Gas station without pumps

2019 January 23

Mediocre experience at the local bike shop

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:24
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My bicycle was in need of some care this past weekend (bald tire, worn brake blocks, worn chain), so I decided it was time for a tune-up.  I usually do all the work on my bike myself, but the closest bike shop to me (now called CycleWorks, previously Sprockets) has changed hands repeatedly in the past few years, and I am a bit worried that they may not last long.  So I decided to spread the wealth a bit and pay for a tune-up.

I called them up to see if they could do a tune-up over the weekend—I wanted the bike for commuting on Tuesday (Monday was a holiday).  They said that they were closed on Monday, but if I brought the bike in on Saturday, they could have it ready by Sunday, unless it needed some part they didn’t have.

I brought the bike in on Saturday shortly after they opened at 9 a.m. and explained what I wanted.  The only unusual request was that I wanted the packing grease removed from a new chain and replaced with a dry lube like White Lightning or T9.

Early in the afternoon on Saturday, they called me and said that the bike was ready.  The promptness of service was quite pleasing, and they did seem to have used dry lube on the new chain.  I ran a few errands on Saturday, and found that the brakes were not well adjusted—the cables were loose enough that I was almost bottoming out the brake levers before the brakes engaged.  I could fix it with the barrel adjusters, but I used up almost the full travel on one barrel (which should be reserved for wear on the brakes, not the initial adjustment).

Tuesday morning, on my way up the hill, I shifted into my lowest gear and the chain came off into the spokes.  It turns out that they had the rear derailleur adjustment off by a full index step and they hadn’t set the stops on the derailleur correctly.  This is the sort of problem I would expect of an amateur or a new trainee, but not from a professional bike mechanic I was paying an $80 labor fee for.

This morning I took half an hour of my time to adjust the brake cables and the rear derailleur correctly, also doing a little truing of the rear wheel to keep the rim from rubbing on the new brake blocks.

I won’t be going back to CycleWorks for a couple of years—time to give them a chance to hire or train competent staff (or go out of business).  I’ll have to try the next closest bike shop, which is 0.2 miles further away.  (Santa Cruz is blessed with an abundance of bike shops, which makes it fairly easy to find one that meets your needs and your tastes and is within walking distance—for years Sprockets was a good match for me, but CycleWorks doesn’t seem to be.)

2016 May 12

Sprockets closed again

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:43
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I reported in 2012 that one of my favorite bike shops (Sprockets on Mission Street in Santa Cruz) had closed without any fanfare, and a couple of months later that they had reopened under new ownership.

Unfortunately, they seem to have gone out of business again—my wife went there on Monday to get a new floor pump for the soda-bottle rockets, and they weren’t there. I don’t know the reason, but I suspect that they were not moving enough product to make their payroll—bike shops are a tough business, and there are two others within 0.7 miles on Mission Street, as well as one downtown (about a mile away).  That doesn’t count the two (or is it three) on the Eastside, just a mile further away, nor the one near the beach, about a mile away.

The City of Santa Cruz can support 7 or 8 bike shops, but only marginally—it is more a labor of love than a profitable business enterprise.  (Note: one bike shop per 7,000–8,000 residents is a high concentration for the US. There were supposedly only 3790 specialty bike shops in the USA in 2015 [], which is a ratio of one shop per 84,000 people. So Santa Cruz is still doing at least 10 times better than the US as a whole.

It will be annoying to have to walk 0.6 miles instead of 0.4 miles to the nearest bike shop, but not a major hardship. I just hope that the circumstances are not as dire as the previous closure of Sprockets (one of the co-owners died and the other decided not to continue the shop without her).

2012 May 24

Sabieng and Sprockets are back!

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:10
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Two of my favorite local businesses on the Westside are back after being closed.

Sabieng Thai Restaurant just reopened today after being closed since  fire on 1 September 2011 closed them down.  We were not able to get reservations for dinner, but by showing up right when they opened for dinner at 5p.m. we managed to get a table.  Since the restaurant is just down the street from our house, we’ve been eating here for years (ever since they opened in 1999, replacing the Indian restaurant Rasoi, which replaced Ravioli’s which replaced Baskin-Robbins ice cream—sorry that’s as far back as my life in this neighborhood goes).

We ate pretty much our usual: Mun Tod (deep fried sweet potatoes), fresh spring rolls, veggie Pad Thai, and a plate with chicken (a ginger plate this time).  We did not stay for dessert, because the restaurant was full and we wanted to help them turn the tables as fast as they could.  It is great that they managed to get back in business before the rush when all the parents come to see their kids graduate, even if their insurance company did not help them make their original 3-month goal for getting back into business.

It is very nice to have Sabieng Thai back, and I hope that their re-opening night rush extends for the next month.

Sprockets, whose closure I blogged about, is back in business under new ownership, having been closed for only about a month.  I stopped in today to get a new patch kit for my son. The new owners are much younger than the previous owners, but their intent is to have a similar family bike shop, with mainly affordable bikes and accessories.  They seem to have a little less stock than the previous shop. I hope this doesn’t mean that they are under-capitalized, but that they just have a cautious buying policy until they’ve figured out what the local market is. If they live up to their current promise, I expect that I’ll be doing business with them for years to come.

2012 March 28

Praise for The Bicycle Trip

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:29
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As I mentioned yesterday (Sprockets closed), the neighborhood bike shop I’ve been shopping at closed after 16 years (due to the death of one of the owners, not due to business problems).  I had two repairs that needed to be done (one on my son’s bike and one on my recumbent) that I had been able to diagnose, but did not have the tools to repair, so I rode the bikes the two miles to my second-favorite bike shop (they probably would have been my favorite, if they weren’t so far away): The Bicycle Trip.

My son’s bike had been in low-speed crash (hit by a right-turning car) last Friday, and was having trouble shifting.  I fixed what I could (straightening the fenders, adjusting the brakes, inflating the tires, adjusting the derailleur), but when the rear derailleur was in the lowest gear it hit the spokes.  I figured that either the derailleur or the derailleur hanger had been bent, and I did not have good tools for straightening it.  If I had been in the middle of nowhere on a bike tour, I probably would have tried using a pair of vise grips to straighten the hanger, but it seemed easier to me to ride the bike to a bike shop (staying out of the lowest gear) and ask them to look at it.

At the Bicycle Trip, they put the bike on the stand right away, looked at the problem, took off the rear derailleur, got out their tool for straightening derailleur hangers (a large steel tube with a pivot at one end and an adjustable spacing rod at the other).  With this tool, straightening is easy—screw the pivot into the threaded hole on the hanger, swing the arm back and forth to find out where maximum deflection from parallel to the wheel occurs, use the bar as a lever to adjust the hanger, repeat until straight.  It took them less than five minutes to fix the problem and readjust the derailleur.  They also noticed that the rear rack had been deflected sideways, and straightened that also.  They only charged me their minimum labor charge ($5) for a fix that would have taken me far longer to do (even including the ride to and from the bike shop).

Having been pleased with yesterday’s service, I decided to take in my recumbent today.  Again, I had diagnosed the problem: a few of the teeth on my smallest front sprocket had gotten bent, causing difficulty shifting into low gear.  For me to fix this would have required taking off the crank, taking the front sprocket off, carefully trying to bend the teeth back with pliers and a small vise, and reassembling everything.  It would have taken me an hour, assuming that the crank-puller I have is the right threads for the crank (I bought the crank puller over a decade ago, and I can’t remember whether it was for this bike or a different one—bike component manufacturers love having a dozen different “standards” for everything).

Again I brought the bike in and explained the problem.  This time they didn’t even bother putting the bike on stand, but got out a tool for straightening bent teeth (a steel bar with a slot near the end—the slot being just the width of the sprocket).  In about a minute the bent sprocket had been straightened without having to disassemble anything.  They didn’t charge me anything.  I even asked, “Isn’t there a $5 minimum charge?” and they waved it away.  Now that is friendly service!  I will certainly be doing my next bike-related purchase at The Bicycle Trip.

Both of these repairs (bent derailleur hanger and bent front sprocket) are routine repairs that the bike shop deals with frequently.  Both of them are also repairs that I’ve never needed before in 40 years of using a bicycle as my main form of transportation.  Partly that’s because of changes in bike design: front sprockets are thinner than they used to be and derailleurs used to be mounted directly to the rear fork, not to a deformable hanger. Partly it’s because I’m mainly a bike commuter, and the bending of derailleur hangers is more common with off-road mountain bike riding.

One of the comments on yesterday’s post made some interesting points:

I was a bike mechanic/shop manager for 7 years while teaching at the university and working on the Masters. Working on a bike is so easy and relaxing that it might be worth your while to learn how to do it. A good bike stand (Park PCS-10) is the biggest investment. This stand folds up for easy storage. Tools are fairly minimal cost wise. Finding anyone that can do a good job on a recumbent can be hit or miss; they can have some idiosyncrasies. There are a couple of how-to books out there that are not bad but usually everything you need to know can be learned by just looking closely at the problem. There are some special pullers for the crank arms depending on the crank manufacturer but Park Tools sells them at a good price. I like working on bikes. I can bring everything in the house on a bad weather day and just fuss around cleaning, adjusting and lubing. It isn’t like working on a car or motorcycle where you have to freeze you ass off in the garage. (Although I do occasionally bring the motorcycle in the house to work on in the winter. The wife is not excited by the motorcycle in the living room but she can handle it for a while.) You can become a true Zen master of bikes only by working on them. To achieve true inner peace you must be able to discuss intelligently the structural advantages of have a three cross spoke pattern on the drive side and a radial pattern on the non-drive side of your rear wheel. Not only will you achieve inner peace, you will become widely known as an über bike geek.

I’m not interested in becoming a “true Zen master of bikes”.  If I wanted a meditative physical activity, I would probably take up weaving again (I still have a couple of looms that I’ve not used in a long time).  The repetitive nature of throwing the shuttle exactly the same each time, while maintaining awareness of the pattern of the foot pedals and watching for flaws, did indeed lead me into meditative states.

I do have a bike stand—not a Park but a cheaper Blackburn stand.  I also have several tools acquired over the years (chain link tool, spoke wrench, metric Allen wrenches, metric hex wrenches, crank puller, chain-cleaning tool, floor bike pump, …).  I do the simpler maintenance on my bike: replacing brake pads, patching tubes, changing tires, adjusting derailleurs, minor truing of the wheels, replacing the chain, … . For that matter, I understand the differences between the radial and 3-cross spoke patterns, and why you want the drive side spokes to be tangential to the hub (I’m not sure that I agree about wanting a radial pattern on the non-drive side as that assumes more flex in the hub than I think is warranted unless you are using super lightweight parts).

Unlike the commenter, I do not find working on the bike very relaxing. It is somewhat rewarding to be able to keep things in repair myself, but the actual hands-on part is more irritating than relaxing.  I suppose that if I didn’t drop things and lose them nor bang my knuckles when the wrench slips, I’d find it more relaxing.  I used to do all the bike maintenance myself, but as I’ve aged I’ve decided more and more often that I’m happier paying a professional to do it right than doing it myself.  The two repairs yesterday and today are good examples—I was perfectly happy doing the minor maintenance on my son’s bike, but leaving the straightening of the derailleur to someone who had the right tool. Thirty years ago, I might have preferred jury-rigging something with vise grips.  Twenty years ago, I might have ordered a specialized tool and waited two weeks for it, but now, a trip to the bike shop is faster, cheaper, and less irritating.  And the fix is done properly.

I’ve been finding the same thing for home repairs.  Some things (like using a plunger or a plumber’s snake, hanging a picture, replacing a switch plate, oiling locks and hinges, or fastening a bookcase to wall) are things everyone should be able to do.  I’ve acquired some tools that are a little unusual for a homeowner (like a hammer drill for drilling into my concrete walls and a bench-top drill press), but for bigger jobs (like replacing the windows, framing and installing skylights, building a gate, tiling the kitchen with ceramic tile, or installing insulation on the inside of the concrete walls) I prefer hiring a competent contractor.  Finding a good contractor was difficult at first, but I now have one who I’m quite comfortable with who does both big remodel jobs and smaller ones.  (He’s my age, though, so I expect that in another decade I’ll be looking for a new contractor when he retires.)

I have a great deal of respect for the do-it-yourself and maker movements, and I do get some pleasure out of designing and making things.  But there are times when I prefer buying something ready-made or hiring a professional to do the job right—different people will find different levels of doing-it-themselves optimal.

2012 March 27

Sprockets closed

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:07
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One of my favorite bike shops (Sprockets on Mission Street in Santa Cruz) closed last Saturday without any fanfare.  When I went by today to get a repair to my bike, they were emptying the store.  I’ve been shopping there for at least a decade—all my son’s bikes were bought there and all major maintenance on my recumbent has been from them.

It will be annoying, not having such a good bike shop within easy walking distance.   I’ll probably have to start taking my bike 2 miles to The Bicycle Trip on Soquel (my second favorite bike shop—I would like them better if they were closer to my house).

There are bike shops closer than The Bicycle Trip, but I don’t know if I’ll use them—I want to support a full-service bike shop that gives back to the bike community.

There is no way that I’ll ever take my bike to Spokesman downtown. I got treated rudely there a couple of times a few years back, and I’ve heard other long-time bicycle commuters complain about problems with “attitude” at Spokesman.

Another Bike Shop is only a mile away, but the few times I’ve been in there, they’ve seemed to be a purely mountain-bike shop with a minor side interest in beach cruisers—nothing for commuting, bike touring, or road riding.  They may have the parts and expertise to maintain my son’s bike (unless they laugh at the fenders, which would guarantee my never shopping there again), but I don’t think I’d want them working on my recumbent.

I do need to make a decision soon about a new bike shop—my son had a bike accident last week, and his rear derailleur no longer shifts into the lowest gear properly.  I tried adjusting it, but I think that the derailleur is actually bent (it hits the spokes when the chain is centered on the lowest gear), and fixing that is beyond my limited bike mechanic skills. (It may just be the derailleur hangar that is bent, which would be a fairly simple replacement.)

I also need to replace the smallest front sprocket on my bike, which seems to have gotten bent—I’ve no idea how.

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