I had never been to Berkeley before. But I knew I was there when Banker Bob pointed out the stoner in sandals walking by the cafe in nothing but jeans and a cardboard hat with the crown cut out. A few minutes later he came by barefoot. We left before he decided to prance by again, fearing the next article of clothing he might decide to shed. Bob and I go back a long way, to junior high, in fact. We started cycling together in college when I got my Nishiki International and he got his maroon Fuji. Six cogs on the back. No lazy brakes. Very big deal. Last year we got together for a two-day ride in Solvang that included Mt. Figueroa. It was such a blast that we decided to do another ride this year, a Half a Man Tour of sorts.
The majesty of California
I got up at 3:30 on Friday, slammed a nasty sludge-cup of fork-thick coffee, loaded my bike into the car and set off for the untamed northern lands. Iwas so excited to finally get to see the beauty of this great state. As the coffee started to wear off around Bakersfield, I was awakened at the wheel by an overpowering stench of pig shit that roared into the open window as I zoomed by the first in an endless slew of hog farms.
In addition to the punishing reek of concentrated sewage, the air brought hit after hit of hydrogen sulfide, which at high concentrations can lead to brain damage. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that nineteen people died as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits. On the plus side, driving alongside several hundred of these stink factories for mile after mile ensures I was wide, wide awake. It almost felt like drafting behind Stinky T., minus brain damage.
Soon enough the sun rose, and I was greeted with the true beauty of California: endless expanses of barren land interspersed with monoculture crops of pistachios, presumably raised to fill the coffers of CBR prize lists. The soil seemed especially fertile for Republicanism, as every mile or so the good earth had sprouted a hate-laced billboard blaming “Boxer, Costa, and Pelosi” for the “Congress Created Dust Bowl.” It felt so much like Perry Country I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t back in Texas.
New School is the New Cool
The first thing I did after Bob and I hopped on our bikes for my maiden pedal around Berkeley Hills was to make fun of his 1984 Colnago. The Iron Nag is rusted through in various, has a carbon fork (?!?), and is one of the sorriest looking bicycles I’ve ever seen anywhere. Nor is Bob a slave to fashion, unless it was fashionable among Deadheads at Manor Downs in ’78. I razzed him for failing to upgrade to the latest and greatest stuff, and paid particular attention to his bright yellow Silca frame pump with the Campy head.
“Dude,” I scolded. “You could at least join the 21st Century for tire repair. These are the bomb!” I flashed my CO2 cartridge. “Change a flat in seconds and not have to look like some pervert fucking his wheel with that frame pump.”
Bob smiled. “Pretty, handy, huh?”
“Fuckin’ amazing. Plus, I put on some new Velox rim tape and a couple of new Conti Hardshells. They’re the best. One flat per decade, dude. Get yourself a new rig, some cartridges, a slick wheelset, and leave those dork blues behind. Trust me, bro.”
The mill of the gods grinds slowly but it grinds exceedingly fine. Except when it grinds quickly. Then it’s even finer.
Now Bob has ridden the Iron Nag a couple billion miles, and a whole bunch of them he’s ridden with me, and he learned long ago that whenever I start talking shit, the Karma Gods listen with particular care. So he wasn’t surprised when I flatted halfway into the ride.
“Is this the decade?” he asked pleasantly.
I ignored the jibe as best I could, which wasn’t very well. “You’re getting ready to see how the pros do it, dude. Quicker than a Texas virgin slaps on a condom.” We pulled over onto the shoulder and I got busy changing the tire. Bob stood in the shade, leaning comfortably against ol’ Rustbucket, watching with interest, and apparently prepared for a leisurely stop.
“That new tire looks pretty tight,” he observed, as I’d practically lost a finger getting the bead off the rim.
“Nah, piece of cake,” I retorted, my hand dripping in blood from the torn nail. I was, however, having flashbacks to yesterday, when Josh at PV Cycles had put on the tires for me. Josh has hands the size of a catcher’s mitt. He has forearms that are larger than my thighs. He has muscles in his wrists, fingers, and palms that could pry the bark off an old-growth redwood. His calluses are the kind they warn you about getting in Sunday school. And even with all that, Josh had broken a sweat getting those tires seated.
Bob raised an eyebrow as I got ready to pop the tire back onto the rim. “You doing that with your bare hands?”
I shrugged. “Nothing to it.” Truer words were never spoken, because after fifteen minutes of mixed martial arts with that fucking tire and wheel, there was still nothing to it. I was bleeding at the nails, had scuffed up my elbows, somehow gotten grease and dirt all over my face, and was panting. The tire now had me in a quarter nelson, and was prepared to deliver a front body scissors and double-leg grapevine just before I tapped out.
Bob leaned the Nag against a tree and ambled over. In a few effortless moves he’d seated the tire perfectly, then used a trick he’d learned from VeloNews to guarantee a no-pinch change. He handed me the wheel to air it up. “Why don’t you show me how the pros do it now?” he offered.
Dom wouldn’t have done it like this on the cobbles in Belgium
I had recovered my cool and slapped the CO2 to the valve, but mistakenly released all the gas without properly sealing the canister. It was my only canister, and now I got to stand next to my tire with frostbite on my bleeding hand. But I wasn’t concerned because I still had my “I sure am one stupid fuck” look to keep me company. “I guess this is the part where the pro doesn’t get his contract renewed,” I said.
Bob handed me the Silca frame pump. “Remember how these work? Just pretend you’re fucking the wheel.”
I aired up the tire to a solid 100 psi and off we went. We were quiet for a few minutes. “Didn’t you ride a steel bike until a year or so ago?” he asked.
“Um, yeah.” I said.
“And use a frame pump?”
A little more silence. “There’s a place online where you can buy them pretty cheap.” He looked over at me and grinned. But it was the grin of a friend.