Young Boy on His Paper Route

After the paper route (yes I actually delivered newspapers by bike), my first job with a boss that I could see was as a bike mechanic for Jim’s Bicycle shop. I can proudly say that I was Jim’s first mechanic (thanks Jim!). I was a clueless, arrogant, road bike snob.

Old people would come to the shop (in their 20’s and beyond) and whine about how their hands hurt, or their butts hurt, and I would reluctantly sell them unnecessary accessories like padded gloves and saddles that weren’t made of concrete.

Kids would come in to ask how they could remove the colored anodized finish on their BMX gear because the peer driven fashion trend had swung in a new direction and they had to keep up. I would roll my eyes and tell them “oven cleaner and steel wool”. Did it work? I never tried it myself, but no kid ever came back to say it didn’t.

Occasionally, someone would come in to buy a bike to ride around the neighborhood. They had no interest in racing, or going fast, or in touring foreign countries… that seemed kinda pointless… oh well, I showed them some bikes anyway… Even riders that I should have some respect for would come in and ask questions like; “which color handlebar tape is the lightest?” Perhaps it was simply because I had never considered that sort of question before and was jealous of their higher level of reasoning, I would automatically judge these folks as geeks.

The Mormons I could respect. Each year, two fresh ones were sent out to enlighten the local heathens. They bought stout utility bikes to travel the neighborhoods proselytizing. They didn’t drive around, they rode their bikes around, it wasn’t racing, or going far or fast, but it had a purpose (like delivering papers) and they bought bikes I would never have had the experience working with otherwise… heavy black Ralieghs, real ones, made in England, with rod actuated brakes rather than cables, and wheels that seemed huge! (these were 29’ers, before there were 29’ers) These “missionaries” would ride their time machine bikes, dressed in outfits to match… starched white shirts and neckties, out in the August sauna, smiling and meeting folks. They didn’t complain about hands, or butts, or component colors, neckties, or grams. Their lives were centered around bikes, and selflessness (they had me beat).

It took some time, decades really, before I had some appreciation for the typical customer’s concerns. Eventually, when I got into my 20’s and beyond, gloves and less painful seats did seem like worthy accessories. Having a bike that looks good, not just one that is good, is a nicety that I can now appreciate. Occasionally, riding a bike around the neighborhood or trail with no destination or competitive goal is attractive to me. A lightweight bike is a joy to ride, even if the handlebar tape clashes with the rest of the bike. And if it were possible to deliver souls by bicycle, I’d even be willing to wear a dress shirt and tie as I made my rounds… for a boss I couldn’t see.