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I’ve picked up a bad habit at work.
In a previous life I was a juggler. I was never confident enough to be a particularly good one, although I did a couple of shows with someone else which involved passing juggling clubs to each other. Juggling is a bit like riding a bicycle: once you’ve got the knack you don’t forget it and you often find yourself juggling anything that comes to hand without thinking.
Kitchen knives, for example are weighted about right. And so are Park Tool pedal spanners.*
I’ve developed an unconscious habit of taking the pedal spanner out of the drawer, tossing it in a circle like a juggling club, applying it to the bike, chucking it in a circle again, and putting it back into the drawer.
Apparently this is worrying the customers.
*Known as ‘wrenches’ in certain juristictions. This is not an endorsment: other pedal spanners are available and probably fly as well. Experiment at own risk.
I’m beginning to see all cardboard as potential mulching material: yesterday the local Aldi was selling large activity sets for children and my immediate thought on seeing them was: that box would cover half a vegetable bed.
Fortunately the patio in the Very Smallholding (above) is now hosting lots of very large cardboard boxes from the bike shop . This came about when someone asked the boss if they could use his aged van to engage in frenzied consumerism in the next town. The van doubles as a cardboard dump, so I suggested they chuck the cardboard into our garden, which made everyone happy: The Boss can forget about the boxes, the van was free to be filled with semi-disposable furniture and I have enough mulch material that even my megalomaniac plans are covered, as it were. These will now rot into the ground over the next year, hopefully leaving a clear pattern of beds for spring, and save me several hours of digging.
The boss was planning to throw them all on a bonfire.
About six months ago I fitted an elderly headlight onto the Xtracycle, to be connected in due course to the Dynamo I’d already built into the wheel and the new light fitted on the back. I only needed to add a switch, so it was an easy job.
I got the switch last week.
The problem -apart from a chronic lack of confidence- was where to put the switch. I’d been searching for most of the winter for a small box of some sort to fit the switch in, preferably with a removable, waterproof lid. It appears that this is an under-served area of the consumer market.
I could have bought a new front light of course, with everything in one casing and probably better optics, but come on.
Eventually I came across these tins for cough tablets. They’re a bit bigger than I wanted but they’re made of aluminium, and they have a lid so I can get at the internal gubbins easily when something goes wrong or in some wild moment I decide to install a capacitor for the front light.
Cutting the lid was easy enough with a normal craft knife, the hole is not quite as round as the screw thread, but it’s hidden by the switch and I trust you not to tell anyone. While working in the shop I drilled a hole in the base of the tin and fitted it to the back of the forks. Unfortunately the tin didn’t fit under the crossbar. The system worked fine as long as I only wanted to ride in a big circle.
More drilling and fitting the tin a bit lower down produced the deluxe version* above. I’ve been riding with it for a couple of days and it doesn’t get in the way although it does look a bit strange, so now it’s time for a trip to the paint shop.
To be continued…
*’Deluxe’ defined as ‘usable in a straight line’.
Take wheel off Youngest Son’s bike. So far so good.
Take tyre off wheel. Much grunting.
Push valve into wheel and try to remove inner tube. Valve gets stuck. More grunting.
Finally persuade valve to go through ridiculously small hole. Drag inner tube out of tyre.
Pump up inner tube. Look for hole.
Nothing. Inner tube obviously, clearly, smugly, puncture free.
Push valve back into hole. Five minutes of twisting and pushing later it finally goes through the hole.
Clamp fingers in tyre.
Force inner tube into tyre with a combination of finger prodding and bad language.
Pump up inner tube slightly to avoid pinch punctures
Try to fit tyre into rim.
Try using tyre levers.
Bend tyre levers.
Remember that The Shop has a tyre lever the size and shape of a dinner spoon for just such emergencies.
Take tyre to shop.
Find The Boss playing strategy game on computer. (It was a slow day).
Boss is highly amused and demonstrates how to put a tyre on a wheel without tyre levers.
Pump up tyre in shop, tyre goes flat.
Boss even more amused.
Two customers come onto shop which giving your correspondent the opportunity to slope off home with tyre.
Find two holes in tyre large enough to admit small rodents, clearly made by errant tyre lever.
Find the biggest patch in the repair kit.
Fix puncture, put tyre on without levers as demonstrated by The Boss.
Drop wheel, lose wheel bearings.
Find bearings, put wheel on bike.
Return bike to Youngest Son
Make mental note to stock up on puncture repair patches.
I seem to trash one drive chain a year. I don’t know why, but I reckon the fact that I use the bike daily to carry all kinds of stuff, including about fifty kilos of small boys, uphill, in all weathers, probably has something to do with it. These chains were never designed to take that sort of pressure.
That’s my theory, anyway, and I’m sticking to it: it sounds way better than admitting I’m a lazy oaf and I forget to clean the chain.
However, last week things were getting silly with the gears changing at random moments and the bike making the embarrassing ‘clickety-clickety’ sound of a piece of machinery that really, really, needs some maintenance. On top of that both brakes were beginning to feel like a sponge, not a nice thought in this area of steep hills and tight bends. I tried to ignore this by using the Bakfiets, but that needs some work too, of which more anon.
So I finally gave up and took the Xtracycle to the shop, where the chain measuring tool showed the all too familiar ‘way overdue for replacement’, so off came the wheel, and on came a new cassette and two fresh chains. While I was at it, I found that the back gear cable was tensioned like a washing line so we pulled that straight, and fixed both brakes into the bargain.
Today the gears were responsive, the chain hummed and I could stop the bike. So naturally I rode faster.
It doesn’t take much to make me happy.
We’ve had a wet summer, the sort where if you see the sun you call a policeman. This is a problem because at the bike shop we rely on a good summer to keep the accounts from becoming a nasty shade of red in winter. We aren’t there -yet- but it’d be nice to actually see a customer now and again and the boss has asked my if I have any ideas about how we could, perhaps, persuade people to wander over the threshold occasionally.
We’re a small bike shop (ie: we have no money) in a hilly town that does as little as possible for cyclists, and which has cold winters and the cycle lanes aren’t cleared of snow and ice. And they are steep in places. Oh, and we’re just up the (steep) hill from the Mercedes factory, so cars are big here. Despite that there’s massive potential for recreational and transport cycling because of the geography: for historical reasons those traffic free routes we do have are more direct in many cases than roads, when they aren’t on steep hills. The shop is on the edge of the town centre, but right next to the main bus stop, so we have a lot of foot traffic although it’s hidden from the road by parked cars. At the moment it’s a mess.
This means trying to get people to buy stuff. As I spend a lot of time not buying stuff, I’m putting a personal engine into reverse gear for a bit to come up with ideas, and I could do with some help here.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Any ideas and suggestions welcome:
Focus on cycling as convenient, fun, and a way to go on adventures to great places (see video above)
Advertising on the Bakfiets (I don’t mind carrying an advert if I can take it off again later)
Running tours? (Possibly english speaking)
Two adverts in the shop window so commuters and bus passengers see them, mostly about hopw much more fun it is to use a bike, and how much money you save over cars. Again: convenience and adventure.
Aim to be proficient in a range of maintenance tasks by next summer, so I can take a ‘mobile workshop’ (Bakfiets again) to local markets and fix bikes there.
Do checkups for schools and cycle courses.
Run repair classes.
Host evenings for environment groups and cycle groups.
Start selling clothes and bagy, not (just) for cyclists, more adventurewear, travelwear.
Change displays to show fun, convenience, adventure, not bike parts: move bike parts behind counter and more accesible things in front.
Move old used bikes away from the door (they look really tatty and they don’t sell very well). Maybe even ask their owners to take them back home.
We can’t afford a lot of bikes, so really allow a lot ofdisplay space for the ones we have so they look really good. Have four areas: Family, Transport, Travel and Fun, with one or two bikes in each, possibly even set up with bags and things so people get an idea, this also this means we are saving space.
For display signs, hand paint signs on wood to give a natural feel. (I knew that set painting in the theatre diploma would be handy one day)
Use the whole front area for this and clothes, not repaired bikes like we do now…
Have a clear area to store repaired bikes, with a (wooden) sign.
Get rid of the massive junk piles behind the counter and use the space for bikes awaiting repair.
Tidy up back room for storing dead/long term bikes
Use old canvasses left by previous shop and make road signs for exotic places (set painting again).
Basically, focus on convenience, adventure and travel.
Any other ideas from anyone?
Briefly surfacing from a mass of paperwork, I noticed in passing that it’s Saturday and I haven’t even begun to think of an entry. Then I came across this video which manages to include three things I’m interested in; bicycles, railways, and theatre:
As an additional advantage it’s not completely off topic either: on Tuesday we’ll be catching the bus at some unknown hour and then the train to Frankfurt, Brussels, London and York.
Apparently this is the work of a non-profit working to bring attention to inequalities between north and south. I’m guessing the idea is to remind the northerners that bicycles are a pretty good form of transport. I’m not too sure about driving down steps as a piece of bicycle advocacy- on a couple of occasions pedestrians had to jump out of the way to avoid descending dirt bikes, but overall it’s an interesting and well put together idea. I like the little girl at the end especially. What do you think? Does it work, or is it annoying?
(Hat tip to Richard of Louisiana for the video)
In ‘other news’: We’ve hit a problem with the apprenticeship because the Handwerkskammer (Trade guild) says my boss didn’t pass the test he needs in order to train me. On the other hand he’s planning to apply for a master’s qualification anyway, starting in Autumn 2011. The Guild they said that if he applies for this Master’s Qualification, he can train me as soon as the application comes in, even if that’s in September this year. This makes no sense to us, but we aren’t arguing.
Last week I got the chance to test drive a new city bike for a customer, It’s not quite a dutch bike but it rides well and it’s a sensible design -with the oddity that the rear wheel has a back-pedal and V-brake.
A proper full chainguard would be nice.
(It’s a Victoria Malta,if you’re wondering)
Every now and again someone brings a bike into the shop which needs to be scrapped. Usually that’s not why the customer brings it: they are hoping that for a few euro we’ll make it ready for a ten-day tour. By this evening. Or tomorrow at the latest. Often the bike could be restored, but it would cost more than the cheapo full suspension bike on sale at the local supermarket that week. The Boss and I spend much time whining about this.
The frames on these bikes are usually in good condition, and some of the parts could certainly be useful for something. I rarely know what, of course, but I swipe whatever I can anyway on the basis they are too darn cool to throw away, This nice retro light is a case in point: I have some vague idea about changing the current mudguards on the Xtracycle for a set of metal ones (scrounged off another scrap bike) whereupon I’ll fit this to make a very cool retro looking front headlight. That’s if I can get the scrounged hub dynamo to work. If I can work out how to fit LED’s into the casing, I may even manage it before winter.
I don’t have an immediate need for old pedals, but I’ll use them somewhere. Eventually.
It’s been a few weeks at The Shop now and I’m getting to know the place a bit better, and the various people who work or lurk there, and if things go on like this, I reckon it’s a pretty good for a wannabe bike mechanic with two left thumbs.
The Boss is almost as badly organised as I am and although the shop has been in the current location for about six months it looks like we moved everything in yesterday, using a bulldozer. There’s one room at the back I’ve not been in yet because I can’t see the floor. On the other hand, The Boss knows where everything is, and the important stuff like tools are easy to find-even if they aren’t where you expect them to be, and they are great quality and well kept. Jobs I’d sweat over for hours at home, take minutes here.
The Boss is also an excellent mechanic and a good teacher with a stock of great stories which usually out-scale my disasters: when I managed to make a tyre explode sideways and turn the wheel into a shape like a damp rag, he topped that with a story of steadily and unwittingly destroying a top of the range brake disc, which made me feel a lot better. He also didn’t complain at my hogging a stand all day and asking for help every five minutes when I was building the bike for Beautiful Wife. I reckon he gave me a months wages worth in free advice there. (don’t tell him I said that) Best of all, my work time is flexible: handy when I’m working funny theatre hours and want to see my family.
And I’m learning stuff. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks straightening wheels (which I thought was a step away from alchemy- turns out all you need is a key and a decent wheel gauge) setting brakes up, fixing bottom brackets, and other things which are of no interest to normal people. At the moment I’m getting used to the mechanical side which leaves The Boss free to deal with customers and sales -to the background sounds of things breaking and occasional quiet muttering in the Anglo-Saxon vernacular. I’m having a lot of fun though. I just hope the customers don’t notice that I’m doing everything three times…