Saturday, July 13, 2019

Motorists are like diarrhea

For a cyclist, motorists are like diarrhea: You can only hold them back for so long. You'd prefer not to have them at all. When you do have them, you'd like to get them out of your system as quickly as possible. You try to hurry to get to a more convenient place to eliminate them. Sometimes you don't make it.

The roads and streets are just a big, irritable bowel. We keep cramping each other's style.

Yesterday, I was a bit of a shit. I think in a past life I was a car-chasing dog. I'm addicted to drafting large vehicles. On the last couple of miles of my commute, I heard a tractor-trailer rig behind me on a narrow, bendy section. I stayed to the right to encourage him to go around, but he had no good opportunity, and was too conscientious to take a bad one. I dropped into a side street, hard right, left, onto a converging straightaway that rejoins the main road at a yield sign. That let the truck get by. It was a big heavy equipment flatbed, empty, doing about 30 mph. At a comfortable distance behind it was a string of passenger vehicles. I launched for that big gap, but I'm too tired and too old. I didn't get to top speed in top gear quickly enough to get into the pocket. The long, low, empty trailer didn't pull enough air to pick me up easily. I managed to get to about 27 mph when I maxed out. Horns broke out behind me.

On a normal day, I ride a line just outside the storm drains, at a speed comparable to what I was doing after the unsuccessful chase. Drunk with adrenaline and incipient tachycardia, I resented the horny driver behind me, and signaled my displeasure with a low, dismissive finger. This elicited a further burst of honking. I made a slightly more graphic gestured suggestion involving my buttocks. The honker passed, at a safe and legal distance, but the next vehicle administered a punishment pass. I shut the gate behind that one, holding back the rest of the motorists for a few more yards until I could dive onto the path.

Sometimes, when a motorist makes a big time about how I'm slowing them down and blows by me, I get to pull out onto Main Street in front of them, because their fellow motorists en masse have slowed them down much more. Not this time. I didn't care either way. I was just hammering to work, same as any morning. Only after I got to the shop and got my heart rate down did I reflect on my own contribution to the tension. I should have been the grownup, says the guy in short pants, riding a bike.

The descent into sin is often a simple thing, a single act that is the trapdoor. In this case, it was running the yield sign like a Boston driver when I didn't have the horsepower to pull it off. I plead the temporary insanity of my drafting addiction, aggravated by the persistent memory of when I could rely on my sprint. As recently as a couple of days earlier, I had managed to slingshot a box truck on the same stretch and tuck right in behind it for a sweet pull to my next exit. But that hadn't involved an intersection violation. To be fair to the honkers, I really had strained their congeniality and relied on their mercy.

The only way to get past a mistake is to take responsibility for it. Learn as much as you can. Look at all of its facets, even when they reflect you clownishly. The fact that it was an anonymous encounter with strangers means that I will never have a chance to acknowledge that they had a point. This makes it all the more important to ride in ways that don't take the low road. If I'd blasted out of that side street into the draft and been whisked away at an effortless 30-plus, they could all admire my shiny lycra ass, because I wouldn't be taking up any more room than they were already leaving behind that big rig. But because I blew the sprint I was now a double failure.

You have to take risks in life. But make sure they're worth it. Often, people interpret this to mean deadly consequences, but more often all manner of less dire consequences are at stake. In this case, it's a black mark on cyclists that one aging hammerhead failed to pull off his rude and dangerous maneuver in morning rush hour. I looked like a rude asshole and affirmed the image of rude assholes on bikes. I'll defend my territory vigorously out there. But now I've been reminded that the line is easy to cross in the intoxication of speed.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Celebrities, Networking and Trickle-Down Economics

Summer brings to Wolfeboro cars that cost more than your house, and people who can afford several of them. It also brings the brief visit of a television personality who has developed a strong affection for the place.

I used to check out the Forbes 400 every year, to see how our "locals" were doing, but I haven't checked the scores yet this year. The billionaires list is updated to 2019, but the latest 400 I can find is from 2018. No matter. It's just like bird watching. "Oh look, there's a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. And there's a Market Manipulating Cash Amasser." You don't really need to know. It's just a hobby.

Earlier this week, a woman from one of the lakefront houses called to ask if we sell electric bicycles. I explained why we don't, and mentioned a couple of people in the Millionaire Motorbike Club that I thought she could call for more information. I assumed that they already knew each other, because, over the years, I have found out that most of the super rich in the summer population go to the same church. Indeed, the founder of the MMC has been an evangelist for e-bikes, and has gradually converted nearly everyone in the congregation who used to get around by muscle power alone. I figured this latest inquiry was inspired by his efforts.

As it happened, the founder of the MMC showed up to have flat tires on a jogging stroller repaired. I asked casually if he had heard from Mrs. E-curious. Turned out he didn't know her. She hadn't told me this when I had suggested that she call him. I always imagined that the Sewall Road crowd and the wider circle of financial heavyweights along the lake must get together for regular summer socials, to talk about how to keep the help docile, and what each of them is paying for congressmen these days. I guess not.

Jimmy Fallon sightings were reported before the Fourth of July. We haven't had a visit from him in more than ten years. His wife has bought socks from us. The bike shop holds no attraction to the celebrity set. So we listen to the rumors and see the selfies posted by businesses that sell coffee, food, and beer. Again, more bird watching. I joke that the closest we come to a celebrity encounter is when Mitt Romney has another flat tire.

Late yesterday afternoon, in comes Mitt Romney with a flat tire. So that box is checked for the summer. He did look at bikes with El Queso Grande while I was knocking out the flat tire repair. So there may be more trickling. Meanwhile, I have to get to work for just another summer day.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Serious Injury or Death

Danger is all around us. An almost infinite number of things could go wrong at any moment. Some computer program might be able to measure the probabilities in something close to real time, but most of us just have to live on our luck. By and large that luck is surprisingly good, considering the massive risks people take all the time and get away with it.

Bicycles are seen as safe, stupid little machines. Bike mechanics aren't considered "real" mechanics, because we don't have to deal with powerful engines. Bike riders are contemptible, wobbling along slowly. Adults on bikes need to "grow up." Bikes are toys. Bike crashes are slapstick comedy, unless it's you, skimming along the tarmac, feeling skin burn away, or feeling the snap of bone and ligament from a more vertical landing.

Bikes are also seen as terribly dangerous, the act of balancing on two wheels an affront to the laws of nature. A bike rider is a daredevil, especially riding on the road. And there are the obvious daredevils on mountain bikes, launching sick tricks off of every available drop.

Bikes themselves might as well be made out of stone, the way most people treat them. They leave them out in the weather, neglect maintenance, and basically treat them they way they treat cars. But a car has its house with it all the time, like a turtle has its shell. And the mechanical parts of a motor vehicle can be made more robustly, because even a small car has power to spare, compared to the .25 hp of a human engine pushing the pedals.

Serious component failures are rare. The massive crank recall of 1997, when Shimano had to replace millions of cranks on bikes sold worldwide, was the last -- and the first -- really enormous safety crisis, created by Shimano's design aesthetic favoring skinnier and skinnier alloy crank arms. But cracking cranks have always been a problem. My first experience with them was back in the early 1980s, when Campagnolo Super Record cranks were cracking, as were any other brands trying to make their cranks look like Campy's. Stress concentrates at the spider, where too thin a web of aluminum between the crank arm and the spider can start to crack in non-structural metal. If you spot the nascent crack soon enough, you can file away the material with the crack in it, and prevent it from traveling into the load-bearing metal. If you know the problem could occur, you can file away the web before a crack even starts, rounding out the radius to remove the stress riser. Wait too long, and the crack gets into real meat. Then the crank is doomed.

Here is an example of a web crack that got away:
You have to look really closely to spot them. That's where you benefit from the vigilant eye of an experienced not-a-real-mechanic who has seen quite a few of these over the years of a misspent life. This particular crank, a Sugino made for Specialized, could never have been saved, because of the shape of the back side of the crank arm. It's hollowed out back there, and has casting residues that create permanent stress risers immune to filing. Too bad, too. It's a pretty crank. The cracks only revealed themselves by the pattern of the oily grime that had adhered to them, hidden in the rest of the oily grime that had accumulated on the surface of the crank.

We play the game "Scratch or Crack?" a lot in the workshop. For instance, here is a Shimano Ultegra Hollowtech crank belonging to a rider who should be concerned about the load-bearing capability of his components:
Rubbing against a badly adjusted front derailleur cage, the arm has been scored, but hasn't cracked...yet. Hollowtech cranks are breaking, but Shimano has yet to acknowledge it with an official bulletin or recall. It's just street knowledge among not-real-mechanics.

Any lightweight component subjected to vigorous riding can eventually fail. As manufacturers try to make parts as light as possible, they will shave down the margin of safety, slap on warning labels, and call it good. You, the consumer, have the ultimate responsibility to accept or reject their creation. It gets much harder when the manufacturers stop making anything nicely finished but a bit more robust, and you have to keep up with the latest number of cogs in order to buy top of the line parts. We have some poor bastard who wants to put Di2 shifting on his "old" bike with mechanical 10-speed Dura Ace. Haaaa! You're what... five years too late? Three years? I don't keep up with the ephemeral crap the way I should, because we don't sell much of it in our market area, and I keep hoping that it will just go away. And it does go away, but only to be replaced by worse ephemeral crap.

Here is another entry in Scratch or Crack:
This one was just a scratch. But you have to take every one seriously.

Rims are another common site for cracks. But you can't ignore hub flanges, handlebars, can't ignore anything, really. I've found frame cracks and fork cracks as well. I spotted cracks in the crown of a guy's Cannondale Lefty fork that would have led to a nasty face plant. Aluminum and carbon fiber each fail more quickly and more abruptly than steel or titanium, so spotting cracks becomes more urgent with these inescapably common materials. Carbon in particular will just disappear when it reaches its load limit. It doesn't bend. It breaks. Properly designed and manufactured, it will function perfectly well for an almost indefinite period. Parts that can be made more ruggedly, like crank arms and stems, can hide a little reserve strength under a negligible bit of extra weight. Frames present greater design challenges, because a shape and wall thickness amply strong to stand up to the normal loads of hard riding will still be vulnerable to highly probable mishaps like collisions or simply having the bike fall over against something with a hard corner to it. Sure, a nice metal frame might dent in a case like that, but small dents are only a cosmetic problem. It takes a pretty deep dent to render the bike unridable.

Any time you are dependent on a machine, you could end up stranded. The simpler the machine, the better the odds that it will continue to function, provided it was well enough designed and built in the first place. But it has to do what you want it to do, which invites complexity. And even a fixed gear has plenty of parts that can break. Whatever you ride just remember to take a close look at it from time to time. Good luck out there.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Just a technicality, followed by another technicality, followed by...

Shimano's latest mechanical shifting systems seem designed to make you hate mechanical shifting systems. Weird cable routing in the frames already made mechanical derailleurs an increasing nuisance. This style of front derailleur cable attachment puts another few solid spikes into the coffin lid. And it gives double value to current technofascist fashion, because it's not just an annoying cable, it's an annoying front derailleur cable. Front derailleurs? Why did we ever think those were cool?

The instructions for this style of derailleur are an 8-page PDF. That's simple and straightforward compared to the treasure hunt I went through later in the week looking for information about electronic shifting and hydraulic road disc brakes on a bike I was assembling. Bikes like that used to come with a few helpful hints and diagrams to help with componentry that is less and less intuitive all the time. Now most of the printed matter is just legal disclaimers and directions to "visit our website."

The front derailleur on this bike led me upstream to the R7000 front shifter. In yet another silent recall situation, these marvelously redesigned shifters are apparently hanging up, jamming intermittently on bikes that are new or nearly new. 

I poked around looking for clues, but found nothing that I could tweak to make the ratchet behave consistently. I found a video by some guy that supposedly showed how to fix the problem with a little piece of plastic and some double stick tape, but further investigation revealed that whatever "cured" the problem was purely coincidental. The comments include testimonials from people who followed his instructions and achieved satisfactory results, but my explorations in the interior revealed an oily place where double-stick tape would have a very short service life. And why should someone have to fiddle around with their new shifters because Shimano screwed up again?

After I poked at things for quite a while, the shifter worked consistently without malfunctioning, even when I tried to make it misbehave. That doesn't mean I cured it. It just means that the clever bastard decided to go underground until the heat is off. I advised the rider to go to the shop where she bought the bike and ask them for warranty support, rather than pay us to dig around in it any further. The problem is similar to the old 105 ST-5600 almost-recall a few years ago. It's become common in the industry for a big component manufacturer to hand out free replacements to anyone who asks, while doing nothing to publicize the problem or take direct responsibility for it, which would cost them a lot more money. If you haven't ridden your bike enough develop the problem, why should they spend their money to give you something that actually works?

The current fashion for cable routing under the bar wrap requires some ingenuity in feeding the cables so that they don't get a kink in them at any of the tight changes of direction needed to make their way into the cable housing.
This little screwdriver with a notch filed in the tip had been kicking around the workshop for years after whatever job had led to its creation. It has now become a crucial tool for guiding a new cable into the exit from a Shimano brifter.
You have to push the end of the cable into the exit groove without extracting a lot of cable behind it. The little notched screwdriver is perfect for this.

Another bike with the annoying front derailleurs was a gravel bike with through-axles front and rear. The rear wheel shows how designers have realized that long horizontal dropouts really did serve a purpose back in the dark ages:
Whoever assembled this bike was not familiar with horizontal dropouts. The wheel was crooked in the frame. With an old style dropout, you'd just undo the quick release, straighten the wheel, and tighten the quick release again. With a nutted axle, loosen the nuts, straighten, tighten the nuts. In the through-axle version, you have to loosen the through-axle attachment, loosen the two 20mm nuts, turn the threaded adjusters to straighten the wheel, re-torque the 20mm nuts to 200 in.-lbs, and re-tighten the through-axle itself. The nuts are alloy, thick enough to make a cone wrench an inadequate fit, but not thick enough to fit a regular off-the-rack spanner.

In the middle of one morning, in came a regular customer who never buys a bike from us, but comes in for service when he's at his spare home up here. He said he was just starting out on a road ride with  his daughter, when the bottom bracket made a "snap" noise, and the crank got really loose.

The left crank bearing (press fit) had blown apart. Most of it was now cozied up against the right side bearing. The rest of it was greasy fragments inside the bottom bracket shell. He borrowed a rental bike to nip home and get his gravel bike, so that he and the offspring could continue their ride. We didn't have the bearings in stock, so we ordered him a nice mid-price set. No need for hundreds of dollars in ceramic bearings, but nothing too cheesy, either.

On the lower end of the price range, someone checked this thing in, with a couple of squirrel tails woven into the cables at the handlebar.
I don't know how. I don't know why. I don't think I want to know.

Sometimes, a rider will get the rear derailleur caught in the spokes or jammed with a stick. The pieces will be dangling or twisted up around the dropout. But this guy set a new high mark, sucking the derailleur cage all the way through the rear gears:

Moving back up the price range, it was time to assemble a special order bike for another summer customer. 

This Specialized Tarmac does away with cable-actuated anything. Specialized had previously sent rather detailed instructions with their technological marvels, given that the consequences of error are potentially worse than embarrassing for all concerned. Not this time, though. The most detailed instruction sheets were for parts that were already fully installed. The hydraulic brake lines were not connected, and electronic shifting reveals nothing to the external observer. The enclosed sheets from Shimano contained only the vaguest generic information in one or two sentences buried in paragraphs of even less useful verbiage. Their website was even less help. After studying it from all angles and trying to piece together clues from all of the fragmentary or obsolete sources I could find, it was time to poke and hope.

The brakes have "easy connect" brakes lines that aren't really. There was nothing magical about them. Fluid did get lost. Air did get in. I did have to do a short bleed of the top end of the system. It was better than a complete fill and bleed, but not significantly easier than any other pre-filled system on which I've had to trim the lines for size and replace lost juice.

The electronic shifting either works or it doesn't. At least the wires had already been run, but I did have to stuff the battery into the seat post. The non-round seatpost on this bike holds the battery more conveniently than the round post on a previous bike I wrestled with last summer. But I didn't want to mess up its brain by fumbling something in the initial startup, if such a thing is possible.

The charger that came with the bike only had a USB plug, so we had to plug the bike into the shop computer to top up the battery. The system was set in manual shifting mode. The customer can decide if he wants to use either of the synchro modes. The rear derailleur clicks or clunks into gear depending on how many cogs you've asked it to cross at one time. The front derailleur makes an officious, annoyed whine when it shifts. Back when Shimano first pushed index shifting on the road biking world in the mid 1980s, riders joked about how you knew someone was attacking when you heard their shifters click. On large-diameter frames like Cannondales, the snap was amplified. But it wasn't enough of a problem to keep indexing from becoming the norm, paving the way for STI and the rest of the Super Highly Integrated Technology we deal with today.

Look Ma! No cables! Just Shimano Mechanical-Electrical Gear Manipulation Apparatus.

The customer will have to synchronize his own personal electronics with the crank. Your riding style will determine the kind of targeted ads you see on the internet after every ride. And if you complain about hunger, muscle aches, or saddle pain, those remarks are recorded and uploaded to your profile to help refine your personalized marketing even more.

There it is, in serious black. Not only does it look badass, the manufacturer saved lots of money on paint. And the naked frame is easier to inspect for damage that could "lead to serious injury or death."

Monday, June 17, 2019

Transportation is cycling's highest purpose

The first two-wheeled vehicles were made for transportation. They did not inspire a direct and continuous line of evolution to the bicycle of today, but the first pedal-powered two-wheeled machines were basically the old swift walkers with a set of pedals attached to the front wheel, like a kid's tricycle.

While all the attention gets paid to the great races, these were proofs of concept. They were demonstrations of what a human can do with the assistance of the simple machine. Just as musical audiences in the days before cheap and abundant recordings probably had taken some lessons and played an instrument, so did a great many more people in the peak of the bicycle era have personal experience riding their own bikes as part of the practical daily routine. It gave them a greater appreciation of the effort and skill involved in the extremes of competition. I suppose the same could be said of transportation motorists watching auto racing, but when you are both driver and engine you have a lot better idea how you would fare in a race.

The motorized world would bury us if it could. It might have limited patience with big races that are just show biz, because they are contained within a highly motorized caravan, and restricted to a specific place and time. Professional events featuring known stars and their teams manage to hold their place, while amateur competitions attract hostility and derision from the disinterested public inconvenienced by the event.

More than one motorist has described to me encountering a kitted-out cyclist while driving their car or truck. Even years after Lance Armstrong's fall from grace, he's still the insult of choice for contemptuous motorists. "Look at this asshole. Thinks he's Lance Armstrong or something." I was hearing it during the height of the Lance years, and I'm still hearing it, because he was the one racing bicyclist that Americans could identify, and every other cyclist was a pathetic wannabe who should smarten up and get out of the way.

Lance himself reported getting knocked down all the time by rednecks in his home state of Texas. They didn't give a shit who he was. He was just out there on a bike, making himself available to their criticism. What did they say? "Look at that guy, thinking he's Lance Armstrong!" Hey! I think that was Lance Armstrong! Hell sheeyoot! I bagged a celebrity!"

The image of the racer colors the view of non-cyclists looking at riders equipped to ride in a sporty manner. The simple annoyance of having to accommodate a slower road user colors their view of tourists, commuters, and anyone else slowing down traffic on the public street.

Every rider reaches a point where they have to overcome some discouraging factor to continue to ride. If competition is your motivation, you will face the hostile world in order to train. If you have decided to surrender the road and ride trails instead, you will have eliminated traffic hassles and accepted exile. Transportation cycling seems like the least ballsy and noble endeavor, and yet, as the fundamental form of riding it has the longest lineage and the most to offer to the individual and collective civilization. Ten thousand bike commuters will do more good than a hundred professional racers or a dozen fearless stunt riders gyrating through the air. Transportation cycling is much more accessible than sport and competition riding.

When I was attempting to race, commuting was part of my mileage. Whatever else happened on a given day, I knew I was going to ride to work. Since I didn't have a car during most of those years, I knew I was going to ride wherever I went, unless I walked. And I did walk a lot. The town was big enough to be interesting, but small enough to cover quite a bit of it on foot.

Fifty years ago, kids rode their bikes to go places. While transportation design is responsible for some of the decline in transportation cycling among the young, sheer numbers are as much to blame. Roads were not designed with bike riders in mind when I was a kid any more than they are now. You learned how to ride, and motorists almost universally treated you well enough. No one ever passed me uncomfortably closely, even when I was riding on some fairly busy roads. No one ever got ugly with me just for riding a bike until the 1970s. The ten speed boom may have overloaded the system, but so did the surge in motorist numbers as the bulk of the Baby Boomer bike riders got licenses and became drivers. It's only gotten more crowded from there.

One problem in the US is that transportation cycling from just before the mid Twentieth Century was only associated with childhood. It was one of the many things you were expected to outgrow. So when the Baby Boomers took up the ten-speed and pushed the average age into adulthood, the country had no collective memory of large numbers of adults riding on routine daily errands.

Maybe the ability to balance on two wheels is not as universal as I  -- and other cycling devotees -- believe. It seemed like every kid had a bike when I was a kid, but maybe that was because I was immersed in the minority that did. I wasn't observing statistically in those years. No one was. Maybe some group has sales figures or other statistics that might give a fuzzy picture, but bikes have tended to be ubiquitous and overlooked until an individual rider draws attention in some specific way, like needing an ambulance. That might explain the deep hostility a lot of people seem to feel toward riders and bike accommodations.

You don't have to give up the automobile, or some other form of easier transportation, to embrace transportation cycling. Just start fitting it in where you can. You will notice immediate improvement in your sleep, your appetite, how you feel, and how much money you spend on fuel. I enjoyed my car-free years, but during them I borrowed cars from time to time, to make trips that I couldn't have done efficiently on a bike. When I moved to rural New England, being car-free was not an option. But I still save a noticeable amount of money by using the bike as much as I can. If I still lived down south, I might have been able to avoid getting a car at all. It's a decision you have to make for yourself.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Doctor, is this normal?

The bicycle is an extension of the rider's body. Because of this, when we try to diagnose a problem on  a bike, we're like doctors who can put on the patient's body. But we can't put on the patient's mind. Customers describe symptoms. We try to reproduce those symptoms so we can trace their source. But we don't have the patient's perceptions.

Many noises and disturbances are obvious. Squeaky brakes, skipping chains; much of the time there is no mystery. But when it comes to some of the more subjective thumps and bumps we're forced to figure out whether the bike's regular rider has detected something that our jaded senses overlook, or if they're inexperienced or neurotic.

A customer who had bought a mountain bike in the late 1980s or very early 1990s brought it back about ten years later because he had finally noticed that the chainrings weren't round, and wondered how they'd gotten that way. When you finally notice something that was there all along, it's still new to you. The same goes for a rim seam that makes a bump in the brake track, or wheel reflectors that make the bike feel funny when they get perfectly synchronized on a downhill. Maybe you just never noticed. When you do, it's a minor crisis.

Whenever something doesn't feel right, a rider who can't diagnose the problem should seek out someone who can. Thumps and hops and wobbles can be the warning signs of a tire about to fail, a cracked frame, worn suspension pivots, or incipient wheel failure. Or maybe you just need air in your tires.

The problems get more complicated all the time, with the addition of hydraulic fluids, suspension, and the creeping march of electronics. Much of the new stuff is just new ways of doing stuff we were already doing: shifting gears, stopping the bike. Suspension has evolved immensely into its own category, but those bikes still have drive trains and brakes. The drive trains mostly use derailleurs. As the industry adds cog after cog, the derailleurs are more and more excruciatingly engineered to move precisely the exact iota needed to reach the adjacent cog. How soon will bikes become like musical instruments, going out of tune with every change of temperature or humidity?

Two customers this week are getting wide range gears put on their bikes. One is a road bike. The other is a mountain bike. Each will take advantage of devices made by Wolf Tooth Components to get their monster cogs to function. Where we used to improvise in our individual bike shops to make things work that we were told would not, now we have to patronize companies who have the tools and knowledge to bend the rules that govern the industry's proprietary systems. It's a constantly moving target.

As long as I can scrounge up friction shifters, I will be free. But because bicycles are mass produced objects  -- even the handmade ones use mass produced components -- the industry can eliminate the outlaws by changing critical dimensions, like bottom bracket width and diameter, or rear hub spacing.  They can decree that only the latest complicated marvels will be made to the highest standards. You can buy the nicest bike you want, confident in the knowledge that within two years you will no longer be able to get repair parts of the same quality as what it came with.

Because a bike is an extension of your body, junking an old one for a shiny new one is like growing a new limb. But that sort of procedure doesn't come cheap. If you need that organ, and you can't afford that organ, you have to live without that organ.

No one needs a bike. In our modern industrial society you can make a better case for "needing" a car than for needing a bike. People do use bikes for transportation, but the unwritten rule is that no one should be able to tell that you arrived by bike. If you commute, don't stink. Don't arrive sweat-soaked. Don't wear weird clothes. If your ride is challenging, maybe you should give it up. Your transit time and condition on arrival will always be judged against someone who arrived in a car. So if obsolescence forces you out of riding, it wasn't fatal.

If you really want to be independent, walk.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Nothing is normal in the bike shop

The repair lineup so far includes a 70-pound smokeless moped,
A recumbent trike,
and a tall bike:
This is after the previously mentioned modern marvels with press fit bottom brackets, and shares the jumble in the storage area with bikes ranging widely in price, quality, and age.

You never know who will need a bike fixed:
We've also worked on bikes for a guy named Bill Murray, who is just Bill Murray, not Bill Murray.

Behind the tall bike in the photo above you can see a Rocky Mountain full suspension bike with XTR from back when eight-speed was the top of the line. The disc brakes on it sounded like a couple of truck horns.

I revamped the repair queue. It used to have dividers for the days of the week, but no subdivision to tell us whether one tag stuffed into a particular day slot was more or less urgent than another. After years of dealing with a bushy mess, I finally yanked out the day dividers and made two category columns:
The "Regular" side is straight first-come-first-served. The "Hot" side is for people who have stated an urgent need. During triage, when we ask the customer about their timing, some of them will say that they definitely won't be back for days or weeks, so we can fit them in down the line. The days of the week were meaningless, which is how the days of the week feel anyway when we're buried in work.

Now that Memorial Day Weekend is here, the next thing we know it will be Labor Day and we'll be going back into grayness. Foliage tourism has dwindled even more than summer tourism, so what little we see tends not to amount to much in work load or cash flow. Maybe we should be in the ATV and oversized truck business, so we could make some money off of the final destruction of our planetary ecosystem. We could import some elephant ivory while we're at it, and host weekly cookouts of giraffe steaks.

The thing is, you don't have to be busy for the best of life to evaporate. You just have to be at work. Mere incarceration is enough.

This story about two bike shop employees who burned down their shop as they were trying to cremate a mouse reminded me of the first shop I worked in. A regular customer of ours used to say that he liked coming in because there was no adult supervision. Our antics never extended to pyromania except perhaps a little bit outside in the back parking lot, but the spirit of unfettered experimentation runs strongly in all the bike people I know. The tall bike is an example of that sort of thing. My bike guru in Florida, who grew up in her father's machine shop and went on to have one of her own, has built a tall bike. She and her husband built aero road frames in the 1980s, using aircraft strut tubing. They also built and repaired more conventional frames. Not all of us are skilled enough to get beyond the nuts and bolts level of improvisation, but that still opens up a lot of territory. A bike -- or other pedal-powered machine -- is the sum of its parts. The industry makes it harder and harder to mix and match, but if you look around you can still find stuff to work with.