Friday, February 26, 2016

Into the great unknown

With several days left in February, the shop has started making the transition to bike season. It will never be an immediate, drastic shift, because the weather and people's schedules don't work that way. It's always a series of steps. But this is probably the earliest we have ever started them.

For a couple of winters in the 1990s we had a combination of low snow and a surging mountain bike culture. We did a lot of winter repairs for the die-hards who were experimenting with studded tires for the frozen lakes and hard-packed snowmobile trails. That subsided on its own, as we got into a pattern of snowier winters and mountain biking continued to evolve away from the masses.

While the bike component never goes away completely, there is enough of a heritage of real winter sports around here to pull most of our customers into those traditional seasonal pastimes.

This year, the ski trails have not survived the series of rain storms that has pummeled us. So here we are, in the "dead of winter," dead in the water. And then we're slithering on ice when the water we're dead in freezes with the next cold snap.

We have no choice but to ring the dinner bell for the restless cyclists who have been asking when we're going to get busy on the greasy side of things. There must be three or four of them altogether.

I hate trying to work on stuff in the "wrong" season, because the shop is not set up for the slick routines of efficient work flow. Handlebars snag on rental skis. Grease and oil can pollute ski wax. Bikey bench grime is no place to lay a new ski for bindings to be mounted.

Based on the forecast a week ahead, we can look forward to more cycles of dry cold and warm wet. March could continue the trend, or flip it and bury us, initiating a return to ski business. This late in the season, that doesn't mean much in the way of income, but if you're trying to play the touring center game you can't ignore snow before the beginning of April.

For now, I'm preparing rental skis for storage, and rental bikes for the summer ahead. Instead of telling callers they'd be better off waiting for April to bring in their repairs, we're telling them to come on down. February looks like April. That does not guarantee that March won't try to pretend it's January. We're seeing the legendary New England fickle weather elevated to psychopathology.

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