Friday, January 27, 2012

Perchance

He couldn't believe how well his life had turned out.  He had a terrific home, a sucessful business which gave him immense personal satisfaction and, most importantly, a wonderful group of close friends.  Life in Tucson was treating him very well, indeed.

The day was warm but not hot, and sun streamed in through the windows of his Mid-Century Modern office building.  His living quarters, on the top floor, were awash in a golden light as he looked over the edge of the balcony at his five closest friends, below.  Between them, they made up the most talented design group in the American Southwest, if not in all of America.

"Guys!" he called out, and they all looked up at him.  "Let's shut it down and go for a ride!"

A chorus of "Hell yeah"s greeted him from below.  Before he knew it, he and the whole group were out on the road, climbing Mount Lemmon in the bright sunshine.  It was the perfect day...

But, something hovered on the edge of his consciousness like a shadow on the edge of vision.  There was a ripple on the surface of the pond.

As he rode, he looked at the people around him.  His heart felt like it would burst with the love and admiration he had for those people.

"Why am I feeling so weird?" he thought to himself.

A flicker of light...a whiff of a foreign atmosphere.  He knew, suddenly.  He knew why he felt such a melancholy on such a wonderful day.  He only hoped that there was time!  He prayed to God that he would get to say what he needed to say.

In the atrium of his office/home, he gathered his friends around.

"I am going to be leaving you," he said.

"What?  Why?" Angela asked, confused and visibly upset.  Her words and emotion were echoed by those around her.

"I can't stop it," he said.  "I know , now, why this life has seemed so good, so perfect...so dream-like.  I am waking up, and I will probably never see you again.  But I want you to know..." he choked up a little, at the flash of light which accompanied his words.

"I don't know if I will ever see you again,' he continued, "but I know I will never forget you!" 

The whole group was crying along with him, as the flashes of light increased in both intensity and cadence.

"I will always love you all!" he cried as the light overwhelmed the scene and, suddenly, he was awake in his bed.  Tears streamed down his cheeks as he felt the the sudden loss of separation from his friends and the life he had built with them.

"God!" he thought to himself.  "I can only hope that their world didn't cease to exist when I woke up!"

Dreams are sometimes more real than reality, making one wonder where the reality actually lies.  And, he felt the sadness at the loss of his alternate reality for the rest of his life...his waking life.

Or, was it...?

x

Friday, January 20, 2012

Oooo, Barracuda!

My ex-wife, Valerie, is a bit short of stature, and stands 4'11" tall.  ("Four-eleven and a half!" she would always correct me.)  Because of that, it was very nearly impossible to find her a mountain bike which actually fit.  The smallest frames available from the brands that we carried, in the early to mid-90s, were in the 15 to 16-inch range.

In 1994 or 1995, I forget, Barracuda bikes introduced a 12-inch frame into their line.  The stand-over height and top tube length looked good, on paper, for Val.  The only problem was, we didn't carry Barracuda at the shop, and I couldn't afford to pay retail for one of their bikes.

So, I put a call into the 'Cuda sales rep and described my predicament.  "What I want to know," I concluded, "is will you sell me a bike for my wife at the Emplyee Discount price, even though we don't sell them here."

"I'll have to ask the home office," he told me.  "That's not generally allowed, but I will give it a shot."

At that time, Barracuda sponsored a race team which was all female.  A couple of their riders were pretty short, and that was why the 12" frame had gone into production.  I was hoping that meant that someone at the management level would understand my position and okay the sale.

A few days later, I got a call from the rep.  "I can set you up," he told me.  I later found out that the bike had come through their racing department, so that I got the sponsorship deal on it.  That allowed the bike to go out with no red tape.

A week later, I had the bike in the shop, building it up.  I was under strict orders to not tell anyone that I had gotten it at the discount (I think it's been long enough, now) because Barracuda didn't want every shop employee in the U.S. to ask for the same deal.

Val was thrilled to have a bike that she could actually straddle and have some stand-over clearance.  And, I was tickled that the bike industry was close-knit enough to allow the deal to go through.  I don't know if that kind of rule-bending would go over, today.

x

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Maybe The Best $5.00 I Ever Spent

Back in 1980, I was starting my second year of college, gasoline was about a dollar a gallon, and neither eBay nor Craigslist yet existed.  In those days, if you wanted to buy and sell used items ("junk", we called it), you either had a yardsale, advertised in the paper, consigned stuff to an auction, or went to the junk store.

Everything was a little cheaper, back then, of course.  I already mentioned gasoline, for instance.  Prices go up, generally, as time goes by.  A twenty five cent Coke costs a dollar, now...it's a normal thing.

But, some things are abnormally more, or less, expensive now than they were 32 years ago.  Many vintage bikes and parts, for instance, have taken drastic hits in value, since that time.  But this is not about bikes.  It's about inexpensive, imported guitars from Japan.

Back in the 70s and 80s, Japanese guitars were considered cheap.  Used Teiscos and Deccas and all of the other weird-shaped, rocker-switch bedazzled brands were easy to find, for very little money, on the used market.  Sears, Montgomery Ward, Western Auto and many other chain stores had imported them with their own store brands for years, and music stores had stocked them as beginner instruments at the same time.

I walked into the junk store on Main Street, in Martin, Tennessee, a day or two after school had started and saw exactly what I was looking for.  I had spent the previous year playing a Yamaha acoustic guitar, learning chords and building up my callouses.  Now, I was ready to make some noise.  I was looking for  cheap electric guitar.

There, in the dusty little shop on Main, was the perfect ax.  It was a Teisco-made Kingston, with a straight neck and good string action.  Someone had sawed the upper point of the solid body off, and then painted it white with a brush dipped in house paint, but it played nicely.  It came with a case and a small solid-state amp. 

The price?  Five dollars.

I took the guitar back to the dorm and disassembled it.  I scraped and scrubbed the white paint off, and exposed the original red and black sunburst.  But, unfortunately, I couldn't get the finish back to what I wanted it to look like.

So, I cut photos and blocks of text out of CREEM Magazine back issues, and glued them all over the body.  This was back when Lester Bangs was Editor in Chief of the magazine which proclaimed itself "America's Only Rock and Roll Magazine", so some of the text blocks and photo captions were pretty funny.  Once the glue had dried, I sprayed clear poly-coat over the pictures and reassembled the guitar.

It was the perfect Punk guitar, and I loved it.  I eventually bought a Vox Box, which was a fuzz box that plugged directly into the guitar, and started making some real noise at that point.

Nowadays, that same set-up of beater guitar, case and amp would probably cost you $200.  Why?  Because of eBay and Craigslist and blogs which talk up the "vintage tone" of those old crappy guitars.  I wish I could have seen that coming.  Maybe I wouldn't have sold 15 guitars for a total of $200 at a yard sale before moving out of Memphis, if I had realized I could get ten or fifteen times that much if I just held onto them for 20 years.

That guitar is gone, now.  I used the neck to bring a gold-flake Norma electric guitar back to life (it is one of the guitars I sold in Memphis), and the body disappeared during all of the moving around during and after my divorce.  The pickups and controls went onto another guitar which I sold.

Maybe that's another reason that the cheapie old Japanese guitars are selling for a premium:  Lots of guys have fond memories of that first electric guitar, and I suppose they will pay big to get the same model.  Whatever the reason, the prices on those old axes far outran the general inflation of prices over the last three deades.

x

Monday, January 9, 2012

What a Coinkidink

Since I am no longer riding my bike to work every day, I decided that I needed to do a little bit of "training" in order to get ready for the rides I am planning on doing, this year.  That means spending some time on the rollers, a few times a week.  But, there was a problem with that plan.

I didn't have my rollers.

A couple of years ago, I loaned them to Tim, who was a customer of mine when I was building fixed gears.  He is a good guy, and I trust him with stuff, so I loaned him the rollers to use, with no time limit.  I was riding every day, at that time, and didn't need them.  Now, however, I needed them back.

But, in the meantime, I had gotten a new phone, and Tim's number didn't transfer over, for some reason.  So, I figured the rollers were pretty much gone, since I hadn't talked to Tim since my dad died, in 2010.

Last Monday, I went over to Performance and bought a new set of folding rollers.  They were on sale, but they still cost $169.00, which is a chunk of change to me.  But, I had no choice, so I just ponied up the dough and brought them home.

I set the rollers in the shop building, without even opening the box.  I figured I would break them out within a couple of days.  But, the next day, I had a little bit of a sore throat.  By Wednesday, I was fully into a chest cold, complete with cough and fever.

No roller riding was in the cards, for a few days.  So, the rollers sat in the box.

On Sunday, I was knocking around the house when the phone rang.  The number looked familiar, so I answered it.  It was Tim!  He wanted to know if I was home, because he was on the way over to my house to drop off my rollers and a set of wheels I had loaned him.

After we caught up a bit, Tim headed home and I headed to Performance.  It was nice to get the $169.00 (plus tax) credit on my card...

x

Friday, January 6, 2012

For The End, The Beginning

On January 7, 2011, I began this blog, with the intention of telling a bike story a day, every day, for a year. This is the 365th story, the culmination of that year-long project.  So, I thought that I would go back to the beginning and elaborate a bit on the tag-line which sits below the title at the top of the page.

In 1992, my then-wife, Valerie, and I came out to Denver to spend two weeks with some friends who had moved here from Columbus, Ohio.  While we were here, we happened to stop in at Destinations Cyclery, in Parker.  Kevin and Kelly were looking for bikes, and I had recommended that they look at Specialized HardRock Sports, as I thought that they would be suitable for the riding K&K would be doing.

Destinations was the closest Specialized dealer, so we went in and they bought their bikes.  While we were there, I talked with Scott, the owner, at great length about my philosophy (and his) on biking, and adventurous living, in general.  By this time, Val and I had decided to move to Denver (and we were living here within a month after this visit), so Scott told me to come by and see him about a job if we moved somewhere close.

By February of 1993, I was a full-time employee at Destinations.  Initially, I was a mechanic-in-training, then I stepped up to also selling bikes on the floor.  Eventually, I became Service Manager, and worked there for seven years, minus the year I owned the coffee shop in Parker.

I sold a lot of bikes, at Destinations, both on days when I was working and on my days off.  I loved bicycling so much that the shop was literally my clubhouse, much to Scott's sister Catie's dismay.  I would stop by, after a ride, and come into the shop and start talking to customers.  I think my enthusiasm was infectious, because I often sold bikes to people who were in to get a flat fixed, or just "thinking about" buying a bike.  Scott often said that I sold more bikes on my days off than when I was working.

The thing was, I could never follow those lists of "effective sales techniques".  When I did, I sounded like a telemarketer reading off of a script.  Invariably, though, I would get into a conversation with the customers, and start telling stories about great rides, or the history of bicycles, or whatever.  And (this was key) I would listen to their stories and, from them, determine what bike would work for their needs.

I was pretty good at matching people up to bikes.  And, luckily, Destinations was not one of those shops where we were told to move a certain product.  Scott and I both agreed that we would rather build a rapport, and a trust between us and the customer, and keep them coming back in the future, than just "move product".

But, Scott was a real salesman.  He could do that "win friends and influence people" sort of selling.  So, he found my technique amusing.  It was the "homespun folksiness" thing, as far as he was concerned.  And it wasn't long before he did actually start referring to me as "Uncle Remus", after the storytelling old man in Disney's The Song of The South.

I didn't mind, though.  I knew it was all in good humor, and Scott knew I was an asset to the shop.  Plus, he treated me well enough, because of that.  For instance, he sent me to Moab for a 5-day, 4-night supported camping trip around the White Rim Trail, the first year I worked there, so that I would have more stories to tell about Moab.  He knew on which side of the bread was buttered.

So now, almost 20 years later, I do have a lot of stories to tell.  I have told you 365 of them, and I still have more.  And, since people have asked me to continue the blog, I don't see any need to stop telling them.

I think I will continue telling stories, but I am going to cut back on the schedule, a bit.  I have so many adventures planned, this coming year, that I can't commit to a story a day.  Maybe 3 or 4 per week.  And, they may not all be about bicycling, I may just tell some tales.  So, if the bike content is all you come here for, I am afraid you may have to pick and choose what to read.

But, if you just want a story, I've got a million of them!

Thanks for reading.

x

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's New Is Old

I will make no bones about it:  I will never own a bicycle with electronic shifting.  If, for some reason, all of the mechanical shifters disappear, I will ride a single speed bike.

Electronic shifting from Shimano and, now, even Campagnolo is all the rage.  It's the latest and greatest!  It's new!

Or, is it?

Scott had a Browning Automatic Bicycle Transmission lying around the shop, back in the mid-1990s.  It consisted of a crankset with articulated chainrings, and a battery-powered shifter which moved the hinged portion of the chainring to either capture the chain from a smaller chainring or drop it down from the larger chainring.  It's marketing hype was remarkably similar to that of the new stuff.

It eliminates the weight and friction of a cable!  Shifting action is instantaneous!

Whatever.

The  Browning was way ahead of its time.  The electronics of the day didn't allow it to work as well as it might have so, thankfully, it never caught on.  But, even if it had worked like a charm, and even if that new crap works like a charm, I just don't want it.

I simply don't want to have a battery on my bike which is necessary for the basic function of the machine.  The thing I like most about bikes is that they are mechanical.  They are rather simple machines which perform way past their complexity.

Electronic shifting adds much more complexity than performance, and I am not impressed.

x

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hands Free

A while ago, I told the story of learning to ride with no hands on the bars. That story ended in bloodshed (twice) and a spanking from my grandmother.  Since that day, I have gotten a little better at riding no-handed.

The best bike I ever had for no-handed riding was my 1997 DiamondBack V-Link Pro.  That was the best-riding, most stable full-suspension mountain bike I ever rode, in general, actually.

One day, Val and I were riding in Moab.  It was one of 3 times I had ever gotten her to go to Moab, and I planned the week's riding around her abilities.  On this particular day, we parked close to the highway, and then rode the jeep trail to Gemini Bridges. 

On the way back, there is a pretty long downhill, which is never very steep.  But, it slopes enough that you can coast at 15 or 20 mph on some stretches.  On that hill, as Val and I rode along, I happened to let go of the bars and sat up to stretch my back.  As I did so, I realized that the bike was tracking straight and true, so I just rode along with no hands for  a while.

"Put your hands back on the bars!"  Val yelled.  "You're going to kill yourself!"

Of course, that made me curious as to just how far I could go, with my hands off of the bars.

"I'm fine,"  I told val.  "I'm just resting my back."

And so, we rode.  Val was staring daggers at me, and I was just booking along, enjoying the downhill.  Eventually, we got back to the trailhead parking lot, and I grabbed the bars.  Val was so mad that she barely spoke to me int he car, all the way back to town.

One of many reasons, I suppose, that Val is the ex-wife...

x

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Documentation

It's funny to think about how many photos and videos of bikes and bike rides exist on the internet.  The digital camera revolution changed the way that we think of documenting our rides.  As Bike Snob NYC says, "If a fixed gear rider doesn't video his trip, did he actually ride?"

Back in the day, we didn't take nearly as many photos of our bikes, our rides or each other.  In the Dark Ages of my youth, and up to just a very few years ago, if you wanted to take pictures you had to purchase a camera and film, then pay again for processing the film and printing the photos.

Then, if you wanted to share those pictures, you either had to lug a photo album around and show them to everyone, or you could use a photocopier to badly reproduce them and mail out a newsletter-style document.  In that case, you got to pay, once again, this time for copies, stamps and envelopes.

How much easier it is, today:  Buy a digital camera and a memory card, and you are done.  Take hundreds of photos, load them to your computer and then post them on a blog or email them to everyone you know.

I sort of wish that we had that technology when I was a kid.  I don't have a single photo of my Spyder Bike, nor any film of the rides I took all over the area around Calvert City, Kentucky.  I don't even have a photo of the Hideout, at the Dead-End in Donelson.

I guess that everyone takes all of the documentation for granted, nowadays, and it's only dinosaurs such as myself who even think about it.

x

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tempo

Once I had gotten to the point that I was comfortable riding the rollers, I began to listen to music as I rode.  It helped to pass the time, and just generally made life on the rollers more pleasant.

One of the things that I found was that time seemed to pass more quickly when the music was fast-tempo stuff.  So, I listened to a  lot of Van Halen, Reverend Horton Heat, The Ramones, and such.  It never occurred to me that the music not only made the time go by more quickly, but it also made me ride faster.

One day, not too long before I bought my house, I was riding the rollers in the dining room area of the apartment on Sherman Street.  At that time, I was heavily into Stevie Ray Vaughan.  His early albums had been remastered and re-released on CD, so it was more convenient to listen to him than it had been when I had most of his stuff only on vinyl.  I was listening to the "Couldn't Stand the Weather" CD as I rode.

One of my favorite songs on that album is "Tin Pan Alley".  It is dark and moody, and has a terrific guitar solo in it, as well as some of Stevie's best vocals, ever.  The problem is, it is also a rather slow song. 

I got into a near-trance state, as usual when riding on the rollers, and I was really digging the song.  Unconsciously, I slowed my pedal cadence as the song went on.  I pedaled more slowly, and more slowly.  Then, when the song ended, I stopped pedaling altogether.

As the bike started wobbling on the rollers, I snapped out of my reverie, and desperately tried to regain equilibrium.  Unfortunately, I ended up on the floor, with a nice chunk out of my right shin.

I put "Van Halen II" in the CD player before I got back on the bike.

Lsson learned...

x

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Day Ride

The first year that we lived in Columbus, Ohio, corresponded with the first year that I owned a mountain bike.  We did our normal New Year's Eve partying, and got home at about 3:00 in the morning.  I woke up at about 11:00, and in an effort to allay my hangover, I got on my bike and took a ride.

Oddly, the exercise made me feel better, and I decided that taking a ride on the first day of the year might be a good idea.  So, I made a tradition of it, even though I rarely do any partying on new Year's Eve, nowadays.  In the past 24 years, I have only missed a couple of New Year's Day rides because I was out of town without a bike (and, once, I was sick).

For a while, I incorporated the mountain bike club into the ride.  These last few years, I have let it be known that I would leave from the coffee shop at a certain time, and I invited anyone who wanted to go to accompany me.  But, the last two years have been disappointing.  Last year, only one person showed up.  So, this year, I just took a little ride by myself.

I like starting the year with a ride.  It just seems to set a good precedent for the year.

x