Tuesday, April 24, 2007

One Less Day to Fester

Covering some vacationing staff, I went in a day earlier than usual.

Typically, once the repair season hits, the shop looks like something that starts with "cluster" or ends with "house." I use both terms liberally, especially when doing triage after an absence. Today the mess had had one less day to fester, but the dear departed had gone down battling some of the finest forces the bike industry can throw at us.

I'm convinced that bontrager is a German word meaning "bad design." It has a second meaning, "inflated reputation," but the first one means the most to people trying to fix things that bear the label.

To be fair, a lot of recent product could have names synonymous with bad design. But, disemboweled on the workbench, lay a Bontrager hub laced into the rear wheel from a Gary Fisher Paragon. The bike hung forlornly on the stand, covered with adobe its attentive owner had left to harden after the last outing before its mechanical complaints finally got too bad to ignore.

Taped to the wheel were largely incomprehensible notes, written in LARGE LETTERS to convey their urgency. The repair tag, even less informative, had also been filled out in LARGE LETTERS. Whoever had done it also had not opened it up, so the INSTRUCTIONS (such as they were) had bled through the copy paper to appear backwards on the hard copy. Prominent were the letters ASAP or PASA, depending on which side you were looking at.

I love ASAP. It's so open ended. It's really ASAIGATI (As soon as I get around to it), isn't it?

A quick phone call satisfied my need for actual information. I figured out how to dismember the hub far enough to perform what should be a simple adjustment . All I had to do was pop out the dust cap over the left-side bearing cup, then drive out the bearing cup itself, send someone to purchase an 11-millimeter hex key and apply said hex key to the mounting bolt holding the cassette body in place. Twist, tweak, the freehub body was now tight and I could press the bearing cup back in, pack it with grease, lay the ball bearings in, press the dust cap back on and insert the axle.

Now try to adjust this magnificently bontragered apparatus so that the bearing runs smoothly with the tiny hint of play that will be pressed out by closing the quick release cam to hold the wheel in the frame. It has these groovy rubber seals that create all kinds of drag and obscure the wrench flats.

Fortunately, our new mechanic learns fast and works hard. He managed to make steady headway, even as more repairs came in and we sold a bike or two.

My next patient was a custom touring bike a long-time customer had purchased from one of America's surviving frame builders a few years ago. In addition to the basic adjustments of a tune-up, I had to troubleshoot the fender-mounting job a couple of years too late. The rear tire has already rubbed almost all the way through the fender in one spot. The fender stays are already cut, so I have little leeway to try to coax it into a fair curve. It had been zip-tied to the chainstay bridge at the bottom.

Zip tying is right down there with duct tape as a mechanical solution that begs more questions than it answers. Zip and hope. Zip and hope.

Hope died. So did the zip ties. I fabricated a padded metal bracket to bolt the bottom end of the fender to a bridge that had no hole drilled in it.

Another masterpiece of design, the touring bike has brakes that don't open wide enough to pass actual touring tires through them, and a front wheel offset three millimeters to the left, apparently to make up for the alignment of the fork. It also has only 17-inch chain stays, and short horizontal dropouts, so it has to feel pretty sketchy with much of a load on the back. Short horizontal dropouts are such a cop out. The threaded adjuster takes up most of the adjustment range. Why not go with VD if you're not going to put on a dropout long enough to allow for some mad science back there?

I dutifully swabbed the encrustation of spilled energy drink off everything south of the bottle cages, and chiseled the dried remains of some unfortunate worm off the bottom bracket shell. At least I want to think it was a worm.

When I reinflated the rear tire after sliding it through the brakes, I heard the unmistakable hiss of a leak. Since by then it was quitting time, I wrote myself some NOTES so I know where to pick up in the morning.

All this had been interrupted by phone calls, live customers, and more repair check-ins. Sunny, dry weather signals tree buds to swell to bursting and bicyclists to dig out their machines in whatever condition they left them, usually not good. And someone had made a last-minute decision to have a bunch of accessories added to his new carbon fiber road bike. That was leaning up where we could all trip over it, so we expected the customer at any moment. It was still there when I snapped off the last lights and locked up, half an hour after closing time. I'd had to grab a new computer when the first one I tried to program kept reverting to German.

"You vill measure your ride in kilometers!"

Just another day.

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