Bike in a Box? Take It to a Mechanic!

The Diamondback from the Internet

The Diamondback from the Internet

Or, why you should never, ever, attempt to assemble a bicycle yourself, if you are not a pro mechanic.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, who, over 2,500 years ago, said that “change is the only constant.” Everything changes, right? Seasons change. Technology changes. Governments change. Liquid soaps have come a long way, too. Bicycles? They change as well. Which leads me to disagree somewhat with my dead Greek friend: Danger, my dear Sir, never changes. With the advent of disc brakes, suspension, 11- and Eagle-speed cassettes and super bendy aluminum derailleur hangers, the danger of assembling a bicycle without the help of a pro mechanic is ever present.

People are always looking to save money (that never changes either). The internet has become the best place to score a deal on pretty much anything. One thing I always tell people before buying a bicycle on the internet is, well wait, two things:

  1. Why on earth are you forsaking your local bike shop? Do you not care for your local economy?
  2. If you must insist on buying a bike from a faceless company, take it to your local bike shop and pay to have them assemble it for you. For the love. Of. Dog. Do it.

Story time: A gentleman (not Greek) came in today with a Diamondback that he recently purchased direct from Diamondback’s website. He did the right thing by it. He didn’t even try and fail. He brought it to us untouched. There is a very good reason to do this. Safety. Had he tried to assemble the bicycle himself, he would have missed some not-to-uncommon things that often plague a bicycle during its time in a box. For example:

  1. The derailleur hanger was bent. It wasn’t bent that bad, but your average person might wonder why their bike’s chain was always being pitched off the large cog into the spokes of the rear wheel. He may have come to the erroneous conclusion that Diamondbacks are all terrible (they’re not if properly built).
  2. The hydraulic disc brake calipers were both rubbing causing inconsistent braking and lots of noise. The rotors were also out of true and needed to be corrected.
  3. The headset was loose which could cause a failure in steering or steer tube damage.
  4. The front wheels had three spokes that were extremely loose which could cause the wheel to fall apart at speed.

Don’t even get me started on pedal installation. Many people miss the fact that the non-drive side crank has reverse threading and manage to strip the threads. This often results in purchasing a new crank or rethreading the old one. Both remedies require remuneration of some sort.

All these things are not uncommon in a bicycle that’s fresh out of the box. Sometimes it’s worse: the brake lines could be dry, brake pads not installed, chain not properly tensioned. All sorts of things. Which is why, in to my utter amazement, Diamondback, who should also be familiar with these things, included tools and an assembly guide with their bike. They are selling their bikes partially assembled, direct, including tools (and a bunch of disclaimers), fully expecting their customers to attempt to ride a bicycle that will never be checked over by a pro mechanic and therefore be unsafe to ride.

The tools from the Diamondback from the Internet

The tools from the Diamondback from the Internet

Now to Diamondback’s credit, they do try to mitigate this by stating that all bikes not built at a bike shop by a pro mechanic will have their warranties voided. There are many consumers out there who don’t really care, either. They just want a cheap bike.

Which brings me to my final point: in order to get a safe bicycle to ride, buying one on the internet many not necessarily save you any money at all. What with shipping and the price of assembly 9both of which do not apply to a bicycle in a shop), you may end up spending more money. That is, if you don’t want to take your life in your hands. This also goes for buying a used bike. Don’t forget that.

Adventures in Wheelbuilding

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If there was a conversation going on near your cubicle where you overheard one person say, “just bring your bike to Tyson, he knows everything about bikes. He can totally fix it.” The person with said broken bike would be in for a surprise: I don’t know everything there is to know about bikes. I just like them a lot. Besides, being a bike nerd doesn’t require knowing how to repair everything on a bicycle.

The sad fact is, achieving bicycle perfection is a lot like achieving nirvana: even though you know that you’ll never get there, you must keep trying. Therein lies the motivation. There are still many things that escape my knowledge of bicycle repair: hydraulic disk brake bleeding is one, rebuilding suspension is another. Those have always felt a little too car-like for me, and thus I have tended to shy away from them. I will eventually get around to them one day as I did with wheel building.

Over the years, I have managed to accumulate quite a few extra bike parts. Among the detritus in my closet (I live in a studio apartment) were two old hubs. I acquired the old Shimano Parallax 110 (XT) front and DT Swiss Onyx 8/9/10 rear in a trade that I vaguely remember. They sat there, buried under the strata of my “collection” for years. That is, until another trade netted me a pair of NOS Araya CV-7 26-inch rims (single wall, but still nice). I was sure that I did not have a project that needed 26-inch wheels. I had just finished the pre-build of an old Bridgestone which had its own wheels already. So why would I even consider accepting some more rims?

The answer came to me, when, out of curiosity, I dug out the two hubs from under years of brake levers, cassettes, and spare tubes. I was actually wondering how many spoke holes these hubs had as I knew the Arayas were sporting 32 each.

I was in luck. Both the Parallax (new in box) and the Onyx (take-off) were 32-hole refugees from some distant past. I’ll bet you’re expecting me to describe how I would hold the take-off part in my hand, and in closed-eyed wonder, imagine all the miles traveled on the bike it used to be a part of. No. Hell no. Save that noise for art-gallery hipsters who’ve plenty of time between tattoos and artisnal wooden handlebar purchases. I need to learn how to build a damn bicycle wheel.

<goodoldays> When I was young, if there was something I wanted to learn about bicycle repair, I had to bother some grumpy old bicycle mechanic or buy a book. The interwebs and Google machines hadn’t been invented yet. So I have to say, this is a wonderful time to be alive. </goodoldays>.

I ordered some spokes and nipples, borrowed a friends truing stand and fired up a YouTube video on how to lace wheels. So how did I know which spokes and nipples to order, you ask? Well, since my hubs and rims were on the older side, I needed to find a good caliper and measure some stuff. The best site I found that explains this is Edd. They have easy-to-follow diagrams and a video about how to measure everything (spokes, nipples and rims) to get you the right spoke length. They also have a database of hubs and rims already in there in case you have a more modern set of wheel parts. DT Swiss is another great site to find a good spoke calculator as well (registration required).

As you may have seen in the picture above, I did make it all the way to lacing the wheel. It’s actually quite relaxing. I just kicked back on the couch, watched a little Parks and Recreation whilst lacing, consuming a beer in the process. The lacing is quite easy to understand. Given the pattern and where you start on the rim. It all just sort of falls into place. For me, the most difficult part is the tensioning and truing. By the great Beard of Zeus, I could not find a decent video tutorial on how to tackle this part. It’s probably  the Google machine knowing I am a not-young fart and I don’t deserve to get my tutorials easily.

Colorful Frames of Mind

Awesome track frames at Cranky's bikes in Santa Barbara, CA.

Awesome track frames at Cranky’s bikes in Santa Barbara, CA

Even though I work in a bike shop, I still love other bike shops. Cranky’s Bikes is no exception. Jim always has some beautiful frames hanging over the counter. His shop is a very colorful place. All the folks that work there are awesome.

I have pretty much given up on fixies. My knees are getting a little too old to handle them. I still love  riding track bikes, tho. In fact, I wish Santa Barbara had a velodrome as I would be all over it ‘ERRYDAY. Cranky’s mainstays are track bikes, cyclocross, road, touring, cruisers and BMX. I hope if you ever get a chance to stop by, click through here and check out the directions to the shop.

Shop Talk Vol. 1

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Shop bench at Bike Bling in Escondido, CA.

I need to start this post with an apology: I know that it has been a little while, but this is the furthest thing from my day job. You may be thinking “How can an international man of mystery do everything he does and still be able to blog about cycling?” Before I answer that, let me thank you for having such an awesome perception of what I do for a living. If you knew the truth (indeed, you can check my About page for the truth) you would be horribly disappointed. The real excuse is that I have been busy with my alternate identity, hard at work, coming home late, etc. Not to mention we had record heat for the few days following my last post. My being a Southern Californian used to mild weather did absolutely nothing to stop me from withering like a raisin under the oppressive jackbooting of the hot Santa Ana winds. Enough whining about the weather. Let’s get into more about my trip to San Diego (which, it seems is all on fire right now due the aforementioned heat wave).

If you’re anything like me, bicycles are an important part of your life. Maybe you don’t work in a bike shop on the weekends like me. Maybe you just prefer to think about or be around a bicycle to feel comfortable. I certainly do. If there is bicycle talk going on within earshot I tend to become more alert and attentive. Like many of you, I do like to visit other bike shops whilst traveling. I had the chance to visit Bike Bling in Escondido, CA. It is a pretty cool shop with awesomely nice, non-snobby employees. They took the time to chat with me even though they clearly knew I wasn’t buying (I bought some pedals anyway). Working in a much smaller shop like I do, I took notice of their repair and maintenance area. it was clean, well organized and pretty big in comparison to others I have seen.

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Labor “menu” at Bike Bling in Escondido, CA.

Being a larger shop, their sense of humor wasn’t totally gone like other shops. The rescued Coca-Cola menu board listing some of their services was evidence of that. It was pretty cool to see the mechanics have so much room to move. It also was nice being in a shop where they weren’t really pushing one brand. It seems like a lot of shops are getting redone, and in some cases relocated, in order to feature one major brand. This trend seems like it is going to continue and clearly sucks, in my opinion. Sure, a lot of brands have full lines of bicycles to suit most riders’ needs. But having more brands and not really pushing one or the other is the best way to get the customer the best bicycle for them. In any case, I was also struck by Bike Bling’s vast offerings of bicycle accessories. Being from a smaller city, I had not really seen so many options for helmets, kit, triathlon gear (including wetsuits), computers, components, clothing. It was well organized and easy to locate. A salesperson was always available to help if I needed it. In fact, I was greeted by at least three of them during my first five minutes of my initial inspection of the sales floor. It’s a nice place. Even though they have a big presence of the Google Machine, their shop had a good local vibe with plenty of knowledge of the surrounding bikeable area. I highly suggest you stop by when you are down San Diego way. That is all.

Tyler

Tyler and a 2014 Kona Jake Cyclocross Bike.

Tyler and a 2014 Kona Jake Cyclocross Bike.
Shot in an alley off Ortega Street in Santa Barbara, CA

Some of you may not know about cyclocross. It’s a sport that has been around for quite a while but has really blown up lately. It started out as a steeplechase format where you would ride your bike from one point to another across fields and fences, rivulets and hills in relatively straight line. Nowadays, it is done on a preset track loop with a certain amount of dirt, mud, inclines, etc. What it boils down to is you ride a road bike with knobby tires through the mud and gravel, getting dirty and rad the whole way. There are sections where you must dismount and carry your bike up steps or inclines. The bikes needed to race cyclocross used to be just modified steel road frames that used cantilever brakes and knobby 700 x 35mm tires. Now, there are special models available from a number of manufacturers made specifically with cyclocross in mind. The Kona Jake line is a good example of where cyclocross is heading. Disc brakes are becoming more common and aluminum frames are reserved for the lower end price ranges.

But due to the less-than-aggressive geometry of these bikes, they make fantastic commuters. I myself have a Surly Crosscheck that I built up with a SRAM Force road gruppo and a Brooks saddle. Although it has a steel frame, it is light enough to get the job done and I don’t have to worry about being delicate with it. Cyclocross bikes are sturdy, comfortable and fast. The 700c wheel size means you have tons of options for tires and a larger cassette ratio means you can tackle the hills on your commute or on the course. Whether you call them CX, cyclocross or if you’re a Fred, a ‘cross bike, they are truly an awesome fit for lots of uses.

Daniel “DQ” Quinones

Daniel Quinones and his custom-built Schwinn Cruiser.

Rides a custom Schwinn Cruiser.
Shot on State Street in Santa Barbara, CA.
Getting rad all day.

Doing custom builds on Schwinn Cruisers is sort of a thing here in Santa Barbara. I used to do it. It’s a lot of fun and you end up with a pretty sick ride after you finally decide you’re done. There seems to be an obsession with Chris King headsets and SE Landing Gear forks on older cruiser frames. It’s pretty awesome.  Daniel Quinones, (DQ) is one of those guys who I am extremely lucky to call my friend. He and I mix it up at the bike shop while quoting Nacho Libre on weekends and I can’t say that there is another person who laughs at my jokes more than he does.

When DQ’s not putting some sweet cruisers together or killing awesome trails, he studies photography at Brooks Institute here in SB. I have to say, that he and our buddy Max Frank (also a Brookie) have given me endless advice on how to manage a camera…and a bike. He’s also taken a few good pics of my ugly mug. I must admit I look pretty hard. Straight from the hardcore ghetto of Santa Barbara. I look like I just rode a mountain bike while running hooch across the border from Whistler, BC in 1930. AD. Prohibition and all that. What I am trying to say is that even though I am 20 years older than him, I wish I had his skills.

Patrick

Patrick and his 80s Nishiki single-speed conversion.

Rides an 80s Nishiki single-speed conversion.
Shot on Ortega Street in Santa Barbara, CA.

I first met Patrick when he was in our shop a while ago trying to get us to remove an old rusted seat post from his bicycle frame. The post was completely seized and we nearly destroyed his frame attempting to get it out. We had an old Nishiki frame (that was too large) in storage that we just gave to him. We felt that we owed it to him since the mechanic promised him he could remove the post. Well, now we see Patrick rolling around on this frame and he says that he’s gotten quite used to it. In fact, he tells us that he likes it better. He also has an old aluminum mountain bike that he has painted pink. Let’s face it: Patrick is just cool.

Dylan

Being a bicycle mechanic can be a very stressful job. There’s always someone coming in to interrupt the project you are working on. If you’re trying to build a bicycle for a customer, you have to drop what your’e doing for walk-ins. Flat fixes, brake adjustments, loose derailleur cables. Whatever the case may be, you are still running around while the work order pile builds up.

However, every now and then, it can be weirdly peaceful. You can relax, complete your project with care and maybe even hear the music that is playing. This is cycling’s other half. For the majority of riders out there, it’s days like this and the opposite that keep your bikes on the road. Remember, we enjoy cycling just as much as you do. Please bring your bike to a qualified mechanic to keep your steed healthy. Tip your local bike mechanic, too.

Rudy

Rudy

Rides a Gold Coast Cycles Cyclocross bike.
Shot on State Street in Santa Barbara, CA.
Cruising by to show off the bike.

I fist met Rudy at the bike shop. He rode in on some pastel-colored road bike he just scored for a ridiculous deal. We talked about the bike, punk rock, all sorts of other things. See, Rudy is a really cool guy. What I found out later is he builds bikes, too. Now, I build bikes. But I just gather parts and assemble them into what I think looks cool and rides well. Rudy actually builds the frames himself…brazing and welding and all that. His awesome skills make up Gold Coast Cycles. I remember the other day I ran into him in a FedEx Office and saw him producing the stencils for his head badges. Yep, he etches his own head badges on, get this, pieces of cut cymbals. How awesome is that? I really hope I get to photograph Rudy on some of his other creations.

The Bench Vol. 1

Bench.

Well-used mechanics bench.

A lot of people think of their bicycle mechanics like they do their car mechanics. Only that fixing a bicycle should be a lot easier. Repairing somebody’s bike is anything but. It doesn’t matter if the bike is brand new or 80 years old. If the owner doesn’t treat it right, there is always a surprise. You could take two of the same bicycles, right down to the year, model, color and even consecutive serial number. They could have the exact same tires, drivetrain, and lubrication. They could both be Wal-Mart specials or the latest $10,000 carbon mountain bike. They will still be totally different when something goes wrong.

You were waiting for my point. Here it is:

Your bicycle becomes what you make of it, If you don’t treat it right, it will ultimately fight back and strand you in the middle of nowhere as if it developed an “anti-you” personality and suddenly decided your ass wasn’t worthy to sit upon it. Now I am not saying that you should learn to work on it yourself (although knowing how to change a tire is a great skill to have. Saves money, too). I am just trying to get you to know your bike. Care about it a little. Why on earth would you put your money into owning something that only strangers at your local bike shop care about? Where’s the love, people? Where’s the love?