little cocky at this point, so I just blow it up as far as the compressor will take it, no pauses, no hesitation. Of course, the tire doesn’t seat. On to the pump. Again, I’m much more cavalier this time and take it to 140 p.s.i. without much thought, but then I’m back into uncharted territory. Pump, pause. Pump, pause. Pump, pause. I’m shaking. I glance at the gauge. 145 p.s.i. Pump.


I can actually watch it happen, and oh how I wish I had it on high speed film. The bead gives way at the top of the wheel, opposite the valve stem. There is a puff of talc and vaporized Triflow. Somehow, the blowout at the top of the wheel blows the wheel out of the truing stand. It hits the ceiling and crashes to the ground, and it is the highlight of my day.

I inspect the damage. The bead gave way at it’s joint. There are two pieces of wire about an inch and a half long that are protruding from the bead. I can see how they would overlap if the tire were intact. The sidewall looks like it’s been shot. The gash in the tube is a foot long. I love carnage, especially if it’s for a good cause. I now know that a cheap Kenda tire will withstand upwards of 140 p.s.i. Not for long, but it withstood it. I also know that at some point in the past, the powers that be in the bike industry decided to change a sizing standard without telling me. I put the old wheel in the stand, then a new wheel. The old wheel is a good four or five millimeters larger in diameter than the old one. I call the customer and tell him he needs a new wheel, or he’ll continue having problems finding tires that seat properly. He understands, buys the new wheel and tire, and I’m happy to have intentionally blown a tire off a rim on purpose. Sometimes, this job doesn’t suck. Sometimes.

Monday, August 3, 2009

An All Too Common Scenario

The other day, a situation arose that many of you will appreciate. Several weeks ago, a gentlemen brought to me a project: an Elf BMX frame, no rear wheel, front wheel from some POS department store bike, no brake cable, no chain, rusted fasteners, etc. My mandate was to make it a rideable bike again.

No problem. Given enough time and beer, I’ll fix a rainy day. Besides, at one time, before it was abused like a cheap prostitute, it had been a cool bike and could be once again. I amassed the necessary parts, put together a comprehensive estimate and got the go-ahead.

Three days later, my Right Hand Man had the bike in the stand to do the repair. Goes to put the rear wheel in and finds the frame is a cruiser. Shit. Technically, that’s my fault, but the presence of the 20” front wheel already installed when the bike was brought in threw me for a loop. Whatever. Call the customer, explain the situation to which I get the reply that, “yeah, I think the original wheels might be behind the shed.” No shit. Well, get me the wheels ASAP and we’ll get the bike complete once more.

Three weeks pass. I leave two messages inquiring about the wheels, what we’re to do with the bike, etc. Finally, the customer brings the original wheels and we’re ready to make it a bike again.

The next day, I fuck you not, the very next day, the customer calls to ask if the bike is ready. Funny, when the fucking wheels were rotting “behind the shed” for three weeks, the customer was in no hurry to get the fucking bike working again, but as soon as we’ve got them, it becomes a tip-top priority to get that bike working again. Fucking people. Maybe if you appreciated the bike in the first place, you would have instructed your douchebag kid to not dismantle a beautiful bike, or at the very least, to hang on to the pieces. Or, here’s an idea: don’t put a beautiful bike behind the shed. Newsflash people: BIKES DON’T LIKE TO BE STORED OUTSIDE. I know, sometimes, you’ve got no choice. I can commiserate, but you better be prepared to hand out a lot more money to keep that bike working properly. Fucking people.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fucking People

Uuuuughhh… What is it about this bike shop that slowly and inexorably kills my soul? Why does selling inexpensive bikes to fat people make me angry? What’s wrong with me?

Maybe it’s just because it’s the end of July in the bike biz, and everybody’s frickin’ burned out. Maybe if I was selling Super Record equipped Pegorettis, I’d still want to fucking shoot myself. But maybe not.

Long have I pondered this phenomenon, and I’ve come to few conclusions. Part of it is the perception in my community that bikes are toys. They’re to be purchased, neglected and disposed of. They are not investments worth keeping up. As a bike wrench, this perception makes my job immeasurable harder, because by the time they bring the bike to me, they’ve dug such a deep hole, maintenance-wise, that I’m nearly always tempted to try to talk them into a new bike, even if it’s a used bike from some other shop. I just wish they could understand that bikes can and should function well, and that makes riding more enjoyable, and that it takes some money and attention to keep them working that way, but in the end, it’s worth it. They just don’t get it.

So, I sold some cheap bikes to some fat people today. Big fucking deal. Poor me. Well yeah, poor fucking me. I’m sick of this shit. I’m sick of lazy people. I’m sick of cheap people. I’m sick of ignorant people. I’m just sick of fucking people.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some Shit Up With Which We Will Not Put

Sorry for the lack of correspondence folks. Being a full-time shop manager, wiping the asses of colleagues and customers alike, biking, beering, and womanizing, all whilst getting another degree really takes it out of a guy.

A drivetrain is only as strong as its weakest link. Or your legs. Actually, I’m pretty sure your legs wear out first. Anyway, I've identified my shop's weakest link. Beyond a certain point, there is no right or wrong way of doing things. Maybe you finish off your bar tape with a whip of cord or with a tidy, single width of color-matched electrical tape. Either is fine. What is not fine is cutting the tape haphazardly and winding a two inch wide gob of black tape around it simply because it’s easy. That is some shit up with which we will not put.

To expand on the above analogy: beyond a certain point, there isn’t a right and a wrong way to run a shop. As long as customers are satisfied, you can hang whatever the fuck on your walls and stock whatever the fuck on your shelves. What is not fine is dropping the ball on customers. Again, that is some shit up with which…you get the picture. It’s Bad Business.

My shop, very unfortunately, has a reputation for dropping balls.  Case in point: when writing service, it is generally accepted that you pull parts while filling out the work order. Thus, if an item is out of stock, you may get it before the bike is to be worked on. This is Good Business. Owner cannot get the hang of it. Furthermore, he’s been fucking up for so long the habit is ingrained, and it remains to be seen whether my influence can make the difference. So, we pull a repair tag tonight that’s been on the wall for a week, a week during which we’ve received orders from all our vendors, to find that we need to replace a wheel that’s out of stock. Call the customer, tell him we need to order the part, the bike won’t be finished when promised, etc.


Dead-in-the-water repairs are inefficient time-sucks, and lemme tell you something: inefficient time-sucks do not boost The Number, and if The Number does not get boosted, I have little hope of ever making what I’m worth. Can’t dwell on this any more tonight. Fuck it all…

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Days Off

Ahhhhh, did not have to clock in today. Still stopped by to make sure the chimps that wield wrenches while I'm away knew what to do besides fling poo at bikes. Some of them can tell the difference between a Y-wrench and a banana...

Then it was off to a ridiculously productive day with the 53-tooth therapist. One of my friends commented that he misses the 39-tooth sessions offered by Oregon, to which I reply: me too, and Colorado, but it's amazing the short climbs you can find in Wisconsin. They're over fast, but in that short period of time, it's pretty easy to see Jesus.

While on the ride, I pondered what makes my bikes work better, every single day, than most people's bikes ever do for more than a week or two. A few reasons we can tick off immediately: I ride nice bikes. Record doesn't need the constant tweaking that Sora does. I'm an exceptional mechanic, and I know what's likely to go wrong and how to prevent it. I want to disregard those variables and focus on something deeper: the relationship with the bike.

I spend a lot of time on my bikes. I know them. I know the sounds they make. I know how they like to be shifted and braked. I know the cuts in the tyres and all the other little flaws a good bike accumulates with riding. How much time do you have to spend with a bike to develop that kind of bond?

My kneejerk reaction is: a lot. But further introspection tells me that may not be true. I’ve got bikes I ride four times a year, and I still know how they sound and how they behave. Again, disregarding the aforementioned variables, maybe it’s just being observant.

I’m in a methods of research class, and it’s gotten me thinking about my job. Every day, a customer brings me a machine because it no longer functions as he/she has become accustomed to it functioning. I must then recognize the variables which might be responsible, eliminate the variables in a systematic way, isolate the variable(s) that may be responsible and then manipulate them in order to make the machine perform once again as the customer expects it to. But that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are 13 years of data in my head that allow me to disregard certain variables out of hand; if a customer notices a squeak when he/she applies the brakes, I don’t need to consider the bottom bracket as a possible culprit. This streamlines the process and allows us to deal with the sundry stimuli with which we deal every day without going bonkers. So, in a nutshell, it’s observing, establishing a baseline, and then noticing anomalies. It seems simple to me (the process, not necessarily the execution thereof), but I wonder if, in this day and age of being “dumb as we wanna be,” to quote Thomas Friedman, we’ve just lost the ability to notice things like a click in the drivetrain. We just want to get on our bikes and tune out, and maybe that’s fine. Maybe that’s what people need out of their bikes. I prefer to develop that bond.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Skills I Hope To Never Acquire

Well, today goes down in the annals as one of the shittier I ever hope to experience:

"Hey RacerRick (not his real name), let's go have a chat."

As expected, stunned silence.

We walk upstairs, and this is the shittiest part, because the writing's been on the wall for the last three weeks. We've been cutting hours, mostly his. We sit down.

"I'm sorry. We don't have any more hours for you." For some reason this seems better than telling him he's no longer employed here, or that he's fired, or that his services are no longer required. If silence can attain another level of stunned, his does.

"I'm happy to explain the reasoning behind the decision if that's something you're interested in."

He is, so I explain that I appreciate his enthusiasm for the high-end and his involvement in racing, but that that will never be what we need him for, and that, too often, that same enthusiasm got in the way of the things we did need, like selling 7100s and 820s. There was more, and I tried to explain it to him as well as I could, but is there any way to make sense of that? I doubt it.

Thing is, it was the right thing to do. I mean, I started this fucking blog because I'd lost my patience with him one too many times. I feel like none of that really matters right now. Even when it's anonymous, it's uncomfortable to kick someone who's down.

And maybe, probably, I'm putting a lot of this on myself. I'm the service manager. Did I manage him properly? I try to recall if we ever discussed his shortcomings before it was as explanation for his termination. I'm pretty sure we did, but pretty sure is nowhere near adequate enough to make me feel better. Fuck it; its done.

On a lighter note, whats up with fruitcake triathletes? Had one come in today complaining of speed wobble. Now, I'm no expert on this (yet), but I've read enough to know it's a complex problem, one that uses terms like "harmonic oscillation" as explanation, and rarely is it easily resolved. I try to explain that to him. He encourages me to check the balance of the front wheel. I assure him that's the first thing I'll check. In the next ten minutes, through the course of discussion of other issues with his bike, he mentions the balance of the front wheel no less than three more times. Each time he's assured that's the first thing I'll check.

I'm no linguist, but I'm fairly certain we're both speaking English, but even as I write this, I know I'm wrong. I'm speaking English and he's speaking a little known dialect, Trigeek, and somewhere in the recesses of his aero helmet, or maybe in the space where the sleeves of his jersey might exist, the message is getting garbled. Frankly, I have neither the time nor inclination to learn Trigeek. To exacerbate the problem, I'm not the type of wrench to let anything go. If it's not the front wheel, I'll check the fork and then the frame alignment and the rear wheel and so on and on and on and on, and if I don't find a satisfactory explanation, it will gnaw at me. And, even if I do find a satisfactory explanation, I've still got to translate it into Trigeek.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Welcome to Angry Bike Wrench, a forum for everybody who's ever had to explain the difference between a wheel and a tire. A thousand times. This is my forum to vent about dumbass customers, douchebag employees, and everybody's flavor favorite, the poseur roadie. I make no apologies for language (it will be R-rated at least) or content (maybe NC-17). Unsolicited tech advice will be dismissed out of hand, unless it's something I don't know and it sounds useful, in which case I will espouse it as my own. Bon appetit!