It was a crazy busy Labor Day Saturday in the bike shop, a bike shop I’ve only used once before.
“Hey, man, my handlebar tape’s shot. Any way you could wrap my bars for me and slap on a new tire?”
The harried owner grabbed a ticket. “Sure,” he said with a friendly smile.
“Oh, man, I’m so sorry to ask this, but could you do it, like, now?”
His workstand was empty, and he gave me the quick up-and-down lookover, standing there as I was in my NPR kit and covered in sweat. Bike shops are funny. If you’re halfway polite and you need something done so you can ride your bike, they tend to give you priority. There’s nothing a real bike shop owner hates worse than not being able to service a cyclist who needs something in order to actually ride right now.
“Can you wait thirty minutes?”
“Of course. Man, I really appreciate it.”
He nodded and wheeled my bike around the counter.
Then, in walked Safari Jim. You know how you can tell some people are assholes before they ever open their mouth? They might as well have “I’m an asshole” tattooed on their forehead, because you know at first glance that “This dude is an asshole.” And he always is.
This particular asshole had a jaunty, very expensive safari hat on his head. You need those in SoCal because you never know when you’ll have to shoot, gut, and skin an elephant. “I need some wheels,” said Safari.
I glanced at the ceiling of the bike shop, which had at least fifty wheelsets hanging on hooks. “You’ve come to the right place,” said the owner.
“I’m looking for the Shimano WH-9000 carbon/aluminum clinchers.”
“Well, that’s lucky, because I have a pair right here.” The shop owner took down the wheels. They were absolutely gorgeous.
“These are $1,300.”
“That’s too expensive!” said the asshole. “I can get them on the Internet for $1,100.”
This is of course the reason I don’t run a bike shop, because it’s the point in the conversation that I would have said, “Well, maybe now is a great time to start clicking your mouse and get the fuck out of my shop.”
But the owner smiled. He waved his hands at his shop. “This,” he said “isn’t the Internet.”
Asshole didn’t back down. “You’re charging two hundred over the MSRP. I can get a pair of these wheels at a shop in San Luis Obispo right now for $1,100. See?” He held up his smart phone to show the owner.
I couldn’t stand it any more. “No, dude, you can’t,” I said.
He looked over at me. “Can’t what?”
“You can’t get those wheels in SLO right now.”
“Because it’s 4:00 PM on a Labor Day Saturday. With traffic you’re looking at a four-hour round trip drive. They’ll be closed when you get there.”
He swiveled back to the owner. “I don’t see any reason why I should pay that much,” he insisted. “What year are these wheels anyway?”
“These are 2013.”
“The 2014 are already out. Why should I pay more for an outdated set of wheels?”
I looked at his droopy gut, saggy bosom, and fat knees. “Dude,” I thought “whether they were made in 2013 or 1913 probably isn’t going to make you ride any faster.”
“I’d at least like to know the technical specifications for the difference between these and the 2014’s,” he said.
“Just a moment,” said the shop owner. “Let me see if I have that information.”
He looked uncertainly at me. “These are clinchers, right?”
“No,” I wanted to say. “Those are glueless beaded tubulars, dumbshit. And you’re asking for ‘technical specs’ when you don’t even know the fucking difference between a tubular and a clincher?” But instead I said, “You sure seem to be interested in those wheels.”
“I am.” Then under his breath he said, “I bought a new 11-speed Shimano group on the Internet. Got an unbelievable deal. Then I took them over to a different bike shop to build up the frame. No way I’m paying retail for a group, heh, heh.”
“So why don’t you get the wheelset at the other shop?”
“They don’t have it.”
“Can’t they order it?”
“I want it now.”
It was kind of impressive, the way this jackass was singlehandedly making every bike shop in the South Bay of Los Angeles hate his fucking guts.
The owner came back. “Do you live around here?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah. I live in Manhattan Beach. We’ve been there for five years now. My wife bought the house while I was on a business trip.”
The owner nodded. “I don’t have the new specs for the 2014 wheelsets yet, but I can try to get the Shimano sales rep on Tuesday to get you that information.”
“Well, I like these wheels but they’re overpriced for old wheels.”
“Dude,” I said.
“Did your wife really buy you an entire fucking house in Manhattan Beach while you were on a business trip?”
“Yes,” he proudly smiled. “It’s a very large and beautiful place.”
“I’m sure the fuck it is. And after dropping two mil on a house now you’re haggling with a damn bike shop over a couple hundred bucks for a pair of wheels? You fucking kidding me?”
He turned beet red. “Well, she and I keep our money in separate accounts.”
“I’m sure you do. And these wheels apparently need to come out of hers.”
He was now so embarrassed that he folded. “They are nice wheels.”
“Damn straight they are. Now buy ’em and slap ’em on that new bike. You’re gonna love ’em.”
He nodded at the shop owner. “I’ll take them. They come with covers and skewers, right?”
“Of course, sir.” The owner took his money and bagged the wheels and waved good-bye.
The mechanic had finished wrapping my bars and putting on a new tire. He grinned as he pushed over the bill. Amazingly, it was very, very, very cheap.