Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Tonight was an evening well spent in my opinion. The weather was perfect, the kids were already asleep, and I had tubulars to glue. There is something therapeutic to me about taking the time to glue a brand new set of wheels. Applying the first coats to a hand-built pair of wheels is like putting the icing on a cake. Sure anyone can go out and buy a pre-built pair of wheels, but there is something magical about taking a handful of spokes, a rim and a hub and sitting down and building a set of wheels.

While putting glue to rim I began to reminisce about all of the stories I had heard from two of the most influential people in my cycling life. Way back in 1994 and 1995I managed a bike shop, a little shop on Halsted known as Performance. I know some of you may scoff at the idea of calling Performance a shop, but I learned many lessons there, many of which have stuck with me through the years. I met two people while working there and still think of them often. They were both mechanics and they were good at their craft. Sure they could both be cranky, but they both took time out to share their secrets gleaned from years of experience.Both Frank and Scott were journeymen mechanics, Scott having worked at several shops since he was a teenager and Frank was a former Team USA mechanic back in the ‘80’s. Between the two of them I learned everything I know today about bikes, from frame geometry to fit, wheel building , and maintenance. Don't even get me started on gear ratios.

During that time I also heard many stories about the icons of the sport that we revere today. Stories about breakfast with Merckx, or stories about a French champion who preferred to be called Larry rather than Laurent, or Connie Carpenter wearing nothing but the Stars and Stripes jersey in the hotel the night after taking the national championship. All of these stories and the wisdom these two men imparted on me have stayed with me all of these years. Maybe it was the fumes from the tubular glue, but it was nice to step back 12 years as I spread the glue across the rim and remember everything Scott and Frank taught me about gluing wheels. I can even remember with almost crystal clear clarity the day Frank taught me to build my first set of wheels, tubular of course. His patience with me was reassuring and also refreshing. While life has taken away almost all of my time these days to do many of the things I want, sitting down to glue a tire to rim was a nice step back to when times were a bit simpler.

These two mechanics were the epitome of the word PRO before there was the meaning we have for it today as cyclists. From their tricks, to their stories, to their understanding of everything cycling. Everyone should be as lucky as I was to have been mentored by such great men. If you are lucky enough to have a shop that has great mechanics, watch them work, watch how they interact not only with the bike, but with the young mechanics that may only work there for the summer. Watch as a great mechanic can turn a wrench and tell a story with such ease. More importantly listen to what he has to say, he may just know what he is talking about.

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