October 3, 2019 § 1 Comment
I still remember my first pair of cycling tights. I bought them at Freewheeling for $32, which was incredible because they were so expensive, incredible because they were made of some woolly-fuzzy material, and incredible because it was like I was back in Third Grade.
In Third Grade we had a Christmas program. Young folks won’t know or believe it, but that was when the entire school celebrated Jesus and sang Christmas songs and prayed to Santa, the dog of presents. We had Jewish students, non-Christian Chinese students, Indian students, and we lorded it over them, literally. Our dog was better than their dog because, presents.
No one cared about their sensibilities, either. No holy Jesus Present Day in your religion? Sucks to be you. The Jewish kids, especially my girlfriend Joy Silverstein, always tried to talk shit about Santa and Christmas. “We have eight Christmases, it’s called Hanukkah. We get a present every single day,” she’d say.
“That’s only eight presents,” I’d sneer. “Santajesus lets us have as many as we can get. Plus ours are all in one big pile.”
“Jesus was actually Jewish,” she’d retort.
“Why’d he leave and become a Christian, then, if it was so great?”
That always put an end to things until we got our math tests back and she’d be able to lord that over me, along with reading, spelling, and lunch.
In our Christmas program that year, I was an elf, one of Santajesus’s helpers. My mom had to make me an elf outfit out of green felt. Young folks will not believe it but parents were given homework like, “Make your kid an outfit. Here’s the pattern.” The parents, that is, mom, would then have to buy the fabric and sew it. Didn’t matter if you were a fucking M.D., which mom was. You still better be able to sew an elf suit if you was a lady in Texas.
Mom was a better doc than a seamstress, because the little felt onesie was a tad on the short side. But the weirdest thing about putting on girl’s clothes for a performance in front of the whole school and their parents were the green panty hose I had to wear to match the onesie. I still remember pulling them on and how they form fit over my skinny legs. It felt pretty good.
Anyway, on the night of the big program, all of us elves had to make a big circular huddle, lean in, and hubbub about the upcoming sleigh trip Santajesus was about to take. My back was to the crowd. I bent over, and the entire crowd roared with laughter.
“Man,” I thought, “us elves are killin’ it. We are funny AF.” The laughter got even more intense as I chuckled to myself. “Man, us elves are stealing the show. Santajesus ain’t got shit on us.”
The huddle ended but the laughter didn’t, and it wasn’t until afterwards that about 200 kids took the opportunity to come up to me after the program and tell me that I’d shown my ass to the whole crowd in my see-through pantyhose.
So buying those first cycling tights at Freewheeling brought back cross-dressing, exhibitionist memories of an ambivalent sort. I bought the tights anyway because Austin used to get cold in January, before we humans melted winter.
And the thing about those tights is that they wouldn’t stay up. You’d pedal a bit and pretty soon they’d be sagging in the back and bagging in the front. One day Fields, whose tights were Lycra and always perfectly snugged, saw me with my fuzzy droopy tights. “What’s up with the sag?” he asked. This was decades before people intentionally wore their pants around their ankles, something that never caught on in cycling.
“Aren’t you wearing suspenders?”
Fields rolled his steely blue eyes, sat up in his saddle, and hoisted his jersey to reveal a pair of world-champion-stripes suspenders with a Campagnolo motif clipped to his tights. I ran out and bought a pair, and immediately realized that you could now tell who was in the club and who wasn’t. The freddies were saggies, the roadies were suspendered; you knew it from the way their tights fit and from the faint outline of the straps under their winter clothing.
On my last trip to Austria I was walking all the time and stress dieting and my pants eventually began falling off. My belt was max cinched and even so, every few steps I’d have to hitch my jeans up by the back belt loop. It didn’t bother me much until I got to Innsbruck and started hiking in the Alps. The sweat quickly soaked my jeans, weighing them down and forcing me to walk with one hand on my pants.
After I got back down the mountain I stopped into a ski shop and bought some suspenders. Now I wear them almost every day, which is pretty proper for an old man. When the weather gets cold, I’ll miss not clipping those suspenders to my tights and pulling the straps over my shoulders and having one of those subtle markers of “roadie,” discernible only to those who know.
We have better equipment now, but like every improvement, with rainbow-stripe suspenders we had to give something up along the way.
December 5, 2018 § 4 Comments
Lots of things have changed since I first got a sporty bike. One of them was that back in those old days I couldn’t work on my bike because I was an idiot. When anything broke or got out of adjustment I would hurry down to Freewheeling and Uncle Phil would fix it while Uncle Jack looked on and commented on the state of the union, the state of the pro cycling scene, and the state of the bike shop.
Nobody ever made me feel like an idiot; it was self-understood that anyone who couldn’t adjust a derailleur or brakes or swap out a crank or brake cables or a chain was a congenital idiot.
Plus no one wanted to offend you directly because if you stood around long enough you would eventually buy stuff. The bike shop used to be a place where people hung out because they didn’t have phones or Internets or any information other than what they could glean out of Uncles Jack & Phil. That’s another reason we respected our elders. They had info and they weren’t sharing unless you sucked up to ’em just right.
No one ever offered how to show you how to fix or repair anything because you were an idiot, a customer, and likely to ruin it and blame it on them.
The only exception was truing stands. “Love to sell truing stands,” Uncle Phil always said.
“How come? Is wheelbuilding easy?”
“Fiendishly difficult; takes years.”
“Then why do you like to sell them?”
“Cause the idiots always fuck up the wheels and then bring them to us to fix. Best way to sell new wheelsets is to sell truing stands.”
New levels of incompetence
Nowadays I am still a first-rate Not Do-It-Yourself dude; I cannot fix anything that doesn’t require Old No. 72. But unlike then, when I could only not fix a few things, all of which were mission critical, today I can’t fix about a thousand things. Then, I knew what was mission critical, i.e. everything. Now I’m not so sure so I assume it’s everything
And what’s worse, I’m not the only Not-Do-It-Yourselfer. A whole bunch of other people, people who used to be able to fix bikes pretty good, are similarly stymied when it comes to bike repair.
Built-in idiocy is a key point to new bike stuff. Used to, you could straighten a frame by tying it to a tree, hooking it to your bumper, and peeling out. At least I think that’s how they did it, which doesn’t work so hot anymore with carbon. The only way you can fix carbon nowadays is to have the last name Lonergan.
I suppose it’s all for the best, though. By not knowing how to fix anything I can spend more time on the things that matter, like not wearing a helmet in the shower. Now that is mission critical.
February 26, 2016 § 35 Comments
Used to be, you could strip the bolt on your seat post without any special tools. You wanted to adjust the seat so you took an Allen wrench and loosened the bolt, put the saddle at just the right place to give you patellar tendinitis, and cranked down the bolt until it got tighter, then tighter, then you gave it one last crank “to keep ‘er from slipping” and ping! The bolt would spin freely in the bolt-hole thingy, completely stripped.
Then you would cuss and yell and kick something gently and go rummage around in your tool box and not find another bolt and then go down to the bike shop where Uncle Phil would sell you a new bolt, never saying a word but looking at you like, “Wow, you are a 14-carat maroon with chocolate fudge on top.”
You could pick the generic bolt for $4.95 or the Campy bolt for $8.95, so you always chose the Campy one, went home, and then tightened away but this time you were so afraid of stripping it that you didn’t get it tight enough and so you did your next few rides with the seat post slipping and you kept stopping to move it and everyone would be pissed off at having to wait until after about five stops you’d get it magically right so that the seat height was right and the bolt was tight.
All you needed to create this bleeding migraine headache was a little 4mm Allen key.
I said goodbye to all that when I got an integrated seat post with my fully carbon Giant TCR frame back in 2013, which was made of 100% full carbon. The seat post was part of the frame and to set the seat height you just sawed the thing off until it was right. If you cut it too short you were in the market for a new frame, but once you got it cut right it never jiggled up or down and there were no bolts to strip. When I say “you cut it” what I mean is “Manslaughter cut it.”
Then, I said hello to all that when I got my new all carbon Cannondale bike, which is also 100% carbon. It has an old-fashioned seat post with a bolt that you can strip the shit out of, but Smasher had warned me not to dare to even try to tighten it.
“Yo, Wanky,” he said, “you got to use a torque wrench for that.”
“A torque wrench.”
“It’s a wrench that lets you measure the torque on the bolt.”
I gave him my don’t-get-technical-with-me look followed by my monkey-examining-a-semiconductor-look. “What are you saying?” I asked.
“Your 100% carbon frame that is made of full carbon isn’t like your old 95% steel frame made of 95% steel and 5% manganese, chrome, nickel, molybdenum, and niobium. You used to be able to tighten the shit out of your steel frame and only strip the bolt, but with full carbon frames that are 100% made of genuine all-carbon, if you over-tighten the bolts you crack the frame and then you have to go buy a new frame or give it to Fireman to fix for $43, which is fine except that when he slaps on a few sheets of carbon and duct tape things can go sideways when you’re whizzing downhill at 50.”
“What are you saying?”
“You need a torque wrench.”
“What is that?”
“It’s a wrench that measures torque so you don’t over-tighten or under-tighten things.”
“Like Old No. 72?” I asked.
Smasher rolled his eyes in despair. “Yeah, just like that, only completely different.”
“Where can I buy one?”
“You don’t really want to buy one.”
“How come? You just said I’d crack my frame without it.”
“Yeah, but you’re the kind of guy who can really hurt himself with tools. You know how you used to create a week’s worth of hell and misery with a fifty-cent Allen wrench?”
“A torque wrench set costs $40 and has about thirty sockets. That’s a year’s worth of misery and a couple of new frames at least.”
“Forty bucks?” I said. “You can get a Snap-On wrench for $40?”
“Whoa, Wanky. I never said nothin’ about Snap-On. That’s $40 for a Made in Chinese Slave Kitchen special. But you don’t need Snap-On. It’s above your pay grade, trust me.”
So we fought for a couple of hours about whether I needed a Chinese Slave Kitchen set with fifty pieces, a driver, and a cool box for $40 or a Snap-On handle and a single 4mm socket for $400.
“Dude,” he said. “You’re never going to use either one, but at least if you have the Slave Kitchen Special you can have more sockets and break more shit.”
“I only need the 4mm socket.”
“I only have one 4mm seat post bolt.”
“You’re a nut job. Look, I’ll loan you my Snap-On and my Slave Kitchen Special. Try them out for a week and tell me which one you like best.”
“Sorry, I never borrow tools.”
“You’re not borrowing. You’re testing.”
“I can tell you right now that Old No. 72 won’t want to be anywhere the Slave Kitchen Special.”
“Whatever. Just try it out.”
So I took the two items home and got to work on my seat post, which was perfectly positioned at the perfect height and perfectly snug, not slipping even a tiny amount. After five minutes of diligent work I had stripped the shit out of the seat post bolt. So I called Boozy P. “Dude,” I said, “I stripped my seat post bolt and may have cracked my new frame.”
“You idiot,” he said. “I told you not to work on your bike.”
“Yeah, but I got some new tools.”
“You idiot,” he said, “I told you not to own any tools.”
“I couldn’t help myself.”
“Seat post was too high?”
“It was perfect.”
“Was it slipping, then?”
“Snug as a bunny’s butt.”
“Then what the hell were you doing?”
I got ready to tell him, but then he cut me off. “Bring the bike by,” he said. “I don’t want to know.”
(P.S. New Cannondale Evo Super Six, size 56 mm frame with less than 500 miles on it, in almost mint condition, is now for sale for $150 bucks. Message me for details. No refunds.)
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October 3, 2014 § 28 Comments
I sometimes hear riders talk about getting lost, but I don’t believe it. Hardly anyone gets lost anymore. With a phone and a Garmin, you can’t.
My first proper bike ride, I got lost. “Lost” as in “I had no fucking idea where I was, where I was going, or how to get back home.” On that December day in 1982 I took my mostly new Nishiki International into Freewheeling Bicycles. Uncle Phil had told me to bring it in after I’d ridden it for a month to get it tuned up. He checked the cables and made a few minor adjustments, all for free, of course.
“Where is a good place to cycle if I want to ride longer than my commute to school?” I asked him.
He grabbed a bicycling map from a little rack and spread it out on the counter. “How far do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. A couple of hours, maybe?”
He bent down over the map and used a pencil to trace a route from the bike shop to Manor and back. In those days once you got just the tiniest bit east of Austin, there was nothing but country roads. “Have a good ride,” he said.
I started out on what was a cool and sunny day. As the route went east, I passed through poor parts of Austin I never knew existed. Although I’d tried to memorize the streets and the turns, I periodically took out the map and checked. It was a big city map, and the wind made it flap, and it shared the common deficiency of all maps, that is, once they are unfolded they can’t be refolded along the same lines. It’s the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics, actually.
So each time I’d refold the map along different lines and stick it back into my sweaty wool jersey it would be soggier the next time I took it out. Oh, and wet paper tends to tear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Garmin tear.
By the time I got up to somewhere, located just off of somewhere else, and not too far from over yonder, I was totally fucking lost and my map was in tatters. You know what used to happen when you got lost? You got scared. Just the word “lost” was scary. Lost is what happened to soldiers who ran out of water tracking Indians between Texas and Mexico, and ended in them drinking their own piss, and then slitting their veins to drink their own blood.
Lost is what happened when you were miles from a convenience store, when you didn’t have a phone, when email hadn’t been invented, and when you didn’t dare go up to some brokedown trailer with a junkyard dog on a chain and ask the woman in the wifebeater t-shirt where you were.
Worst of all, lost was something you were going to have to deal with, and it wasn’t going to be fun because however far you planned to ride, lost only happened when you were the absolute farthest from home, and lost guaranteed that you were about to add twenty miles of riding to your trip.
Lost also, in accordance with the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics, only occurred when your one water bottle was empty and the day had reached its maximum temperature and that tiny saddle sore had bloomed into a gaping magnolia-sized flower of blood and pus, and, if you were really lucky, after you’d flatted and used your last tube and had bonked.
Fortunately, I was endowed with a keen sense of direction, which I relied on until I flagged down a pickup. “Where’s Manor?” I asked.
“Manor? You’re headed in the wrong direction, sonny. Just turn around and follow this road for the next ten miles or so.”
Ten miles or so, in Texas, is a distance roughly equivalent to something between ten and fifty miles. I flipped it and got to Manor, eventually. Even more eventually, I got back home, but without a Garmin I wasn’t even able to console myself with the satisfaction of knowing how far I’d ridden. The only consolation was, I suppose, that I hadn’t had to drink my own blood.
But that’s not quite true. Getting lost meant a couple of things. First, incredible satisfaction at finding your way back. If the bike ride was an accomplishment, getting lost and then getting found was an even bigger one. Second, you learned the roads. Nothing sharpens your sense of location and memory of places like fear. I can still remember that route vividly. Third, it almost always made a good story, especially the part where you broke down and begged the woman in the wifebeater to let you drink out of the hose and she said, “Shore, it’s over there by the dog, don’t worry he won’t bite usually,” and you had to decide whether it was going to be worse getting the rabies shots or drinking your own piss and blood.
Yesterday Derek and I headed east and took the LA River Bike Trail. It goes northeast and ends not far from somewhere, pretty close to over yonder but not as far as way over yonder. We stopped to take a leak.
“Dude,” he said. “I gotta know where we are.” He whipped out his phone.
“Hell, I can tell you where we are,” I said.
“Yeah?” he glanced up as he waited for his phone to pick up a signal. “Where?”
“We aren’t lost, that’s where.”
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