Tuesday, May 11, 2010

37 Me, Meet 22 Me

Spent Saturday celebrating the third birthday of Wilson the World's Coolest Older Nephew, and -- as a favor to my sis/bro-in-law -- tuned up their bike fleet. (Aside: hi, Mark!)

Although you might not believe it, a three-year-old can make an outstanding Junior Mechanic in Training/Assistant Tuneup Specialist. 
  • First, they can help you see things you may have missed through an absolutely relentless application of the Socratic method. Even the smallest detail was met with questioning, from replacing brake pads to wiping the snot from my faucet-like nose (weird cold spell plus lack of toddler-germ immunity plus allergies equals bad news nose.) 
  • Second, if you have a bike up in a workstand and the front wheel needs some spinning, call a toddler. That kid can run up an odometer like nobody's business. 
  • And finally, Wilson showed astonishingly precocious talent when it came to inflating tires -- or as he called it, "putting gas in them." Pretty astute, as air is in fact a gas. Of course, being toddler-size, he was pretty much doing chin-ups on my floor pump -- which tapped his toddler attention span after about four strokes, so he wandered off to do something else. 
One particular tuneup was a strange flash-sideways for me. My sis is still riding on the 1995 Specialized Rockhopper that I sold to my since-gone Dad 15 long years ago. It was quite a treat to see how the old beast has held up since I first pulled it from the box as a punk kid mechanic at the now-defunct Iowa City location of Racquet Master Bike & Ski*. The bike even still has the little rectangular foil shop sticker on the downtube, right where I left it back in 1995. 

The amazing thing? Just how tight (in a way-too-young-for-me slang sort of way) that bike is after all these years. It traveled from Iowa to Illinois (where my dad rode it), then was temporarily gifted back to Iowa City for my then-just-a-significant-other to ride. When she was nuts enough to accept my marriage proposal and uproot to Ohio, the bike came with us... and lived on a porch for a couple years until I bought her a bike of her own. Then the Rockhopper went back to Illinois. After Dad passed away, my sister inherited it, and -- it seems -- rode the crap out of it.

Yet after all that, it snapped to adjustment in 2010 like it was fresh from the box again. Brakes didn't need to be touched. Bearings all felt good. Bolts were tight. The circa-mid-90s Grip Shift shifted like... well, circa-mid-90s Grip Shift (i.e., not great, but no worse than you'd expect from a cheap plastic twister).

I'm flailing for the moral/wrap-up, so here it is: I beat on bike shops a lot in these pages. And I buy a lot of my bike junk online, bypassing both the bricks and the mortar. But if you don't happen to have access to a snarky old ex-mechanic, you could do a lot worse than to find a good shop (note that I said a good one) and pay the extra few bucks it might cost you to get your stuff there. Back in 1995, I would have put our shop wrenches at RMBS up against anybody -- yep, anybody -- for deadly-accurate assembly and repair. Heck, if you could load that motley crew into a Delorean, I'd put the '95 Racquet Master staff up against the best of the 21st century. And although I've long since lost my touch, I was darn good at 22. The proof is in that old Rockhopper.

*The magic interwebs would seem to indicate that Racquet Master still exists but has just relocated, refocused on ball-smacking sports, and abandoned the bikes and skis.  

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