Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bicycle Agonistes

Last week, you read about why Jacob got a new bike. This week may be about why I got a different new bike. In returning from school Monday, I noticed that one of the pedals felt funny. After a short distance, it felt really funny, and I stopped to look at it. It was loose. Actually, it wasn't the pedal that was loose, but rather the little arm that the pedal is connected to. That arm (I believe bike people call it a crank) was itself coming loose from the drivetrain. I tried to tighten it up, but fingers are not really adequate to that kind of job. Still, it was just loose, I tried pulling on it and it didn't come off, so I figured I could make it home.

I got about 100 yards before it fell off.

I managed to gather everything up and tried to put it back on enough to get home. It fell off again (50 yards later), and this time the flange bolt that is supposed to hold the thing on managed to go missing. So I pushed it on home, muttering dark (and deeply unfair) imprecations about Trish, who had the idea about bike riding to school in the first place. Fortunately, I had passed through that phase before getting back.

I went to Lowes in search of the proper flange bolt. I found one that seemed right, but the fit was a bit funny. I was afraid to force the thing, and it was also looking like a special tool might be needed to do the job properly. So my attempt at self-repair was stymied.

The bike is maybe 2-3 weeks from the store. So I could return it. But we got it at a Toys R Us (spare me, oh bike experts. We didn't know if this idea was going to pan out the way it did), and the nearest one is a ways off. It was worth it to me to try a nearby bike repair place, if it would save time. But I wanted to avoid the place I went to a couple of weeks ago, mostly out of embarrassment. Would they recognize me as the guy who chose not to repair his son's bike, but never showed up to buy a replacement bike there? So I tried another place, only a block or two away (living on a street that is a major bike thoroughfare has some advantages). The guy took one look and said in a friendly, indeed, almost apologetic way, that he couldn't help me with that bike. The guys down the street might, though.

What he really meant was that the bike I brought in was way too cheap and crappy for him to mess with. He didn't bother to carry the parts for something like it. I don't think he was being superior or stuck up about it at all. More likely he felt sorry for me.

So I wound up at the place I had wanted to avoid. I wasn't so embarrassed I was willing to drive all over Austin. Besides, I liked the guys at the shop. They had been helpful and had not charged arms and legs for another minor job months earlier, and nothing at all for the recent aborted repair on Jake's old bike.

Turns out they couldn't help either. It was more than a matter of replacing the missing bolt. The socket on the crank the bolt threaded through had been scrunched out of shape by my pedaling it while loose. This is, no doubt, something a real bike person would know. Something akin to "don't run with scissors" or "never shave in the shark tank". I can now add "never pedal on a loose crank" to my list of wise sayings. You see, because of the scrunching, any new bolt would simply work itself loose again. The crank had to be replaced. And the shop didn't carry cranks of my length with a square socket, which is what my bike had. Nor did two other places the guy called. And with that, I was out of time to deal with the bike that day.

The next morning, once the traffic cleared, I headed up I35 to the Toys R Us, where I returned said bike. Then I drove around to various bike shops looking over their wares. I confirmed something I had suspected when shopping for Jake's bike, namely, that there are cheap bikes that most people use, the most expensive of which tops out at around $150. Then there are the better bikes from the bike shops, the cheapest of which (new) start at $250. And there are darn few of those. We paid $70 for the Toys R Us bike, so you can do the math. We could get three or more of those for what we might pay for the cheapest of the better bikes (unless we go used, which I have not yet checked into, but plan to). In short, we could completely replace the cheapo bikes three times for less than the cost of a good one. That goes against my grain. I'm not a throw it out type of person, I prefer to fix things most of the time. Of course, if the cheap one breaks a lot...

So there we are. Despite getting some advice from helpful people, we are still not fully decided on if I should just get a cheap replacement bike, or suck it up and get a more expensive bike that can be repaired by actual bike people. And which might also break less in the bargain.


DSK said...

I rode a $100 mountain bike for over ten years. I only retired it when the crank broke a few years ago. It had broken once before in Georgia and was fixed without difficulty by a local bike shop (all hail Tucker Bicycles). Like you, I found that none of th shops here seemed to be capable or interested in fixing such a plebian bike.
Now I have a $300 Giant mountain bike and it requires probably 3x the number of tuning visits. (in no small part due to it having indexed shifters instead of friction shifters like my old one)
The one good thing I can say is that it's much lighter.

I wish I had bought another cheap $100 bike.

Mike said...

this is why I recommended to Jim that he look at used "better bikes". Kind of like buying a 1-year used Camry instead of a new Impala...

Hubert said...

It was your wife's idea that you ride a bike to school with the cell phone in your pocket.