Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wheels, bike shops and fixies

Warning: Long (and probably boring)

I didn’t do any bike repair or wheel purchasing on Sunday like I planned, because I both hung out with my law school friends, and spent time dorking around trying to get my DSL to work.

Monday night after work I had to scramble to try to get new wheels for the Julep in preparation for the 'convert your bike to a fixie workshop'. Her front wheel was an unrideable POS, so I stole the wheel off the Bianchi. I had previously removed the chain from the rear cassette/derailleur, and couldn’t quite figure out how to get it back on properly. I ended up jerry-rigging a weird set-up whereby the chain only went through one of the derailleur disks, and just rubbed oddly on the other one. I can’t quite explain it, but I think I did it backward, because the derailleur couldn’t move at all. Anyway, there was a gear that worked perfectly with this amount of chain. The chain was damn near rusted solid, too. I slathered oil on it and hand-spun the pedals until it moved relatively easily. Then I pumped air into the rear wheel and hit the road with my Frankenbike.

I rode fully expecting this jerry-rigged contraption to completely fall apart at any moment. At first, riding was quite hard, but after a few blocks things loosen up and became easier. I was giggling my ass off the whole way, because of the squeaking and squeeling noises my mount made. Weirdly, the pedals also couldn’t turn backwards. Somehow we made it to RT without any malfunction or accident. My plan was to bike to Rapid Transit and get new wheels for the bike—a fixed rear, and a replacement front. After the stop at RT, I only had less than a mile ride to West Town Bikes, the sit of the fixie workshop, where I would lock the bike and wheels up for the night.

My friend Sam, a mechanic at RT, shook his head at my rear derailleur set up. He was busy with another bike and after I gave him a brief run-down of my plans indicated that he would help me in a few minutes. I wandered to look for another lock and came back probably two minutes later: The Julep was hanging on a stand, stripped of her rear wheel, which was in the process of being taken apart by a different mechanic.

“Ummm….actually, I am planning on buying new wheels—so I don’t need any work done on the rear.”

--“Oh, well your front wheel is great and doesn’t need to be replaced. I just overheard snippets of your talk with Sam and thought you wanted this rear mess fixed.”

“No, I’m getting a new fixed rear wheel and converting it to a fixie. All I need is for it to be rideable to WTB.”

Poor boy—his face fell as he realized that what I was nicely trying to convey was, “Thanks, but you are only causing work for yourself, because I never asked for anything to be repaired.” I brought the bike into the store to make sure that the wheels I bought were correct for the spacing of the frame NOT for any work to be done.

So the nice mechanic tried to put the wheel back together—and had an awful time doing it. He couldn’t find parts that ‘it must have had’ and his professional pride wouldn’t allow him to re-install the wheel until the hub was fixed. Apparently it is a pretty good hub because it has an internal bearing system (?). He tried to excitedly explain it to me, but to me it looked as though he was just pointing at metal, while words like cones and sealed ballbearings were loosed from his tongue.

It was very frustrating, because I spent well over an hour there, but didn’t even get wheels. I felt sort of guilty for having the mechanic spend so much time on my bike and was worried that I would be expected to pay for labor (Fuck that—I didn’t request any of the ‘work’). Plus I was annoyed because I had hoped to see a screening of “The End of Suburbia” at a nearby artspace. Instead I was stuck at the bike shop after it closed waiting for my bike to become rideable again.

In the middle of this mess, I finally spoke with Sam and we started talking new wheels. He said that they didn’t have any fixed hub wheels in stock and that it would take about a week to order one. His suggestion was that I contact Kevin at Boulevard or Marcus at Yojimbos. Grrrrr. None of the front wheels that they had in stock were narrow enough for my wishes—once again it would take several days and the other shops were my best bet. Fuckity Fuc Fuk Fuck. It was too late to go to another shop (and my bike still wasn’t rideable!).

Then, after the shop was closed and I was just hanging out with the mechanics/employees I started to receive unsolicited criticism about the bike from one employee in particular (CW): “Your seat is adjusted far too low and forward for your height; that stem seems awfully short, your cables look like they are too old and slack, the derailleur is shot.” Even though I had said the following about a dozen times, he couldn’t get this through his head: “I just bought the bike from Working Bikes for the frame to convert to a fixed gear. Besides my jerry-rigging it to ride it here, I haven’t done any work on it yet.” I think this should convey the idea that I understand it needs work/adjustments, and that any talk of derailleurs and brake cables are moot. Grrrrr.

I didn’t fucking ask for his advice, I didn’t ask for the cassette to be removed from my wheel or my hub to be worked on. I was trapped there because one employee didn't listen to me and now I had to deal with another employee who didn't understand the situation because he, too refused to listen. LISTENING is an important skill—learn it. My time and the mechanic's were wasted because he first mechanic jumped to a conclusion after overhearing bits of a brief conversation.

CW was also disparaging people (myself including, I assume) who buy pre-built wheels…”it is such waste of money, and building wheels is so easy.” Then he began mentioning classes he teaches about wheel-building and bike-cleaning. No Fucking Way. I am interested in learning more about building wheels—but there is no way in hell that I would voluntarily take a class from this guy.

This sounds like a really negative accounting of my experience—and certainly parts of the evening were. However, Sam is great. He listened to me and gave me the facts of the situation and advice on what to do about the wheels, instead of just trying to push the store’s wares. Additionally, when he heard my plan to lock the Julep up on the rack outside of WTB overnight, he offered to ride over there with me so my bike could be secure indoors (he co-teaches a class and has a key). After the rear wheel was reinstalled and the bike was mobile, and after I had lost all illusions of catching the movie, it was nice being in the store waiting for Sam. The mechanics and staff are all very nice and (besides CW) also very cool. Hanging out with them in the workshop was overall, pretty fun. CW is just clueless and doesn’t realize that what he considers being helpful while sharing his passion for bikes comes across as condescending and rude. Basically he is oblivious. I actually ended up learning quite a bit about bikes and wheels, but certainly not in the way that I would prefer.

I think I will try to replace the heavy steel rear wheel on the Superman with the rear wheel currently on the Julep. Learning how expensive wheels are makes me less inclined to just buy new wheels willy-nilly. I think I will still get the Superman a new front wheel, though—because it seems seriously out of true and again made out of heavy steel.

After taking the bike to WTB, I had a pleasant 1.5 mile walk back to my apartment carrying my Bianchi's front wheel.

I just spoke w/ Marcus at Yojimbo's Garage and he has the wheels that I will need. I will either pick them up Thursday morning before work, or if I need them tomorrow night, he will arrange a time for me to get them (normally he is closed on Wednesday). How cool is that? He doesn't know me from Adam, but he is willing to be flexible to help me out.

So I think everything will be timed right for the fixie workshop tonight. I am so excited! I hope to be able to ride her at Critical Mass on Friday. Yippee!!

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