Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beautiful Wheels

Wheels are my favorite parts found on bicycles. They are my favorite bike part to repair. They are my favorite cycling component to build. They are always the first thing I look at when checking out a new ride that might stop by. These simple combinations of some wire, aluminum hubs and alloy hoops represent the best of the Man's attempts to master his domain. Without wheels, I would guess we would be but slugs riding fur covered beasts and still believing the world is flat. Science guys, history guys and Margaret Mead types all agree the Wheel is one of the top ten accomplishments that sped up the separation between us hairless bipeds and everything else.

I am still impressed with the engineering and Physics that allow a couple of two pound circles of metal and rubber to hold up successfully for many miles, a two hundred pound plus size guy like me. I often shake my head in wonderment over what a well built set of wheels will let a rider get away with. Drops of several or many feet. Bearing down some asphalt ribbon at 50 mph on tires not even one inch wide. Yes bicycle wheels are wonderful examples of just how smart our tech people are. And every year, the wheels available get lighter and stronger.

At first glance, bike wheels seem to be simply made and crude by today's standards of micro technology that has to be plugged into some power grid to work type gadgetry. Appreciation for what wheels really are comes from riding them for hours, months, years. But when one goes to build one, it is then the true beauty and genius of a spoked wheel comes out. Assembled using calculations and processes figured out hundreds of years ago, their basic construction has not changed. In my opinion there is no better representation of the perfect marriage of simplicity, aesthetics, and technology than a well laced and trued wheel.

Hard core cyclists often spend insane amounts of money for a new pair of wheels. Sometimes they think a new set will make them faster. And sometimes a new set does. But generally I think new bicycle wheels are just one of those bike parts some of us crazed riders can't have enough of. I have built or bought so many wheel sets over the years, I do not even know anymore how many I own. As I write I am scheming and dreaming about my next personal wheel build.

My next set will be different from any other set I have built up for myself. They will be 29" rims laced and twisted to some hub set I haven't decided on yet. I will use them as the first component I hang on my first 29er hardtail. And as it has happened before, I will enjoy every moment of inserting spokes and slowly, from a pile of dissimilar parts, a useful and beautiful component for my next bicycle will take shape. I can't wait.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When the Season is Over

We are over two Weeks into September now and I am beginning to evaluate the year we had at the bike shop. All in all, the oddest year in my 11 seasons here in Springvale, Maine.

I may be a tad premature in reflecting on what has transpired these last 8 months. The traditional curve of the seasonal bike business has been turned on it's ear this year. Mud Season came late and stayed way past it's welcome. We lost June and July to 22 inches of rain consistently spread out over the 60 days or so. August was excellent. And two plus weeks into September, we have already surpassed last September by a long shot.

One year ago, I was sure CRUM Cycles would not be in existence much longer. I certainly did not expect to be here with my doors open in September, 2009. The shop had been struggling long before the big financial meltdown that visited us last year this time. Add the doom and gloom scenario scared up by so much World wide money disappearing overnight, and yeah, I had pretty much written off the bike shop.

Over last winter I fell into a deeper funk than I usually do when the Sun sits low and the days are only 8 hours long. I anguished over what I would do to make ends meet. I was 56 years old and had no skills other than driving trucks, pounding nails, or twisting wrenches on bicycles. All of which were fields hard hit by the layoffs that resulted from so many companies downsizing or going belly up.

Around February of this year, I came out of my shell and re-opened the bike shop. I had accrued some past due debt from the previous 3 years of struggling. Each ensuing summer was spent trying to pay off old debt and aquiring new debt to have to pay off the next summer. I had fallen into a bad routine for a small retail business.

I entered this year with two things in mind. Keep the doors open long enough to pay down as much debt as possible. And come Hell or high water I would not take on any new debt. If I ended the season by locking my doors, so be it. I would have at least given it one more good shot.

That was back in February. It is now September. Funny how much can change in such a short time. Instead of thinking about the best way to close my doors, I am scheming about the best way to expand and grow. My enthusiasm for this business has never been better. I am considering any and all possibilities I can think of to make CRUM Cycles once again a solid profit based business.

It took this odd summer combined with the economic situation I was in to turn me around. Back against the wall so to speak. Fight or give up. And though the struggle is not even close to over, I have had enough victories this year to reinforce my will to go on. SO let this be my promise to myself and to anyone interested. I am determined to see CRUM Cycles here next year at this time. And hopefully have even more positive vibes to share.

Thanks for listening.........................

Monday, September 14, 2009

Going Slow

They say the Male ego is a fragile thing. Hmm.

Cycling is one of those activities that can be enjoyed on an infinite number of levels. Solo pedaling - Alone with the machine, your body and the environment you have chosen to explore. Family cruising - Mom and Dad with the kids trailing behind like some gaggle of goslings. Group rides that become intense competitions at the front. All ages can enjoy cycling. Learning to ride a bike is one of "the rites of Passage" most of us go through. At some point or many, a bicycle is part of our lives.

As a child I wanted to start cycling slow. I seem to recall wanting to ease into it. My memory remembers anything but. Tossed onto a bike way too big without training wheels and pushed down a hill, I remember being terrified. This was going to hurt. It did. Bruised and battered, I tried to refuse any more attempts to put me on these two wheeled death traps. At age four, came my first warning that there are indeed people out there who want to harm me. My virginal trust took it's first hit.

Of course my monstrously huge cycling mentors would have none of it. They let me alone for awhile, but then they came for me again. And again. And again. At some point I must have decided I would have to figure this "balance" thing out if I was going to survive. Do that and they'd leave me alone. And even though my mind cannot really tune in the specifics very well, I obviously figured it out. And I even found it pleasurable. But I still think the "shock and awe" technique used on me bordered on the sadistic.

So I began to ride bicycles. I began to roam further than the arbitrary parental boundaries supposedly set in stone. I went slow. The bike allowed me to expand my horizons. I learned to ride in traffic and survive. I learned how to take on steep hills with one gear. I learned there was a huge World out there I would never ever know all of. A bicycle gave me my first taste of freedom. One of many future "Eureka" moments came to my young mind. Rules (which would later in my life be called laws) were nothing but strongly worded suggestions that brought with them repercussions if I was caught not following those suggestions. Free Will - it did exist.

Over the following 50 years or so, I enjoyed and sometimes toiled many hours away on the seat of a bicycle. I tasted many different types of riding -solo rides, off road and on. Rides that were competitions. And last and probably most enjoyed, the group ride.

The group ride is an event with many different dynamics wrapped into it. The riders at the front always seem to push each other and end up enjoying the competition of trying to stay in the front. The riders in the middle are a mixed bag. Many can hang in the front, but are on the ride for the company. Some riders of the middle often feel stuck. The want to be up at the front, but for some reason they just can't quite hang there. And finally there are the folks at the back.

The group who toil at the rear struggling to keep up are another mixed group usually. New riders with no skill sets or fitness often are frustrated and end the rides unhappy. They want to keep up. They feel some kind of misguided guilt for holding everyone up. They have not yet learned to relax. It's just a bike ride for Chrisakes.

On every group ride there is at least one rider who does not care to keep up. They will keep up if they can, but his/her main goal is to ride the ride, not race it. For them who enjoy a more relaxing pace the group ride is a social gathering of like minded souls. It's a bike ride for Chrisakes. Lives are not being held in balance over whether everyone else hangs at a corner or intersection another minute for the Slow Guy to show up.

I have become that guy. The Slow Guy. If truth be told I have been that guy for more than a few years now. When it first dawned on me I would most likely not be at the front for long, I fought it. I got angry at myself for being the group anchor. But there comes a time when we all need to check our egos at the door. I just cannot ride as fast as I used to. And finally I have become content with this reality. I actually am beginning to enjoy being slow. I am beginning to be less intent on keeping up and more intent on witnessing the land I am going through. Just yesterday, I spotted a fox close on a group ride. Only because I was alone off the back and cruising at a civilised tourista pace. And another "Eureka" moment came into my mind. Free Will still exists.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Tools. The implements we use to do our jobs, support our lifestyle, create a positive cash flow. We all use them.

The truck driver has his truck, the broker his ticker tape. Cops have cars and guns. And kids have their toys.

Tools are not restricted to just the metallic gadgets we fix mechanical contrivances with. Tools can be a set of rules, guidelines or strategies we use to make it through our weeks, our months and years on this planet.

Yes, everyone of us has a variety of tools we draw upon to labor successfully or play gleefully. Some tools have serious intent. Their very construction and appearance tell us to use these tools with care. Other tools we dig out just so we can cope, hope, or deal with the travesties and trials encountered on the trip from the cradle to the grave. Tools that have no presence outside of our minds. But are probably the ones we rely on the most.

I am sure I could lose myself and compose many paragraphs on the emotional and subjective tools we use to smooth our ways. However, in an effort to stay on track - this post is really just a tribute to hand tools. Not power tools. Not tools of persuasion. Just tools held in my hand. Tools that tell me by their shape and feel just what they are for. I especially like tools needed to do specific jobs or that are found only in certain areas of repair or production. To narrow it down even further, I will say that I am fascinated by bicycle tools. The more obscure the better. I don't even need to have a tool because I know I will need it. I will acquire a tool just because. No other reason than to just derive pleasure from my ownership of that tool.

Often I am just thrilled to find a hand tool that addresses those small repair irritations cleanly and quickly. Take for instance the "PP-1", the hydraulic piston press from Park Tool. Ever since Disc brakes came on the bike scene a regular problem was how to pry open closed caliper pads without damaging the pads. A screw driver would work, but never gave me a warm fuzzy feeling of confidence. It is not a sexy tool. Certainly not as awe inspiring or intimidating as the TS-2 Truing Stand. But no less important in my opinion.

It is not one tool that turns my head, it is the grouping of tools that does. On those rare occasions when I have put every tool back in it's place and I have cleaned the bench top of the grease and oil spots accumulated over the day, I will often just stand back and look at the collection of wrenches, pliers, cutters and screw drivers. Sometimes I wonder at the process we humans have gone through to even come up with such a collection of implements. How these tools stand out as the major difference between us and the the rest of the animal world. Other times I get lost for a moment in appreciation. Thanking my father for instilling in me a love of tools and the productive things that can be done with them. It always seems to follow then, I will think of my daughter and my own efforts to pass down this appreciation to another generation. And I will smile.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Standing for a Mechanical Ideal

Check out the hot ride in the early part of the 20th Century over across the Big Pond. Labor Cycles were winning races. You were a stud if you rode one. Ride down any street in France on one of their "Truss-Bridge" Racing Cycles, old ladies swooned and men stepped out of the way. Children would trail you skipping, jumping and giggling as only children can.

Meanwhile over here in the States, Iver Johnson Sporting Goods was creating profit by building guns and bikes. When Uncivil wars end the machine creating and supplying the tools of death had to find new avenues to pursue. Manufacturing momentum is not something that can be turned off on a dime. Too many people, communities, nations came to depend on the weapons makers for their livelihood. From steel furnaces tended to by soot covered men with blackened leather gloves to the artisans etching filigree in bad light onto the barrels of millions of guns, Society had come to rely on the idea of Mass Production.

As it turns out Iver Johnson had their finger on the pulse of America. America had become fascinated with technology. Especially the technology of transportation that did not rely on four legged hay burners or monstrous eight wheel locomotives. The bicycle was coming into it's own in the late 1800s and Iver Johnson saw to it they were part of it. They had the technology. They had the factories. They had the railroads running right up to their doors. They would be able to fill the growing need for personal weaponry and personal locomotion. Two things we Americans seem to covet even to this day.

After all, their ad says it all

"IVER JOHNSON" is not merely the name of a man - it stands for a mechanical ideal

Friday, September 4, 2009

Customer Service

About the time I feel the beginnings of a rut forming around the summer season down to CRUM's, I have a day like today. Around the end of August, beginning of September, my enthusiasm for bicycle retail and repair begins to wear thin. I feel ragged, rough around my edges. My mood can become more contrary. I find I have less time for the same questions I answered enthusiastically back in May. By this time of my busy season, I fall more into just the motions. My frantic scurry has slowed to more of a shuffle. The weight of a thousand flat tires, hundreds of mangled derailleurs, and too many wasted minutes answering questions like, "Do you work on bikes" do take their toll.

Then a day like today comes along just when I need it. A day I could have rightfully dealt with in an ugly mood turned into one of those special days at CRUM Cycles. A repair discussed two months ago and one I lost serious money and time to finally came off the stand today. And on the other stand I watched and loaned the occasional hand to a sweet Single Speed custom build. That "Niner" left the shop in the hands of a very happy camper about 8:30 PM.

The repair that seemed so straight forward two months ago turned into the repair from Hell. I spent $150 in new parts to make $90. And I drove 100 miles this morning just to secure the needed parts to lose that $60. But sometimes you just gotta suck it up and do what it takes to make the customer walk out satisfied and feeling they got what they asked for. What they paid for. It's okay to bitch about it to yourself. Whine to friends and strangers who may happen by. But in the end, handing over the finished repair without comment or even a whimper is what is important.

Doing the right thing even though it may require costs above and beyond is something I feel feeds positive wavelengths and vibes to both myself and the customer. I get to feel good about myself and know with certainty I deserve it this time.

Thanks again to Dash Jim for another picture.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Tangled Web I Wove

Accustomed to biting off more than I can chew, I dove right in on this website creation gig. Thinking I was some kind of idiot savant, prodigy, or maybe just thought "anyone can do this, it ain't rocket science", I hooked up with Go Daddy Dot Com and bought into their Website Tonight program. For not much money they provide a limited number of templates and as it turns out a very limited number of options to get a basic website up and running.

After 10 or so very frustrating hours, I threw in the towel. Seems there are some simple minds who cannot grasp simple things. Actually I found the process less sophisticated than the spiffy gadgets and doodads I have been taking for granted these past 5 years on the Google blogging templates. Website Tonight is for someone who has no experience. Not for someone like me with just enough experience to be dangerous.

Okay. I now realized that building a website might be easy, but having more than just a bit of HTML savvy was probably a good idea. It also might be helpful to have more than just a hint of a clue of how this stuff worked. In desperation, I googled like a fool to find that magic free fix that would create the website I dreamed of. After all, I don't have any scratch to pay for something real. And here I thought knowing which side of the mouse did what was all there was to it.

There were plenty of free templates and more than a little advice free for the taking. After checking out some and playing with a few, I decided to go with the web builder that came with my Microsoft Office program. I mean Hell, all I want to do is get one page out there with contact information and a sign that says Site Under Construction". The "blow their socks off" site would come later once I figured out how it all worked. Yeah right. I think now I would settle for the "just let em know you exist" site.

More to come................