Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bill's Half Century

A little birdie told me that my Pennsylvania pal Bill W. is turning the ripe old age of FIFTY. I'm a little late posting this congrats, but in my defense, that same little birdie threw him a big ol' surprise party on Friday, so any earlier and I would have spoiled the surprise. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Bill was my boss at my last bike shop gig, the now-sadly-defunct Laurel Highlands Schwinn in Latrobe PA (yes, home of Rolling Rock beer and Arnie Palmer). I've already mentioned him in a rant about the economy, but I figured in honor of his big birthday, I'd devote a post to what I'll call Bill's Greatest Hits. These little snips of my favorite Bill stories might not stitch together into something coherent, but hopefully by the end, you'll have a pretty good picture of a pretty good guy.

I first met Bill thanks to a really lucky coincidence -- I'd followed my wife out to western PA for her work and to give myself space out of grad school to finish up my thesis. The catch was, I couldn't maintain my sanity as a full-time thesis-writer, and my wife's salary couldn't keep both of us fed. So we looked up the bike shops in the area (since I did still have one marketable skill that grad school hadn't beaten out of me) and paid Bill's place a visit. Turns out, his mechanic at the time was leaving, so after a quick grilling to see if I actually knew anything (confession -- I faked it), I was hired.

Working for Bill pretty much ruined me on every boss since. I mean, c'mon, the guy used to pay me just to hang out and play darts in the slow season. We rode laps around an indoor obstacle course. We tried (with no success) to learn how to ride a unicycle. I can't count the number of times he bought Jioio's pizza for lunch (man, do I ever miss Jioio's... and they have a MAIL ORDER PIZZA link on their site! But it's not working! Pizza tease!) And what kind of boss holds an annual Christmas cookout of deer burgers made from a deer he took down himself with a bow and arrow? (If I remember correctly, we got a friend/team rider/customer -- who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent -- wasted on cheap wine at one of these get-togethers until he passed out in a chair in the back of the shop, waking up every once in a while to slur/shout, "WHAT TIME IS IT?!?")

Now lest you think it was all fun and games at Laurel Highlands Schwinn, Bill and I did have our one near-death experience in the shop. Ooh, cue ominous music, right? We were working together on an overhaul for a Cannondale Headshok suspension fork. If you're not familiar with that procedure (because who is?), it involves a special "castle" tool that unscrews and removes a top cartridge inside the steerer tube, exposing the guts of the spring/damper mechanism. For some reason, this one was giving me grief, so Bill helped out. Little did either of us know that we'd both forgotten to bleed the air pressure out of the shock before we started -- which was the one "DO NOT EVER FORGET THIS" all-caps warning in the manual and in the handy service video with Nigel the English Cannondale Service Video Guy. As soon as the threads loosened, the cartridge shot out of the steerer like a mortar shell, ripping the castle tool out of my hands and missing both our heads by inches before shattering the fluorescent lights over our heads and putting an impressive divot in the ceiling. A couple inches either way and one of us would have been taking the other to the hospital. We laughed about it later... much later, once our hearts slowed back down.

I laughed a lot around Bill. Nobody keeps a straight face and stretches a good joke out better. When PNC Bank got the naming rights for a stadium in Pittsburgh, Bill had me completely convinced that it would have windows in the bathrooms so you could keep watching the game while you were at the urinal. I bought this for what seemed like hours (because it does sound like a good idea, right?) before he dropped the "Pee and See Bank" punchline on me. If Bill has a good joke, just watch out -- nobody's safe. And he'll sell it to the bitter end until he finally cracks himself up. And if you want to spring any sort of practical joke on someone, hit Bill up for ideas. I'd like to take credit for all the ways I tortured Junior Mechanic Chad "The Great Chadolini", but most of the good ideas were Bill's... and I suspect he was behind a lot of the pranks Chad used to get me back.

One of those sick, sick jokes was our "shop people only" Spinning class. We sold and serviced all the Spinning bikes for a local health club, so they told us that if we got together enough guys on a Sunday morning, they'd do a class just for us. Anyone who's ever been on an all-guys group ride can imagine the scene as a dozen of us swaggered in snickering at the thought of getting a "workout" from this tiny little female aerobics teacher. Fast forward to an hour later, when swaggers had become staggers and we were all struggling to keep breakfast down. If Bill hadn't taught me the "pretend to turn your resistance dial instead of actually turning it" trick, I never would have made it through a second class.

Our actual outdoor group rides were a piece of cake by comparison, since they usually involved a coasting contest. Unless I'm mistaken, Bill is still the undisputed champion of the coasting contest. You can draw your own conclusions on whether that's due to his (ahem) greater mass or just his buttery-smooth Dura Ace hubs. Since it's his birthday, I'll go with the hubs.

I've probably rattled on long enough, even though I've barely scratched the surface. So, before my two readers who aren't Bill nod off to sleep, I'll just say congratulations on the big five-oh to a great boss, a great friend, and a great guy. Bill, any time you find yourself in Iowa (opening that kite shop you and Chad were planning, maybe), you're welcome here at the House of Noodle. And the next time I find myself out in Westmoreland County, you can probably drop my fat butt like nobody's business going up Laurel Mountain. I'll give you a good run down the other side during the coasting contest, though.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Clark Kent Commuting

The new home brings with it a new, shorter commute. The front door of The Cycle new-and-improved World Headquarters is just one stinkin' mile away from my cubicle.

I have issues with change. Mess with too many variables in my usual routine and I get kind of twitchy. So the first day I rode to work from the new HQ, I did my usual: Wake up early, dress in bike clothes and clipless-compatible shoes, pack work clothes, ride to work, change to work clothes, work all day, change back to bike clothes and clipless-compatible shoes, ride home, and change out of bike clothes. In other words, for about a 20 minute round-trip, I spent a solid 45 minutes changing clothes. Dumb.

Since Day 1, I've adapted myself to a civilian commute. I put flat pedals back on the daily driver and started riding that mile in my work clothes and shoes. It's an adjustment, I'll admit, but so far, it's been a worthwhile one. I get to sleep later since all that transition time is gone -- I just ride to the office, lock up, and stroll to my desk. I get a lot more flexibility too, since I no longer feel like I have to pop into the phone booth and come out in my superhero clothes just to ride. Hit the grocery store on the way home? Sure. Ride straight to a restaurant for dinner with my wife after work? Why not? Hop on the bike at lunch to hit a good restaurant on the other side of downtown? Yep. It feels like being on foot, only faster.

The downside, obviously, is that I'm less inclined to take the long way home and "turn a pedal in anger" (to quote the legend Phil Liggett). Time will tell if this change in my commuting style makes me fatter, or if the lack of exterior maintenance on the new casa frees up enough time that I can get more of those angry pedal-turnings outside my commute.

(The other downside to the new domicile? Small garage! If I weren't the custodian of Steve K's old Raleigh International, I'd feel almost obligated to cut back to just -- gasp! -- ONE bike to conserve space. Thankfully, that International is just too darn nice to vote off the island.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Now It Feels Like Home

I found the nearest local coffee joint to the new domicile: Smokey Row.

It's just a few blocks up the "hill" (those scare-quotes are for my readers who live places where there are actual hills, not the geographic pimples that pass for hills here) from the new World Headquarters. Bottomless cups of tasty dark brew, yummy cookies, free wi-fi, and a good vibe -- not corporate at all (yay, locals) but not "we're way too hip for you, old man" either. It's also big enough to cater to my agoraphobic tendencies... I actually have a decent swath of caffeine-consuming real estate all to myself instead of having to go all Swayze on people: "This is MY coffee space, this is YOUR coffee space." And -- super double bonus -- tonight's patrons include a snarky local weatherman (pardon me, meteorologist) who's trying really, really hard to pretend that he doesn't notice being noticed, but still can't resist giving that "yep, you really are seeing ME" smirk to the noticers. Hilarious.

(You may now mock the postmodern cliche of me writing about trying to look like I'm not noticing someone who's noticing that he's being noticed by someone else. Done? Good.)

I fear I will waste a lot of time (and put a lot of miles on my kidneys) here. In fact, I'm wishing I had the laptop from The Company (that one run by The Man) instead of my netbook so I could do tonight's site deployment from my booth.

Nutshell review: Two very twitchy thumbs up. Time for another refill!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Cycle Relocates!

The big move is done, and we're settling in to The Cycle World Headquarters 2.0. Apologies for the lack of bike content, but I just wanted to let my reader(s) know that I hadn't fallen into a hole.

Two moronic moving foibles on my part, for your entertainment:

"Um, honey, where's the hardware for the bed?"

Yep, I lost the bolts and nuts that are absolutely necessary to assemble the bed. Found them at about 11:00 p.m. the night of the move and just barely got the thing put together (with much assistance from a rightfully-irritated spouse) before midnight. Doh.

"Oh, crap, my cell phone is dead. Didn't I just have that charger?"
Yeah, I'm that guy. Had to go to Radio Shack yesterday (slogan, courtesy of Steve K: "You've got questions, we've got blank stares.") and pay my $30 idiot fee for a new charger.
On the bright side, all the bikes do fit in TCWHQ 2.0's smaller garage (don't have to vote any off the island) and the new workshop (also located in TCWHQ 2.0's garage) is gradually coming together. I was very well-behaved during the move too -- didn't hover around the movers while they stuck the bikes in the truck (adopting a "don't ask what's getting scratched, don't tell them what to do" policy) and only hovered a little when the bikes came off the truck. Thankfully, no harm was done to the fleet, or to anything else for that matter.

Now, if I could just find the box where I packed my sanity...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mysteries of the Interwebs

One of my favorite bike websites is the abandoned little corner of the 'net known as the Bike-Pro Buyer's Guide.

I wish I could tell you what the deal is with this site. It's packed full of excruciatingly detailed writeups of an amazingly wide variety of components. The catch? It's as if the people running it were wiped out by some mysterious alien microbe in 1995, yet the site... kept... running. It always gives me a creepy feeling to surf the guide, kind of like the sailor in Nevil Shute's
On the Beach who has to go ashore to find the source of the random radio signal emanating from the irradiated ruins of Seattle (great book, by the way -- assuming you're interested in a fictional account of the aftermath of global nuclear war, of course.)

So, as long as the benevolent and/or clueless overlords of Bike-Pro's domain will allow, you can don your radiation suit and read a review of Shimano PD-M737 pedals as if they're still current cutting edge (scratch that, there's a mention of the "new" 747 coming out in 1995) from right here in 2009. Not obscure enough? How about 13 different types of "current" bar-ends and another 10 that are described as "no longer made"? Kids, a "bar-end" was an extension we clamped on to the end of our flat mountain bike bars to provide an extra hand position. What's a flat mountain bike bar, you ask? Sheesh, just hand me my cane and go back to texting...

For someone like me with a fetish for all things MTB of the mid-90s, the Buyer's Guide is a gold mine of forgotten memories from a time when just about anybody who could CNC a blocky component and anodize it rainbow colors hopped into the bike parts business. Meanwhile, Shimano quietly made the greatest mountain bike group ever, M900 XTR. Oh, M900, how I coveted you on my $5 an hour mechanic's salary, yet even on employee purchase you remained tantalizingly out of reach (I love how Bike-Pro never misses a chance to describe XTR as Shimano's "eXTRa expensive group of components.") When I think of all the dumb things I bought when I could have been saving for a full-XTR Stumpjumper... sigh. (Though I wasn't
too dumb, since I bought an engagement ring and an LX-equipped Rockhopper instead... and guess which one has lasted?)

Where was I going with that? Dang, even I don't know. Digression! Digression!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Overcompensate Much?

Spotted on my commute home: A car with a rooftop bike rack (bikeless) and a sticker on the back with this simple message: 53x11

Seriously? 53x11? As in, 126.6 gear inches on a 700x23 tire? As in, 45mph at 120 rpm on that same 700x23? (Math courtesy of the late, great Sheldon Brown.)

Here's a tip: If you can turn it, you probably don't need to advertise it.
Just sayin' is all.

(Slice of humble pie: I was struggling to turn over a 42x18 at the time. So what do I know?)