Friday, September 15, 2006

Thinking about Bikes…

I was looking through the TREK bike catalogue today and I found what has to be the coolest courier bike I have ever seen. It's is called the Portland and it has basically everything on it that any on-the-bike-all-day guy would like. It's has got a lightweight aluminum frame, 28mm rubber, a carbon fork to lessen the road shock a bit and even a ten-speed rear cassette to give you more options for personal comfort than you could ever have hoped for. This bike would be perfect for commuting the hills of San Francisco, Seattle or…ehem… Portland. I don't know the exact cost, but with a set of Shimono 105 changers and breaks, it probably retails for about $1000 to $1200.

I was looking through the catalogue because TREK is considering coming to Belarus to do some business here. I heard about this because a friend I met here who works with TREK knew that I was deeply into bikes way back in the day and introduced me to a regional rep for them. I got the call saying TREK was finally thinking of coming out and what could I do for him? So I took a ride up to Minsk and checked in with all of the folks I knew who do bikes up there, made a report as to what the story is up there and sent it over to TREK. I won't burden you with the details.

I must admit it was nice thinking about high-end bikes for a few days. When I was still in New York, back before September 11th when I was riding and wrenching and selling bikes and bike parts, I had a lot of goodies flowing through my little workshop on upper, upper Broadway. At that time I could basically fix pretty much any bike including BMX bikes with esoteric bottom bracket combinations. And as with anybody who is in the business for a while, I had accumulated my share of pricy things.

But even there I could see that the technology for bikes was racing out and away from a pair of hands and a wrench; certainly it was going over my head. I mean, I have played guitar for my whole life and have been told (had been told) that I could tune a bike as well as anybody, but with certain modern wheels whose rims were such that they no longer needed a full compliment of spokes, there was nothing to do but send them back should they go out of round. Quite the development really.

But coming to Belarus was a real lesson in bike reality for me. I brought my 100th anniversary Schwinn Moab-cum-track-bike with me and was riding it in and around Pinsk from the beginning. At the time, aside from being a healthy thing to do, I was also introducing myself as a bike guy, representing the ideology of riding as a legitimate alternative to cars. I think they call this 'public relations'. Eventually I managed to hook up with my original partners and had the idea to open that Pinsk-based bike shop. These guys were based at the bike school here and had a budget of $0 and were scavenging parts off of old bikes, reusing each and every nut and bolt from the bins because there was never anything new. Selling the idea of a shop where there would be parts and tools available for better bikes was not hard to do: We just needed the money.

This Schwinn by the way was the bike I was riding when I got nailed in Poland. And of course there never was that shop.

But after Poland, and living in Belarus at the same economic level as Belarusians, I slowly began to rethink about my ideas of bicycling. In the eight years that I have had this bike I have rebuilt it over 50 times from its original mountain bike configuration to a road racer, to a sprinter and finally to a no brakes, fixed gear street/track ride for messengering in New York. Its current incarnation as a "normal" Belarusian single speed was a fiscal necessity after I found out both how impossible it was to either find or afford replacement parts. The rutted roads in Pinsk and Warsaw shredded my tires and broke the rims. I even snapped two sets of handlebars. In Poland, though the cost was much, much higher for these parts in ratio to how much money was earned; there were at least places to find road bike parts. But within only a few months in Belarus it became clear that replacing broken stuff was simply out of the question.

So needing the bike for transportation, I made my final rebuild at the beginning of the summer of 2004. I pulled off the 700c front and rear wheels (these I donated to the bike club here), and replaced them with a $35 set of 26' wheels and tires; the rear fixed gear hub got replaced by a single speed coaster brake made in Belarus. The rubber was low compression and the going much, much, much slower but it worked and I had a bike to ride.

And really that is pretty much the end of the wrenching part of the story because I have only had to replace ½ of the rear hub once ($4), replace the chain and the gear once ($6) and buy one new tire ($4) in the last three years. For some reason I have never had a flat, hurt the rim, broke a chain or needed to replace a spoke. And you can buy both of the tools necessary to fix the hubs for $1. Certainly it is not as sporty, but, I don't know- It works.

But then again life is different now. I am no longer needing to think so much about being fast when I go riding; there is no race to be won, just places to get to. Also Pinsk is flat, flat, flat so even those 25k rides out to the farm do not require more than an hour to an hour and a half of peddling.

But I mean, I still do dream. That Portland would cut maybe even a quarter hour off the time of my ride and the light-weight frame and all those gears would make things easier and faster. But what can I do? My four-times-stolen,-four-times-recovered Schwinn isn't dead yet. She has carried me around the world and shown me many things, including how to adapt to conditions different from what I had been used to. The last rebuild was at the beginning of this last summer when I changed it from a single-seater to a double. I bought a new saddle ($6) for me, and moved the old one up front and clamped it to the top tube. I then tied in an aluminum tube ($.50) across the top of the front fork for a foot rest, and now my old warrior is the alternative carriage for taking my little girl for tours around Pinsk.

There is a bit more to say about this but I think I will let it be for now. I have several thoughts about bikes and bike shops going through my head right now. Bike shops and bikes, like a lot of other interesting and delicate things require thought and proper preparation in order to be done correctly- and money of course. They definitely do require money. It has been a while though. I guess we'll just have to see how it goes.

More soon…


Anonymous Klause said...

not sure if it was the heartfelt story about the longing for the TREK bike or the
photo of you and your daughter, but - i finally broke down and send you 10 Bucks via
PayPal (hopefully one of many payments coming your way).

don't underestimate the power of eBay - that is where i found my dream bike about a
year ago - a GIANT xtc zero Mtn. Bike - with complete xtr components etc.

keep up the good work and defend the realm,

Friday, September 15, 2006  
Anonymous Kyle said...

Man, that was the best blog yet. I really love your picture of you and your daughter, it’s awesome.
Unfortunately the portland is around $900 my cost, but I agree it’s a great bike.
You know even though I work at trek I’ve never been able to afford or justify a bike over $200 and that’s been used. My favorite bike is an old Trek 400 I got for $20 at a rummage sale.

Hey, I heard that Pinsk has had some re-facing. Are foreign investors there or what?

Friday, September 15, 2006  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

Yea, Pinsk got a little bit of paint for the elections and for the 60th anniversary of the great patriotic war. Our house however was mangled. I don't know how stupid they were or where they found the primer, if there was any, but the paint they used for us has already begun peeling. They say, with a laugh, that they will repaint next year. They smile at you basically all the time, but for all of Doma Provlemya's talking shit with us, it is a wholly public thing exactly how incompetent they are.

No foreign investors thouugh. Belarus sells natural gas and got a pump from Russian oil going through here in the way to Europe They call this the economic miracle and it got Lukashenka re-elected. To his credit, Lukashenka sends it into circulation rather than his bank accounts in Iran and Minsk kind of looks like Berlin for all of the cranes which dot the skyline. And all of this seems to be elevating Lukashenka in the eyes of the former Soviet States and now he always plays the big shot at the summit meetings.

Things seem to be quieting down now that the elections are over and people don't seem to want to be playing as hard with each other as they were during the Vebor. I am as usual only worrying about money and what I am supposed to be doing in the winter. I think I might have to find a sponsor or three to make ends meet. I hope I can sell a couple of ad spots.

Friday, September 15, 2006  

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