• Editor’s note: As the year winds down, I’m taking a page from the mainstream-media playbook and reprinting a handful of this year’s “Mad Dog Unleashed” columns from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. This one was published in the June 15 edition.
That wrenching feeling,
when the customer tries
doing his own assembly
“Men, you’ve been there. You build something like that and you’re done and you got a real little bag of important-looking shit left over.” — Tim Allen, “Men Are Pigs”
By Patrick O’Grady
The times they are a-changing, according to Bob Dylan, who should know. He turned 75 in May.
So how many roads must a man walk down? Well, for starters, there’s this one: The German consumer-direct outfit Canyon plans to bring its some-assembly-required bikes to America. Specifically, to Americans. The ones who don’t work in bike shops.
Some companies — Trek, Giant, Raleigh — have been loitering along the shoulders of this high-speed thoroughfare, allowing their customers to buy online and then pick up their bikes, fully assembled, at their local shops.
But not Canyon. They’re going Furthur, hoping to fill a big ol’ bus with customers that some companies’ lawyers don’t trust to operate the humble quick-release skewer, much less assemble a complete bicycle.
A colleague and I were joking about this the other day, as journalists are prone to do, because the only thing funnier than human suffering is profiting from it.
“Imagine all the late-night drunk internet shopping,” says my colleague. “Then a box of bike parts shows up at the door a week later. ‘Honey, did you order a hang glider?’”
Says I: “Yeah, right about the time the wife scores some goodies from IKEA. Before you know it you’re turning up at the Sunday club ride on something that’s half bicycle, half bookshelf.”
I quoted Tim Allen to him, the bit about assembling a gas grill, a small bag of important-looking items left over, and a wife with her hair on fire. Says he: “You could build a new Great Barrier Reef with all the extra parts and Allen wrenches in every kitchen junk drawer in America.”
But not a new wife. Not yet, anyway, though I’m sure somebody’s working on it.
Tool time. My dad used to build my bikes on Christmas Eve. We’re talking department-store beaters here, assembled with the humble hammer, crescent wrench, flathead screwdriver, bags of time, and that tool of tools, whiskey. Also, profanity, the Universal Solvent. Especially when combined with whiskey.
I could always tell I’d gotten a bike on Christmas Day when the old man sat slouched in his robe at the kitchen table, a Lucky Strike dangling from his lower lip and a mug of Maxwell House in one fist, sporting a pair of eyes that looked like Atomic Fireballs left over from Halloween and a fresh bruise on at least one thumb.
Oddly, the bikes thus assembled failed to kill me. But the ground was softer then, and so were lawyers’ hearts.
Some assembly required. Now, I don’t mean to pick on Canyon, which has simply cut to the chase, barreling smartly along the same road followed by the suppliers of nearly every other consumer product known to mankind.
And I’ve seen their 122-page “Bicycle Manual Road Bike,” which includes everything the home mechanic could possibly want, save for the hammer, crescent wrench, flathead screwdriver, bags of time, whiskey, and profanity.
Canyon’s BikeGuard container does include a torque wrench and mounting paste, however, for anyone who is not already torqued and/or pasted. That’s German efficiency for you.
Oh, what a tangled World Wide Web. It’s the way of the modern world, alas.
We quit buying books at corner bookstores, and now it’s tough to find one that doesn’t have “Adult” or “Used” somewhere in its name (sometimes both, which, eeeyeeww). Ditto music and cameras, computers and running shoes, kitchenware and furniture.
We shop on price, and convenience, and damn the sales taxes, full speed ahead. And somehow we never think it might be our livelihoods we’re selling down the river.
Unless you work in, oh, say, the book biz, the way my wife did. Or newspapers, the way I did.
If I had a hammer. They say you never hear the round that kills you. I certainly never thought journalism would be in its present parlous state — not the newsroom, anyway — and I’ll bet my wife thought bookstores would be around forever, too, though she got sick of them long before that rough beast Amazon slouched along.
And who knows? Maybe the corner bike shop is in that same leaky boat, watching the sharks circle.
I’m not so sure. I think of that customer, hunched over the workbench in his garage, with nothing more than a hammer, crescent wrench, flathead screwdriver, bags of time, whiskey, profanity, torque wrench and mounting paste, and I think there’s still some hope.
We’ll have a Gay old time. I can build a bike if I have to. But I don’t want to have to. I like bike shops. The best of them have seasoned, veteran employees who do this all the time, like Gay, the “inspired mechanic” in John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”
“There is no term comparable to green thumbs to apply to such a mechanic, but there should be,” wrote Steinbeck. “For there are men who can look, listen, tap, make an adjustment, and a machine works.”
When the home mechanics’ service orders start stacking up like bad news in an election year, mechanics like this will feel like Yo-Yo Ma watching a howler monkey take the stage at Carnegie Hall with a banjo, a whoopee cushion and an air-raid siren.
But they will feel appreciated, too. And well paid, maybe even lavishly tipped, if there’s any justice in this world.
There are some things you just can’t buy online.