Smooth shifting

My bike hasn’t shifted right for about two years. Various diagnoses, no effective treatment, so as with all lifestyle illnesses, I’ve lived with it. Getting it to go down a cog requires finesse, timing, and coaxing. That’s just the way it rolls.

Somewhere along the way Deb Banks texted me. “If you need a place to rest up near Olympia, let me know. I have good friends there.”

Turned out I did need a place to rest up, and wasn’t particular about where. So I texted the friend, Corey Thompson, who happens to be an amazing framebuilder, hard-ass randonneur with two Paris-Brest-Paris finishes under his belt, and magician bike wrench.

He and his wife Stephanie ushered me onto their farm and pointed out several likely places to camp. I chose the one off in a corner under a giant spreading tree. The ride from Centralia to Olympia had been incredible. Outside Olympia there is a rails-to-trails bike path called the Chehalis Western Trail that goes for miles through beautiful forest.

Corey and Stephanie served up an amazing dinner that included some great stories about Paris-Brest-Paris, such as attempting it on a tandem and having the weather drop into the 30’s. Wit rain. In August. And then there was the roadside kitten that Stephanie thought was a hallucination but if it was, Corey had seen it too.

The farm had a plethora of chickens, roosters crowing in the morning, and Gwendel the cat who did an excellent job mousing. However, the roosters had been separated from the hens because the hens were too young for rooster-hen business, and the roosters were all so depressed that they refused to crow at daybreak, crowing instead around 7:00. Or maybe they were just depressed by the shelter-in-place order due to the covids. Or maybe it was because the roosters all had girl names.

“The hatchery told us they were hens,” Stephanie said. “But when they started crowing and chasing the pullets, we became skeptical.”

I also got to see the extraordinary craftsmanship that goes into Corey’s hand-lugged steel frames. He’s been building frames since he was a kid, but has done it full time the last few years.

“Would you build me a frame?” I asked.

“Are you patient?”


“Okay. It’ll be ready in 2024.”

I’d been having trouble with my disc brakes, in addition to the fact that I have no idea how to service them. “That’s no problem, but I want the bike to run caliper instead of disk brakes.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Really? Why?”

“Because I have no idea how to work on disc brakes.”

“It’s not that difficult to learn,” he said with the typical look that mechanics have as they contemplate the sad mental state of a human who owns a bike but cannot maintain it.

The next morning I got up at 5:30 to begin what was going to be a long day, and heard the tapping of raindrops. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m finally going to have to cook in the rain, pack in the rain, and ride all day in the rain.” I’d been dreading it.

As I girded myself for the day of rain riding Corey came by the tent in shorts and a flannel shirt. “Going to get bagels if you have any requests.”

“What about the rain?” I asked.

He looked at me. “What rain?”

I crawled abashed out of the tent and started making my morning coffee.

After amazing bagels I asked him if I could borrow some lube for my chain and mentioned that my brake had been squeaking. “Let’s throw it up on the stand and take a look,” he said.

As he “took a look” it turned out that the brake bone was connected to the brake line bone, which was connected to the master cylinder bone, which was connected to the shifter bone, which was connected to the cable bone, which was connected to the derailleur bone, and all of it was somehow connected to the crank bone.

Two hours later the entire drive train and brake assembly had been taken apart and rebuilt. I stared at it in glum depression.

“Hey, Corey,” I said.

“Yeah?” He had just finished sewing up the chest cavity with the new heart and liver transplant.

“You know how last night you said that working on brakes wasn’t that difficult to learn?”


“Neither is astrophysics. For some people.”

I rolled out of their driveway clicking away on gears that moved more solidly than they had the day the bike was brand new. And there was more magic than that. My tattered handlebar tape had been re-wrapped with all the tatters tucked away so that it was like new. It was as if I’d rolled in to get some chain lube and had rolled out with a new bike. The cat waved a paw goodbye. I think.


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5 thoughts on “Smooth shifting”

  1. Love your expression looking at the torn apart bike!

    Hope your route from Whidbey to Bellingham includes the coastal “Chuckanut Drive”. Nice little park along there if it fits with day end plans. 👍🏼

  2. Yay!!! So happy to see my friends meet my friends. Also glad to hear you are on Corey’s waitlist (as am I). By now, you are approaching the border… gonna get really interesting.

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