The Mountain Bike Life
The Reluctant Wrench

John needed him to check out another road bike. Poor John was working with one of those customers who knew exactly which bike was perfect for him, but had to test ride every bike in the store anyway. He pulled the million pound hybrid, which needed a new dérailleur, setting it aside. He glanced out to the sales floor and caught eyes with T-Swag, who was waiting for the hybrid to be done so that he could get on with his day, which as far as anyone could tell was getting drunk, pissing himself, and crashing his bike, in no particular order.

“And if you could flip the stem?” John asked.


“I know. He’s going to buy the Roobay, but he just has to try the Vengence.”

“Have you told him we can order a time trial recumbant?”

He was just tightening up the stem, noticing that whoever put the bike together routed the shifting cables wrong, and getting another stink eye from T-Swag, when The Boss wheeled a giant carbon tangle of linkage and lockout buttons.

“This lever goes right to the grip,” he announced, squeezing the rear brake. “This is my friend Bob’s bike. His great aunt is very ill, and he needs to ride tonight.” The Boss rolled the bike into his hands and walked away.

“Wow. Apparently a sick distant relative necessitates instant bike repair,” he said to the triangle of bikes fencing him in.

The door chimed. A man entered with what seemed like an endless stream of children dragging an endless stream of bikes that looked as if they had been living underwater. As he knocked out the hybrid derailleur change, he heard the man tell The Boss he needed them all tuned up for a family vacation, and they were leaving tomorrow. The Boss pointed in his direction.

He put the mountain bike into the stand and pointed its lever upwards as the man and his children dragged the bikes to the service counter. The Boss and one of the salesmen teamed up to tag the bikes and make unrealistic promises he struggled to hear over the hum of conversation and screeching children filling the store. His syringe leaked, of course, and as he watched the fluid drip and spill from his fingertip to his palm, he thought about his third ignored request for more nitrile gloves after The Boss’s own kids had used them up trying to make balloons. As a group of kids, including one of The Boss’s, started chasing each other in circles around the service area, occasionally brushing his legs, he thought about those silly service videos parts companies put online showing a sterile workplace, a workbench with just the necessary tools for a brake bleed, lab coats and safety glasses sparkling in the perfect lighting.

Illustration: John Paul

Illustration: John Paul

“I hope these kids turn into T-Swags,” he mumbled to himself. One of the kids screeched with joy, and he looked up to see one of the local mountain bike racers circling the sales floor on a unicycle.

John stormed back and threw his multi-tool. “This place is a freaking circus, dude. The Boss is giving me a hard time for throwing in a free water bottle cage on that bike. Dude, he gives out huge discounts to EVERYONE. I am so ready to walk.”

“If you go, I go,” he said, dropping the mountain bike from the stand. “I’m too old for this retail crap, and I’m too old to bust my ass so someone else can live like a baller.”

They both turned to find The Boss standing behind them. He couldn’t avoid showing that he had heard the entire conversation. He opened his mouth to reply when there was a giant clap of thunder that shook the building. Everyone went silent and the shop went dark. They went to the window to find the parking lot becoming dusty as the wind picked up. Dark clouds were approaching. With headlamps and old service tags they helped who could be helped, but the store soon emptied as it became apparent that it wasn’t a temporary outage. Soon rain and hail started pelting the roof.

“Guess most the county is out of power,” The Boss said. He had appeared from the back room with a box in his hands. “We better finish these before they get warm.” He pulled out a combo pack from the local microbrewery. Everyone went from exhausted to gleeful. The Boss handed a couple of bottles to John and him. “You know, I didn’t buy this business for any other reason than the fact that I love bikes. It sucks when that fact gets lost in rent, bills, and jerk customers.”

They passed around a bottom bracket tool with a bottle opener, and sat in the dark waiting for someone to speak.

“John, how are you and the lady doing?” he asked. “Getting ready to breed?”

“Oh hell no. Not yet. My brother is trying though.”

“Dude, that cracks me up when people talk about that. ‘so and so is trying…’ I don’t even know your brother and his wife, but now I am picturing them putting thermometers in strange places, marking the calendar, assuming the most likely position for conception.”

“I never thought about it that way.” He took a swig. “So how are you and your lady doing? Are you TRYING?”

“Done,” he said. “I left the apartment a couple of days ago. Told her to get a roommate. Turns out she’s been talking to some guy online for awhile.”

“Dude, that sucks!”

“No, it doesn’t,” he said. Finished his beer. Opened another. “That girl is straight up crazy.”

“So who gets the dog?” John asked.

“There is no dog,” he said, laughing. “It is just code I use to say I want to relax. ‘Walking the dog.’ I just made up the canine as an excuse to actually take a lunch break once in awhile.”

The Boss smiled and opened another beer. “With each year, you mechanics just keep getting weirder,” he said.

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