I went back to the bike shop around the corner and asked the mechanic to swap out the nonexistent brake pads that li’l Joey Cooney had loudly hinted I should replace. This is of course the same Joey who rides around on threadbare tires, proving the old biker maxim that it’s better to talk shit than to do shit.
The shop was closed, which made sense because it was in the middle of the day, and no one in Vienna seemed too concerned about working when they didn’t have to. However, Martin’s shop dog, a big Weimaraner, stood at the door and dared me to come in.
The two-hour lunch break ended at 2:00 and I only had fifteen minutes to wait, but you’d be amazed at how slow time crawls when it’s 41 degrees outside and you’re standing in the drizzle wearing a t-shirt. “You are back?” Martin asked reappearing at exactly two o’clock. “In Vienna we do not wear the t-shirt in winter.”
“Yeah. I need some new, how do you call these? Brake pads.”
“Gummi,” he said and motioned me in while the Weimaraner growled. “Do not worry. He does not hurt anyone until the biting.” He put the bike up on the stand. “So,” he said “why are you actually here in Vienna? It is cold in November you know.”
I shivered. “Yeah. Well my son is getting married and we’re here for a week or so.”
This explanation didn’t appease him. “Yes, but you see it is cold here and raining so we were wondering,” he nodded over at the guy who was leaning up against the wall “why you are here with the bicycle and only wearing the t-shirt?”
“I figured I kind of need to get to know the lay of the land so I brought my bike. And I’ve got a coat back at the motel.”
“Yes, but why are you with the bicycle in November in the rain and the coat in the hotel? There it will not keep you warm too much. Some people bicycle in such times but only because they must. With fenders and jackets because outside it is cold.”
“I dunno, I didn’t know how bad the weather was going to be.”
“But you have the searching Internet and can check weathers easily it seems. It could not have been too big a surprise finding cold in Central Europe during winter and you said you are from Kalifornien and so we are wondering,” he nodded again over at the dude holding up the wall “why you are here?”
“Look, dude,” I said, “I like to ride my fuggin’ bike, okay? I been here once and I’ve seen all the fuggin’ museums I care to see. I don’t care if it’s cold or raining or snowing or if you’re getting fuggin’ annexed by Germany. I just wanna ride my bike. And if I can ride the fuggin’ thing with brakes, that would be awesome.”
He nodded. “This must be the American style. Here in Vienna when it is very cold and raining we do not adventure to the outside on our bicycles and certainly not in the t-shirt with the jacket in the hotel.”
“How many days a year is it not cold and raining? Two?”
“Only a very few,” he said, finishing up with the brake pads. Then as punishment for being so stupid as to come to Vienna in winter with a brakeless bike and not be wearing a jacket he charged me 75 Euros, which is like $4,000 US. “Can I advice you?” he asked.
“Why not? I suppose I’ve paid for it.”
“Are you working on your own bicycle yourself?”
“Yeah. I put it together when I got here.”
“My advising to you is to not do the bicycle work for yourself. Perhaps it is not your profession or strong point.”
“Whatever, dude. I got trained up by Boozy P. before I left so I could take the bike apart and put it back together. Boozy P. is as good as they come.”
“The taking apart is not so difficult as many children can do this. It is the back together putting that requires some attention and experience. Do you see this?” He held the front brake and tried to move the front wheel forward. The whole front end rattled like a loose set of dentures, with enough play in the headset to fit a small marching band into it.
“This means you have not tightened the bolts correctly or at all. In a few more kilometers you will lose all steering and perhaps the head tube of the bicycle will shatter from back and forth movement, likely on the downhill with high speed over very hard cobbled stones.”
“Shit,” I said.
“Yes,” he continued. “If you prefer I can make it wholesome, but you only requested the gummi so I did not want to perform an annoyance.”
“It would have been more annoying to lose the steering at 50.”
“Yes, but perhaps it was the American style, as with t-shirt in winter. Right Udo?” He glanced over at Udo, who nodded. “Let us see if we can make it wholesome.” He loosened the stem bolts, tightened the cap on the steerer tube, then used the torque wrench to snug everything up. “This way you will ride Austrian style, with everything not falling apart in the middle of the pedaling.”
“Thanks, dude,” I said.
“It is not a problem. I have included it in the price.”
Suddenly the 75 Euros seemed like the bargain of my life. The Weimaraner came over and licked my hand. “See you around, Martin. Thanks.”
“It is nothing,” he said. But you know, it was.
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