Monday, January 31, 2011

Ceasar's Palace? Nope. Jeff's Garage.

My cousin Jeff and I had spent a good bit of time with my toy Evel Knievel Stuntcycle, out in his garage, when we decided that it was time to do something else.  Following along with the theme of jumping things on two wheels, Jeff decided to use his dad's car repair ramp as a jumping ramp.

He set it up, pointing into the garage, and took his bike to the end of the driveway.

"Are you sure that you want to jump into the garage?"  I asked, concerned that he was going to crash into this dad's Honda 750, which was parked along the back wall of the garage.

"I do this all the time,"  he replied, and took off toward the ramp.

He hit the ramp, flew into the garage, landed and slid to a sideways stop a couple of feet from the Honda.

"Cool," I said.

"I can jump higher.  Watch!"

Back out to the end of the driveway he went.  Then, he took off hard and hit the ramp at a considerably higher rate of speed.

WHAM!  Jeff's head hit the overhead garage door, which boomed like a huge drum.  I thought he had knocked himself out.  But, he landed the bike and skidded to a halt without hitting anything.  Then, he grabbed his head and fell over.

"Well, " I said as the grown-ups came out to see what the noise was, "you did go higher!"


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Too Much What, Now?

The last bike shop in which I worked full time was called Campus Cycles.  At the time, it was owned and operated by the couple who had opened it, years earlier, Greg and Mary.  They have since sold the business to some new owners.

Greg had been in the business, for a while, before opening the shop and had actually been the first employee at Wheatridge Cyclery.  Greg took his business model from there, and had always concentrated most on moving product out the door and very little on customer service.  He told me, as I interviewed for the job as Service Manager, that he and Mary were hoping to build the Service Department up into a real "Service" area, and therefore build more customer loyalty.

I was happy to hear that.  The shop had just moved into a large building, from the location where Kaladi Brothers Coffee now operates, and the service area was a blank slate.  After I got the job, I actually built the work benches, laid out the parts storage, etc, as well as implementing new policies which I had developed through the years in order to better serve the customers.

It wasn't long before I started having some friction with Greg and Mary.  I was used to much more of a "family" vibe at Destinations, and the "very serious business" vibe at Campus sort of rubbed me the wrong way.

It all came to a head in late August, when I met Greg and Mary for breakfast, to have my first Annual Employee Review.  I'll never forget it.

"We're concerned that you are doing too much service in the Service Department," Greg said to me.

"That's the definition of my job, Greg," I said.  "I am there to help my customers keep their bikes working."

"They aren't your customers," he spat back, his face turning red.  "They're my customers!  And I want you to stop fixing everyone's bike and help sell them on the idea that they need a new one."

"But...but..I'm a Service Manager.  My job is to do service."  I still couldn't quite believe how this was going.

"Well, we want you to sell bikes.  If you don't see that as being your job, you need to think about whether you want to work for us," he said, taking a bite of his fried eggs.

I had never had a bad Annual Review at any job I ever held, before this.  And, I had certainly never received a thinly-veiled threat that I would be fired if I didn't toe the line.

A week and a half later, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center occurred.  I sat in my living room watching as the towers fell, then rode the two blocks down to Campus to see if we were going to be open.  Of course, we were.  We couldn't take the chance that we might miss making a buck or two.

I don't think we had a paying customer. all day.  For some reason, people didn't really seem that concerned with buying bikes, that day.  But, we all had to be there, just in case.

The bike industry trade show was a couple of weeks later.  Commercial air travel had resumed, after a short period of all the airliners being grounded by the government, and Greg, Mary, a couple of sales guys and I flew to Las Vegas to attend.  We spent 4 days and 3 nights, there, then flew back.

I felt odd about the whole trip.  After basically getting my ass handed to me for doing my job correctly instead of lying to my customers (and, yes, I still considered them mine, thank you), palling around at the show and eating dinner with Greg and Mary at the casino buffets just had a hollow feel.

The next day that I worked, during the first week in October, I saw Greg at the front of the shop, as I walked in.  He was counting out the cash to put into the till, for the day.

"Morning, Greg."


"Do you remember telling me that I should think about whether, or not, I want to work for you?"  I asked him.

He stopped counting dollar bills, and looked at me.

"Well,"  I continued, "I've been thinking about it... and I don't."

"What?" he asked, as if he just couldn't comprehend that I'd rather hold onto my integrity than my job.

"I won't betray my customers and lie to them about whether their bikes can be repaired, or not,"  I told him.  "I just can't work like that."

He didn't bother to argue with me about whose damn customers were whose, thankfully.  He told me that he understood, but he was disappointed to lose me, etc,. etc., and assured me that I could work until I found another job.

Three days later he told me that I was out, at the end of the month.

Happy Halloween to me.

I can't say that really surprised me, but it sure inconvenienced me.  It took me two months to find another job.  If it hadn't been for my family helping me out, I would have been on the street.

It was then that I decided that the retail bike business, as it was evolving, was no longer for me.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Good Comeback

Once, after a bike ride, I was walking down the sidewalk with my friend Carol.  We had stopped for a snack, before going home, at a place over on Broadway.  As we walked back to the truck, we passed by a couple of older guys sitting at a bus stop.

One of the guys had a new-looking ladies' framed mountain bike (a WalMart BSO), and was obviously either high or drunk.

"Hey," he said to me, as we walked by, "wanna buy a bike for your old lady?"

Now, I have no interest in buying stolen bicycles from junkies, so I just said, "No, thanks."

Carol, however, was having none of it and piped up with, "I'm not old," and just kept walking.

"So sorry, ma'am.  Didn't mean to insult you.."  the guy babbled, as we continued walking toward the truck.

I wish I had thought to say that...kind of felt like I dropped the ball, chivalry-wise.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Doing the Twist(er)

One of the great things about riding in the foothills outside if Denver is that, once you gain some altitude, you get some awesome views of the city and the area surrounding it.  One of the best places for this, view-wise, if the east face of Mt. Falcon.

One day, in the middle of the summer, I drove over to the lower parking lot, and rode my bike up the trail to the top of the mountain.  When I got to the picnic table, where the trail dead-ends into the Castle Trail, I stopped for a short rest.  As I sat on the picnic table, sheltered from the bright sun by the shelter roof, I looked out over the valley and noticed that the city was under some nasty-looking clouds.

Within ten minutes, the clouds over the city had gotten a bit active.  I started seeing lightning... lots of lightning.  A tornado snaked its way down to the ground, as I watched.  Then, another twister formed.  And another..and another.

Eventually, I was sitting on the mountain top, in bright sunshine, watching five different tornadoes snaking across the valley below me.  It was fascinating, thrilling, and somewhat horrifying all at the same time.

I noticed that the edge of the clouds was moving toward me.  I figured that the exposed side of the slope was probably not going to be the most pleasant place to be, once the leading edge of the storm hit the mountain, so I headed back down to the parking lot.

The wind began gusting, as I descended, and lightning started popping pretty close to  the trail.  But, the rain held off until just after I got the bike loaded into the truck, and got inside.  Then, it started raining so hard that it was as if I was sitting under a waterfall.

At least I didn't end up in Oz.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fort Apache

Back in the late '90s, we often rode our bikes to the top of Devil's head Mountain, west of Castle Rock.  On top of the mountain, at the end of a trail from the parking lot which gained about 1100 feet in a bit over a mile, with 260-something waterbars across the trail, is one of the coolest places in the world.

There is a flat circular area, partially wooded, about 50 yards in diameter, where the ranger's cabin sits.  This area is surrounded by a rock wall, about 25 feet high.  The effect is that of being in a volcanic caldera.  Then, to add to the coolness of the scene, there is a staircase which leads up the rock to the ridge which surrounds the faux-crater.

There, sitting on the barren rock, is the last manned fire lookout on the Front Range of the Rockies.

It was a habit of Bill's and mine to ride up to the fire lookout and eat our breakfast as the sun came up over the eastern plains, then ride back down to the car and go open the bike shop.  There was one summer when we did this three times a week, on average.

One day, we were sitting on the rock, looking out across the plains as the sun came up when, suddenly, we could hear the "whump, whump, whump" of helicopter rotors.  We started looking around, trying to spot the aircraft.  Eventually, we happened to look down from where we were sitting and we spotted an Apache attack helicopter flying up the valley, just to the east of us.

The Apache went in and out of view, for a few minutes, then we lost sight of it, completely.  Bill  and I figured that the chopper had flown around the base of the mountain, and was heading away from us.  But, we could still hear it, clearly.

Suddenly, just to our left, the Apache rose up over the top of the ridge upon which we were sitting.  The pilot hovered over the top of the rock, about 100 feet away from us, for a few seconds.  Then, with a wave of his hand, he moved forward across the top of the mountain until he was positioned over the rock on the west side.

Then, suddenly, the Apache upended, the nose pointing straight down, and the aircraft disappeared behind the ridge.  Ten seconds later, we saw it flying across the valley below us.

Bill and I looked at each other, in that "Did that really happen?" mode, our half-eaten Clif bars still in our hands, un-chewed bites in our open mouths, and just busted out laughing. 

We never saw another Apache up there, but we did watch a few helicopters, some months later.  But, that's a story for another day.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ever Wonder Where the Word "Header" Came From?

As in, "I tripped over my shoelace and took a header."

The word took on its modern meaning when the high-wheeled bicycle came onto the scene.  The high-wheeler seating position puts the rider above the big front wheel, almost on top of the drive axle.  This puts the rider's center of gravity high, and forward, on the bike.  When something stops the front wheel, even momentarily, the mass of the rider shifts forward and...down.  Down in a darn quick hurry, too.

Because the handlebar of the bike is basically situated across the rider's lap, there is no way for the poor unfortunate soul to get away from the machine as it tilts forward.  The bike becomes a hammer, and the rider is a nail, driven head-first into the ground.

Thus, the origin of the term "header".

I have taken exactly one header on my high-wheeler, and I truly, truly, hope to never take another.  I was only moving at about 2 miles per hour when I crashed, and I really thought I might die, as it was happening.

Brad, Valerie and I had driven from Parker up to a parking lot at Dartmouth and Havana.  There, we unloaded the bikes and hit the Cherry Creek Trail, then turned onto the Highline Canal Trail and took it to Tamarac Square Mall.  There, we planned on stopping at Starbuck's and having some coffee.  It was a little bike ride that we made on a fairly regular basis, back then.

That Starbuck's was on the lower level of the mall, which sat a few feet below the grade of the parking lot.  Their patio seating was sunken, and you had to step down one step from the parking lot to the sidewalk, then walk down 3 or 4 steps to the patio, in order to go into the building at the lower level.

I had a habit of riding the high-wheeler around to the entrance to the main floor, where I would drop off the parking lot down to the sidewalk and ride a few feet over to the steps which led down to the patio.  There, I would dismount, and roll the bike down the handicapped-access ramp to the seating area.

This particular evening, just as I dropped the front wheel off of the curb, a lady came out of the building, through the main exit, right in my path.  Instinctively, I turned the wheel to the left.

The wheel dropped the 6 inches down to the sidewalk and, being turned and angling down, it torqued the handlebars out of my hand and the bike slammed straight down to the right.  Of course, I was still on it when it hit the ground.

Luckily, it wasn't the classic header, and I didn't auger into the concrete with my skull.  Instead, I landed on the handlebar with my left arm, bending the bar 90 degrees and giving me the most impressive (and painful) bruise I have ever had.  My right leg was twisted around at a strange angle, from me trying to get free of the bike on the way down, and I walked with a limp for about a week because I pulled a hip flexor.

All in all, I guess it could have been a lot worse.  I could have gone straight over the bars, or I could have landed on the lady who was walking out.

As for her, as I was crashing to the ground on a five-feet tall vintage-style bike, she just kept walking as if nothing was going on.  She never even looked around, according to Val.

Apparently, this kind of thing was commonplace for her.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oh, Wheelie?

I have never been able to ride a wheelie for any distance, on any two-wheeled vehicle.  I know the theory behind it:  Find the balance point and just accelerate if the wheel drops below it, and decelerate if the wheels comes up too high.

That's the theory.  The reality is that I find the balance point, then fall over backwards.

My cousin, Jeff, however is a different story.  Jeff is a few years younger than I, and has always been better at physical stuff, particularly on two wheels.

One day, when I was in my early teens, my parents, sister and I were visiting Jeff and his family.  Jeff and I were outside, knocking around, when we started talking about riding wheelies on bicycles.

"I'm no good at them," I said.  "I can't ride more than about 10 feet with the wheel in the air."

"I don't know how far I can ride one," Jeff said.  "I'd like to find out."

So, we went in and got permission for me to take one his dad's motorcycles (a Honda SL 125, as I recall) so that I could watch the odometer while Jeff rode a wheelie down the street, on his Stingray.

We went out to the street, and agreed that we would ride around the corner, then Jeff would lift his front wheel while I noted the mileage on the odometer.  I figured that there was no reason to zero out the trip-meter for a couple of tenths of a mile.

We got around the corner, Jeff pulled his wheel up, and I rode alongside him on the motorcycle.  We chatted a bit, as we rode along and, soon, we were at the corner at the far end of the block.

"Can you make the turn?"  I asked.

"I think so."

Sure enough, we turned right, rode the short side of the block, then turned again to go back toward Jeff's house.

"How you holding up?"  I yelled, as I caught up to him after the second turn.  I had backed off and let him get ahead, in case he had trouble with the turn.

"I'm fine," Jeff yelled back.

And, so it went, around and around the block.

Finally, after about 3 miles, we both agreed that clocking any more miles was pointless.  It was apparent that he could ride on his back wheel until he fell asleep.  So, we stopped at his driveway.

"Want to swap, and see how far you can go?"

"Sure,"  I said.  I'd been watching Jeff as he rode, and I thought I had figured out the secret.

So, I got on his bike, we rode around the corner, and I lifted the front wheel of the bike off the ground.  Ten seconds later, I was flat on my back in the street, and Jeff's bicycle was bouncing into the front yard of his house.

"You win,"  I said.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Roadkill..Well, Maybe Just "Roadstartle"

When we first moved to Colorado (I was married, then), we bought a house in the hills between Parker and Elizabeth.  Our house sat about 1200 feet higher than Parker, just about on the highest point between there and Elizabeth.

So, any time I took a ride down to either town, I ended up climbing in order to get home.  When I was first riding in Colorado, before I fully acclimated to the elevation and got in shape, climbing back to the house was a challenge.

One day, I rode my Cannondale from the house, down Bayou Gulch Road, to Parker Road.  I then turned north, and rode to the south side of Parker.  Then, to head back to the house, I decided to climb up Hilltop Road.

Hilltop, then, was a narrow, twisty, two-lane which climbed pretty much continuously for about six miles, although it has since been widened and straightened, in places.  At that point, the road turns south and changes name.

At that point in the road, there is a guard rail to the right, and a steep bank leading down from the road to a home-site.  By the time I reached that curve, I was beat.  My heartbeat was up around 200 beats per minute, and my speed was down to about 3 miles per hour.

As I approached the turn, which also signaled the beginning of a nice downhill section of road, I saw something from the corner of my eye.  I looked over to the right just as a deer topped the rise from the home-site, leaped over the guardrail, and landed on the pavement just in front of me. 

Then, at the dizzying speed of 3 mph, I ran into the side of the deer.  I came to an abrupt stop, the deer gave me the classic "deer in the headlights" look (only without the headlights) then turned and bolted back down the slope, to wherever he had come from.

I continued on my way, thinking to myself that this kind of thing was precisely what I had moved to Colorado for.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just Stop and Think, For A Minute

That's what I wanted to say to this guy on the Slickrock Trail, out in Moab, one day.

We were in Moab for a few days back in 1996 or 1997, doing a club trip, and I was riding with 3 or 4 other guys I knew.  We had already ridden a couple of trails, and decided to do a quick trip around the Slickrock Trail, before calling it a day.  As we approached the turn which would take us from the Practice Loop to the main trail, we saw a guy walking his bike across the rock, toward the parking lot.

"Flat tire?" I asked, as we met.  It's amazing how many people go completely unprepared, and i always feel obligated to offer help.

"No, my front brake is broken," he replied.  "I can't ride this trail with just a rear brake, so I'm headed back to the car."

I asked him if he minded me looking at it, and explained that I was a bike shop mechanic;  I might be able to fix it.

I took a quick look at his front brake.  It wasn't "broken", but he had lost the mounting bolt for one cantilever arm (remember, mid to late '90s, not many v-brakes were on the trail yet, much less disc brakes like we have now), so the arm was just hanging from the cable.

"I can fix that, if you want to keep riding."

"What," he said, looking skeptical, "do you carry brake bolts with you?"

"No," I said, "but you do."

I pulled out my Cool Tool, and removed the 5mm clamp bolt from one Onza bar-end extension on his bike, and used that bolt (which is exactly the same bolt that holds canti arms on the stud) to remount the brake.  Thirty or forty seconds of work, and the guy was back on his bike.

"Now you can ride the trail," I said, as I hooked the brakes up.

He gave a look, as if he was kinda disgusted with the whole situation. He told me that he had been pushing his bike for over 3 miles, and that he was just going to ride back to the parking lot and take his car to town.

As he rode off, I couldn't help but marvel at how people see bikes and bike parts as units.  He had never thought to just pull a bolt from a non-vital part in order to repair a vital system.  A little imagination and logic will go a long way, when you find yourself stranded by the side of the trail.

Just stop and think, for a minute;  It might save you a lot of walking.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bike Shop Follies

One of the little-known facts about working in bike shops is that you end up with a lot of spare time during the winter months.  There are days when all of the bikes in inventory have been been built up, repairs are up to date, and customers are rare as hen's teeth.

On those days, after you've dusted all of the tube boxes you can stand to dust, and aired all of the tires up that you can possibly pump, you start looking for stuff to break the monotony...the boredom of holding down a fort no one is assailing.

One of my favorite "dead-day" activities was the Figure-8 BMX Freestyle Bike Race of Death.

Basically, we would all grab a freestyle bike from the display (or ride our own, if it happened to be at the shop), and we would race around the shop sales floor, in a figure-8, around the front counter, through the display racks, and back around.  With five or six riders, depending on the day, the action could get pretty exciting.

Typically, we would race until someone crashed into a display and broke something, or two riders would collide at the crossing point of the figure-8.  At that point, we'd put the bikes up and start repairing the damage/attending to the wounded.

At least, then, we had something constructive to do.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Building My First Wheelset

When I started working at the bike shop, in 1993, I was a fairly decent bike mechanic.  But, I lacked experience in a couple of areas.  One of these was building custom wheelsets.

Custom wheel building is not the shop staple that it used to be, nowadays.  There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of high-end pre-built wheelsets on the market, now, that offer light weight and adequate strength out of the box.  Back in the day, however, there were few proprietary wheelsets in the upper-end market.  If you wanted cool wheels, you bought your own.  Or, if you lacked the skill, patience and knowledge (or simple desire) to do so, you had someone else build to your specifications.

Eventually, the time came when I had absorbed enough knowledge from Jimmy West and Dan (the Service Manager, at that time) that I figured I should start building wheels.  But, I certainly didn't want my first full-on build to be for a paying customer.  So, I ordered in some Ringle' hubs and Mavic 217 rims, sized up the spokes and prepared to build some cool wheels for my StumpJumper M2.

After everything came in, I went to the shop on my day off, and put the wheel stand on the front counter where I could talk to people as I worked.  After a little initial confusion on the rear wheel (I put a spoke in the valve hole - it was a real head-scratcher, for a minute, there) I got the wheels together.  I trued and tensioned them, then installed the freewheel. (Yep, I built up a spin-on rear hub, for some reason) and mounted the tires.

Once the wheels were on the bike, I was pleased as punch.  They looked awesome, weighed about a third less than the stock wheels, and I had built them.  I couldn't go for a ride, just then.  So, a couple of the other guys at the shop, and I, decided to go for a night ride after work, the following evening.  There was snow on the ground, but the temperatures were forecasted to stay up in the twenties, that evening, so it sounded like a nice night for a ride.

The next evening, four of us left the bike shop and headed to the west side of town.  We parked in the Matthews-Winters State Park parking lot, and headed across the highway to climb up to the Dakota Ridge Trail, on top of the Hogback.  As always, the views of Denver, with downtown in the distance, were spectacular.  Not that we spent a lot of time looking at them...

The Dakota Ridge Trail is ultra technical, with loose rock, rock ledges and the occasional 50 foot drop to the side, if you bobble.  Add 4 or 5 inches of snow to the equation, and you have a pretty challenging ride, in the daylight.  At 9:00 PM, on a moonless winter evening, it was a bit hairy.

Eventually, we made our way to the south end of the trail, crossed the highway, and started the climb on the Red Rocks Trail, into Matthews-Winters.  There, on a near-flat trail, I misjudged the approach to a water bar, flipped the bike up into the air, and somehow managed to step right into the spokes of the rear wheel when the bike and I both ended up on the ground, and potato-chipped the brand-new rim.

I managed to get the wheel back into rideable shape by bashing it against the ground and over-tensioning some spokes with my spoke wrench.  We got back to the cars, okay, and went home.

The next day, I ordered a new rim to replace my destroyed one, and got to practice building wheels, again, a week later.

One ride on a $50.00 rim makes for an expensive cost-to-use ratio, but the lessons learned were priceless.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Close Relations

Once, in one of those "what if" conversations at the the bike shop, someone asked me which I would give up first;  bicycles or motorcycles.

I think I shocked the whole crowd when, without hesitation, I said, "Bicycles."

Motorcycles have fascinated me for as long as I can remember.  My uncles, Ronnie and Ed, both had motorbikes when I was a kid (and Ed still does).  Plus, motorbikes had a high profile in popular culture as I grew up.

James Brolin rode a Triumph on Marcus Welby, M.D,  Michael Parks rode a Sportster on Then Came Bronson.  Steve McQueen made the Great Escape on another Triumph.  Hell's Angels...  Easy Rider...  On Any Sunday...

And, on ABC's Wide World of Sports, Evel Knievel flew across the screen (and rag-dolled across the pavement) with regularity.  I couldn't then, and can't now, think of anything cooler than a motorbike at full throttle.

The annual bicycle trade show moved to Las Vegas in the mid-nineties, and I attended it as a bike shop employee every year from 1994 to 2001, with the exception of 1997.

In 1998, Hoffman Bicycles introduced an Evel Knievel bmx jumping bike, and they brought both the bike and the real, live, Evel to the show for the model intro.  There was a daily autograph session, during which you could stand in line to meet Evel and get him to sign whatever.

I've never been one for standing in line for an autograph, so I was pretty thrilled when, as I was walking through the show, I happened to intersect Evel and his handlers on their way to the autograph session.  I introduced myself to Evel, told him what a thrill it was to meet him, and shook his had.  Then, we went our separate ways.

It was, to say the least, a bittersweet experience.  My macho boyhood hero, the swaggering cock-o-the-walk, was a little old man... As a recent liver translant recipient, he was frail and shaky, walking with a cane.

"At least," I thought to myself,"I got to see him before he died."

At the end of the day, I walked out of the exhibition hall on my way back to the hotel.  As I walked into the parking lot, I noticed a crowd down at the far end of the lot. 

Often, at the expo, there will be some sort of exhibition in the parking lot.  It might be bmx freestyle, or a trials rider, or...who knows.

Anyway, I walked down, to see what was going on.

What was going on was magic.  There, live and in person, was Evel Knievel, the frail old liver transplant recipient, on a 1200cc Harley, his walking stick jammed between his leg and the gas tank of the bike.  He was popping wheelies on the big Hog, one-handed, waving at the crowd.  He would ride on one wheel from one side of the lot to the other, drop the front wheel down, turn the bike around and do it again.

Suddenly, I was 12 again.  And Evel was the virile, cocky, sonuvabitch showman I remembered.

I don't remember any of the "new and improved" bike products at the show, that year, but I damn sure remember seeing Evel Knievel being a badass in the parking lot of the Sands Convention Center.



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Secret Is To Charm Them

There were a lot of things I loved about working in a bicycle shop.  I was constantly surrounded by bikes, parts and tools, for instance.  I got to see new products before the civilians did.  I got a sweet discount on bikes and parts.

My favorite thing, though, was dealing with customers.  I particularly like the customers who made it possible for me to be the "knight in shining armor".  They had a problem, and no idea how to fix it.  They came to us for help.  Then...Jon to the rescue!

And, I liked the customers who joked around and/or were flirty.  I'm a fairly gregarious person, and I thought of the shop as my clubhouse, and everyone who came through as my fellow members.

Occasionally, though, some of the other members weren't as fond of me as I was of them.

One day, a lady came in asking about bike fit, clipless pedals, cleat adjustments and gearing choices.  As I answered her questions, it seemed that she had done everything right, on the first try.  Her bike was a good fit, the seat was at the right height, her pedal cleats were installed on her shoes correctly, etc.

Finally, after looking her equipment over and answering all of her questions, I asked her a question.

"Why are we checking all of this?"  I queried.  "Are you having some kind of problem with the bike?"

"Well," she said, "I have been having pain in my left knee, and I was trying to figure out what is causing it."

"Maybe," I said, with what I though was a sly grin on my face (many people, however, apparently consider this to be "smirking"), "Maybe it's orthopedic."

I was prepared for a laugh, maybe a playful punch on the arm.


"I am not that old!" she said, rather loudly, as she started gathering her stuff up.  Ten seconds later, she was gone.

Not the reaction I was expecting, obviously.

Oh, well.  Lesson learned:  Make no age-related jokes about customers.  At least...not where they can hear you.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My First Colorado Century Ride

While I had ridden a lot of 60 to 80 mile rides, since moving to Colorado in 1992,  by 1997 I had not actually ridden a full 100 miles in a day, since moving away from the flat-lands of Ohio.  And, when I signed up for the yearly Elephant Rock ride, I wasn't really planning on riding one, then.

I had promised to loan my titanium-lugged, carbon-tubed Specialized Epic road bike to a customer, so I planned to ride my DiamondBack Avail, set up as a cyclocross bike, to ride the 60-mile loop.  I showed up at the start line, and found Carol, Dave and a couple of other people we were riding with.  They had all decided to attempt the 100-mile loop, and asked if I was game.

"Sure,"  I said.  I was in the best shape of my life, at that time, and willing to try anything on a bike. 

Off we went, climbing the hill on Highway 86, heading out of Castle Rock.

The ride went fine, but I was beginning to feel the miles as we rode the rolling hills through the Black Forest area.  I was actually getting quite a bit more fatigued than I had anticipated, but I plugged away at it.  All of my friends were rolling along, okay, and I didn't want to be the sissy.

By about the 80th mile, it was becoming obvious to me that the ride was a bit more than I had anticipated.  I couldn't really figure out why I was so tired, but I was determined to continue on.

Finally, we were making the final climb, on Motzenbocker Road (this was one of my favorite parts of the old E-Rock course), and I mentioned to Dave that I was feeling a bit worn out.

"Well, I don't doubt it," he said, looking at my bike.

"What?"  I asked, following his gaze and trying to figure out what he so pointedly staring at.

Then, it dawned on me.  I had just ridden my first (hilly) Colorado century ride...on 35c knobby cyclocross tires.

Oh, well.  You gotta run what you brung, I suppose.


Monday, January 17, 2011

First Ride on My Highwheeler

In 1995, while working at Destinations Cyclery, in Parker, CO, I finally realized a longstanding dream and purchased a 48" highwheeler (or Penny Farthing, if you prefer).  I had wanted one, for years, and I started actually shopping for one in 1992.  It took me 3 years to finally come across the Bone Shaker model from Rideable Bicycle Replicas.

Things were different in those pre-internet days.  Now, if you are looking for some esoteric product, it takes minutes, maybe just seconds, to find what you are looking for on the web.  back then, I scoured magazines, wrote letters, quizzed bike shop owners and the riders of the old-style bikes. All i could find were sources for high-end, historically correct museum-quality replicas and high-end racing machines.  The cheapest of these cost about $2500.00, and was way out of my bugetary means.

Eventually, RBR had an ad in the Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN), and I called them up.  They sent me a brochure (for the younger folks, that's like a web page, printed on paper!), and I ended up ordering the bike.

When it came in, on a truck in a huge wooden crate, I could hardly wait to get it put together and take a ride.  At the same time, I was a little trepidatious.  These bikes have a fixed gear (my first experience with that since my childhood tricycle), they come with no brakes, and even the "medium-sized" 48-inch wheel puts your head height at about 7 or 8 feet above the ground.

Still, as soon as I could, I got the bike together and took it for a spin around the parking lot.  After a few failed attempts at mounting the beast, I was on it and riding!  What a thrill that was, for me.  Riding a highwheel bike was exhilarating and, to this day, I still find it exciting to jump up on the thing and take off, sitting high enough to look down at the roof of a passing mini-van.

Ten minutes into riding circles, I suddenly felt a strange sensation on my right foot.  My shoelace had come into contact with the pedal spindle, and was being wrapped around it with every pedal stroke.  Eventually, to my horror, the lace pulled up tight, and I could no longer pedal forward.

There I was, perched on a bike with my butt four and a half feet off the ground, with no way off the bike but to fall sideways to the pavement.  I really didn't see much way for me to get out of that fall with less than a broken arm or a snapped collarbone.

So, in desperation, I pedaled forward as hard as I could and...SNAP!  The shoelace broke and I was able to wobble my way onward, and then dismount the bike in a controlled manner.

That was the day I started tucking the loops of my shoelaces between the laces and the tongue of the shoe.


Sunday, January 16, 2011


In 1991, Valerie and I were living in Pataskala, Ohio, just outside of Columbus.  I had been mountain biking, for a while, at this point, but I was still riding a low-end Motiv from Sam's Club.  It was a heavy, mild-steel frame with mid-range SunTour parts on it, but I have to admit that it was still pretty fun to ride.  It was, after all, the bike on which I fell in love with mountain biking.

At that time, I had a 1985 Honda VF1000R, which was the street-legal version of Honda's 24-Hour endurance racing bikes.  It had a full fairing, the first factory spec radial tire on a production motorbike, and it would do about 160 mph.  The problem with that bike was that it was so adept at going fast, that you never felt that you were, indeed, going very fast, at all.  After numerous occasions of casually riding along, looking down at the speedometer only to see that I was going well in excess of 120 mph, and worrying that I was going to either a. lose my license, b. kill myself, or c. kill someone else, I decided to sell the bike and get something a little less extreme.

So, I went out and found a Yamaha XS-650 twin, for $500.00 and bought it.  Then, I sold the Honda, subtracted the cost of the Yamaha out of the proceeds, and split the remainder with Val.  I told her to buy herself something that she had been wanting but didn't have $1000.00 to pay for it, and I headed for the local Cannondale dealer (Campus Cyclery, in Columbus).

There, I bought a Cannondale SM700, Beast of The East, for $700.00, plus tax.  A few accessories and articles of clothing, bought at various shops over the following few days took care of the remainder of my half of the Honda money.

Many people who knew me, at that time, were a bit shocked that I had passed along the big, shiny, fast Honda in order to get a nicer mountain bike.  But, that was where my priorities lay.

It turned out to be a good course of action.  The Cannondale led me to become much more serious about bicycling.  I got in better shape, and my skills improved immensely (which, considering how wanting they were when I moved to Colorado, simply speaks of how bad I was at mountain-biking, at that time).

The Yamaha served me well, for over ten years, and did everything I needed a motorcycle to do, during that time.

So, overall, I think that I, for once, had my priorites straight when I struck the deal that allowed me to buy the Cannondale.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Massive Retaliation - Wonder Bread Style

It was a chilly day, in Savannah, Tennessee.  As I rode along on the Buzz Bike, I was really looking forward to getting into the house and warming up.  My jeans jacket, over a short-sleeved t-shirt, was doing little to keep the chill out, and my hands were cold.

As I rode down Vine Street, I planned on taking the dirt trail through the wooded area, which would bring me out at the end of our street.  I passed two kids, a year or two older than me, who were walking down the street together.  I knew them, but I can't remember their names, now.

As I rolled along, I heard one of the kids laugh.  A split second later, a water balloon hit me in the back of the head, soaking my hair and the top half of my jacket.  I skidded to a halt, and looked back at the guys.  One was doubled over laughing, the other gave me a small (apologetic?) shrug.

I turned, and hauled ass for home.  I was cold.  I was wet.  I was mad.  And, I was planning revenge.

Vendetta! (...for any Italian readers.)

I got home, toweled off as quick as I could, and changed to a dry shirt and jacket.  In the kitchen, I got into the cabinet where my mom saved plastic bags, and pulled out two Wonder Bread bags.  I wasn't sure one would work, but I figured if I doubled them they would have enough strength to hold together when filled with water.

So, at the tap, I started filling the double bag.  When it was only about half-full, it was as heavy as I felt confident with.  I tied the neck off, and went back out to the bike.

As I hit the end of the driveway, I looked back toward Vine Street, and I could see the two kids just turning the corner onto my street.  I headed the opposite way, and circled the block, as fast as I could.  As I turned onto Maple Street, where I lived, the two older boys were in front of the house 3 doors up from mine.

I accelerated, and was glad to see that laughing boy was to the left.  He was my primary target.

As I passed them, I swung the bread bag, half-full of water, at the shoulders of my target.  I actually wanted to hit him in the head, where he had hit me, but the water was pretty heavy.  It was heavy enough, in fact, that it nearly knocked him to his knees when it hit him.

Of course, it also soaked him, head to toe.

His buddy ran after me, as I tried to recover from the wobble that swinging that much weight sideways had sent me into.  He actually caught me, and grabbed the "sissy bar" support of my banana seat.  But, instead of knocking me down, or stopping me, he pushed me forward.  I rode to my carport, and jumped off the bike.  I figured I was safer on home territory.

The two guys turned and walked the other way.  I could see that laughing boy was pretty mad, but the other guy seemed to be giving him what-for.

A couple of days later, I ran into to the two of them in the hall at school.  I was tensed up, and prepared for a fight.

"Hey, Jon," laughing boy said.

"Hey, man," said the other one.


I never heard another word about the water balloon incident.

I've always wondered if laughing boy's buddy told him that he got what he deserved, or if they both just figured it was funny enough to not worry about.  Either way, we were always cordial, whenever we saw each other, but we never really became buddies.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Sometimes, I Worry About All That Robitussin I've Guzzled Through The Years

Have you ever had a sales clerk, or restaurant server, or whoever, who was just so stupid and clueless that you find yourself wondering if they are being stupid on purpose, just to piss you off?  I was once that guy.

I had been working at the bike shop in Parker for about 3 years when, one day, a fellow came in looking for a couple of tubes.

"What kind of tubes do you need?"  I asked.

"Presta valve mountain bike tubes," he replied.

Prestavalves are the skinny type, with the screw-down valves.  They are commonly seen on road bikes and upper-end mountain bikes.  The Schraeder valve, like the valve on a car tire, is usually seen on lower-end bikes, kids' bikes and bmx.

At that time, we kept the tubes inside the glass display case, close to the cash register.  I reached in, grabbed the two tubes, rang them up and put them in a bag.  The customer left the store, got in his car, and drove off.

About a half-hour later, the guy was back.

"These are the wrong tubes," he said.

Sure enough, I had given him Schraeder valve tubes.  I apologized to him, swapped the tubes out for him, and sent him on his way.

Another half hour, and he was back.  And, he wasn't happy.

"These tubes are wrong, too," he said.

"I'll be damned," I thought, "I did it again!"

So, once again, I swapped out the tubes, and apologized profusely. 

For the third time, the customer is out the door.  This time, he looked in the bag before he started his car.

As he came back in, I thought he was going to come over the counter and strangle me. 

You guessed it.  For the third freaking time in a row, I had given him Schraeder tubes.

Things would have probably gone a little more smoothly if, at this point, I hadn't gotten tickled by the absurdity of it all.  I started laughing.   The customer started yelling.  Finally, someone else came out and tried to calm him down as I got him two of the correct tubes.

Believe me, I double-checked this time.  So did the customer.

It wasn't long after that before we put the tubes out in a Self-Serve display.

To this day, I have no explanation for that whole incident.  I guess all those blows to the head come home to roost, eventually, for all of us.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Owies on Tape

A lot of my stories revolve around crashing bikes.  While I don't think I crashed my bike every time I ever rode it, the crashes tend to be more memorable than than uneventful rides.

Back in the mid-nineties, after moving to Colorado, I found myself crashing my mountain bike quite often.  I was pushing the boundaries of my skill set on almost every ride, trying to get better and faster on the trail.  I was racing on the weekend, and riding 5 or 6 days a week with people who had lived here much longer (and had more talent for it) than I.  So, I tended to come home bruised and/or bloody from most rides.

I got the big idea to stick a tape in the RCA videocam and shoot 5 seconds of footage, showing whatever "owies" I might have gotten, each time I came home from a ride.  I would come home, load the tape into the camera, and film the bloody knee, or bruised shoulder, or whatever, then take the tape out and put it away without rewinding.

At the end of that year, I rewound the tape and showed the results to my then-wife, Valerie.

"You are weird," she said.  "Why would you want something like that?"

It was a bigger hit at the bike shop.  Almost ten minutes of scrape after bruise after cut after hematoma after broken collar riding partners were impressed.  We played it, every now and then, for a select customer, but we had to pick and choose who to show it to.  Many people were somewhat disturbed by it.

Sadly, I no longer have that particular piece of art.  It disappeared from the video shelf, one day, never to resurface. 


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Which I learn to Ride No-Handed

When we were kids, my sister and I always spent a week or two in Hohenwald, Tennessee, shuttling between my grandparents' house and my that of my great-aunts.  I always loved hanging out at the barn with Granddaddy, and sitting on the porch with Grandma, or hanging out with her sisters Kate and Alida.

The first summer that I had the Spyder bike, I took it to Hohenwald with me.  I rode it to town to shop in the Ben Franklin store, and the Rexall Drug.  Since I was only seven, I could only ride to town if Joy went with me.  Joy was nine.  Things were different, then.

And, I spent as lot of time just riding around in circles, because I loved being on the bike.  (Sounds a lot like my life, now, come to think of it.)

One of my goals, that summer, was to learn to ride with no hands.  Joy could ride all over the place, without touching her bars, and I just couldn't stand to not be able to do something that she found so easy.  So, on every ride, I spent a little bit of time trying to let go of the bars, riding along with my hands hovering over the grips.  But, I never went far before I grabbed the bars.

In retrospect, I suppose that the 20-inch wheel and the ape-hanger bars were not the best combination for learning this particular skill.  To tell you the truth, I'm not real sure that I could get on a bike like that, today, and ride no-hands for very far.

Anyway, I eventually got to the point that I could go a good ways before grabbing the bars.  At that point, I started trying to lean back, with my hands on my thighs, like Joy, and just ride along all casual-like.  That's when the crashing started.

The first couple of crashes happened at pretty low speeds on paved roads, and I managed to leap clear of the bike without injury.  The pavement scared me so, using the kind of logic that only 7-year-olds can really muster, I decided to practice on the gravel road which served as the driveway from the road to the barn.  It was slightly downhill, so I wouldn't have to pedal as hard.  And, if I fell, I figured that the surface was softer than pavement and would do less damage.

On my first try, I managed to launch myself off the bike, and landed on the crushed flint like a rag doll flung across a room.  My right forearm led the way, and lost a lot of skin as I slid down the road.

Crying, and bleeding, I ran to the house.  Grandma cleaned me up, and bandaged my arm.

"How did you wreck?" she asked.

I told her the story of how I was trying to get as good as Joy at riding no-handed.

"Well, don't do that, any more," she said.  "You'll get hurt, again."

The next day dawned bright and hot, like almost every June day in the South.  The bike, the gravel road and the prospect of perfecting my new skill all beckoned.  Grandma was busy in the house, buffing the hardwood floors, so I figured that she wouldn't see me practicing my technique.

Again, the first run down the hill produced exactly the same results as it had, the day before.  In fact, I think I might have landed in the same pile of flint that had ground my arm to hamburger, 24 hours earlier.

The scrapes and cuts on my arm had scabbed over, since the first wreck, and this crash broke the scabs open.  The resultant bleeding was impressive, almost beautiful in an awful sort of way.  Of course, I was crying and scared, as always when blood was gushing out of me, and I bee-lined it into the house and the loving arms of my maternal grandmother...who immediately took me outside, cut a switch and chased me in that small circle around which anyone who has ever been switched has also run laps.

Looking back on it, I realize that she was spanking me because I had disobeyed her and tried the no-hands thing, again.  At the time though, and for years after, I assumed that she was beating me for bleeding on her clean floors.

After the switching, Grandma bandaged me up, once again, and told me in no uncertain terms what fate would have in store for me if she even saw me riding with one hand on the bars, instead of two.

That was the end of the no-handed riding for the duration of the Hohenwald trip, that year.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Parking In the Rear

It was a beautiful day, with big puffy clouds sailing through the blue sky overhead.  I was 12 years old, and riding a new Western Flyer Buzz Bike, ready to take on the world.  The Buzz Bike was my third bicycle, not counting the one I learned to ride on.  It was a replacement for my Spyder, which had gone to charity a few years earlier when I got Big Red.

The Buzz Bike was more suited to the proto-bmx dirt riding my friends and I were all getting into.  Jumping on the local trails, known as "The Ramps", was all the rage with us, and my 26"-wheeled middleweight just wasn't working.  So, I wheedled and begged and did all of the other things 11-year-olds will do, leading up to their 12th birthday, to talk my mom and dad into getting me a jumpable bike.

So, on this day, I was cruising right along, looking at the clouds,enjoying a beautiful Spring day... all right in my world... thinking to myseWHAM!

I was out for a few minutes, I think.  The next thing I knew, anyway, I was lying in the middle of the street, and my chin felt like Muhammad  Ali had used me for a speed bag.  I turned my head, painfully, to the right and saw my bike, sitting perfectly upright, with its front wheel jammed under the rear bumper of a parked Chevelle.  A small spot of blood marked the ridge of the fender, where my chin had hit when I slammed into the rear end of the car.

I got up, slowly, my head spinning, and tried to pull my bike from under the car's bumper.  The tire had jammed so far under the bumper that quite a bit of weight was resting on the tire, and it took me a few tries to get it free.

Once I got the bike free, I turned it around and rode home.  The day no longer seemed quite so wide open.  I spent the next week, or so, with Kirk Douglas's chin, a painful reminder of my lack of attention.

At least I learned a lesson from the crash, much like a toddler who has touched the stove.  I have yet to run, full speed, into the rear of another parked car, since then.

Burn to learn...


Monday, January 10, 2011


My junior-high/high school best friend, Wesley, and his oldest friend, Ricky, lived in a development called River Heights, across the river from town.

When we were 13 or 14, Wes and Ricky and I would "camp out" in Ricky's back yard, every now and then.  "Camping out", in this instance, meant staying up all night, riding our bikes around, and building camp fires.

Whatever we did, we always ended up down at the River Heights boat ramp.  There, after we threw a few dozen rocks in the water, we would play a version of "chicken" which consisted of the three of us starting at the top of the ramp, then slamming on the brakes and sliding sideways.  The bike which ended up farthest down the ramp was the winner.

One night, as we were playing chicken, Ricky was consistently coming up short.  Real short.  Like, 10 feet from the water short.  Of course, Wes and I had to make all kinds of fun of him.  Thirteen-year-old boys aren't really known for their sensitivity, so I'm sure we laid it on pretty thick.

Anyway, we ended up doing one more run, and Ricky was determined to win.  You could tell, by looking at his face, that he was in do-or-die mode.  So, Wes and I were determined to do anything we could to prevent him from winning.

Thirteen-year-old boys...rattlesnakes.  Equally mean, but snakes don't ride bikes.

So, we lined up.  Onetwothreego!  And, we were off.

The boat ramp was a slab of concrete, 15 feet wide and 50 feet long, which ran at about a 15 degree slope into the Tennessee River.  As we took off on our Buzz Bikes (sadly, I no longer had the Spyder, by this time - another story for another day), we accelerated pretty quickly until we were probably doing 15 miles per hour.  At that point, we all locked up our rear wheels and slung our bikes around into a Death Slide.

Wes skidded down and ended up with his wheels just in the water, about two inches deep.  I stopped about a foot shy of the edge of the water (Chicken!).

Ricky waited way late to hit his brakes, slid around sideways and ended up with a piece of gravel between his tire and the concrete.  This caused his bike to whip around violently, until he was actually almost facing back up the ramp.

Then, when the rock rolled out from under the tire, the tire caught traction and the bike high-sided.  Ricky ended up flying through the air, about 10 feet, and landed flat on his back in the river, in water about waist deep.

Of course, Wes and I were laughing so hard that we couldn't even talk.  Ricky, however, managed to speak as he stood up in the water.

"Screw you!"  he said.  "I win!"


Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Old Switcheroo

On my next birthday after learning to ride without training wheels, I got my very own bike.  It was a sweet Stingray-styled Sears Spyder Bike, gold with a tiger-skin pattern banana seat.  I was stoked.  Not only was it my very own, brand-new, bike but it was also exactly like the one my best friend, Rusty Fox, had.  Now we had a bike gang (of two), riding identical bikes!

(Oddly, I found out, a year or two ago, that this was also Dave Webb's first bike.  We saw one at Velo Swap, and both started talking about how it was our first...)  See a picture of one here.

A couple of days after I got the bike, Rusty and  I were riding from my house to his, and we started to take our normal shortcut across the driveway of the Crockers' house, behind the duplex where my family and I had lived before buying a house, and into Rusty's back yard.  As we crossed the high point in the center of the Crockers' gravel drive, flat-out and pedaling hard, I clipped the ground with my right pedal. 

The platform of the pedal popped off the spindle, and I barely managed to avoid crashing.  Once we got stopped, I was in a panic.  I'd only had my bike for two days, and I had broken it!

Of course, I thought my dad was going to kill me.  He had given me the standard "use the kickstand...I don't want to see you dropping this bike on the ground" lecture, and had pointed out how lucky I was to have such a nice bike, and I'd better take care of it, etc., when I got the bike.

Now, the bike was broken and I was probably on my way to military school.

Before I could get into a full-on screaming frenzy, Rusty came up with a plan.  Rusty was good at plans.  The fact that they always backfired and got one or both of us a spanking and a grounding never kept me from trusting them, implicitly.  Just because the previous thirty had backfired didn't mean that this one wouldn't work; did it?

Part one of the plan was simple:  I would ride his bike, with two good pedals, home and park it in the garage as if it was mine.  No one would notice, since we had identical bikes.

Part two would take some figuring.  Somehow or another, we would have to get a new pedal and put it on my bike.  Then, we could swap back, and none of the grown-uos would be any the wiser.  The fact that neither of had any money, nor any way to get to the store without our parents driving didn't occur to us.  Small details, like that, tended to rear their ugly heads as Rusty's plans progressed in the real world.

So, I rode Rusty's bike home, at the end of the day, and parked it in the garage.  About ten minutes later, Daddy went out to the garage for something and came back in.

"Why is Rusty's bike in the garage?"  he asked.  "Where is yours?"

What?  How could he know?  Was he psychic?  No, not psychic, or he would know where my bike was.  So how, then did he know? How? How? How?

Amazing how your mind works, when you are 7 years old.

Rusty had been riding his bike for 6 months, before I got mine.  And, the bike showed all of the dings, scratches and general abuse that a 7 or 8 year-old boy will inflict on his bike.  You would have had to be blind to mistake his well-loved steed for my shiny new one.  As I said, earlier, small details...

Of course, I broke down and cried and confessed, through sobs, to what all had transpired.  I fully expected to be tied up and thrown in the dungeon (or, at least, forbidden to ride my new bike for a week) for trying to perpetrate the fraud that Rusty's bike was mine (not to mention that mine was broken)!

Daddy got on the phone to the Fox house, and made sure my bike was there and safe.  Then, he told me that we could go to the store, the next day, and get a replacement pedal.  No big deal.  No lecture.  Nothing.

What a relief!


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why I Don't Ride In Sandals or Flip-Flops

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will probably tell you that I don't ride in sandals or flip-flops because I never wear such footwear.  That is, in essence, truth.  But, this is one of the reasons I don't wear them.

When we were kids, my sister was either barefoot or in flip-flops for most of the summer.  She always wanted to ride her bike barefoot, but our mother wouldn't let her.  So, she rode in those old-school rubber flip-flops that some people call "shower shoes".

One day, not too long after my momentous removal of the training wheels, Joy and I were riding on the Dead-End (we never called the street by name, it was the Dead-End, not a dead-end, if you know what I mean) and we decided to drag race.  Joy was 2 years older than me, and a bit bigger at that time, and she always won,  So I made her give me a head start.

Alas, it was to no avail.  I wasn't halfway to the finish line that we had drawn on the pavement with a chunk of brick, before she passed me.  Not too many seconds later, as we approached the finish, Joy's foot slipped off of the pedal of her bike and she drove her big toe straight into the pavement.  Of course, it not only hit the road hard enough to split the nail, but the toe drug along on the abrasive surface for quite a way before Joy's bike came to a halt.

She was screaming, I was crying  and Joy's toe looked like it had been through a meat grinder.  It still makes my sphincter tighten a little, just to think of it.

So, enjoy your SPD pedals, and Keens, and whatever other open shoe you want to ride in.  I'm sure the wind between your toes feels quite nice.  As for me:  Gimme shoes, every time!


Friday, January 7, 2011

The First Time I Ever Wrenched On a Bike

When I was five or six years old, I had a bike with training wheels on it.  It was what they call a "convertible", meaning that it had a removable top bar, and could be converted from girl's bike to boy's bike, as needed.  My sister and my two girl cousins and I all learned to ride on this same bike over the course of a few years.

It wasn't the coolest bike in the neighborhood, but at least it was red.

We mostly were only allowed to ride on the dead-end streets at the top of a short, but steep, hill and our house sat about halfway down the hill.  The hill was steep enough that I would ride my bike to the end of our driveway, then push it to the top.  Once at the top, I would ride up and down the dead-end, back and forth, back and forth, going nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

As I rode, I tried and tried to balance the bike, keeping both training wheels off of the ground.  It was not easy, at first, and I wobbled back and forth like a drunk on Saturday night.  But, I kept at it and, eventually, I was able to ride the length of the dead-end without touching a training wheel to the pavement.  I was ready to remove the "baby wheels" and join the ranks of the cool kids on two wheels.

So, I went to my mom, and asked her to remove the training wheels for me.  She told me that she wasn't sure how to do it, so I'd have to wait for my dad to get home from work.  Unfortunately, this was on a Tuesday (as I recall), and my dad was working out of town.  He wouldn't be home until Friday night.

Tuesday until Friday...roughly the same amount of time since dinosaurs roamed the earth, in the eyes of a 6 year old.

So, I did what any reasonable red-blooded American boy would do:  I went to the garage, found a Crescent wrench in the tool box, and took the training wheels off, myself.

Up the hill, to the dead-end, I went.  I have no idea how long I rode back and forth, that day.  I was so proud and happy to be riding on two wheels, at last!  Eventually, though, it was time to go home, so I turned downhill and headed to the house.

Keep in mind that this was in 1966 or '67 (I just can't remember exactly how old I was), and the bike I was riding had horizontal dropouts, a single speed drivetrain and a coaster brake.  To tension the chain correctly, it was necessary to pull the wheel backward until the chain was tight enough, then tighten the axle nuts down.  You probably know the routine.

My 5 or 6 year old self, however, did not.

As I headed down the hill, flying on an emotional high from my accomplishment, I gained speed quickly.  As I back-pedaled to apply the brakes, the chain derailed.  I had no brakes, and no idea what to do about it. 

We were not allowed to go past our house, on the way back from riding, without permission.  At the speed i was going, though, I wasn't sure I could make the turn into our driveway. At that age, it didn't occur to me that this would probably be an excusable breach of the rules, under the circumstances.  All I could think of was that I had to turn into our gravel driveway.  At full speed.  The first time I ever rode without training wheels.

Let's just say that it didn't turn out too well.

I hauled the speeding bike to the left, aiming for the mouth of our driveway, between two low brick culvert surrounds.  How I managed to get across the driveway without hitting the bricks on the other side, I don't know.  But, I did miss the bricks.  Unfortunately, as I was celebrating that fact in my mind, an oak tree (one of about a dozen in our yard) jumped out in front of me and I ran headlong into it.

I have no idea if it hurt to run into the tree, but it certainly did hurt to wake up in the front yard, tangled up with my bike, its chain wrapped around my leg like an octopus tentacle.

Twenty-five years later, I was a professional bike mechanic.  Luckily, I learned to be more careful about chain tension adjustment in the intervening years.