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.