Monday, July 20, 2015

Busy, crazy, hazy days of summer

Your handlebar tape should not smell like a sweaty sock. And maybe you should see your dermatologist if it does. At the very least, burn your cycling gloves and get some new ones, because they're beyond washing at this point.

I did not say this to the customer who came in with a sudden case of skippy gears on Saturday. I think he'd already headed off to drink and snack in a nearby cafe while we performed whatever instant miracle we could devise. I doused the tape with Lysol before getting near it again. It was white tape, a little grubby but not outright grimy. Something must have been fermenting under the brifter hoods, though. I resisted the urge to set the Lysol on fire.

That rider's gears skipped in the mid range because the rear derailleur pivot was corroded, so the derailleur stuck in the fully-extended position when he rode in the Ned gear. The Ned, named for its most famous proponent, Ned Overend, is the full cross from big chain ring to biggest rear cog. Here was yet another newish road bike suffering from abuse and neglect. The left crank arm had a coating of orange rust all over it because of the rusty water oozing out of the bottom bracket bearings.

Fancy-zoot modern frames with internal cable routing and inset headsets and whatnot have all these entry points for water. It checks in and it doesn't check out. It flows to the lowest point. It gets in from riding in the rain. It gets blasted in from driving in the rain with the bike on a rack. It forms inside from condensation when a bike is stored in a space with wide swings of temperature and humidity. Because no one has to do overhauls anymore, it remains undisturbed for months and years.

I was able to flush out the crud with floods of spray lube and restore full function to that derailleur. The customer was laudably appreciative. He did not say anything about the disinfectant odor hanging over his slightly damp bar tape. Perhaps his pungent gloves kept him from feeling or smelling that anything was afoot. Or no longer quite so much like a foot, anyway.

Some time after that I was doing a "tune up, rear brake pads, call if anything else" repair. I had knocked off the major points when I noticed one pedal seemed to be unthreading from the crank arm. This sometimes happens. If you're lucky, you can thread it in and it will stay. If not, the wiggling pedal has gouged out the threads in the crank arm.

Closer examination revealed that the other pedal was also protruding. Even closer examination revealed that someone had managed to thread the left pedal into the right arm, and the right pedal into the left arm. Things had jammed up about five-eighths of the way in, so they called it good enough.

I was able to extract the pedals. Then I had to run taps through the threads from the back side, starting in the undamaged threads, to establish the proper angle. I should have added to the charges for this, but I did not want to play phone tag and try to explain a weird problem to a customer who wouldn't understand it anyway, so I got through it as quickly as possible and ate the labor on it.

Mid-week a woman rented a road bike. She had brought her shoes and helmet, but forgot her jersey with the handy pockets in the back. When she left the shop she had all her little items stuffed in her bra and the waistband of her cycling shorts. She was a humorous person, and obviously practical in a quirky way. She rode off, oddly bulgy.  When she returned the bike on Sunday morning, she had what looked like a nice piece of banana bread in a plastic bag, stuffed into her cleavage.

In a companion to Bike Shop Gynecology, I had male customer looking for a saddle that would not only support his pelvic bones properly, but also keep his genitalia from "flopping around." I asked if he wore proper cycling shorts, whose constrictive fabric famously inhibits "flop." He said he did. Fortunately, he did not try to show me the problem. I tried not to imagine what sort of hefty, flaccid apparatus could still manage to flop when constrained by the well-constructed 'nad prison of proper bike shorts. I urged him to pursue his own research program.

About an hour into Sunday morning, a rider came in from the road, with the bike in one hand and the chain in the other. His rear derailleur had been yanked around to the top of the dropout when the chain jammed in it after it parted at the "speshul pin," as they so often do. Because he had the chain, I was able to gauge it and determine that it had been worn past the end of the scale before the pin popped. That meant the cassette was toasted. The middle and outer rings were also worn to where they would not properly engage the chain. The rider agreed to a full drivetrainectomy and replacement, if I could dig up the parts from what we had in stock. He did not want to wait for anything to be ordered.

Of course it turned into a scavenger hunt. To duplicate the gearing he had, I was going to have to take apart a 10-speed cassette and re-space it to make a tighter 9-speed than what we had on the shelf. The rear derailleur had to be scavenged from a trade-in road bike we'd put on rental. We had no new chainrings to match his old ones. We'd have to hope the old ones would last the week so he could get home and get new ones. The used rings I found did not seem worth the trouble and expense to install if we did not absolutely have to.

When I called to explain his options, the customer liked the sound of the even easier gearing he would get with the 9-speed cassettes we had on the shelf. He'd had a 12-24. The cassette I was going to improvise would have been a 12-25. Our stock offerings were 11-28. Since we were putting on a new chain, the 11-28 was no problem. So that saved some time and fiddling.

With about 20 minutes before the shop closed, I had the bike back together. On my test ride it functioned well. I called the customer. He came right down, paid and rode off.

Minutes later, he rode back. The chain was slipping on the chain rings. I ride pretty lightly, so I had not gotten it to do that. He was misidentifying it as skipping in the rear. It was pretty dramatically slipping in the front when I rode it after he brought it back.

The chainrings I dug up were going to give him problems shifting, but they would at least hold the chain once it was on there. The middle ring was stamped steel, so it needed those annoying spacers that Shimano used in the 1990s when they were making thin chainrings. The crank was an FSA, so it had those annoying Torx chainring bolts. I didn't want to open any more Pandora's boxes by pulling the crank to replace the rings, so I was trying to do it with the crankset on the bike and the inner ring only loosened, not removed. The spacers I had were a little too thick to put the rings at the optimal distance apart. The drop to the middle was a little wide and from middle to little was a trifle skinny. I showed him all this on the work stand before turning him loose. We had to charge something for the fix, but I kept it as low as I could.

To add interest, increasingly frequent, increasingly strong thunderstorms were moving through the area. The customer had to wait for a gap after I finished installing the chainrings, while a downpour played out.

I'm sure there has been more, but I can't seem to find all my scribbled little notes to jog my scrambled little memory by the time I get to the end of a week. There's no time to post anything from work these days. As the work load shrinks so we can't afford ample staff, what remains is still more than enough to string out the couple of people who work on any given day. Even our crew of three on weekend days is fully occupied with the backlog and the walk-ins. So funny stuff happens, but it rushes downstream and is lost in the river mist.

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