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Tales from the workshop: bicycle euthanasia

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Photographs: Jon Denham

For some, the bike they own is merely a method of transport, or a tool which allows them to stay fit and enjoy this wonderful pastime of ours. For others, the machine they ride is an extension of their very being and becomes more than ‘just’ a bike as the years roll by and shared experiences on the road accumulate.
My own customer base ranges significantly. Everyone arrives at my workshop door requiring some sort of mechanical assistance, but their needs and expectations can vary dramatically. The seasoned racer often just wants a pre-season tune-up, but I see a lot of clients who want (or need) much more than that.

I was reminded recently of a lovely lady who was referred to me after taking her bike to a local bike shop for a service. She is a keen rider and was about to undertake a challenging charity ride involving long days in the saddle, traversing alpine climbs  – no newbie, but with limited mechanical know-how, which is why she sought professional advice.
After a brief introduction, I asked her what she needed me to do and she explained that she would like a second opinion on the recent diagnosis of her cherished Bianchi. I asked for a little bit of history about the bike and she started to regale me with stories of the rides “they” had done, and how “they” had a few tumbles together, including a particularly memorable crash on a wet roundabout. Throughout the conversation, the lady spoke of how “we” had done this, or how that happened to “her”, summing up with a declaration of love for her Bianchi. She had, perhaps unwittingly, anthropomorphised it…
The bike in question was a relatively inexpensive Nirone 7 and it did, in fairness, need quite a bit of work, but nothing that couldn’t be sorted. The local shop she had ventured into for help had listed a catalogue of issues which, in their opinion, made the bike beyond economical repair – a statement sure to break the heart of anyone who has formed a bond with their machine over the years. The sales assistant suggested that she would be better off looking at a new bike and might do well to consider one of the models they had in store on special offer at the moment. The lady was not in any mood to start shopping for a new bike and returned home saddened by the news that her Bianchi had apparently come to its end.

Just as one might seek a second opinion if a family member was advised that they had a serious illness, the woman in question shared her bad news with a friend, who suggested bringing it to me for appraisal.
Five minutes in my workstand revealed that the wheels that had apparently needed replacing merely required two spokes tensioning and a new drive-side hub bearing. The erratic shifting could without question be corrected with a gear hanger realignment and a fresh cable set, and the bike would benefit from a complete strip down and re-build. No reason as far as I could see to part company with an old friend. I was given the go ahead, and a couple of days later one happy bike and an even happier owner were reunited.
This made me think more about the throwaway culture that we seem to be faced with today. It’s hard on the heartstrings, hard on the pocket and even harder on the environment.
Before I became involved in the cycle industry, I studied electrical servicing and felt that a career repairing faulty electronic equipment would satisfy my need to understand how things work and how to repair them. However, during my time studying it dawned on me that, even way back then, the move towards replacing a board rather than an individual component was looming, and fault-finding could become a thing of the past. As the price of consumer electronics fell, it would become less cost-effective to repair and, in many cases, cheaper to replace.

Bicycle and component manufacturers seem to have adopted the same mentality as the electronics industry, with limited shelf life, new models almost every year and built-in obsolescence. Many of us have a desire (and often a need) to keep faithful machines running at their best as long as possible. However, we have our work cut out now, as rapidly evolving bicycle technology and equipment compatibility make it increasingly difficult. Small spare parts are often no longer available and a complete “module” needs to be purchased, if indeed your dealer stocks it or is prepared to order it.
With the advent of disc brakes on road bikes, the rapid growth in popularity of electronic shifting and high street bike shops crammed to the rafters with the latest lightweight, high-performance equipment (that in fairness not everyone can afford) there’s going to a lot of machinery facing euthanasia as it gets harder and harder to find the spares to keep them on the road.
There is no need for despair just yet, however, as there are still specialist dealers out there with the will and the know-how to repair, rather than replace. Judging from the expression of the lady with the Bianchi when reunited with her bike, in many cases, it’s worth working a bit harder on old friendships rather than seeking new acquaintances.

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