Friday, June 8, 2012

He seemed like a good kid.


Jesus, with the fucking kids exploding into the bicycle shop screaming! They lay their bicycles in the middle of the floor and do everything possible to get my blood pressure rising. I'm getting palpitations from parentless youth amidst a floor of paying customers.

We tighten chains and turn wrenches on loose bolts. There are tons of kids in the neighborhood, and they all roam recklessly on department store BMX bikes. The chains are always bouncing off, and only about one brake in five is even ostensibly operational.


Kids come in yelling and interrupting.


Kids think that if they excuse themselves, you should stop mid-sentence while talking to a customer.

You don't want to reward insane behavior, but eventually you are willing to do whatever it takes to get them back outside. Usually you just grab a couple wrenches, tighten a nut or bolt, and send them away. Some kids actually say thank you as they ride down the steps in front of the shop.

If it doesn't seem important, we try to keep them outside. If the bicycle becomes non-operational or excessively dangerous, then we spring into action. It's always pro-bono, so the shouts of "HOW MUCH THIS? HOW MUCH THIS?" would almost be a good joke, if irritation didn't outweigh the absurdity. Considering that these kids never have a single dollar, the question is always moot.

I like helping with the basic repair needs of urban youth. When kids are polite, it's icing on the cake. I hate sending a kid away with something that we just can't fix for free. If I have the time and opportunity, I always prefer to help.

A polite kid entered the shop just before we closed our doors. He was alone, so he used a normal speaking voice. He had a tolerable volume and seemed to not be in a rush to run outside and fuck stuff up. His chain fell off.

I put the bicycle in the stand, draped the limp chain back over the coaster brake cog, and laid it over the teeth on the chainring. I turned the pedal and rolled the chain back onto the chainring. With a calm and polite manner, this kid told me that the chain was bent, and it wouldn't stay on. He pointed to a twisted link, and I saw that his diagnosis was correct. The chain was beat up pretty bad, and the twisted link meant that he needed a new chain. The shop can't give out free parts. It's not only a bad business decision, but more importantly, it sets a very dangerous precedent.

"How much is a new chain?" He asked shyly.

I didn't both to answer. I knew he didn't have any money, and even if he did, $10 is pretty steep for such a small guy.

"Do you have a few minutes?" I asked. "If you can hang out for a minute, I can try to take care of this."

He had time. So did I. It was the end of the day, so there were no other customers to help. I was just going to go home and smoke some pot, and that can always wait awhile. I clocked myself out, and got to work.

We have a small box of chain cutoffs. When we install a chain, we usually have to remove several links so it will fit. We put those links aside for the rare occasions when we might need to make a chain longer. I found the longest sections I could. In about five or six minutes, I spliced together many short sections until I had enough to make a whole chain. I installed the re-spliced chain, and it was as good as new. I assured the young man he owed me nothing this time. I made sure to explain that we couldn't always fix stuff for free, and hinted that he shouldn't advertise the fact that I had given him something for free. It was a special circumstance, and usually the repair would cost $15.

He nodded, and showed a humble appreciation as I unlocked the front door to let him out. He seemed like a good kid.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why'all Gotta Slash My Tire, Bitch?

I went outside this morning, and walked toward my trike. The trike is permanently parked outside, because I definitely cannot keep it inside. There is literally no space. It's not a matter of inconvenience or apathy - I live in a half-finished attic, and there are like... a thousand steps and doors between the street and my room. I already have two bicycles stashed in a common hallway up a flight of stairs. The trike is about as practical to keep inside as a horse farm would be.

In the many months the trike has lived outside, nobody has bothered to slash a tire. Until today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Appalachian Trail. In Documentary Form, Anyway...

On this night, I sat in my apartment in Philadelphia. I was in my cozy-comfy squatter-shack attic, and I was sitting in a golden-upholstered chair. I sat with a laptop burning my legs, and watched a documentary about the Appalachian Trail. I'm still thinkin' about it...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Upcoming Bicycle Tour: "We Ain't Ready..."

Man, we ain't ready for no fuckin' bicycle trip. Me and Kristin took a short ride in Landenberg. Ill preparedness was apparent on all levels. The bicycle isn't outfitted properly, and we're still walking on hills.

I wouldn't mind starting the upcoming trip from Pittsburgh to D.C. and needing to quit in the middle. I wouldn't mind that, but the associated logistical challenges are a bit overwhelming. If you can't finish by bicycle, someone will have to be called in to drive you home from some point along the trail. Then: does that stop the ride for everyone else? Who continues, and how do they get where they need to be?

As the planner, and the person whose parents are driving us home from D.C., these thoughts give me pause and concern. It makes me realize how much easier it is to go on solo adventures, where planning can give way to an approach of just winging it, and making decisions on the fly. I can fix anything, ride a bicycle anywhere, and hitchhike if it all falls apart. But I can't duck and weave if I'm carrying someone on my shoulders.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Day off

I took a day off. I relaxed and spent time at Kristin's in Landenberg.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Getting to Kennett by bike, bus, and minivan.

I left work and locked the doors. The sky looked like it wanted to say something unpleasant. I rode quickly toward the 69th Street Terminal, and about five minutes away, the sky couldn't shut up any longer. I was immediately drenched. In less than a minute, I was fully saturated. Then it hailed.

I put the Alpine Bicycle on the front rack of the 104 bus and found a seat halfway back on the bus, just behind the steps that go to the raised section toward the back. I like to look over everyone. I sat there wet and cold. Should I continue with my plan to ride in the dark from West Chester to Kennett, or should I swallow my pride and call in the cavalry?

I text messaged the cavalry.

I rested at Fennario in West Chester for about half an hour. I witnessed local culture in the form of high school kids horsing around. I bought a coffee and took my position as a fly on the wall. I smiled intermittently at kids growing up. I was a happy idiot in high school, and now this next batch of idiots is reminding me to smile. It doesn't mean much. Life doesn't have to mean a whole lot. You can put that worry in a drawer and make the best of monitoring your surroundings. You can sit with scalding coffee and press pause on trying to glean anything of substance.

The cavalry drove up in a minivan. I parted the hormonal sea on the sidewalk, rolled my bicycle into a minivan, and chatted with my folks on the way to Kennett Square.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My "Alpine Designs" bicycle takes flight.

I got the Alpine Designs bicycle in rideable form. This project had a lot of questions. Buying a frame sight-unseen from eBay is a gamble. You don't know how it will feel until you ride it. Swapping out the fork is a further gamble. Success is a bicycle that handles properly, is comfortable, and is fun to ride. Success is uncertain until you can ride the bicycle - pictures and words cannot provide all the answers.

Success! The bicycle is light and responsive. It has the predictable handling that I love from an older mountain bike frame. It holds a straight line hands free and is easy to maneuver. That's all I ask.

I locked the doors to the shop, clipped on my helmet, and prepared myself for the first ride. The acceleration was fantastic. I'm used to a heavy bicycle, which is almost always loaded to some degree with something. This light unloaded bicycle really took off. It was fun to go fast, and the bicycle was begging for it. I attacked a few short steep hills. I was absolutely able to FLY uphill, barely slowing down. The thin tubing of the frame felt resilient. It would flex and give a little over rough pavement, small potholes, and trolley tracks. This is a desirable quality in most cases, and I imagined the bicycle as a flying carpet as I sweated at the controls.

You know in baseball when a guy swings two bats around before going up to the plate? Then he swings one bat - it feels light in comparison, and he can crush the ball? On my way home I was crushing it. It was like - really fun.

Friday, June 1, 2012

My new Alpine Designs bicycle.

I'm still at work after closing. I'm running cables and housing on a new bicycle that is mine. I purchased a homely frame from eBay. It is a TIG welded frame built with Reynolds 853 - an exceptional, lightweight, and high quality tube set. The frame is labeled "Alpine Designs," which a bit of research reveals to be a short-lived Sports Authority house brand. To devalue the frame further, it is painted white and is dull and a bit scuffed up.

My winning bid was $184. I consider it a bargain.

The new Alpine Designs bicycle is going to get a thorough overhaul. Being a mountain bike frame from the late 90's, it came equipped with a suspension fork. Since I intend to ride primarily on pavement, my first job was to replace the Manitou fork with a suspension corrected rigid fork by Surly. Done.

I outfitted the Alpine with other stuff that I like: Northroad type handlebars by Soma, and a SRAM X9 gripshift. It has Sugino cranks, and a cheap SRAM derailer that I used on my first-ever bicycle tour (paired to a Shimano 600 downtube shifter!)

I didn't finish today. Instead, I drove the van through a rainy evening to deliver my tandem to Kyler. He's going to borrow it for awhile, 'cause someone should at least be riding it.