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.