WEIGHT: 299 ilbs
THE BIKE WHISPERER
Wherein I am reminded of the difference a good bike shop makes.
The last log entry was July 9. Big Lizard has not been happy. I don’t blame him. Good grief!
There are excuses I could make, say it couldn’t be helped, but that would be a lie. The truth is simple: Too much time at this keyboard, not enough in the saddle.
No more of that.
In the interim, though, took Big Lizard into drydock, aka my local bike shop.
The bike was in remarkably good shape given its years of neglect, but inclines always expose weakness, whether in the rider or his machine.
When the bike can’t take the slightest climb without slipping gears as if it were neurotic, it’s time to call in a pro.
So I did.
The bike mechanic, a pleasant young guy named Chris at Black Mountain Bicycles, put Big Lizard up on his rack, took one look, spun the rear wheel a couple of times. Then, with a few lightning-quick hand movements that seemed more to befit a magician than a mechanic, did something to the rear derailleur.
Chris gave me the good news first: The chain wasn’t stretched.
Yes, folks. Bike chains can and do stretch with enough time and use.
“The cable was loose,” he said. “I just tightened it. Lemme keep it a day and I’ll give it a look, but that actually might do it.”
A couple of days later, I had Big Lizard back. Chris the Magic Mechanic said it hadn’t really needed anything else. So today, I took it out on the old, familiar 5-mile loop around the Miramar Reservoir and ran through the gears, waiting for the first metallic lurch, the first gnashing of gear teeth, the first sign of uncertainty or unhappiness from the drivetrain.
Nothing. Big Lizard was perfect. Every shift, up and down, smooth, solid, totally confident. A bike more than old enough to take a legal drink of alcohol in all 50 states was riding as if it had just come out of the box from Taiwan.
Even my own form on the bike was nice and tight, tucked in and aerodynamic — or at least as aerodynamic as a light-beer belly will permit. Nice, round, smooth pedal cadence.
Jimmy Carter may have been President the last time I felt this good on a bike.
A few moments with The Bike Whisperer was all it took.
It brought home to me the importance of a good bike shop if you plan to get serious about riding.
What makes a good bike shop? I look for three things:
- Expertise in the back
Good mechanics are everything. I don’t care how nice and shiny all the pretty new bikes are in the front of the store or how wide their range of bike clothing and accessories are. when you’re shopping bike shops, start at the back of the shop and work your way forward.
A quick and shop test: Express interest in a new bike, any bike. If they don’t personally help you determine the right fit n the bike and don’t insist that you do a test-ride, you’re in the wrong shop.
- The right spirit
There are shops where the staff derisively patronize you because your bike didn’t cost three grand or you don’t know what a criterium is. After you leave, they laugh and call you a “fred,” the cycling equivalent of “nerd.” Lycra-snobs, I call them.
If they treat you like you’re unworthy of their time, they’re unworthy of your money. The good ones don’t do that.
- A shop that’s open seven days a week
Let’s face it, more people ride on the weekends, and that’s when most “mechanicals,” — bike slang for breakdowns &mdash occur. If you’re in the middle of a Sunday ride when something goes SNAP! CRACKLE! POP!, you can’t until Monday for help.
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