Monday, August 24, 2015

All or Nothing Town

Summer resort towns survive on the frantic seasonal surge. The residents hope that the blur of activity leaves enough cash behind to weather the many months in which the whole outside world forgets we exist, except for the occasional mention on the Tonight Show.

Wolfeboro squeezes a bit more income out of fall foliage and winter tourism, but summer is the big money maker. All. Then nothing.

We're teetering at the edge of that drop into nothing right now. The only reason the shop has seemed busy is that we are running with two people most of the time, and never more than three. We used to need a daily staff of three, with four or five on busy weekends and holidays.

Why do people ask, "How's business?" When I start to tell them, their eyes glaze, they fidget, and they change the subject.

Your obvious capitalist high roller types look delightfully uneasy when some shop clerk starts to lay out detailed observations about the vanishing middle class.

From now on, when someone asks, "How's business?" I'm going to say, "What are you, an economist?" Or I'll just say "F#&k off!"

When Wolfeboro was really booming, in the 1980s and '90s, the resident middle class was mostly land pimps and contractors. It was filled out by school district employees, some professionals, and the few small business owners who were actually generating some profit. There was also a smattering of super-commuters driving to Concord, southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts every work day. All this so their children could be raised in the small town fantasy of a cultural backwater devoid of real opportunity. But it's pretty, and there's virtually no street crime.

Young adults drive any economy, and they can't thrive here. When the boom was big, young adults were servicing it. They raised their families and spent optimistically. But now the kids are grown, the young adults are aging and the money seems harder to get, and wiser to hold, if you can.

The same aging has taken down the seasonal residents. Extended families used to come here for weeks. They might come and go during the summer, but there always seemed to be a contingent around. As age and economics attack those numbers, fewer people come. Some families even sell the lake place. The new buyers don't seem to have the mindset or the finances to fill the region with hustle and bustle from the end of May to early September. The town is turning more and more into a retirement area. The third world economics of the region help a little, just as they do in foreign countries renowned for affordable retirement fortresses. Just keep the poor folks outside the compound and you'll be fine. New Hampshire may cost a little more money, but you're still a tad less likely to get carjacked or invaded here than in some banana republic. Between the residents who remain unwilling to give up basic courtesy, and the ones who still believe in "job creators," most of them will touch a forelock or at least nod pleasantly to the silver-haired benefactors who dribble out a bit of their investment income in return for a secure place to lay their heads.

Even Jimmy Fallon, for all his enthusiastic lip service, really only shows up for Fourth of July weekend. This year he didn't even do that, because he was having his finger sewn back on. I'm not sure if Mitt was around. They're not where the money is made, anyway. The rare birds just provide some color and excitement for those inclined to be excited by such things. The anonymous masses with moderate means used to bring the real lifeblood. Big flocks of quail provide more meat than a handful of eagles. A lot more.

If you're capable of intellectual detachment about your plight, you can see that the rich -- who really are better than the rest of us -- only need so many flunkies. Everyone else is just a drain on society's resources. I have operated under the hope that the culling will be gradual rather than cataclysmic, and that I can continue my modest, comfortable life of genteel poverty by scurrying along the baseboards to fetch my crumbs unnoticed. Writing inflammatory crap like this might seem to run counter to that philosophy, but I hardly expect anything I write to go viral. I have the sense not to blow the gig by getting into any pointless arguments with visiting plutocrats. Even though most of our summer plutocrats have taken up the smokeless moped, they still come in and trickle, and their machinery is amusing. I just have to avoid getting a hernia, lifting one of those behemoths into the work stand. I would rather work on an e-bike than a gasoline-powered moped, so that's something to be thankful for.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Busy, crazy, hazy days of summer

Your handlebar tape should not smell like a sweaty sock. And maybe you should see your dermatologist if it does. At the very least, burn your cycling gloves and get some new ones, because they're beyond washing at this point.

I did not say this to the customer who came in with a sudden case of skippy gears on Saturday. I think he'd already headed off to drink and snack in a nearby cafe while we performed whatever instant miracle we could devise. I doused the tape with Lysol before getting near it again. It was white tape, a little grubby but not outright grimy. Something must have been fermenting under the brifter hoods, though. I resisted the urge to set the Lysol on fire.

That rider's gears skipped in the mid range because the rear derailleur pivot was corroded, so the derailleur stuck in the fully-extended position when he rode in the Ned gear. The Ned, named for its most famous proponent, Ned Overend, is the full cross from big chain ring to biggest rear cog. Here was yet another newish road bike suffering from abuse and neglect. The left crank arm had a coating of orange rust all over it because of the rusty water oozing out of the bottom bracket bearings.

Fancy-zoot modern frames with internal cable routing and inset headsets and whatnot have all these entry points for water. It checks in and it doesn't check out. It flows to the lowest point. It gets in from riding in the rain. It gets blasted in from driving in the rain with the bike on a rack. It forms inside from condensation when a bike is stored in a space with wide swings of temperature and humidity. Because no one has to do overhauls anymore, it remains undisturbed for months and years.

I was able to flush out the crud with floods of spray lube and restore full function to that derailleur. The customer was laudably appreciative. He did not say anything about the disinfectant odor hanging over his slightly damp bar tape. Perhaps his pungent gloves kept him from feeling or smelling that anything was afoot. Or no longer quite so much like a foot, anyway.

Some time after that I was doing a "tune up, rear brake pads, call if anything else" repair. I had knocked off the major points when I noticed one pedal seemed to be unthreading from the crank arm. This sometimes happens. If you're lucky, you can thread it in and it will stay. If not, the wiggling pedal has gouged out the threads in the crank arm.

Closer examination revealed that the other pedal was also protruding. Even closer examination revealed that someone had managed to thread the left pedal into the right arm, and the right pedal into the left arm. Things had jammed up about five-eighths of the way in, so they called it good enough.

I was able to extract the pedals. Then I had to run taps through the threads from the back side, starting in the undamaged threads, to establish the proper angle. I should have added to the charges for this, but I did not want to play phone tag and try to explain a weird problem to a customer who wouldn't understand it anyway, so I got through it as quickly as possible and ate the labor on it.

Mid-week a woman rented a road bike. She had brought her shoes and helmet, but forgot her jersey with the handy pockets in the back. When she left the shop she had all her little items stuffed in her bra and the waistband of her cycling shorts. She was a humorous person, and obviously practical in a quirky way. She rode off, oddly bulgy.  When she returned the bike on Sunday morning, she had what looked like a nice piece of banana bread in a plastic bag, stuffed into her cleavage.

In a companion to Bike Shop Gynecology, I had male customer looking for a saddle that would not only support his pelvic bones properly, but also keep his genitalia from "flopping around." I asked if he wore proper cycling shorts, whose constrictive fabric famously inhibits "flop." He said he did. Fortunately, he did not try to show me the problem. I tried not to imagine what sort of hefty, flaccid apparatus could still manage to flop when constrained by the well-constructed 'nad prison of proper bike shorts. I urged him to pursue his own research program.

About an hour into Sunday morning, a rider came in from the road, with the bike in one hand and the chain in the other. His rear derailleur had been yanked around to the top of the dropout when the chain jammed in it after it parted at the "speshul pin," as they so often do. Because he had the chain, I was able to gauge it and determine that it had been worn past the end of the scale before the pin popped. That meant the cassette was toasted. The middle and outer rings were also worn to where they would not properly engage the chain. The rider agreed to a full drivetrainectomy and replacement, if I could dig up the parts from what we had in stock. He did not want to wait for anything to be ordered.

Of course it turned into a scavenger hunt. To duplicate the gearing he had, I was going to have to take apart a 10-speed cassette and re-space it to make a tighter 9-speed than what we had on the shelf. The rear derailleur had to be scavenged from a trade-in road bike we'd put on rental. We had no new chainrings to match his old ones. We'd have to hope the old ones would last the week so he could get home and get new ones. The used rings I found did not seem worth the trouble and expense to install if we did not absolutely have to.

When I called to explain his options, the customer liked the sound of the even easier gearing he would get with the 9-speed cassettes we had on the shelf. He'd had a 12-24. The cassette I was going to improvise would have been a 12-25. Our stock offerings were 11-28. Since we were putting on a new chain, the 11-28 was no problem. So that saved some time and fiddling.

With about 20 minutes before the shop closed, I had the bike back together. On my test ride it functioned well. I called the customer. He came right down, paid and rode off.

Minutes later, he rode back. The chain was slipping on the chain rings. I ride pretty lightly, so I had not gotten it to do that. He was misidentifying it as skipping in the rear. It was pretty dramatically slipping in the front when I rode it after he brought it back.

The chainrings I dug up were going to give him problems shifting, but they would at least hold the chain once it was on there. The middle ring was stamped steel, so it needed those annoying spacers that Shimano used in the 1990s when they were making thin chainrings. The crank was an FSA, so it had those annoying Torx chainring bolts. I didn't want to open any more Pandora's boxes by pulling the crank to replace the rings, so I was trying to do it with the crankset on the bike and the inner ring only loosened, not removed. The spacers I had were a little too thick to put the rings at the optimal distance apart. The drop to the middle was a little wide and from middle to little was a trifle skinny. I showed him all this on the work stand before turning him loose. We had to charge something for the fix, but I kept it as low as I could.

To add interest, increasingly frequent, increasingly strong thunderstorms were moving through the area. The customer had to wait for a gap after I finished installing the chainrings, while a downpour played out.

I'm sure there has been more, but I can't seem to find all my scribbled little notes to jog my scrambled little memory by the time I get to the end of a week. There's no time to post anything from work these days. As the work load shrinks so we can't afford ample staff, what remains is still more than enough to string out the couple of people who work on any given day. Even our crew of three on weekend days is fully occupied with the backlog and the walk-ins. So funny stuff happens, but it rushes downstream and is lost in the river mist.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A time to herd, a time to let 'em run

Even with a massive investment in road improvements, a lot of places in this country will still have narrow roads shared by all users. Terrain, geology and well-established land uses encroach on rights-of-way.

On my commute, Route 28 gets narrow and bendy as it comes into Wolfeboro. The token shoulder disappears. In theory, no motorist can safely pass a cyclist without putting themselves and oncoming traffic at risk.

As I developed my own theories about traffic management a couple of decades ago, I started taking a position further and further into the lane. When the law in New Hampshire made that formally legitimate I experimented with strict herding in that twisty section.

After a couple of seasons I abandoned that method. It made impatient motorists do hideously dangerous things and cranked up the flame under hotheads. Now I ride to the far right through there. It's as close to serene as it will ever be. Granted, I've had some big stuff breeze past my elbow. But when I herded I still had some big stuff go by my elbow, and they weren't breezing.

I would rather have a driver skinny past me, knowing that they don't want to waste time on an accident, than have them seething behind me, wanting more and more to kill me. In nearly every case, I get a bit more room when I let them slide. Because the road is twisty, they aren't screwing around with their phones or other distractions. I figure my odds are about as good as they're going to get.

Further in, where the road straightens and is further constrained by curbs, I move back out into the lane to inhibit stupid passing behavior. The pitch of the road allows me to maintain a speed around 20 mph -- faster when I'm fresher -- so I don't feel like I'm imposing quite so much. Mind you, 20 mph in a car feels wretchedly slow, but soon enough we get to a wide place where I can release the herd to run freely again -- as freely as anything gets to run in Wolfeboro in the summer, anyway. What really happens is that I let them go and then hop in behind them as we all tool along at a very bikeable pace, with them happily in front of the "slower" vehicle.

In a region of narrow, country roads, I ride nearer the right than the center most of the time. I want to be in the forward field of view, even for someone with windshield-induced tunnel vision, with a little wiggle room to the right to ease a squeeze. That one's tricky, though. One squeezer at or near the head of a line can open the space for a convoy to come through in a flying wedge. Even with a rear-view mirror you can't always tell how many vehicles are building up back there. You have to watch the road ahead more than the reflected view. You also have to make some psychological assessments before you open -- or close -- the gate.

The simpler method is to hold that right-of-center, left-of-right position tenaciously. If a driver really pushes the point, use your wiggle room and look for a place to slingshot as many followers around you as you can.

When you get swept aside you may have to slow down a lot. In congested areas with driveways, intersections and parked cars, if you can't stay out in the flow you have to go slowly enough to be ready for ambushes from the side. I hardly encounter urban congestion at all. Where I do, I can keep up with the motor vehicles well enough to stay in the lane. In Wolfe City it's only for a few blocks. In the height of summer's crowds, a bike rider needs to be ready to stop in an instant anyway, because the next bonehead could come from any direction, on two wheels, four wheels, or walking.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

What's lunch like where you work?

Someone in management thought Mimosas would enhance their parade viewing this morning.

She left the fixin's on the Bayview desk.

As much as I say my job drives me to drink, actually doing so at work does not improve either my day or the ride home afterwards. But the Mimosans today were not on the clock. They just didn't clean up after themselves.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Devise and Conquer

A bike mechanic should do more than absorb and repeat the industry's latest technical information to keep pushing the wave of product rollouts down the long shore of history. The master of the craft knows you have to deal with a lot of other stuff that washes up in front of you after drifting derelict or perhaps breeding in the depths.

A minor challenge that has bubbled up in the last decade is, "where do I put the blinky light on this bike?"

The lights themselves usually come with various mounting options. Some of them actually solve the problem effectively. But the combination of seat height, seat bags, and other factors can make the mounting more of a token gesture. Why have an in-your-face flashing light when you end up mounting it down around hubcap level?

Yesterday I had to put Superflash lights on two low-priced bikes with sprung seats and suspension seatposts. This is a combination that makes on-bike mounting difficult, especially with the trend for frames with low stand-over clearance. The suspension mechanism on the post and the thickness of the cushy saddle mean that the solid part of the seat post may be buried in the frame. Even if a bit of it shows, it may be so low that the light is practically eclipsed by the rear tire.

Your average blinky user will not clip it to their clothing. That's too much to remember. They want the light on the bike. There it will remain, while its first set of batteries dies, bursts and destroys the circuitry. So I should not care whether the light is in the best possible location. But I can't help trying to do things in a neater, more functional way if I can.

After studying the bikes yesterday I realized I could take a bolt out of the seat spring assembly on the left side and devise a mounting point that would take the seat stay clamp provided with the light.

Step one: longer bolt. The nut has a step on it which will engage the hole in a washer that will form the top of the mount.
A metal washer and a rubber faucet washer go on the bolt next.
At this stage the bracket is assembled with a section of aluminum ski pole, a bottom faucet washer, a bottom metal washer and a nut to hold the whole thing together.
Here is the light bracket in place.
It's Superflash!
And there you have it. Ready to blink.
 
The rear rack limits how low the seat can go with this rig, but that would be as true with any other seat post mount. Mounting to the seat stay just puts the light down in the ground clutter.

Not a momentous accomplishment, but a nice little craft project.
 
 
 
 


Friday, June 19, 2015

If we like you, you get zip ties

Does this look like a lot of zip ties to you? Big G packed this bike about a year ago for a customer who was moving back to Santa Cruz, CA, after a few years working in the Boston area. The customer had always been friendly and appreciative. Big G went all out on the swaddling and securing.

The customer decided to bring the bike back here and buy a new one for out there, so he never unpacked it. It will stay here for visits back east, to the in-laws.

Here are all the zip ties I removed from the bike:
It seemed strangely interesting that these basically disposable items, which we had already salvaged from new bikes we were unpacking, had traveled all the way to California and then returned to us, still in re-usable condition. They've logged more miles than I have in the past 12 months.

The bike had some fascinating mold on it. I wished I had a camera that could capture the details of the microscopic Dr. Seuss forests scattered around on bar tape and brake hoods. It was even growing on the frame and the broad spokes of the Mavic wheels.

Some days my job is just so darn interesting. Right?

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