Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Mason

He had been in the shop a few days earlier, but I didn't deal with him. Instead it was Evan who had the pleasure of dealing with the older, heavy-set gentleman that came in with a wreck of a cheap 30 year-old road bike with a tacoed steel rear wheel.

He wanted to buy 20 spokes.

"You should really just buy a new wheel."

Nope. 20 spokes. He was gonna fix it. Evan's altruistic advice fell on deaf ears, and a few minutes later he had 20 spokes cut, but apparently the bike had other problems.

"The gears, can you fix the gears? I will give you money."

He wasn't joking. He was waving around his open wallet and I could see a hefty stack of 20s. However, Evan once again did the right thing as this job was obviously going to be a nightmare and his plate was already full. The gentleman paid and left uneventfully.

He walked to the back now, same beat up bike in tow, receipt in hand. I do not even think I should have to mention that his handlebars were flipped upside down, but I will state the obvious in the name of redundancy:

His handlebars were flipped upside down.

"I bought these spokes here. Can you straighten my wheel?"

I spun the wheel. It looked something like a wheel that Salvador Dali may have painted. Evidently he did not have a tool to remove the gear cluster, so there were several spokes that he was not able to lace into the correct holes on the hub. This was more than made up for by the entertaining way he had haphazardly laced the accessible locations to completely absurd junctures with the rim. I had to give him marks for trying, but there was no cost-effective way that I could ever get this wheel straight again. No, I wouldn't refund him the money for the spokes that Evan orinigally counselled him against buying (glad I was there to avert the sob-story refund attempt). But yes, he was finally buying a new wheel.

At some point during our interaction I noticed he was wearing a Mason's ring (ed. should that be capitalized?), and I could not help but think that I did not want this guy in any secret society capable of controlling the fate of mankind. But I also figured, after seeing his wallet the other day, that he was at least a man cabaple of paying his bill, so I installed his damn wheel. As I spun the old one around on the bike in the stand, I noticed an odd bulge in his tire. He assured me it was fine, and that the white fabric was a rim strip that he fabricated. I removed his tire, and chucked the strip on the ground, again impressed by this guy's completely blind, fruitless, but nonetheless courageous journey into the wild world of bicycle repair.

I got his wheel on, adjusted his virtually useless stamped-steel brake calipers the best that I could, and attempted to adjust the gears, but then noticed that his derailleur was a bent mess. It got 4 gears out of 5 when I was done with it, and I was really hoping would be good enough for the customer given the state of the rest of the bike.


He wanted me to fix his gears. He would give me money.

Since I didn't really have a ton to do that day, I told him to come back in a few hours and I would have it done. New derailleur, touch up the front wheel (that he did a 1/2 decent job respoking). rear wheel, inner tube and install. Told him just over a hundred bucks. Of course he wanted to pay now. I asked for a $100 deposit, and I saw him at the cash later with a $100 bill.

The work went relatively smooth. The old derailleur had been butchered and mounted at an impossible angle to the frame, and sometime during the carnage the dropout had been badly bent. This meant that mounting a new derailleur and wheel in proper fashion to this interface and having it work well (or even adequately) was an impossibility. I set about with a large hammer and set of channel-locks to remedy the situation the best that I could.

Eventually he returned and settled up his $8 balance. I specifically did not let him pay in full earlier expecting the unexpected, and luckily the hammer-time was not too involved. He settled-up, thanked me, and left me to the mob comprising an early-evening rush. It was not until a little while later that I finally got around to tidying up the floor. A small marking on the Mason's improvised rim strip caught my eye. As I focused on the lettering I was gripped by equal parts horror and amusement:

Actually, I was probably a little more amused.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Have you even seen the Godfather?

4pm and I was kitted out in spandex, ready for the commute-race home, when I saw him about to enter the shop. Looking not quite homeless, but a well-weathered 40-something, and drunk. Always drunk.

Luckily Brian took the bull by the horns, and asked the man what he needed. I didn't need to ask, I already knew he was trying to sell a bike. Drunk Guy usually comes in trying to sell bikes or parts, which is generally met with a negative response as he is a slightly sketchy even for a drunk guy. After Drunk Guy mumbled/slurred something inaudibly, and Brian politely asked him to repeat himself, he motioned outside to the cheap bike that he was trying to hock and ennunciated well enough that Brian got his drift.

Now, Brian is in a position at the shop that is probably best described as a whipping-boy/scape-goat hybrid, so it was not entirely surprising to me that, likely out of a sense of his own self-preservation, he showed Drunk Guy a lot of patience and courtesy in explaining that we don't usually buy bikes, but take them in as trades toward new product. This did not satisfy Drunk Guy, even though the same thing has probably been explained to him a dozen times in our store. And any outcome that did not involve currency that could be quickly converted into a few king-cans of Maximum Ice could not be considered satisfactory, so he made one final hail-mary attempt:

"Make me an offer I can't refuse..."

At this point I could not help but interject.

"How about this: You leave the store, and don't try to sell us any more bikes."

And with a little half-smile that would indicate either an understanding of the absurdity of his statement and my response, or maybe just a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit, he said "That's pretty good" and walked out the door.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Coulda been a contender

Today represented the best and worst of mountain bike racing for me. I was feeling good, started strong, and found myself both in the lead on the razor's edge of control after about 10-15 minutes of racing. Then while taking a particularly tight and rocky corner in a particularly aggressive fashion, I burped my tire but managed to keep the bike generally upright. However the hissing noise coming from the tire indicated something was wrong. I pulled off and a closer inspection revealed a tiny twig, maybe 1/16th" in diameter, had wedged itself into my tubeless seal and seemed bent on ruining my day.

"No worries, I will just calmly attempt to seal the breach by removing the wheel and spinning it horizontally, allowing the latex sealant to fill the gap which this stupid, tiny twig has created", I thought to myself as I was passed by several in my category, though to these passers by it probably sounded more like:


And when I was thinking: "Hmmm, it would seem that this sealant has dried out and completely lost all of its functionality. This likely happened halfway through last season. I will just get out my spare tube and install it. Oh hey! Would you look at that, my spare tube has a hole in it! Well isn't that just the pits?", what was coming out of my mouth was more in the vein of:

"Oh goddam it you stupid fucking piece of shit.........FUCK"

At this point my mood was terrible, my chance of any sort of decent result was slim, and I was being swarmed by mosquitos while debating whether or not to patch the tube or abandon when a heavenly entity riding a Misfit singlespeed approached and asked "Do you need anything?" and without even considering the UCI protocol on trailside assistance I frankly and grumpily exclaimed "29er tube" which miraculously yielded the result of said tube angel stopping for me and allowing me to dig his spare tube out of his Camelbak and get down to business. The rage-induced adrenaline segued nicely into a determined and panicked numbness and I ignored the dozens of mosquitos chomping on me and was back on the trail in a couple of minutes.

Elated, I started hammering. This lasted about 15 seconds. Soon I ran into the 1st of, oh, probably about 100 riders who had passed me while I was dealing with my tire. Not to toot my own horn, but I am faster than most of these riders (actually, to be honest, I'm faster than all of them. Now I'm tooting my horn). And having to crank a singlespeed up technical, bumpy climbs is generally hindered greatly by having riders going half of your velocity a few feet in front of you. This is especially true when they fall across the trail, and somehow construe said failure to remain upright as a signal that they may remount and start up again at their leisure without making any accomodation to let the faster rider directly behind them pass. So, this once again put a damper on my mood, especially when imagining the glorious flow that this course was currently offering my category leader, that I could have been enjoying were it not for devil-twig.

But as they say, when opportunity knocks, give him all the lemons life handed you and God will shut the door. Or something like that. I basically made it my mission to finish my race the fastest I could, flat tires and slow riders be damned. I was frustrated, flustered, and mentally drained but beneath all of that I was still pretty sure there was a decent bike racer so I put my head down and hammered. It became apparent a couple of times that I was riding beyond my ability to focus (i.e. almost flying off my bike often, actually flying off once), but in this particular situation I felt this level of recklessness was my "sweet spot". I mean, why bother even finishing if I wasn't going to give it 110%?

Eventually, I started picking off riders from my own category. There are usually about 20 (there were 16 today) and I was pretty sure almost all of them had passed me. But I started reeling them back in; being on singlespeed bikes they are generally pretty easy to identify. And I got to a point where I was pretty comfortable with where I was at in the standings. Toward the end of the race I passed DD who was also KO'd with a flat, which sucked for him but also gave me some idea that all of my energy expenditure wasn't for naught, as he should have been a podium threat. I managed to make it across the line in one piece, and was happy to hear the announcer call out my name in 4th place. He also gave me props as one of the "original singlespeeders", which is kinda funny as I have only been riding SS for about 5 years, and there are probably some crusty die-hards that would want to fight me over that kind of statement.

Though satisfied with the way I salvaged a disastrous situation (attributable solely to the kindness of others) I also cannot help wonder what could have been. Looking at the lap times I feel like I would have been in strong contention for 2nd, and maybe even in a battle for 1st, but going down the road of hypotheticals is generally a useless exercise. If I want a 'W' in this field I've got two more races in which to accomplish it.....wish me luck!

Note: I have probably logged 4000km on MTB race courses and as far as I can remember this was my 1st flat. As untimely as it was I can only hope to maintain the same frequency.

Note II: Tube angel was Andrew S. of Lapdogs racing.

Note III: Apologies to anybody whose delicate sensibilities were offended by my screaming on the race course or its transcription on this blog.