Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Angel In The Details

The shop where I got really good (if I do say so myself) at bike mechanicking had a zillion-or-so point checklist for each new bike assembly. Each time you grabbed a boxed bike out of the back, you also grabbed a copy of the checklist, checked off every item as it was completed, signed it (signed it, for Pete's sake!), wrote the bike's serial number on it, and slipped it into the owner's manual, which was then hung from the handlebars on the sales floor. In a test of my almost-40 memory, I'm going to see if I can recall everything on the list, in no particular order:
  • Hubs adjusted
  • Wheels trued, rounded, and dished (tires had to come off)
  • Tires/tubes installed and inflated to recommended pressure
  • Cassette lockring tightened (if applicable)
  • Excess cable housing trimmed (yeah, seriously... we pulled all the cables out and cut the housing to just what was needed to let the bars turn)
  • Cables lubricated and pre-stretched
  • Derailleurs adjusted (and you better not be caught using the barrel adjusters -- "barrel adjusters are for customers")
  • Brakes adjusted (ditto on the barrel adjusters, and woe upon the mechanic who didn't have his pads striking his perfectly trued rim square, centered, very close, and with just a whisper of toe-in)
  • Cables ends trimmed and capped
  • Bottom bracket checked (these were the days of the ubiquitous cartridge BB, so no adjustment required -- just make sure it's not defective or poorly installed)
  • Crank bolts torqued to manufacturer's recommended spec (yup, a torque wrench had to touch every bike at least once)
  • Seat tube reamed (okay, so we didn't ream them, just gently flex-honed every one -- no seatpost zig-zags allowed)
  • Seat post greased and installed
  • Stem quill greased and installed (yes, quill stems -- I'm old, okay?)
  • Saddle installed (level with the ground and centered on the rails)
  • Pedal threads greased, pedals installed
  • Headset adjusted (you had to drop it out of the workstand for the "bounce test")
  • Handlebar clamp area greased, bar installed and set at an appropriate angle.
  • Brake and shift levers set at an appropriate angle (I believe we shot for 45 degrees on the then-ubiquitous MTB controls, though the checklist wasn't anal enough to specify)
  • Quick release skewers greased and properly installed
  • All factory reflectors installed (fronts and rears had to be perpendicular to the ground)
  • Test ride (yes, you had to ride everything you built)
  • Bike cleaned (no grimy mechanic fingerprints after all that)

Whew! I'm sure I've forgotten something, but there you have it. And once you got a system going, you could pop one of these out in 30 minutes, easy, even with this level of detail and care. We used to say, "Some shops build bikes, and some just put them together." (Dumb and pretentious, I know, since we weren't really "building" them, but it shows you that our shared compulsion was a point of perverse pride.)

Okay, so the point of all this? I finally got around to taking the cosmic ray deflector off my snazzy new Raleigh Clubman the other day. Now, I'd noticed right away when I got the bike that the hubs were dead-on perfectly adjusted -- none of that too-tight factory adjustment notchiness that some shops let slide. But it wasn't until I pulled the wheels off and took out the rear skewer to get at the cassette that I saw it: the telltale cylinder of grease hanging off the threaded end of the QR skewer. They don't come from the factory that way. Somebody at Skunk River Cycles (credit where credit is due, I say) dipped those skewers in goo when they assembled the bike.

Do "lubed skewers" (hey now, this is a family blog!) mean that the bike was lovingly assembled from top to bottom? I don't know, and I won't until I get the bike out on the road for an extended torture test. The cable housings are a little long for my taste (he said, knowing just how nuts it made him sound). But the fact that somebody paid close enough attention to dab a bit of grease on those skewers makes me think that maybe this bike was built, not just put together.


Anonymous said...

Good to see that a shop had a standard process for the wrenches to follow, and even included a bit of personal accountability! Nothing like putting your name on the work to instill a bit of shame if someone should find a sign of carelessness.

Not naming names, but I did help a friend buy a bike from a shop in St. Louis once, and was surprised to find the hub bearings binding! They are still in business, so maybe it just slipped through??

I may have to visit the Skunk River Cyclery sometime... do they give better service if you come in with a 30 year old jersey with the old SRC logo from the days Micheal's sponsored some of the best riders in the country? (such as Andy Hampsten) Those were the days!

Steve in Peoria

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Well, Steve, the unfortunate coda is that the shop where we did the checklist is no more. In fact, of the five bike shops that have given me paychecks in my life, only one is still in business. It's why I quit working in shops... I'm obviously killing them.

The accountability was a nice touch, though -- if you were trying to sell a bike and something on it was screwed up, you knew exactly who to razz. And obviously, knowing you could be razzed made you even more careful.

I was very impressed by the guys at SRC during my interactions with them -- there are some blog posts in the hopper about my purchase experience I just haven't had the time to write up yet. Wish they were down here in DSM rather than 30 minutes away in Cyclone-land, though.