I tell a lot of stories. There are three stories that I repeat a lot and in my trinity of oft told tales the names Scott DeMoss, Rob Peters or Kelly Jo Vaillancourt come up weekly. Interestingly, all three stories are bicycle themed, though the first only obliquely so.
I attended Ashton, Maryland’s Sherwood High and in my junior year I sat in Mr. Burke’s trigonometry class absorbing nothing. Scott DeMoss, a friend since sixth grade, is and was far more mathematically inclined than I. My inability to easily grasp higher math, Mr. Burke’s aging, myopic eyes and failing hearing along with Scott’s willingness to help a friend in need culminated in me cheating off of Scott and thereby remaining woefully ignorant of all things trigonometric.
This Tale of Trigonometry did provide me with an invaluable lesson: Cheating equals ignorance. Maybe if I had passed trig I could calculate spoke lengths rather than having to rely on other people’s calculations and databases. I passed a class in which I learned nothing. In the second half of my junior year in the spring of 1978 I made a no cheating pledge to self. Two years later I failed a college math class, but I didn’t cheat and Scott, along with trigonometry did teach me a most valuable life lesson.
Fast forward a decade and we have Rob’s Rebuke, a tale where I took one for the team. Rob Peters and I were co-workers in Roswell, Georgia’s North Fulton Cyclesports and one afternoon a customer arrives to pick up his completed repair. I grab the bike from the repair area and am reviewing the completed work with the customer when the man becomes apoplectic.
“You moved my seat height!” he declares with vehemence.
“Pardon?” I ask.
“You. Moved. My. Seat. Height!” he repeats with no less heat.
Bicycle technicians work on bikes in bike stands. We are loath to clamp bicycles to the stand via the frame for fear of damaging it so we frequently raise a bike’s seat, place the bike in the stand by clamping the seatpost, finish the repair, and return the seat to within a micro-millimeter of where we found it. This has been SOP in all nine bicycle shops that I have worked since 1986. All’s good so long as the last step is part of the process, that essential final part where we return the seat to within a micro-millimeter of where we found it.
I stand dumbfounded and dumb.
“Oh,” I finally reply. “Let me fix that for you.”
Apparently this was not a response Mr. Major Meltdown felt was appropriate for the sin I had committed and for what seemed like the next hour but likely was less than two minutes he harangued me and, at least in my three-decade-old remembrance of the indecent, my lineage, IQ, social standing and the legitimacy of my birth.
While my memory may not correspond exactly to the reality of the seat that was not replaced to its original position I do remember biting my tongue and not saying the words I longed to: “I didn’t do it! Rob did!” I didn’t say those words for a variety of reasons ranging from they would likely have escalated rather than damped the man’s ire, the excuse would have been unprofessional, and I came of age in a time and place where “Sucking it up” was a societal expectation for men. Mr. Meltdown ranted, I seethed and until today the wonderful Rob Peters has never heard this tale.
Happy birthday, Rob!
I did come away from that experience with a reinforced knowledge of the importance of documenting a rider’s bicycle set-up before altering it in any way and to be absolutely certain to put the bike back in the same set-up in which I begin unless altering the bike’s set-up is part of the repair. (Sometimes we’ll lower seats or stems to maximum safe height lines without customer approval, but that’s a whole different topic.) My unearned dressing-down made me a vocal advocate among my fellow technicians to always put the bloody seat back where we find it!
Kelly Jo is my famous friend without a belly button, and while I’ve met many people I consider spineless she is the only person I know who is as navel-less as most oranges. A fact I learned in 2015 when conducting a hands on flat tire changing clinic.
I teach people to install tires sitting down and as we neared completion of the class I instructed everyone to place their bike wheel in their lap with the valve directly in front of their bellybuttons. When Kelly Jo informed that she’d lost hers as a result of some surgical collateral damage she forever earned her place in my spiel of how to change a flat and a regular mention as my bellybuttonless friend.
Here’s to stories, friends and life lessons!