Friday, August 15, 2014

Most of these tuneups should be overhauls

The Bike Tune Up generally includes the basic adjustments to bearings -- those that might still be adjustable on your modern marvel -- gears and brakes. Customers dutifully bring their bikes in every year or so for the traditional laying on of hands.

A bike that has been well tuned and not abused will still be in adjustment a year later. Brakes might get sloppy from pad wear. Index shifting might slip a bit from housing compression or cable stretch. But a properly adjusted bearing will stay adjusted as long as whatever was provided to lock the adjustment works in the first place and is correctly secured by the mechanic.

Inside that properly clearanced bearing, lubricants break down or get flushed out by various environmental stressors. I can perfectly adjust a bearing that has no grease left in it. It will run a bit roughly, but better than it would with no attention.

Most of the bikes that customers bring in for tuneups should have overhauls instead. The bearings need to be opened up, cleaned out and re-greased, if they're serviceable bearings at all.

Bike shop workloads run on a boom and bust cycle. Bike owners all get the idea around the same time, the Bike Season, and storm the shops for service. If even half of them said to go for the overhaul instead of the less effective tuneup, the wait time would surge into weeks instead of days. Taking someone's bike for that long in the season risks killing their enthusiasm either for riding or for getting their bike serviced. So we do the best we can with the time we have. We're like a battlefield hospital, patching up the wounded as best we can.

Many of our seasonal customers save their bikes for us to fix because they do not feel well served by their local shops. It's flattering and a helpful source of revenue, but all these people arrive with time constraints.

A couple of days ago a father and son came in asking questions about how to perform various procedures and what tools to buy. Refreshingly, they seemed to absorb information readily and had the vital ability to visualize a mechanism and a procedure from a verbal description. I did a little show and tell, but we managed to cover a lot just from discussion. They came back the next day for more little parts and further guidance, but it was building on the previous information, not filling it in again because it had all leaked out of their brains.

That poor kid is at risk of ending up in the bike business. My own slide down the slippery slope began because I wanted to be able to maintain my own bike. Then, hard up for cash in a career slump as a sort of a journalist, I wandered into my local bike shop in search of supplemental income. Turns out bike repair is steadier and more reliable employment than quasi-journalism. I'd been a copy editor, which is basically a word mechanic and someone who repairs press releases, so it's all kind of related. When the newspaper fell on hard times and eliminated my position, the mountain bike boom brought enough money and work into the shop to turn my part time into full time. Not lucrative full time, mind you, but enough to find a survivable balance of income and expenses. I've found that to be more valuable than a feast or famine roller coaster of big money followed by no money. I've seen people ride that one. It's all good fun until the screaming plunge.

The repair load has been inconsistent this season. Right now we're in a big weekend, with two triathlons and the Mount Washington Hill Climb. In addition, certain seasonal visitors we had not seen yet seem to have arrived for their stab at summer. The lulls even on a busy day are still frighteningly quiet and deep, but the surges are almost like the real thing.

Yesterday I had to make a 7-speed cassette out of an 8-speed because a customer needed it and we didn't have a proper 7-speed in stock. It wasn't as simple as just dropping one unwanted cog, either. I had to find a 12-tooth high gear cog to keep the steps reasonable and match the one we were replacing. That meant a treasure hunt in the cog farm. You can find all the 11-tooth cogs you want. Good luck finding just the right 12. I had to change the lock ring to one with a wider flange to secure the best 12 in my bin of spare parts.

In the middle of the onslaught, one of the X Family's Stromers showed up with yet another weird problem. On long, steep climbs, when you would want the pedal assist the most, the motor cuts out completely. This is probably because the no-longer-new lithium-ion battery is protecting itself, but it could be several other things in the system. The worst part for me is having to test ride the thing extensively, because I have to be seen in public on it.

I don't care if people want to own and ride these things. I just don't want to do anything that might convey the impression I endorse them in any way. I may have to sneak back to town at night and work on it then, where the kindly darkness will hide my shame when I have to go road test the latest attempt to iron the kinks out of the infernal machine. Or wear a ski mask.


John said...

I think a Halloween costume may be a solution to your test-ride dilemma. The more outlandish and over the top the less likely anyone will notice the e-bike. =)

cafiend said...

I would prefer an invisibility cloak.