Bike shop story

September 13, 2022 Comments Off on Bike shop story

Bike shops are quirky places. I should know. I’ve been in tons of them. Quirky isn’t even the right word. They’re downright weird. And more importantly, if they aren’t, or if they don’t have at least one person “in charge” who looks like he bites the heads off chickens or believes that Gondwanaland will eventually be reunified, then run. Fast.

The weirder, quirkier, crazier the person in charge, the better the shop, no exceptions, except this one: It might not be the shop for YOU.

Needless to say, Wal-Mart’s bicycle section is not a bike shop. The bicycle sales and repair department in REI is not a bike shop. Anything owned and operated by Specialized is most definitely not a bike shop. And of course retail spaces whose primary inventory comprises e-bikes-I-mean-electric-motorcycles is not a bike shop.

Bike shops hover on the cusp of disaster but their owners don’t care. Rather, they care, but they care more about the philosophy driving their shop than they do about the dollars-and-cents thing. Bike shop owners are a lot like punk musicians. They would love to sell a million records but not if they have to stop calling everyone a “fucking cunt,” including agents, managers, producers, and record company executives.

I can smell a bike shop from a long way off, and on my recent travels as I entered Three Rivers I spied a sign so small, so tucked away, so camouflaged from the human eye that only a lifer biker like me would have ever seen it. In a car or even on a fast bicycle the speed would have eclipsed the tiny placard that said “Bike Solutions.”

Now let me tell you. A tiny sign on a highway designed for invisibility that doesn’t even indicate that it’s a bike shop is going to be a real fucking golden bike shop. That’s just how that works. And it so happened that after six days I needed two things, air in my tires and a checkup on my disc brake pads. But don’t get me wrong. Just because there was a sign didn’t mean that it was anywhere near the shop, or that the shop itself was signed. Far from it. The owner basically didn’t want anyone walking through the door who he didn’t already know, so after seeing the sign I had to troll around the little strip mall, riding through the outdoor seating section of a Mexican restaurant where I asked the waiter, “Do you know where the bike shop is?”

He thumbed across the way, and the stealth signage was matched by an equally stealth location: A small glass door with no sign on it at all. I peered through the glass door and saw the unmistakable signs of bike shop. Bike stand. Couple of frames hanging from the ceiling. Guy who looked like he had opinions, knew what they were, and wasn’t going to listen to your bullshit.

So I entered, humbly. His name was Tom Riddle and I instantly recognized him for the encyclopedia that he turned out to be. Before that, though, he checked my brakes and concluded they were fine, 50% left on the back, 80% on the front. I asked him if he could replace the rear pad and he nodded. In a few seconds I sized him up as a first-rate wrench. There’s a comfort and fluidity with bikes and tools and parts that comes with skill, and Tom had it.

His questions were circumspect and he didn’t display much emotion. I did my best not to come across as a braggy tourist or braggy anything, and in a few minutes he had given me great intel on where to stay and where not to stay, where to eat and where not to drink. I listened appreciatively as he filled in the gaps. This guy knew the area in amazing detail, and not just his area. I mentioned riding from Coalinga to the coast and couldn’t recall the name of the road that took me to Big Sur or the name of the army base I’d ridden through.

“Fort Hunter-Liggett, then Nascimiento-Ferguson Road,” he said. And that’s like 200 miles away.

He charged me $17 for the brake work and offered me a beer. Then he told me a few stories and admonished me to be sure and camp at the Hideaway, run by his friends. He also told me where I could get camp stove fuel, so upon leaving I headed for the Mercantile. They were out but the person told me I could get some at the Shell, so I rode over to there.

While paying for the propane and groceries, Tom stuck his head inside. “Found you,” he said.

“I didn’t know you were looking.”

“I put in the wrong rear skewer.” He held up my skewer. “I stuck in the one from the other bike I was working on. You were easy to find.”

Was I? He’d had to drive through town and have a pretty sharp eye to find me out. I don’t think the folks at the service bay in REI would have gone to the same effort, somehow.

I continued on to the Hideaway and it was a fantastic place. For $20 I had wifi, water, a great camp spot, and a dammed pool down on the Kaweah River, which I availed myself of in the scorching heat.

The campground also had a camp cat, Tope, and camp turkeys that roosted in the tree across from my tent. Best of all, the campground had a sense of humor. When I told Dave, the owner, that I’d been recommended by Tom, he fake scowled and said, “There’s the door, pal.”

On the way back from the national park I stopped at the shop and thanked Tom for his great advice and told him I’d mention the shop in my world-famous blog. Not sure he was impressed, but he’s a bike shop owner.

It takes more than bullshit to impress guys like that.


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