A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Real Bicycle Shop

A week ago, while riding my newly christened Armstrong Single Speed on her maiden voyage, I popped a couple of spokes. That's the breaks when using old spokes for lacing up a new hub. I was looking curiously forward to riding my gnarly old British bike to the local bike store to pick up a couple of spokes. As I rolled up and took the flaky black velocipede inside, the sales staff stood slack jawed at the apparition in their doorway. I walked over to the counter and asked for two spokes.

A sales kid measured my rim and I was sold two spokes. I asked for a bit of tape to secure them to the seat stay for the trip home, but no tape was available. Not to worry, I held them in my teeth as I pedaled homeward. Click to enlargeOnce home, I took off the rear wheel, and removed the cog to get at the recalcitrant spokes. As luck would have it, the sprung spokes were on the worst side to deal with. I suppose I should not have been surprised that the spokes did not fit. Too short. I taped them to the seat stay and rode back to the bike store for an exchange, a roll of electrical tape threaded onto my handlebars this time. When I got back home with the replacement spokes, they were the right length, but they were to large to thread into the nipple. Back to the bike store. I took my spoke wrench and my hub wrench this time.

I suppose the bike proprietor was surprised to see me roll my ugly bike back inside, and ask for different spokes. This time, he looked carefully at my rim, and picked out yet a different pair. I flipped the bike and attempted to install them. Wrong spokes again.

I asked if he had any spokes like the ones in my rim. He suggested I change out the entire wheel. No, I wasn't willing to do that. I rolled the bike back outside after I had my money back.......all $1.62 of it. I resolved that I would ride the bike missing a couple of spokes if need be.

Later in the week, I had the good fortune to find myself 200 miles away, in Baton Rouge. Once I had finished the business at hand, I realized I had the opportunity to look for spokes. Only one problem.........I had neither the bike, nor the broken spokes. I was told The Bicycle Shop on Highland Road, beside LSU might have the spokes that I required. A bike shop beside a major university was indeed an excellent prospect. I was told they closed at 4:30. It was 4:20. I rushed over and zipped into a loading zone. Tires screeched as I dashed across the street.

I must have looked as though a bit of meth was coursing through my veins as I quickly walked past the Specialized and Orbea velocipedes all lined up like soldiers for inspection. "I need two spokes," I sputtered to the proprietor, "No, four spokes...."

"What size?" he inquired, looking up from his work. The area behind the counter was awash with bikes torn down, used parts, tools, and the aroma of grease was in the air. Things looked promising. These folks knew old bikes.

"I don't know," I replied as he raised his eyebrows. "They are off what I think is an old Pugeot rim, 27 inches, no, 700c, with a coaster brake as a hub."

"A coaster brake? Do you have the rim?"

"No, but it's an older chrome rim, 27 inches, cut for one of the steel valve stems with the funky twisty release on top."

"27 inches? Can you bring in the wheel or a spoke?"Click to enlarge

"You don't understand.....I am 200 miles away from the bike. I didn't think I would have this chance to get the right spokes, I can tell you it's a 700c rim, with a really oddball size of spoke. I went to my local bike shop three times, and even the ones that were the right length would not thread into the nipple."

"Was it a long nipple?"

"I don't know, it was a smaller diameter threaded section, the spoke would insert, but not thread."

"Is the nipple longer than this one?" he asked, handing me a stubby thing.

"Yes, definitely," I said.

"27 inch huh? What size tire does it have on it?"

"No, it's a 700c rim, chrome. It has a Pesta valve stem, and a Specialized 700X28c Touring II slick on it."

"Coaster brake.........Why would you do that?"

"Have you tried it? It lightens the bike, clears the handlebars and frame of unnecessary junk, and makes a great trainer or even a clean, minimal lightweight get around bike."

"It's no wonder the spokes popped, putting that kind of stress on them........"

"The rubber is narrow, and a fixie or track bike sees the same stress when skidding........"

"Ya gotta point........You did this yourself?"


"Coaster brake huh? Any idea what make of rim that is?"

"I don't know. It has a sticker on it that says 'Super Champion' and another one that says 'Gentleman'."

"Three cross or four cross?"

"Three," I replied, proud that I knew an answer.



"OK, it's an old 700c 36 spoke rim of unknown origin, with a 'Super Champion, Gentleman' sticker, laced up three cross on a coaster brake."

"Yeah, with a Pesta valve."

He smiled and said "I'll be right back." He went to a computer monitor in the rear of his shop and began searching apparent manuals. After a minute or two, the fellow left the monitor and walked over to a rack stocked with boxes of bicycle spokes. He selected four from a worn green box and brought them back to the counter. "This is what you need," he said confidently.

"Are you sure?" I asked, suspicious after being burned thrice by my hometown bike place.

"Undoubtedly. The ones you have are tapered spokes, more narrow in gauge in the center and becoming larger in gauge at the ends, right?"

"I suppose, they are kind of floppy when tension is released......."

"Right. You have French rims, good ones. Super Champion rims take a specific spoke for a specific nipple. Now these are not exact, they don't have the taper, but they are the right length and they will thread up."

"Maybe I should buy a range of lengths....."

"You don't need to, this is correct."

I decided to place my trust in the fellow. I had nothing to lose. Rather than insult the shop owner who went beyond the norm to assist me, if the spokes he was offering were the wrong length, Click to enlargeI could pick up replacements on my next trip to Baton Rouge. I paid the money, $4.58, and placed them on my dashboard for the long trip home.

Last night, I removed the broken spokes, and installed the ones from The Bicycle Shop. They fit perfectly, just like the man said they would.

This morning, I found The Bicycle Shop on the 'net, and I sent them an email:
I am the bicycle nut that came running into your shop on Thursday 5/22/08 in search of four oddball spokes. I told you that I had a coaster brake on a 700c Super Champion wheel. After considerable confusion initiated by myself in my rush, you were able to calculate the size spoke I needed to replace the broken ones in my oddball application.

I wanted you to know that your calculations were exactly correct, and I want to thank you for your calm expertise. I installed the spokes this evening, and they were perfect, exactly what I needed.

When I drove down to Baton Rouge, I was not expecting to even have time to search out the spokes I needed, much less find a bike shop that knew or cared what I was talking about. That is why I did not have a broken spoke with me.

I want you to know that when I purchase my next new bicycle, or any parts that you stock and ship, it will be from you. If need be, I will drive the 200 miles to BR to pick my next bike up!

Any bike store can sell bicycles. Your establishment is not a bike store. It is a bike shop, and there is a world of difference. Thank you so much for your patience and professionalism. Next time, I will have a spoke!

Thank you.



Blogger Tennessee Budd said...

Damn, & I thought finding parts for an '82 CB900F was a pain!
Always heartwarming to hear of a shop where folks still have the old-fashioned work ethic--serving customers to the best of their ability.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Travlin said...

What is the green loop in photos one and three? It looks like a cable lock that is too short to secure the bike. Does this lock the wheels to the frame when parked?

12:25 PM  
Blogger Ed Skinner said...

Cost of spokes, $4.58.
Value of expertise, priceless!

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Jill said...

A good bike shop is a rare thing. It sounds like The Bicycle Shop lives up to it's name.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

It's a spoke wrench taped to the opposite seat stay.

1:31 PM  
Blogger nature223 said...

try finding parts for a 1985 CRX Si....snake hunt in a worm factory at times
Congrats Xav..I love when REAL people act like professionals and do the job with caring,knowledge,and enthusiasm for their chosen product line

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Wow, what a great story! I've always wanted to cycle as a hobby.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truely a great bike shop!

6:36 AM  
Blogger Ed Skinner said...

A fellow enthusiast: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ukaaa/999572007/in/set-72157600210543924/

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know where i will be stopping next time I'm at LSU!

4:54 PM  
Anonymous SBS mate said...


5:49 AM  

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