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.

Andrew

Andrew and his 2013 Kona Paddy Wagon.

Rides a 2013 Kona Paddy Wagon single speed.

Andrew is probably going to kill me. He asked me not to post this picture under any circumstances. All I can say is that I don’t like good photos to go to waste. Not to pat myself on the back, but this is a damn good photo. If this doesn’t make him more popular with the ladies, I don’t know what will. Actually, he’s already got skating, surfing, motorcycling and being super badass covered. In any case, the fact that he thinks this photo will do anything except hurt his image is just ridiculous. Sorry Andrew, you’re wrong. I’m twice your age and you must listen to me. I know what I’m talking about. Now get out there and slay thirty more co-eds before your next session. That is all.

Shop Talk Vol. 1

BikeBling-2

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.

BikeBling-1

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.

Dylan

Dylan and his Surly Karate Monkey bicycle

Rides a 2013 Surly Karate Monkey.
Shot in an alley off Ortega Street in Santa Barbara, CA.
Going to work.

I first met Dylan about two years ago. He’s from the midwest. Iowa (I never see him eating corn, tho. Weird). He never wears socks. However, he’s the coolest guy with a beard you’ll ever meet. He is one of our bicycle mechanics at Velo Pro. He first got his 2013 Surly Karate Monkey about 6 months ago. About the same time I go my We the People 26″ BMX bike. When I saw that he shod his rims with Schwalbe Fat Franks, I immediately wish I had gotten a 29er for a single speed cruiser/mountain bike.

In any case, it’s because of hime that I cannot just own my Surly Crosscheck. I have to have a Karate Monkey as well. These bikes are just too cool. With all the cruiser culture we have here in Santa Barbara, I think a single-speed 29er is still the way to go. After all, I can’t afford a vintage Cook Brothers and restored Schwinns just do do it for me any more. I can only take so many Chris King headsets and SE Racing Landing Gear forks before I feel like it becomes a uniform for the Cruiser Army. I want to join Dylan’s Army.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Happy new year from Way of the Bicycle!

Wishing all of you a happy new year! I hope 2014 will be a great year for you and your friends and families. Make sure to give your bike mechanic a hug.

明けましておめでとうございます!2014年度も自転車道をよろしくお願いします!今年も自転車と自転車メカニックを大切にしてください。

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?

Pete

Pete

Working on a vintage custom BMX cruiser
Shot at Cranky’s Bikes on State Street in Santa Barbara, CA

Yes, I work at a competing bike shop (Velo Pro). But also yes, I love bicycles. Cranky’s is one of those bike shops that I have a hard time staying away from. They tend to carry a lot of stuff that attracts me as a mostly asphalt rider. So I guess I am part of their target market. I love going in there from time to time to talk bikes and stare at all the gorgeous track frames hanging over the counter. I must confess, that in the spirit of supporting local business and our biking friends, I even buy some things from them from time to time. Pete and Josh are really cool guys. The owner, Jim C is really not cranky, either.

Noah

Noah

Working on a 2013 Santa Cruz Tallboy 29er
Shot at Velo Pro in Santa Barbara, CA

Noah has been working at Velo Pro for a few months now. He is one of those bike shop employees that really truly enjoys riding bikes. He just got a new Santa Cruz Carbon Bronson that he finished building out with all his favorite parts. Not only is he enthusiastic about riding bikes, he really knows his stuff when it comes to fixing and selling them. If you are ever in town, please feel free to ask for him at Velo Pro in downtown Santa Barbara, CA.