Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Support Your Local Shaman

       This Is Back Story, So Stay With Me...

Here in East Central Florida we define the seasons by what is happening Up North, or “Back in the States” as some of the Old Timers here in the Whiskey Pines like to say. When cattle are freezing to death on the Plains, we put on long sleeve shirts. When national news agencies show images of World Record Icicles in Buffalo, New York, we start thinking about Christmas shopping and wear a sweater on the Morning Ride.
Be that as it may, I sit here just now in pretty cold weather waiting for the sun to rise a little higher and get it's ass to work so that I can move about outdoors with less pain in the muscles and bones and brain pan, although the brain pan part ain't actually weather-related, except that those shots of Schnapps are pretty much a seasonal thing...

A Perfect Record

The New Old Bicycle Shop failed miserably, failed by default. After growing tired of waiting I finally rode over there to see what was happening with the wheel. Had they removed the offending freewheel or not? No. It was sitting in the same spot by the cash register where the young mechanic had placed it when I first dropped it off. I asked him for the wheel. I watched him look around aimlessly until I finally said to him, “it's right here.” He picked it up, handed it to me and said, “I'm sorry, but the other mechanic had the tool for that and he was afraid to break it.” I didn't know if the lad meant that the Other Guy was afraid to break the tool, the wheel, his hand, or the unbroken streak of not giving me what I wanted at this infernal so-called bicycle shop.

Sometimes You Gotta Listen To The Voice

OK then. I pedaled on back to my own little storage unit- drinking hideout-bike shop and laid the wheel on my bench. I stared at it hard. I grabbed a beer. I drank some of the beer and reached for those really big channel locks I had purchased many years ago for god knows what. I took another drink from the beer and glared at the wheel. I raised the channel locks over my head, but was stopped by a little voice that said, “step away from the bicycle.”   I told The Voice to shut up because the bicycle was over there and this was that damned accursed wheel that I had to destroy to repair and then The Voice said “Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Better get a hammer.” Well, now, me in my perniciousness was not going to do what The Voice said this time. I wasn't even sure who The Voice was, or why he had a Brooklyn accent. So I put the giant channel locks down on the bench, opened another beer and stared a little harder at the wheel. I took a big slug of beer and got right down there and stared at that damn wheel really hard and tried to turn on my x-ray vision and see what the hell I was going to have to do to get those gears off and replace that spoke and get those gears back on and get a little riding time in on this old Schwinn 12 speed that I wasn't even sure I liked all that much anyway. And as I stared The Voice came back and this time it was the good old affable midwestern voice of calm maturity and wisdom that I almost never listen to but I am always glad I did when I finally do and this time the voice said, “Maybe if you go slow you can do a limited destruction.”

Limited Destruction Is Not Very Satisfying

Limited destruction is not very satisfying but I knew The Voice was right and so I got out the big pipe wrench I had used as a chain whip the previous year when I did the Mongoose single speed conversion. I clamped it on the gears. I got the giant channel locks and got a precarious grip on what I was assuming was the lock ring holding the gears in place. I gave a turn. Nothing. I bent over and summoned some huge inner strength I keep stored away somewhere and REALLY gave those channel locks a turn. They slipped off the ring and slammed closed with all that inner strength I had just summoned and slammed my fingers together and hurt like hell, hurt so much that I actually yelled “Ow” and then yelled some more words I won't mention here. But I knew I was on to something so I hunkered down on those channel locks and gave it such a manly twist that something was going to have to give, and it did: those damned channel locks slipped again and slammed my fingers together again and man, it REALLY hurt this time! Argh! Total destruction of the wheel was looking better and better and I stormed around the shop cussing and kicking things and squeezing my hurt fingers with my other hand and just waiting for The Voice to open his big mouth so I could shut it for him. But The Voice Is Wise and at the moment was wisely not around. I went back to the bench and stared at the wheel some more and tried to come up with a new idea but then I noticed something, an infinitesimal shine around the base of the ring I had been trying to turn. Had I moved it? No, wait! What I was seeing was the beginning of separation of two rings that I had thought were one ring. WTF? I got out some smaller, more normal sized channel locks and fitted them to this new ring. I got a manly and pretty nervous grip on the wrenches and gave a powerful (for me) but controlled turn and the damned thing turned a full turn! It turned and moved and I would have danced a jig if I knew how, I turned the wrench a few more times and there it was. I pulled the ring(s) free and about three hundred tiny little BB like ball bearings came out and bounced all over the shop floor.

Well, after thirty minutes spent scrambling and crawling around with an empty spray paint lid looking for those damn little balls I stood up, placed my cup o' balls on the bench and reached down to proudly pull the gears free of the wheel.

Remember, Archimedes Never Heard Of Bicycles

But they didn't come off. Then I remembered that it was necessary to spin the gears off, this was a thread-on free-wheel hub, old school as hell. And this presented a dilemma. I had broken, stripped the recently purchased removal tool back at the beginning of this wheel ordeal. And the gears were still in place. And while I had convinced myself that I had done everything correctly, there was a nagging doubt I could not shake. This was a bicycle, after all, and not everything on a bicycle adheres to the old Archimedean Law of “Righty-Tighty, Lefty-Loosy.” So I wasn't sure that I had turned that removal tool in the right direction. My new policy of limited destruction was working out pretty good. I was fairly certain that I had failed to find all those little BB sized ball bearings, but that seemed fixable enough. And the wheel was still intact. So it looked like the only solution was to clamp the gears in my trusty bench vice and give that wheel a mighty yank to finally break free those recalcitrant cogs. But I couldn't decide which way that mighty yank must be directed. These bicycle parts, even these old-school bicycle parts, are made of highly malleable alloys. This would be the final yank, an irreversible yank that would decide the success or failure of this project.

Everybody Deserves A Second Chance: Plan C

I needed expert advise. But where? I wasn't going back out to the motor sports bike shop by the Interstate. The other closest bike shop was an hour's bike ride away...BUT... what about the Homeless Janitor Bike Guy? THAT LBS was right around the corner and after all, the guy had been right about the destruction thing. I was still a little nervous about the mysterious Closed-at-Noon situation and whatever those girls had been doing in the shop...but dammit man! I had to get this wheel fixed and everybody deserves a second chance so off I went to try again.

When I got to the shop I dutifully tried to enter through the front doors but once again, they were locked. But this time I looked at the business hours posted there and sure enough, they said “Business Hours 10-12/1-5:30”. So this was one of those crazy businesses that closes every day for lunch. I checked my watch and saw that it was 11:30. Of course it was.

OK. So I went around to the back. The garage doors of the repair area were open and the Homeless Janitor Repair Guy was inside, doing something to a weird-looking Wal-Mart bike in the work stand.

     “Uh, Hello?” I said. “I know you guys are closed for lunch, at least in front...does that go for you too?”
     “Oh, I don't know,” he said. “What have you got there?”
     “Well, this is that wheel I brought over awhile back. You said I would have to destroy it to get the gears off, and so I took it back to my shop and messed around with it. I got a couple rings off and some bearings fell out, but now here I am. I'm not sure what to do next.” I held the wheel up like a nervous parent offering a child to a priest for baptism. In fact, there was something of the holy man, (or at least the shaman), in his demeanor as he bent over the wheel and peered through his half-glasses at my offering.
     “Oh yeah,” he said, “I don't remember that. But here, let me see what I can do.” He put down the tools he was holding and took the wheel from me. He flipped it over gear side down and headed for the bench vise on his work bench. Here we go, I thought. He clamped the gears in the vise and gave a hard turn counter clockwise. Lefty-Loosey! I hoped he had it right. He did. He spun those damn gears the rest of the way off with a casual twist of the wrist. He turned to me and showed me the free hub. “This thing's no good anymore. We'll have to order a new one.” This was worrisome. How much was a new one going to cost?
     “How much is a new one going to cost”, I asked.
     “I don't know”, he said. “Let's look in the book.” We went over to a table and he picked up a worn catalog. He thumbed through the pages and found what he was looking for. He took a stubby pencil from somewhere and wrote down the part number. “It's $12.95,” he said. My relief was palpable. He could have said a hundred dollars. That's what the motor sports bike shop out by the freeway would have said, I was pretty certain.
     “Oh, that's fine,” I said, “Do you need me to pay now, or make a deposit?” He looked at me with a kind of unfathomable expression. At least unfathomable to me.
     “No, that's alright,” he said. “Why would you pay now?” Why indeed. Then it hit me. Standing there in my less than snappy wardrobe, holding a wheel off an old crappy ten speed, fifty-something and worrying about how much this simple little part would cost...he thought that it was me that was homeless. Oh delicious irony!
     “How did you get into this line of work,” I asked. “I mean bicycle repair.”
     “I was an airplane mechanic for forty years,” he said. “I retired a couple years ago and found myself sitting around bored so when they started this bike business I said I would run the repair shop.”
     “The Wright Brothers were bike mechanics before they got into airplanes,” I said. I'm always telling people that. I don't know why.
     “Well, I guess that means I've come full circle,” he said.
     “How much do I owe you for labor?” I asked.
     “Nothing”, he said. “Stop trying to give me money. Come by Friday. That freewheel should be here by then.”

Whispering Pines Trailer Court and Bicycle Emporium


  1. Tim,
    I've just found your blog after reading your guest post on the Fat Cyclist's page. I'm so glad you started a blog!

  2. Thank you Angie. I like my early stuff the best. Theses first pages where there are no comments are actually polished up writing from my personal journal. TJ

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