As time went by, and I had been at Destinations Cylery for a couple of years, word got around that we were willing to tackle some things that other shops might not want to deal with. I would tune up department store bikes, fix the crazy mechanical mis-steps that bike owners made at home and go the extra mile to get someone on a bike that they were happy and safe on.
One day, a family came in, and told us that they had been referred by their neighbor, a regular customer of mine. He had told them that I might be able to help their middle daughter with a problem.
This little girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old, was a regular little girl in most ways. She had been riding a single-speed bike with a coaster brake, her whole life, but was ready to graduate to a "real" bike. Her friends had bikes with multiple gears and hand brakes, and she wanted a bike like theirs, so that she could ride with them. Mom and Dad wanted her to be able to ride more with them, as well, so a new bike was in order.
Her left hand, though, was problematic. She had a birth defect which had left her with a shriveled, clenched hand, little more than a claw. She could use it to semi-grasp the grip and steer, but there was no way for her to use a hand brake or a shifter.
I sent the family off with a sales guy, to pick out a mountain bike (in 1995, 90% of our sales were mtbs, regardless of where the people planned to ride), while I checked into the parts catalogs. I had an idea how to make the bike work, but I had to make sure that the parts were available. After a couple of calls, confirming availability and ordering the parts, I outlined the plan to everyone.
It sounded good, in theory, and I was pretty confident that it would work. But I did point out to them that we would have to get it all together and make sure everything meshed. Everyone was happy with the experimental aspect of the build, so the girl's name was put on the bike, and the family went home to wait for my call.
A few days later, the parts came in, and I set to work trying to get everything together and synched up. Fortunately, it all worked like a charm, and I was able to call the family in to get the new bike, that evening.
Dia Compe had, at that time, a cantilever brake lever designed for use on tandems. This lever had the capacity to pull two brake cables, usually hooked to a drum brake and a cantilever combination on the rear of a tandem. In the days before bicycle disc brakes, this was a necessary upgrade for tandems which were ridden down mountain passes.
I installed that lever on the right side, and attached both the front and rear brakes to it. It took me a while to find a good balance, so that both brakes worked in conjunction with each other, but once I did it worked great.
I also installed a rear Grip-Shift shifter, and a friction thumb shifter on that side of the handlebar. The thumb shifter took care of the front derailleur. When I was through, all of the controls for the bike were accessed by the right hand.
We didn't charge any extra for the modifications. The parts we took off of the bike, we counted as trade for the parts we ordered in. And I did the assembly on my day off, so we charged no labor.
It might not have been the best business model, doing that much work for free, but the look on that little girl's face, and the hug I got after she test-rode it, were priceless.