UCONN Cycling Team, back in the day, Brimfield, MA.
L-R Ed, Marty, me
This was a great team, great friendships, friendships that continue to this day.
Sorry it's been a while. Couldn't help but be inspired tonight though. It started at work, sort of like this. Bartali*, a co-worker at the car place, came up to me.
"Hey, Aki, you're, like, a bike guy, right?"
"Kelly* (mutual friend who is also in the car business, he was our neighbor for a year) said that you can work on bikes."
"Can I borrow a tool from you? For the brakes?"
Ended up Bartali and I both got out of work at 8. He lives next door to Kelly, they both live about a mile away, so I let him know just to head over after he got home.
That evening the temperature dropped into the 50s, I think the first time this season I drove in such temperatures on the way home. I opened the windows and let the chill air into the car.
As usual, like it's happened since I can remember, I got an adrenaline rush.
Now, it might be that I just shiver when 59 degree air hits me hard, but there's no hiding the butterflies in my stomach. It's the same reaction I get when I get psyched for a race, or even for a nice corner on my commute home.
I hit said corner hard on the way home, a nice 70-ish degree turn that is normally a 2nd gear turn, 20-25 mph. At speed it's a 3rd gear turn, mid 50s entry speed, and the tail of the (front wheel drive) car kicks out just a bit as I exit the thing.
(And I'm sure the corner is really a 60 mph thing, it's just that as a car driver I don't take excessive risk on the road and I'm not a very good driver as a recent kart night vividly illustrated to me.)
At any rate when I got home I texted Bartali to let him know I was home and to just head over. I told the Missus that one of my coworkers would be over shortly and we'd work on his bike.
So that's how it happened that at about 9 PM, with the garage door open, the outside lights on, the Missus peered out the house door into the garage and noted in a serious, quiet voice, "There are two guys on bikes in our driveway."
I went to the door and, from the top of the stairs, could only see sneakers and pants. When I got down a few steps I saw Bartali, who I expected. But Kelly was there too. Both sat astride 24" wheeled bikes, one a BMX/cruiser type, the other a 5 speed kid's bike.
With their very non-serious outfits - jeans, sweatshirts, rebellious looking hats (backward skate cap, some kind of painter's cap thing) - both looked exactly like what they were not: two doting dads who wanted to fix up bikes to ride with their kids. I bet anyone that passed them that night probably thought, "Damn kids, ought to be home after dark!"
Bartali, on the cruiser, was on his own bike - he wanted this to ride with his young daughter.
Kelly was astride his son's bike.
Both, for all the world, looked like two guys astride their (we coined the word that night) "Dewey Bikes", a term Bartali coined.
I should spell it the way it was meant to be spelled.
Right, now you have the picture. As Bartali described it, "It's like when you see 'that guy' riding a bike and you think, it's got to be a DUI bike." Meaning the guy lost his license for DUI and is riding a bike to and from work.
Appropriately enough both Bartali and Kelly had a can of something in their respective pockets, and it wasn't a Coke either. For the first half hour or so they took swigs from their cans regularly.
Both had ridden over from their houses, sidewalks all the way. That sounds sort of familiar, right? Riding over to your friend's house on a bike? At night? Not just any night, it would be on a nice, crisp, fall night. Sidewalks, quiet one square mile town?
It's like how things used to be.
How things should be.
I took a look at Kelly's bike first, just because. I actually don't remember what I did, but it didn't take long, I think it wasn't shifting right. I probably checked the brakes because I always do - brakes, bars, stem, cranks, pedals, stuff that if it's loose will almost guarantee a nasty fall.
Then I checked Bartali's bike. He had a newer, better quality bike except for one thing. The rear brake didn't work at all, like at all. The pads barely touched the rim when the brake lever was pressed against the grip. That's usually okay in a super iffy way because most bikes have a front brake and front brakes do all the work anyway.
Except on this bike.
His bike did not have a front brake.
I stood there stunned for a moment while my brain ran through the implications of this bike. My immediate thought was, well, his daughter better learn in a flat area because she won't be able to slow very much on a downhill.
Then I had another thought. How the heck did he get to the house without crashing?
To get from his house to my house he'd have to come down a steep hill, over 10% grade according to Strava. On my road bike, without pedaling, I'll regularly top 32-33 mph just before a sharp 180 that leads to my house. With no brakes he probably hit that turn at a similar speed, in the dark, no lights, no nothing.
Me: "How the heck did you get here?"
Bartali: "Dude, I almost crashed riding here!"
I'm sure the can of refreshing beverage didn't help, although, to be fair, the beverage would have helped deal with pain if he'd dumped his bike in the middle of the 180.
I started working on the brake. I figured in their state, in the dark, it'd be much more expedient to do the work for them instead of them trying to do it on their own. I had my bike tools out (to lend him) so I had access to my 4th hand tool, a ratchet 15mm for his rear wheel (it was crooked in the frame), and a 5mm for the brake pads.
The whole time we were talking about stuff. Cars because we're all car guys, at least professionally (*edit well, me not anymore /edit). Skateboards (those two skate; I don't). Kids, because we all have kids.
We were out there for a solid two hours, talking away. I even got bit by a mosquito and didn't go sprinting into the house.
At some point we collectively decided we needed to go back inside our homes to help with our kids. Bartali rolled down my super steep driveway and actually didn't crash at the bottom. Kelly rolled out behind him.
I closed the garage door and walked back inside.
Many years ago, maybe 20 years ago now, I dreamed that my house would be a go-to point for riders. There'd be a sort of communal work stand, access to tools, some reasonable supply of parts (tubes, cleats, screws, miscellaneous saddle bags, skewers, tires, whatever), and the right people for some good conversation.
As time slowly slid by I gave up on that dream. I realized it would take a solid commitment on my part (where's that communal work stand?), the right environment (if it takes 30 minutes to drive over it loses some spontaneity so everyone needed to be close by), and, of course, the right people.
Where I lived before the whole "meet up at Aki's" never really worked out, primarily because I was never around. Thing is that even if I was around there were other mitigating factors. My riding friends were scattered all over the place, most of them a pain-in-the-butt 30-40 minute drive away (the wonders of suburbia). None of our schedules meshed as far as work and home life was concerned. The friends that were closest had other obligations I didn't understand back then, mainly kids, but also wives.
The shop, while it existed, became the club house, especially in the last few years of its existence. We worked together during "work", then, after a quick check of our own bikes, go out on a group ride.
Behind the shop, 1997, before a ride. You never saw a cleaner set of bikes.
L-R Rich, me, Joe, Kurt, Mike.
Photo by Andre Farkas.
Then we'd stay in the shop after and work on our bikes, talk about racing/riding/life, and, maybe after a dinner at the diner next door, head on home. Then we'd return and do it again the next day. One of the guys, Mike, he reminded me of those days when I visited him at work one day about 10 or 15 years later.
"Dude, remember we used to ride after work all the time? Then we'd overhaul our bikes at the shop? Degrease the drivetrain. I used to polish my hubs every ride. Then we'd do it again the next day... And we used to put new bar tape on every week? We were so crazy back then."
Hanging out with Bartali and Kelly brought back that dream. The idea of a garage that welcomed visitors… that thought will never go away.
This year (*edit I meant 2015 but it'll be the foreseeable future now /edit) I lived the polar opposite of a real life clubhouse. There wasn't a lot of hanging out at "the shop" for sure. The reality is that it is me and Zwift in the basement for training. I've tried to meet up with a couple people on Zwift, if you will, but it's tough. Schedules mesh even less nowadays.
In 2015 I had some social weekend/weeknight races in real life, but I rarely went out before/after races. Heck, after I started working I missed every team meeting because I had to work until 8 PM every Monday; our team meetings are 7-8 PM last Monday of the month. Normally I'm good about getting to them. Bonus is that after the meetings a bunch of us would usually go out to dinner together; when I missed the meetings I also missed the dinners.
When I work on my bike it's usually in a room so deep in the basement (and so messy) that the Missus hasn't been in it for probably years. I clean the drivetrain outside but the rest of it - soldering SRM batteries or switching saddles/pedals/cranks/etc, that's all indoors.
It's been a long time since I dreamed of the "chill club house garage". It's unlikely to happen in the next year or three. But maybe, just maybe, one day it'll become a reality.
(A service-only shop that is like the whole clubhouse thing is Velo Hangar. Unfortunately for me they're on the wrong coast.)