When we moved here to Harlem last year Danusia bought a bike right away. It was a used ten-speed, probably 40 or so years old that she bought from a bike shop on Amsterdam Avenue up a ways in Washington Heights. She suggested I get one too, but seeing as it was fall and winter was coming on, I said I’d wait till summer.
Her bike spent the winter chained up to a chain-link fence in our courtyard, and when Danusia finally decided to take it out in late spring, she discovered the front wheel was gone.
Meanwhile, I’d been doing work for my friends Elly and Eddie on the Upper East Side, and the work required me to go down to their basement a lot. In the basement were a bunch of abandoned bikes, so covered with dust and rust some looked like they hadn’t been touched in twenty years. There were two that were serviceable, a man’s ten-speed mountain bike, and a DAHON folding bike.
I asked Elly about the bikes and she suggested I put a sign up in the hallway to see if they actually still belonged to anyone or if someone would be willing to sell them. I was hoping they were abandoned, and I might just get a free bike. As a friend of mine once said, free is always better than cheap.
Within days I got an email from my friend Janet, who lives in the same building and was actually the one who hooked me up with Elly and Eddie.
The email said she knew who owned the DAHON, and she was sure the woman did not want to part with the bike. However, Janet had an extra bike someone had been ready to toss out, and if I wanted it, the bike was mine.
Back here in Harlem, Danusia had bought a new (used) wheel to replace the stolen one so she could ride her bike again. The first time she took it out she said the front brake was rubbing now. The she got a flat on the rear tire. I suggested she order new tires, as the ones on the bike were both pretty worn out and she was going to keep getting flats. I promised to change the tires (and inner tubes) and adjust the rubbing brake.
I went to pick up the bike Janet had for me, and it’s a nice bike, a woman’s bike. But who cares? A bike is a bike and that’s good enough for me.
“The gears don’t work,” Janet said as I examined the bike. It’s a Raleigh USA mountain bike with cantilever brakes and rapid-fire gearshifts. It has brand new tires on it and relatively little wear for a bike almost 15 years old. I know this because I looked up the model on the Internet and found out it has an aluminum frame, making it lighter than Danusia’s bike. I rode it to the subway and brought it home. I wasn’t riding it up hills stuck in a middle gear.
I looked up how to fix rapid-fire gears on YouTube and discovered the BikemanforU character among others. There’s also Ron Ritz, who’s been “doing this for forty years,” and Donald Lloyd, a funny Englishman on the Global Cycling Network.
I watched the Bikeman first, a big guy in his 50’s with a ponytail and whitewalls. His video showed me how to unfreeze and lubricate the gears, though he started out saying,
“You’re gonna have to cut the gear cable to do this. No if, ands, or buts about it!”
Au contraire, Mr. Bikeman! I was able to remove the cover without cutting the cable! It took me a couple of tries, but I finally got the gears working.
Danusia’s new tires and inner tubes arrived, and yesterday our living room became an impromptu bike shop. Not having a truing stand, I turned Danusia’s bike upside down on the seat and handlebars and went to work.
I watched Ron Ritz’s video on how to change tires, even though I did it plenty of times as a kid.
When we ordered the tires I asked Danusia to order the tire changing levers, and it was a lot easier than using a screwdriver to pry the tires over the rims like I did as a kid. The Ron fellow joked how some woman used a butcher knife to do it and punctured the inner tube.
I left the YouTube channel on as I worked, and listened to a few other bike experts natter on about tips and such on changing tires. The best and funniest was the Englishman, Lloyd, who showed you how to cut your inner tube in half and tie off the ends.
“This will hold enough air to get you home,” he said.
“And if that won’t work, there’s always grass…” He demonstrated by stuffing wads of grass into his bike tire. I hope I never get that desperate.
After putting the tires on I debated taking the bike to a gas station or buying a pump. I settled on buying a pump, and took the bus to the Bronx for a visit to Target. I bought a foot pump and a helmet for myself. I came home to finish the job.
After filling the tires with air, I played around with the recalcitrant front brake on Danusia’s bike and got it to the point that it didn’t stick anymore. I oiled the chain and the axles, cleaned the bike as much as I could and repositioned the loose Kryptonite lock holder she’d installed herself. She’d installed it over the brake cable, that’s why it wasn’t tight.
I put my own lock holder on, after searching for a suitable place for it. I marveled at my re-conditioned 21-speed rapid-fire gears.
I’d already ridden the bike down to Fairway the other day, and after huffing and puffing up the steep hill from Riverside drive in mid-gear I’m happy I got them fixed. Danusia took her bike out last night and reported the brake wasn’t rubbing. We are ready for a big ride down Riverside Park this weekend.