will wrench for beer

March 2nd, 2009

That’s the official policy of Aaron’s Bike Repair of Seattle.   Additionally they  regard themselves to be beer snobs, but can you really call yourself a beer snob when you prefer domestic IPAs??? I’ve seen a  lot of interesting things on ABR’s website, but this particular page had eluded me until tonight.   While the late, great, Sheldon Brown lays claim to the best and most informative bike site ever, ABR’s  site and blog is the most comprehensive I’ve seen when it comes to having an insider’s view from a bike shop.   This proprietor’s public call for beer reminds me of another shop I popped into while in Seattle a while back called Wright Brothers, in the Fremont neighborhood.  Its a cozy shop with jazz playing on the sound system, and eventually what caught my eye was a half-empty bottle of red wine on the counter.  Alongside it were mini plastic cups, presumably for customer enjoyment.  Regrettably it was pretty early in the morning when I visited so I did no sampling.  As I wondered through the shop I began noticing empty red bottles littering the shelves, tables,  and all corners of the place.  Well I guess some cities can chillax, while others stick to their puritanical roots.

February 22nd, 2009

Well, its definitely beginning for me: Bike Collecting Mania.  For the past two weeks I’ve been visiting craigslist and ebay at what seems like hourly (or less) intervals to look for bikes, frames, parts, shoes, or whatever.  I go between those sites, and googling/Sheldon Brown-ing the bikes/components in question to determine what’s a good bargain or not. I’ve checked thrift stores too but came up empty handed there. Its not healthy, man.  I know I have to cool it, but on the other hand I still need a bike to replace my aluminum beater, and I need to mess around with bike mechanics to get more practice in.  When I catch myself over-doing the bike hunting, I think it’s the materialism of it that irks me the most — the brand names, style, thinking how satisfying a purchase would make me feel, then the worry over possible buyer’s remorse — and I think, Whoa, this is not the kind of person I want to be; this is not the reason I want to get into mechanics.

HOWEVER, with all that said, I have a TON of satisfaction from from my recent bike buy, courtesy of ebay.

best 25 bucks i’ve spent in a long time.  It’s an early 80’s Swedish-made Crescent Världsmästarcykeln.  A white city cruiser sporting full chrome fenders, dymano lighting, chain guard, drop bars. Finnish Nokian tires and Dunlop-valved tubes (uh, anybody seen a pump for that?)  a killer bell too, oh and a kickstand of course.  I’m really into the Dutch/European style bikes at the moment, I have been ever since I traveled to some European countries this past summer.   Half of my travel photos were of bikes. I know fixies are the hip thing right now but this here is a really sensible bike.  (However it can be less sensible for use in a US city where you want to maintain speed and maneuver well through traffic.  I don’t really feel like getting into the whole ‘ i wish out cities were a lot more like Amsterdam and Copenhagen’ thing, but suffice to say those 60 year old, 60 pound Dutch bikes are perfect for some places and uses, and not so much for others.)   To my luck and surprise, though, this bike wasnt nearly as heavy as I thought it would be, and it was in awesome cosmetic condition.

It was being sold ‘as is’ and I was planning a thorough overhaul before riding it around, but as it happened, I was running late and needed to catch the train back to South Station, so without so much as pinching the tires to gauge pressure, I threw one leg over  and hauled ass into the night across Providence  (from where I picked up the bike locally and avoided s/h charges).  The bike performed beautifully! shifted, braked, didnt get me killed, what more could i ask for?

That right there is an integrated frame lock for the rear triangle.  Handy.  In all I’m really looking forward to cleaning and overhauling this bike.  Naturally it’s too small for me, but I guess I’m used to that by now.  for example here was  my summer ride, while I was in Germany (and also another example of my idea of a cool bike.)

made by Kalkhoff, in ‘West Germany’.  hands down the best 35 Euro I spent while over there. I could not get the grin off my face when I rode it. and yeah it separated into two.

Back here in the States I’m in the middle of doing resume drops at area bike shops.   After scoping out just about every shop in the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville I see that some places would suit me a lot better than others.  I guess i should go into the details since I dont know where I’ll end up, but it’s mostly about shop ambiance and the kind of bikes and merch they sell.  My number one priority is to get a bike mechanic job, but on the other hand I am sort of hesitant to drop off a resume at certain places that I’m not that excited about.  I think I’ll end up doing resume/application drops in rounds, starting with my first choices and hoping they’ll call me back before I get around to applying at the remaining shops.  I’m well aware I might end up being wrong about where’s best for me. Because, what do I know?

If you browse the bike section of Boston Craigslist often enough you’ve probably heard of bikes and accessories for sale at the Cambridge Antique Market, near Lechmere. To me the bikes listed/pictured had always came across as yard sale junkers that would be good for beating around campus and no much else. Never really piqued my interest.

Well I finally had a chance to go out to east Cambridge this past weekend and see what the deal was over there. I was totally pleasantly surprised! In the basement of this building are 40 or so road bikes, mostly 80s and 90s bikes, but some stuff goes back to the 60s or earlier.


The prices, compared to what goes on Craigslist, are really reasonable, especiallyconsidering that these bikes have been tuned and sometimes built up from recycled parts. Most tags I saw were $120-160.

Here’s a shot of Vin and Ed at work. They respectively operate Menotomy and Shawsheen, and last March teamed up to run the shop together. Right now they may be my only good lead for an affordable quality frame to build up on my own.

Another really awesome thing worth checking out is the price query tool Vin wrote up. Type in a search term and get back list of archived craigs-listings nationwide. It’s not necessarily current (use Crazedlist for that) but the point is to get a gauge for market price of a bike model. tip: keep your search terms short and simple, the engine isn’t as sophisticated as google — “San Jose Bianchi” will get you no results, “Bianchi San Jose” returns many. I’ve actually been using it since I discovered it about a month ago alongside with browsing for stuff on CL and ebay.

It can also be a lot fun to see just how much someone will inflate and then lower their price if no one bites. check this out:

, and….

All I can say is, O RLY?? results are in reverse chronological order, obviously.

Hey, let this be a warning to buying bikes on Craigslist. There is wicked speculation out there. I really wouldn’t recommend buying off craigslist unless a) you’re spending less than $75, b) you know a lot about bikes and/or how to work on them, or c) you have confidence that the seller knows about bikes and is giving you a fair deal. Most people are better off getting a used (tuned) or refurbished (overhauled) bike in a shop that will offer some kind of warranty.

I want to have a lot of bikes.  I want one for commuting, one for longer weekend rides,  one for the rain, and a single speed or/and fixie to mess around with.  The way I’m going to justify being so greedy is that I’ll build up each one of these bikes  myself from salvaged parts, so that way I can tell myself that I’m getting much-need practice and not just being a hoarder.

Well a good place to start would appear to be figuring out what size frame and components would work for me.  My current ride is too small for me despite it being labeled an ‘XL’  by Specialized (the seat tube is 58cm).  I’m about 6’4″ but the height is more in the torso than my legs.  So I was looking forward to researching bike fit this afternoon, but came away not wholly satisfied. I found these two sites to be most helpful, but a good fit calculator (for non-racing bikes) eludes me. On the other hand it’s not as if I’m in the market for a custom-made frame, so precise calculations are maybe overkill, but I’m still not totally clear on what frame specs would be good for a tall guy who wears a 32″ inseam.

On to more interesting things, my dad’s bike is also too small for him and today I finally took a good look at what he rides.

Whoa! Turns out its a pretty impressive bike.  I’d been away from home since May, and before then I didn’t know much about what to look for on a bike.  But now I can more fully appreciate this Schwinn Super Sport.  I did some research, and using the information on the seat and head tubes I learned that this was made in Japan by Panasonic in March ’81, retailed for about $600 at the time, and was the second-best model put out by Schwinn that year, behind the Superior (the Paramount was not being produced at this time).  It feels featherlight. Has butted cro-moly tubes and the lugs are so sweet I get woozy if i look at them too long.

I have no idea how to shoot closeups with my digicam, obviously.  A neighbor pulled this bike out of his attic and gave it my dad for free a few years ago.   It needed some work to get back on the road, and my dad rode it happily for a maybe 4 summers.  There is some surface rust but the main issue for my dad is that the 19 21″ frame is way too short, even with that seat post as high as it is.  I’ll probably take it to Bikes not Bombs sometime to talk about trading it in with them.

what’s this blog for?

January 20th, 2009

The basic idea here is for me to keep tidy journal of my efforts to become a bike mechanic and start working in a local shop.  About a year ago I began considering becoming a bike mechanic, and by the summer I had pretty much made up my mind to go in that direction.  I was a senior in college and knew I had to finish up my degree, but I spent a lot my last (Fall) semester researching and imagining myself as a mechanic after graduation.

One thing that that I didn’t really come across, though, is a mechanic’s blog to give you a sense of a day(or month or year)-in-the-life of the profession.  I was sort of looking to read about the ambitions, frustrations, etc., of a mechanic, and since I haven’t found such a resource I’d thought I’d start my own with the idea that maybe somewhere down the line it’ll be useful to someone else who’ll be in the position I’m in today.

So I’m planning on keeping this blog pretty low-key and not go out of my way to really publicize it, and maintain my privacy, but as I say maybe it’ll come in handy for the next person who googles for ‘bike mechanic blog.’   Though at the moment maybe  I dont have much to say or offer — I’m not working anywhere as a mechanic, but I’m training and trying to get to that point (suggestions for a better sub-title to this blog appreciated…).

Anyway, I’ll try to keep things interesting, informative, and updated here.  stay tuned…

(possibly) coming soon…

January 10th, 2009

…the chronicles of a wanna-be mechaniker