Just like Little Jimmy (eek! I’m referring to myself in the third person!), most bicycle mechanics out there are bicycle enthusiasts who got into the bike business to help spread the Gospel of Riding.
The Gospel of Riding is a holy tome, largely unseen and arcane, that encourages people to live the righteous life of the rider by forsaking all other pastimes for the pure bliss that comes from spending a couple of good hours spinning the pedals and the wheels of a bicycle atop the surface of a rotating Earth that spins around the Sun. There is a balance in the universe that bike riding illustrates and restores. This is why a good bike ride has the potential to place the rider in a truly Zen-like state.
If the Buddha or Jesus had had bicycles available, it’s a pretty sure bet they would have ridden them. Find a wild-haired, darkly tanned pilgrim riding with loaded paniers on a journey of self discovery, and you will find a person who has gazed beyond the pale fabric of reality and into the realm of the divine. We mechanics routinely find these people coming into our shops for supplies, maintenance and equipment that will help them continue their quest, and when we gaze into the eyes of these sojourners, we smile and wish that everyone in the world could join their ranks. After all, who knows? It might only take just one more spin around the loop or around the park on a bicycle to avoid another spin around the Wheel of Samsara once we shed our Earthly chains at the conclusion of this lifetime.
Unfortunately, and usually innocently enough, some mechanics become false prophets in their zeal to get people riding.
I recently was approached by a young woman who had fallen victim to a misguided mechanic. It seems the mechanic—apparently in a quest to deliver uncompromising salvation—had made promises that he couldn’t deliver. In fact, he had made promises that no mechanic could ever deliver. His mechanical hubris had stepped beyond the bounds of reality, and for anyone other than a true Saint imbued with the ability to transcend the the physical realm, he had asked his unwitting customer to take a leap of faith into the abyss of certain mechanical failure.
In this case, when the customer had asked the mechanic whether he could add a rear cassette with a granny gear so large that it would propel the rider to the tops of the highest mountains without effort of any kind, his simple and naive answer was “Yes, my child! Yes!”
And when the customer asked whether this could be done without compromise to the bicycle, the misguided mechanic waved his arms in the air—fingers quivering toward the heavens—and answered exuberantly in the affirmative, delighting the customer beyond her wildest dreams!
The promise had been made, the wheels were set in motion: The customer thought nothing of authorizing the mechanic to spend hundreds of dollars on major equipment upgrades—including the miraculous cassette that had been forged from a single piece of alloy at a cost of several hundred dollars—that would allow her to ride to the Promised Land.
“Giveth me thou bicycle and thou faith, and I shall returneth to you a chariot to the heavens,” was the mechanic’s promise.
After a few bumpy months later, the discouraged disciple found herself on the doorstep of Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse, seeking an exorcism of sorts. The promised bike beatification hadn’t taken hold, and the customer was now in possession of a bicycle that could only steer down a path of utter disappointment. The poor customer’s bicycle was uttering obscenities and blasphemies from its drive train, the headset had been so feverishly tightened that cornering was exacting penance on the bearings; the brake pads had turned themselves upside down.
Several days of meditation and repentance at Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse brought most of the carbon-fiber convert back to its formerly enlightened state, but the derailleur still seemed to be harboring a demon—despite an overhaul that had anointed it with holy greases and balms that would have quieted any other similar component. The derailleur continued to clatter and gnash. Finally, an examination of the item’s technical specifications revealed the issue: Although the capacity of the derailleur hadn’t been exceeded, though the maximum cog size had been, and the cruel silver fangs of the gargantuan cog-devil were slowly and methodically devouring the soft plastic of the derailleur’s upper guide-pulley wheel.
You see, the overzealous mechanic apparently had only considered derailleur capacity when making his modifications to the bike. But cog size must also be considered—particularly when mixing mountain bike and road bike components like the mechanic had done in his quest to make the customer happy. And even though he had noted the clatter and fuss that the component made in the stand, despite racking out the derailleur’s B-Screw to its maximum, he still passed the noisy bike on to his customer, eager to get her out on the roads for a New Age of effortless climbing. But alas, it was not to be.
The poor customer had to tithe heavily to restore the bike to its pristine condition, losing in the process the false expectations of possibly levitating up hills instead of standing on the pedals and hammering to the top in a sweat-soaked frenzy of absolution.
The moral of the story? Nothing comes without work or effort.
If you want to get better at climbing hills, go out and ride your bike more often. Don’t rely on some type of magic gear combination to do it for you. If your mechanic promises a gear ratio that seems too good to be true, it probably is. And it will probably end up being a lot more expensive in the long run.
I have had some unenlightened customers storm out of the shop after I told them matter-of-factly that I couldn’t perform some miracle on their bike that was not possible due to engineering constraints or component incompatibility.
Realize that if your mechanic tells you “no,” he’s not doing it because he’s incompetent, argumentative, or is somehow attempting to prevent you from transcending. Remember, he or she probably rides his or her bike, too, and is working just as feverishly—if not more so—to reach the same two-wheeled enlightenment as you are.
Beware the false prophets in bike shops or bike forums who promise that anything is possible with the proper adapter kit or credit limit.
Remember: Buddha says, “Enjoy every hill.”
Now back to Little Jimmy’s Wheelhouse