Thursday, May 10, 2007

Some thoughts about the bike business...

More old letters. Today's is from early April, 2002 and some discussions about putting together a bike shop on the cheap. Though it was still early, I was now pretty much sure that I wanted to be a part of things in Pinsk. And as bikes were what I did, my thoughts were set on trying to do it here as it could be done which meant one and two dollar fixes and barely scraping by.

Sat, 2 Apr 2002 00:51:08 -0800 (PST)
The "Aist" a folding bike from Minsk Bicycle Works. one the the two basic models that everybody had back in 2002
Got your mail yesterday and I must admit to a pang or two of jealousy. Well, not like I was suffering or anything, just a pang. But I was thinking a bit about what you told me about the bike part of the trip and I had a few thought on the subject I though I might as well share with you.

First of all, buying new bikes does not mean in any way that there will be less service or maintenance necessary on the bikes. I worked for a big corporate company in Seattle that ran their gig this way, and they just had no clue as to how much work the bikes needed. True, the parts won't wear out as quickly as an older bike, but the quality of the parts is what dictates their longevity more then their age. And you must remember that these bikes are going to be treated badly and they are not going to be of great quality. So you are going to be looking at a lot of work. Especially the mountain bikes. People are going to want to take the same rides that you and Caleb and I took. And so these bikes that you are going to let out are going to be tortured. So you got to be ready. And remember, a bike that don't work, don't work, right?

Ok, first are wheels. If you are buying new bikes that are all the same (and of coarse you know that bikes come in different sizes for different riders right?) that means you get a break on the wheels because it means that you can buy your replacement spokes in bulk in only one or two sizes. The other option is to have a cutter, but this tool costs about $3000, even used. But if the bikes are different, then you have to have a lot of different spokes to replace the broken ones with. But let's not worry about this at the moment. If you don't want to buy a lot of shit wheels as a replacement, then, you'll need rims to rebuild with. Now, inevitably this is cheaper then replacing pretzeled wheels, which will happen and more often then you think because of the lack of quality and people trying to kill themselves and your bikes. So, again, because your labor will be cheap (and hopefully skilled) you can always scavenge used hubs and simply invest in some new rims. Again, mostly work. I can build a wheel in a bout an hour if I have all of the parts. Oh, and you'll need a trueing stand. And also wrenches, cone wrenches, nipple drivers, extra cones and axles-you'll bend a lot of axles, nuts bolts etc...You get the point; you have to take care of the wheels!

And then there are chains and gears, cranks and bottom brackets, again, if the bikes are all the same you are cool because you only need the one type of part. And also, if the bikes are the same, you can scavenge parts off of the broken ones. but, head sets, shifters, brake and gear cables, housing, brake pads, and calipers and levers, pedals,'ll need lots of pedals, I would recommend metal axles and metal cages, they will last the longest. Tubes (a buck a piece, you don't want to be fucking with patches, believe me) tires, (maybe $5 a piece for cheap stuff) seat posts, seats...again, easier if all of the bikes are the same. And a compressor is nice, not only to speed up the tire inflation, (I prefer a floor pump for that, though mountain bikes are a drag because they take so long) but also for cleaning parts and drying grips that slip.

But the biggest thing I was thinking of is cleaning the bikes. my recommendation is to buy bulk degreases for cutting through the gunk, and setting up a garden hose with some pressure, because your clients are going to be happier with a clean well maintained bike then a piece of shit with wobbly wheels, and a gear that keeps slipping. So you'll have to hose everything down prior to the nightly bike check up you'll have to do with each and every bike. When I was in Seattle I could do a bike, including a quick wheel check in about five to ten minutes. Sometimes less, you know when they were fine, but at least three or so for a quick cleaning. But then the dirt has to go somewhere, so be prepared for the authorities to be on your case so you better have that system down.

Maybe used bikes are cheaper, but you have to have parts for all of them, or at least know how to get them. Anyway, all of this and the optimism that after a season or two, if your staff is sharp, you will have scavenged most of all of the stuff you will need. Me, myself, I love creative bike maintenance. I have no problems not spending a lot of money to make things right. I mean, there is supposed to be a profit on all of these, right?

Anyway, just some thoughts. I am all about the work, you know, the deal is just something you have to do to get started. At the moment, I am also writing a new piece, having finally found my sense of inspiration here. I am living with that idea for the time being and concentrating this time on writing a romance. Why not? I am in to Belarus, and to be honest, I am a bit nervous about all of this. But, well, you know...

Give my best to Olga and all,