Bicycling Archives - 500 Ways

Wrong Way Wooten

Wrong Way Wooten

World’s Most Eccentric Bicycle Tourist

Copyright 2014-2022, Jeff Napier



Wrong Way Wooten

You may occasionally hear someone refer to doing something oddly, or backward, as “Wrong Way Wooten.”
This has become an expression almost entirely detached from its roots. Something like, “Who is John Galt?” That came from the classic novel, Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. But what about “Wrong Way Wooten?” What’s that all about?

In approximately 1955, Tom Wooten was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylavnia.

This place with the weird spelling (pronounced “brin mar”) is approximately eleven miles outside of Philadelphia. Bryn Mawr means “Big Hill” in Welsh. This is a little town of approximately 4,000 people with a neat little downtown where most of the buildings, and most homes, are made of red or orange brick. Bryn Mawr is known as one of the wealthiest areas in the United States, and that figures into our story later on. Ten percent of the population is black, ten percent Asian, and the rest mixed or white.



Bryn Mawr in Pennsylavania



Downtown Bryn Mawr

Tom grew into a tall, slim, very dark skinned, strong, good-looking man. For a short while in the 1980s, he was slightly world-famous. He did not attain the level of celebrity such as Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, or Burt Reynolds, but he did become a legend, and I think you’ll agree that what he did was significant.

So what did he do? He rode a bicycle backward. That’s all. But he leveraged that skill to deliver a message, and he did it well.

It started when Tom was thirteen years old. In a discussion with a friend, the idea of riding a bike while sitting on the handlebar came up. The friend said it couldn’t be done. Tom proved otherwise.

Through his high school and college years, he perfected this skill, and was occasionally seen riding his bike backward through the town.

There is no information about where he went to college. In fact like much of the information about Tom Wooten, well, there just isn’t much information. One thing we know for sure is that it wasn’t Bryn Mawr college, since that’s an all-woman’s college.

Initially, he rode an ordinary ten-speed bike of the era. with the only modifications being padded tape on the handlebar, to make sitting on it more comfortable, and mirrors on long brackets so he could see where he was going.

When he saw the way people reacted to seeing him ride that way, he decided it would be his career someday.

It wasn’t long before people started calling him “Wrong Way Wooten.” Later, he legally changed his first name to “Wrong Way.”

In his late 20s, evidently after driving a tow truck for a while, and receiving a degree in psychology, he planned his first cross-country tour. Originally, he was going to ride with five other people, but they all backed out before he started. He relates, “I learned never to count on anybody for anything.”

he built a custom bike for his purpose. It was based on a Schwinn Varsity, which was a heavy all-steel ten-speed road bike of the late 1970s, with a one-piece crank.



Schwinn Varsity

In addition to padding the handlebar and adding mirrors, he removed the seat, and put a portable television in its place. He then somehow attached another ten-speed bike to the rear of his bike in order to carry more gear. There is no information as to exactly how the second bike was attached. There are conflicting reports as to how much the entire contraption weighed. The report that I believe says it was 160 lbs (72 kg). Other reports put it at “over 300 pounds” and some say it was 450 lbs.



Wrong Way Wooten and his custom bike

Wrong Way converted the bike to 21 speeds, quite rare in the 1980s, but left the shifters in their original position – on the handlebar stem. This meant that he had to reach between his legs to change gears.



Stem shifters on a Schwinn Varsity

His bike had toe-clips, which were, of course, installed backward on the pedals.



A pedal with toeclip

Before his first trip to traverse the entire United States, he studied maps. Being independently wealthy (according to what little is written – and we don’t know how he attained that wealth, but Bryn Mawr is known for its wealthy residents), he then hired a small airplane to fly low, examining his proposed route for overly steep hills, road construction and other such potential problems.

Wrong Way then set out on his journey with a specific self-appointed mission. He represented several major charities including The American Cancer Society, The American Lung Society, The Heart Fund, the Jaycees, United Way, and March of Dimes, taking donations in person and also encouraging people to donate directly to their favorite charities.

According to the legend, he criss-crossed the country several times totaling 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) over the next seventeen years. As he tirelessly explained to thousands of people across the country, “The main reason I do what I do is to get people to realize that they have a responsibility to other people.” When he could, he would ride more than 100 miles in a day, but on many days he couldn’t get that far. This was due to interruptions as fascinated people wanted to talk with him. He was fine with that.

To some, it looked like what he was doing, riding around the country on a bike, would be limitless fun, but he cited some problems, such as flat tires, bad weather and racists who sometimes tried to run him off the road. “I can’t hate them, then I would be just like them.”

Someone once asked what he does when he gets a flat tire. With a straight face he answered, “I set the bike on fire.”

He did not recommend that other people should tour backwards. “One mistake, and you’re history.”

As with all good legends, the stories sometimes exceed the truth. One person remembers that Wrong Way was an expert on the subject of girls. He was supposedly a remarkable cook and a karate expert. That may be true. At least one person says Wrong Way was able to read minds, responding to unvoiced questions. All say he was a brilliant conversationist, able to speak on any level from ghetto talk to erudite conversations with professors.

He has been spoken of as a loner, and in a way, I suppose he was. This was a one-man crusade, and it must have been hard for him to have permanent, deep friendships, since he was always on the move. There is an unverified story that he had a son, who he pretty much entirely neglected. It is reported that this boy had a hard time in school, being an angry, disruptive student.

With the public, he was evidently quite gregarious. On his bike he also carried a sound system, and on more than one occasion he could be seen riding backward, accompanied by blaring music – anything from opera to rock, and sometimes happily singing along.

He planned on riding for twenty-five years. Unfortunately, in 2004, at age 47, he died of a massive heart attack.

His credo was, “Bind yourself to nothing and seek harmony with all things. Only then can you be truly free.” People who remember him say he was a wonderful and very personable ambassador for kindness to others.

I hope you enjoyed this little book! You can discover more like and unlike this, at FreeSpeedReads.com. – Jeff

How To Start a Bike Shop

How To Start a Bike Shop

Complete Details For Building a Successful Bicycle Store From Scratch
Even If You Have Little Money, Time, or Experience.

Copyright 2014 – 2022, Jeff Napier

Table of Contents

Start Here

Why – The Benefits

Why Not – The Objections

About The Author – Is He Qualified?

The Evolutionary Approach

Partnerships

Some Ways to Start Small

Stepping Up to a Storefront

Licensing, Paperwork, Credit Cards

Inventory

Sales Techniques

Managing Employees

Advertising and Publicity

Websites That Work

Social Networking

Craigslist

Leveraging eBay

The Guy Who Did Everything Wrong

Summary

Start Here


Table of Contents

This book is for anyone who is considering starting a bicycle store, and may be surprisingly profitable for people who already own one. By reading this book, you can avoid the pitfalls many of us had to blindly fall into, and enjoy building a bike shop easily and profitably.

Have fun and prosper, – Jeff Napier, author


Why?


Table of Contents

I once read that owning a bicycle store is the number one entrepreneurial American dream, and probably of people throughout the world. So, why on earth would anyone want to start a bicycle shop? Perhaps because. . .

* You get to be your own boss. You set the rules. You make and benefit from your decisions.

* You can make more money than most company employees.

* You will have a business with unlimited growth potential.

* You represent a good product. Bicycles are certainly earth-friendly. A human being on a bicycle is the most energy efficient machine on earth in terms of energy spent for mass moved. A human on a bicycle is also the most efficient animal on earth. Bikes play a central part in childhood, giving kids their first opportunity to expand out into the world, learning to be accountable for their own actions, pride and responsibility of ownership, and even mechanical skills.

* As a retailer, you meet lots of people and have wonderful conversations.

* You gain the esteem of being a business owner.

* You get to play with inventory management. This is a bit like stamp collecting. You manage an ever-growing collection of bikes, parts and accessories, and get to profit from ‘trading’ them.

* If you wish, you can participate in the rewarding craft of bicycle repair.

* As the owner of a bike shop, you have the opportunity to branch out. You can manage a fleet of bicycles for package delivery or rental. You can build custom human-powered machines. You can teach bicycle repair. You can lead tours or sponsor races. Your bicycle shop can even become the stepping stone to philanthropic pursuits.

* Your shop can be your legacy. It can outlive you, being something that can be sold, or passed on to your children.

Why Not

Table of Contents

You may have been told that starting a retail store is a very risky undertaking. That it costs a lot to start, and you could lose it all. Or, that you can’t ever get enough cash or credit to start a bike shop. Or that it is too difficult to learn and manage. Or that you are lacking something you may need, such as time, or experience. You may have been told you’ll need to spend long hours just breaking even for the first several years.

You may have been told these things by well-meaning people. Unfortunately, they don’t know what I know, and what you’ll know by the time you finish reading this book. While starting a bicycle shop without knowing exactly what you are doing can be risky business, I’ll tell you exactly the things that you need to know to do it easily and safely.

About The Author
Is He Qualified?


Table of Contents



Jeff Napier, your author

You may be wondering who I am to write this book. Sometimes, I wonder, too! After, all, I’m not going to sell many copies of such a specialized book. So, evidently, I’m doing this for something besides profit. I simplay want to share this information. By supporting bike shops, I’m supporting bicycling, and we all know the benefits – exercise, enjoyment, kids gaining a ‘can-do’ attitude, reduction of urban noise, danger, and pollution – the list goes on. I made mistakes when I started out, and I’m still making mistakes. I’ve seen so many bike shop owners mess up in various ways. There is no need! Read a bit, and you can benefit from what I picked up along the way. What way?

It all started in 1974 when I opened my first bike shop with six used bikes, a handful of tools, a few boxes of used parts and $400. This was in a small city of 350,000 residents, and there were already ten other bike shops. In five years, it grew into the leading ‘pro’ shop in the city. In the winter I taught framebuilding, wheelbuilding, and general bicycle repair courses. A local newspaper reporter stated that my shop was the ‘fastest growing retail store in town.’ How he compiled that information, I do not know. Perhaps he just guessed. In any case, customers frequently commented on the remarkably rapid growth of the business.

Being young, and full of enthusiasm, after five years, I lost interest, so I sold my shop, and traveled around the country in a motorhome for several years. Along the way, I coached the owner of a floundering bike shop that had fallen $140,000 in debt. In six months time, we had his debt reduced to $60,000, the owner knew how to move forward, and had his confidence back. That was more than 30 years ago, and his shop still exists today.

I started two other bike shops, one a sole proprietorship, and one was a partnership with two others. I also had several related and unrelated businesses, such as a mobile welding operation, a bookstore and a fairly large eBay business. At one point, in order to support some relatives who had got themselves into a bad financial position, I rented a large house, and started a Craigslist-based used bike business that was as profitable as a typical glass-front retail store.

As time went on, computers started to amuse me more and more, and the Internet came into existence. So I wrote BikeWebSite.com. After it entertained the first 385,000 visitors, I sold it, and moved on to other pursuits. BikeWebSite has changed quite a bit over the years, but here’s the original author page. bikewebsite.com/author.htm.



BikeWebSite

Having been successful in a varied assortment of businesses, I was being asked more and more often to coach people in business, so I became a business coach. By 2004 I was noticing that while several of my clients were doing well, some were evidently coming up against blocks. They seemed incapable of managing even simple changes they so much needed in their businesses. Convinced that the problem was some sort of psychology, I took two years off, studying Neuro-linguistic Programming, which is the applied study of human nature, and eventually became a certified master NLP practitioner. Now, I can help business owners with blocks, family and employee relations, and so much more. For instance, in studying the subconscious ways we communicate, I have even learned many inner secrets of advertising and publicity, which I will share with you in this book.

I’ve done all my business in America, so you’ll find American prices, and our silly non-metric measurements in this book. If you are outside the USA, I’m sure you can make the necessary conversions. In some of the business details, I discuss the American ways. With a quick check on the Internet or a phone call or two, you will be able to determine any differences in your country.

The Evolutionary Approach

Table of Contents

It starts right here with this very simple bit of advice:

Start small, then let it grow.

Here is a typical example: I knew a member of the bicycle racing club in a small city. He found a wholesale source of high-end bicycle tires. He bought 100 at a time and sold them to his fellow racers and a few tourists. He also started re-wholesaling them to the local bike shops. Pretty soon, he added some Campagnolo components to the things he carried around in the trunk of his car. Then he started selling hand-built frames. And Chris King headsets. Pretty soon, he outgrew the trunk of his car, and his garage became filled with inventory. His tiny business was becoming quite profitable. Can you guess what he did next? Right, he started a bicycle shop.

Another example: A 16-year-old boy started fixing bikes for the other kids in his neighborhood. At first he did it for free, but when it started taking up a couple hours of his after-school evenings, he decided to charge a bit of money. Not much at first. Perhaps $10 for a tune-up, $2 to fix a flat tire. Then, he started charging more. At first, when he needed parts, he rode to the local bicycle store a mile away and bought whatever he needed. He sold the parts he bought there to his customers for what they cost him. Then, he discovered a department store that had some common items for lower prices. Inner tubes, tires, brake cables were being sold for around 2/3 of the price of the local bike store. So, he bought a half-dozen cables, a few inner tubes, a couple of other things, and sold them for a small mark-up.

This particular kid dropped out of high school at age 17. Dropping out is not recommended. High school is free, you might as well take as much as you can get! He dropped out because he rented a small storefront and no longer had time for school. He moved his stuff out of his parents’ garage (to their delight), and into to the new store, made a sign himself, and was ‘in business.’ The business grew and grew, and five years later he sold it for enough money to live on for years. By the way, that kid was your author.

That is exactly how I started my first bike shop, but not quite how I’ll tell you to do it in the following chapters. Thirty years, 15,000 bikes, and three shops, and several other businesses later, I have developed some refinements, so that it will be even easier and safer for you than it was for me.

Along about now, you might be wondering whether you can do this. You may not have any space to set up a little home bike shop. You may not have any money at all. Or maybe you don’t know much about repairing bikes. Or, maybe you already have a full-time job, a family, and so very little free time. What can you do? You can consider a partnership. You can bring in a partner who has the things you don’t have, and you can supply the partnership with what your partner does not have.

Partnerships

Table of Contents

Starting out with a partner who has the same strengths and weaknesses as you means something won’t be covered. That’s a recipe for disaster. So you’re specifically looking for someone who can supply what you don’t have. Generally, the three ingredients that a partnership (or an individual) needs are time, experience, and money. There’s a fourth ingredient – one that all partners need, and that’s enthusiasm. You absolutely don’t want to start something with someone who is not enthusiastic about the idea.

Before forming a partnership, assess carefully your partner’s personality. Will you be able to get along with this person? How about in cloudy weather? Is the person lazy? Does the person have shoddy ethics? Is the person obstinate? I once saw a bicycle shop almost destroy itself because one partner of the three who owned it suddenly decided that they needed new wall-to-wall carpeting just a few months after starting the store. It had a painted concrete floor that was just fine. Carpeting would have cost $10,000. I think any objective person would agree that carpeting was not a top priority in that store. But, he couldn’t be talked out of it, and the partners nearly came to blows. Finally, the two other partners bought this fellow out, at an inflated price that took them years to recover.

In another case, a partner got evicted and decided to live in a little room where the inventory was stored. This was entirely against his partner’s wishes, leaving little room for the business, and violating the local zoning ordinance. This fellow would do things like wake up and walk out among customers in the showroom at 11am, unshaven and shirtless. Nice partner, eh?

So, if you’re going to consider a partnership, think about all the things that might go wrong with your perspective partners. Do not mention the idea of a partnership to any of your prospects until you are absolutely certain. It is harder to burst their bubble after you’ve created it, than before they know a partnership is being considered.

Family members can be the best, or the worst! I think you know what I’m talking about. A grandfather-grandson (or grandmother-granddaughter) partnership can be wonderful with the right people. I have seen several successful multi-generational bicycle shops.

Let’s say you have a brother who has been in jail twice for drunk driving. He’s unemployed again because he came to work too hung-over. You might think that if you offer this brother of yours a partnership, it will help him. Wrong! You must, absolutely must, consider partners for their strengths, not their weaknesses, if you intend to succeed. And if you don’t succeed, it will not help your brother in the slightest. It will probably make his lack of self-esteem worse.

How many partners should you consider? The minimum number you can get away with. If all you need is someone with repair skill, or someone who can greet customers from 10 to 5, then one partner is sufficient. Additional partners means that the profit is split smaller. It also means it is harder to make decisions. Larry Page and Sergei Brin have been very successful with Google. When it came time to make decisions, they had a brief discussion, came to a consensus, and moved forward.

On the other hand, I knew of an organic restaurant that had 17 partners. One of their specialties was waffles. They had one waffle iron, and so customers had to wait up to 45 minutes for their orders in the morning. So, the 17 of them had a meeting to decide if they should buy a second $30 waffle iron. The meeting, argument really, ran until after midnight, and they couldn’t come to a consensus. In fact, it was weeks before they could all figure out that $30 was a reasonable price to pay to satisfy their breakfast customers!

Once you’ve sorted out who your partners are going to be, you need to state some things up front. Is one going to be a silent partner? If so, how silent? How will various kinds of decisions be made? For instance, the person working the sales floor probably shouldn’t have to place a phone call to another partner if a customer wants a $10 discount on a new bike. What happens as the business grows? Do you add more partners? Do you hire employees? How do the partners decide on new employees?

I know of one bicycle store with a rather unique partnership. It consists of four people. One partner, Susan, comes from a wealthy family. She put up the initial investment which was enough to start a complete retail bicycle store from scratch. Since most people do not have that kind of money available, I recommend starting something small and building it slowly into a full-fledged retail business. More about that later. Susan was married to Fred, a fellow who had retail management experience and loved bikes. Their friend Jacques also loved bikes and knew a lot about brands and accessories, so these two men ran the sales department. To break it down a bit further, Fred took care of the inventory and paperwork, and only appeared on the sales floor when Jacques was overwhelmed with customers. Susan didn’t work in the shop at all. She took care of her and Fred’s children. Finally, there was James, who was the repairman. He didn’t have the kind of personality you’d want on the sales floor. But he was a wizard with a wrench in his hand. In this particular store, the repair shop was in the basement, and James was perfectly happy to spend all his time down there. In fact, as I understand it, that was set up as a separate business. The three upstairs partners had a contract to supply James with all the repair work. They got a small percentage of the repair income for writing up the repair orders, handling the credit cards, and so on. They also paid James a flat rate to assemble and adjust new bikes.

In summary, all the terms of partnership need to be discussed. More than discussed. You want the major points in writing, and a contract signed by all partners.

The very most important clause in that contract will be an escape hatch for each partner. What happens if the business loses money? What happens if a partner becomes sick or dies? What happens if two partners can’t stand the sight of each other after a while? Escape clauses need to be fluid. For instance, if a partner wants to leave early on, his value in the business is worth far less than after five years. These escape clauses must be manageable, so that it is truly possible to make changes in a partnership as needed. For instance, a very bad escape clause would be that if a partner leaves, the others have to immediately pay her $500,000. If an escape clause is all spelled out in writing ahead of time, all will be well in these eventualities – or at least as well as it can be.

Another consideration in partnerships is your own personality. Take me, for example. I can’t stand having to share my decisions with anyone. I have always been a sole proprietor. I’d make a horrible partner unless I was allowed to run the show 100%.

So, on the opposite end of the partnership spectrum is sole proprietorship. The individual owner doesn’t have to defer to anyone before making major decisions. 100% of the profit goes to the individual. That’s huge, even with just two partners. Let’s say that the profit of a business is $60,000 per year. That means that an individual proprietor takes home $60,000. But two partners owning the same business would only get $30,000 each.

There’s also an ego component. I love being able to say, “I own this.” For me, it would be horrible to say, “I own a portion of this.”

Getting back to the original question, what if you don’t have the time, experience or money to start a bike shop on your own? And if you don’t want a partnership, there is a very simple answer. Start with something evolutionary. Start something small that you can manage, and let it build as you gain experience, money, whatever you’ve been needing.

Some Ways to Start Small

Table of Contents

We’ve already talked about the man who sold high-end tires out of his car. And, we covered me, the young fellow who started fixing bikes for kids in his neighborhood. What else could you do?

If you know nothing about bicycle repair, you’ll probably want to focus on buying and selling, or perhaps a bicycle service, such as being a bicycle messenger, or organizing a messenger service.




Bicycle Messenger

To be a bicycle messenger is as easy as falling off a log. All you need is a bike and a cell phone. You can make up some business cards and flyers. Your first task as a messenger is to deliver the flyers to bulletin boards all over town, and to deliver the cards into the hands of as many people as you can. Don’t forget about Craigslist – a great cost-free way to advertise a service in most towns. If you live in a large city, there may already be messenger services. But there’s always room for more. Especially if you do something unique. For instance, you might deliver meals between 9pm and midnight. Or you might specialize in transporting medical records – whatever you find a need for in your city. If you’re in a small town, even as small as 5,000 residents, you can set up a general messenger service and prosper nicely.

Buying and selling can take several forms. If you work with whole bikes, you may want to partner with, or hire a bicycle mechanic so you can be sure you’re selling properly-running, safe bikes. You can make more money buying broken bikes, having them fixed, and selling them in guaranteed good condition. It is entirely possible to make $1,200 per week just buying bikes at garage sales, fixing them or getting them fixed, and selling them through Craigslist.

Bikes at garage sales can be incredibly inexpensive. The people may be moving next week, and haven’t been able to sell their bikes for a reasonable price. The owner of the bike may be at college and the parents want to sell it to help pay for textbooks. A bike may be broken and quite undervalued by the owner. It is very common to pay $25 for a typical mountain bike, one that sold for $300 when it was new. You can put $20 worth of parts in it, perhaps $50 for labor if you don’t do it yourself, and then sell it for $150. For a few months, in a somewhat offbeat scheme to support some relatives, I did this with twenty bikes per week out of my one-car garage. I just went to as many garage sales as I could hit on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, rounding up the bikes with my pickup truck. If I didn’t have a pickup truck, I could have rented a U-Haul for $40 or so on Sunday evening, and gather up all the bikes I had purchased over the weekend.

It is great if you can display your bikes locked up outdoors, with prominent price signs where many people drive by, but most people don’t have a place to do this. You might consider a consignment arrangement with someone who does. You can place classified ads in the newspaper, and although expensive, this generally works well. In most communities, the best bet is Craigslist. You can place ads for as many bikes as you want, along with pictures, and it is all free. I’ll talk about ways to leverage Craigslist in a later chapter.

When I was doing this out of a home, I mostly dealt in medium-quality mountain bikes, a few road bikes, and one or two children’s bikes. In general, children’s and low-end adult bikes don’t sell for a sufficient profit to be worth your while. A twenty-year-old mountain bike that you price at $150 is the easiest thing to sell. I also had some relatively high-end bikes when I could find good enough deals. Typically, I’d pay $100 or $150 for a high-end bike at a garage sale, and sell it for $600.

As you develop your selling business, you’ll discover that you no longer need to get all your bikes at garage sales. People will start calling to find out whether you’ll buy their old bikes. You can enhance that by telling everyone you see that you’re always willing to buy broken or inexpensive adult bikes. (Remember, there just isn’t much money in low-end and children’s bikes.)

You’ll want to be careful about stolen bicycles. They don’t generally show up at garage sales because thieves don’t operate that way. They wouldn’t want the exposure. Still, you’ll want to be careful about anything in too good a condition at too good a price being sold by people between 12 and 25 years old unless their families are at the sale with them.

If you have doubts about the history of a bike, you can ask the seller for a receipt. Often they’ll have legitimate excuses – such as they didn’t save the receipt. But if they can produce a receipt, you’ll know for sure that the bike has not been stolen. Sometimes, you can ask whether anyone has taken a picture that includes the bike. If they show you an old picture on their smartphone, it’s a pretty good bet that the bike has a good history.

In many communities, the police have worked out some sort of system to register used bikes. If you start dealing with used bikes regularly, they’ll want you to let them know about bikes you purchase. This probably isn’t as important as when you get an actual store, but you’ll want to participate if you can to protect the community at large from bike theft. The police won’t charge you any money, but they’ll want you to provide the serial number, description and source of every bike you handle. They usually ask you to hold every bike for 72 hours so they can have a chance to follow up if something turns out to be stolen. The downside is that if a bike is stolen, you’ll have to give it up, and won’t be reimbursed for what you paid. The upside is that the owner from which it was stolen gets it back.

Imagine a twelve-year-old boy who saved all summer to buy his BMX bike, has it for two weeks, leaves it unlocked in a friend’s yard, as twelve-year-olds will do, and discovers it has been stolen. The poor thing will cry his eyes out. If you can help prevent that sort of scenario, you can be proud to do so. Wouldn’t it be a great gesture to clean and tune a bike that’s going to be reunited with it’s owner? I never got the chance. I registered hundreds of bikes with my local authorities, and no bike was ever reported as stolen. Part of the reason is that the majority of bikes I purchased were broken, not shiny, valuable bikes. I think another reason is that most homeowners fail to record the serial numbers of their bikes, laptop computers, cameras and such gear.

If the police recover bikes that have been stolen, but don’t have a serial number or some way to positively identify the bike and reunite it with its owner. they hold it a while, then sell it at a ‘police auction.’ You can sometimes buy some remarkably good bikes for very little money at these auctions. You’re bidding against the general public, most of whom are looking for bikes for themselves, and know very little about how valuable certain models are. Others will see a bent wheel, or a missing cable, and just assume the bike is beyond their ability to repair for a reasonable cost.

That’s not always the case. Sometimes, the police auctions are way too popular, and you’d be wasting your time to try to buy bikes there. For instance, at some auctions, you need to pay as soon as you win each bike, so you miss the opportunity to bid on the next several bikes that go across the block while you’re waiting in line at the cashier. Of course, in that case, bringing a friend to help is a good idea. Some of the best auctions happen in inclement weather. In late fall, the police will have their last auction of the year. These will be many good bikes that accumulated during the end of the summer. There’s less interest as soon as the weather cools, and if it rains, or snows, there won’t be many bidders. You win. Mostly. But there is an unexpected catch.

When you buy a bike at a police auction, guess what? It’s still a stolen bike! Normally, this means nothing, and having gone through the process, and paid money, it is morally and nominally yours. But if the original owner discovers you have his bike, you are still obligated to give it back.

Buying and selling can also be about parts and accessories. I believe a person could watch eBay like a hawk, and pick up things like Campagnolo components, and bullet headlights from bikes from the 1950s. You could turn right around and sell them for more on eBay. There is 14-speed internally geared hub made by a company called Rholoff that sells for $1000.



The Rholoff Speedhub – 14 Speeds

via: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Marcela
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If you could pick a used one up on eBay for $300, you could sell it for $600 – $700 easily. Interestingly, even a common three-speed hub sells regularly on eBay for $40. You might also mix and match with your local market, using Craigslist and garage sales. I think another good eBay business could be had by buying the lowest of the low bikes locally – you know, the department store $100 mountain bikes, disassembling them, and selling the pieces on eBay. Better yet, if you can score the older bikes, maybe something like a Peugeot PX-10 from 1970, you can disassemble them, and sell the parts for a rather remarkable sum. More about eBay.

As you develop your sales business, you may find opportunities to do simple repairs. In time, the repairs you are capable of performing will become more complex until finally you are qualified to do repair work professionally, if you want to do that sort of thing. That’s how it worked for me. I started with simple things for my neighborhood friends. I tried experiments with my own bikes and with bikes I eventually put up for sale, until finally I was building custom frames, making customized tall unicycles, specialty human powered machines, and bicycle trailers. You should have seen my first paint jobs. Horrible! But eventually, through trial and much error, I learned how to professionally paint a bike.

The one thing to always remember is to know your limitations – for two reasons. One, you don’t want to promise something you can’t deliver. I still remember the time I took apart a shifter to replace a cable while the customer waited, back in 1976. It was one of the first-ever index shifters. I didn’t realize there was a little spring in the thing, and it jumped out on the floor. I spent fifteen miserable minutes looking for that dang-blasted thing! The more important reason is safety. You want to make absolutely, completely sure you never compromise a bicycle’s safety. There are things you might want to learn about before offering professional repair, such as over-dishing a rear wheel, so that it suddenly collapses on a high-speed turn. There are many good books and websites that teach bicycle repair. You might enjoy BikeWebSite.com.

If you are good at, and enjoy repairing bikes, you have some fun opportunities. Of course one is to run a little underground repair shop out of your home. You might be in violation of your local zoning ordinances. If they reach out and bite you, it is not nasty. They just ask you to stop. People don’t go to jail or pay fines for that sort of thing, unless they persist after they have been told to stop. Almost always, a home-based bicycle repair business would have to grow rather large and noticeable before the neighbors start complaining. Basically, keep the noise down, try to let your customers know where to not to park, and be ready for your home-business to collapse at any time. The most likely scenario is that you’ll be ready to move into a proper storefront long before anyone reports you to the zoning authorities.

Another way to make money with bicycle repairing is to create what I call a Safety Tune-Up Station.

One out of eight bicycles has a safety problem. These problems are often hidden, such as a frayed brake cable that will fail at the worst time, during a hard-pulling panic stop. Seventy percent of bicycle accidents don’t involve cars. What do these statistics mean? They tell us that if these bikes could all be inspected and repaired, a number of people could be kept out of the hospitals. And not just kids. It turns out that more than 60 percent of the people injured in bicycle accidents are adult males.

So my proposal is that you could get paid to do safety tune-ups. One version might be to set up a bicycle repair stand and a toolbox near a public bike path or a place where people gather. You’d put up a sign saying that you’re doing safety tune-ups on the spot – in just a few minutes while people wait. You could charge money for each bike. Perhaps $8 or $10, or whatever the market will bear. But you could also do it other ways. One way would be to just ask for donations. In a way, it would be like a street performer, passing the hat, or with an open guitar case full of one- and five-dollar bills. To maximize your profit, you might point out that the average person pays $10 per bike. But to be fair to those who have little money – the very people who most need their bikes made safe, you may end up doing a lot of safety tune-ups for free.

You can get sponsorship. Wouldn’t it be great publicity for a local business to promote free bicycle safety tune-ups? They’d pay you $200 per day, or $8 per bike or whatever you agree upon, to fix bikes in their name, perhaps at their facility.

This would be a good fit for a corporate or public grant. If you are a grant writer, know a grant writer, or would like to take a crack at grant writing, it would be well worth applying, don’t you think?

You can also perform safety tune-ups in trade for old broken bikes – from those who can provide them. In other words, you’re mostly doing safety tune-ups on a free basis, but willing to accept donations of cash or bike items. You could then fix up the bikes, or strip them for parts, and sell them on Craigslist or eBay.

So what is a safety tune-up exactly? You’d make sure all the nuts and bolts are tight, make sure the brakes work properly, and that the wheels are not in danger of collapsing. You’d run the chain through a rag held in your fingertips feeling for defective links. You’d look the bike over for other safety concerns such as a bungee cord wrapped too loosely on a carrier, which could come loose and catch in the spokes. Beyond safety, anything else you might do would be optional. If you have time and interest, you might adjust index shifting so it clicks in properly. You might true a wheel so it doesn’t rub on the brakes. You might make sure the tire pressures are just right. And, you might just teach a bit of bicycle safety when appropriate. Wouldn’t it be nice to come up with some nice metaphorical bits you could drop, especially to the younger riders, so they’d be more inclined to ride more defensively in traffic?

Or, maybe put together a fun show, perhaps with some magic tricks, juggling, music, or comedy skits, to teach bicycle safety. You can get grants to present it in the schools, or street perform, passing the hat at the end of your entertaining safety shows.

Maybe you know some trick riding. There was once a motorcyclist who had mastered a little routine where he took 26 footsteps all over his motorcycle while balancing, not on the kickstand and not rolling. You could combine something like this, plus your BMX, circus bike, or even unicycle tricks into a bicycle safety show.

Getting back to the safety tune-up idea, you could also do house calls. Advertising on Craigslist, with business cards, and flyers, you could let people know you’ll come to their house and do safety tune-ups on all their bikes, for perhaps $18 per bike. Or maybe full regular tune-ups, where you check and adjust all the bearings, adjust spokes and true wheels, check tire pressures, make sure all the bolts are tight, do a bit of cleaning, adjust brakes and derailleurs, and advise the rider about proper seat position, riding style and so on.

Evolving from house calls for safety tune-ups, you could offer house calls for general bicycle repair – tune-ups, overhauls, parts replacements, wheel repair and so on. Maybe even offer emergency road service for punctures, broken wheels and so on. A full tune up is worth much more than a ‘safety tune-up.’ You can check with your local bike shops to see how much they are charging. You can charge just as much, or even more, since your customers wouldn’t have to bring their bikes to a store, wait days, then go back to the store to pick up their bikes.

If you can repair bikes, you can teach bicycle repair. For those who have not only repair skill, but people skills, teaching bicycle repair through the adult or community education schools can be a good gig. The basic idea is that you contact these schools, put a listing in their catalogs, and get paid per head when the students sign up. You’re not bothering these schools to ask. They want teachers to sign up. Dale Carnegie, the famous author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” launched his career this way. He started teaching at his local YMCA with just a handful of students, and ended up teaching to stadiums filled with 20,000 people. I suppose teaching bicycle repair to 20,000 people at a time might be a bit problematic, but for the kind of money that would generate, you’d figure out a way, right?

Some community education schools expect you to work for very little money or for free. You can leverage this by inviting your students to something else that costs money or selling an additional product or service. For instance, you could teach in my town, where the school pays only $15 per hour. But during your classes, you tell your students that you are also teaching advanced bicycle repair and wheelbuilding out of your home – for quite a bit more money, of course. In every community, there are people who would love to attend a two-day weekend in which they learn about building and truing wheels. They’d pay well over $200 per person. So, if you get ten students, that’s $2,000 for a weekend’s enjoyable work.

Beyond bicycle repair, one can also teach bicycle racing and touring technique, bicycle safety, and even bicycle politics. One could start a school of bicycle technology.

Something else that might interest you is the idea of bicycle detailing. As you know, bicycles have a way of getting dirty, and it is not easy to clean the chain, in the spokes near the hubs, around the bottom bracket and so on. There are no doubt ways to build a nice business around a bicycle detailing service. You might be surprised how much some people are willing to pay for detailing. Many people who have plenty of money, but not much time or interest in work for which they are not experienced and for which they do not have adequate equipment – whatever that might be. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out efficient bike detailing equipment.) This segment of the population, would be delighted to pay you to detail their bikes. Perhaps you’d make house calls. Perhaps people would have to bring their bikes to your location. Maybe you’d set up on weekends in a park, assuming you can get a permit to do business in your local park.

Taking an evolutionary step toward a real bicycle shop, you can move up to a flea market, selling bikes or parts and accessories or service on weekends. Many flea markets are held at self-storage facilities, so you can have a low-rent place to store your ever-growing inventory. In some, you can have electricity, so you can set up lights and operate tools. And, in some, even though most of the business happens on weekends, you can work and entertain customers on weekdays as well. For most flea market items, weekday selling does not work very well, but for your flea market-based bicycle shop, as you gain a reputation, you can have a parade of customers throughout the week.

Stepping Up to a Storefront

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The evolutionary approach has been great so far, hasn’t it?

Now that you’ve got some money, time and experience, or a partner with what you need, you can safely start your retail store.

As you may have heard, one out of every four women fail in business. But what about the men? Four out of every five men fail in business! That’s what this portion of the book is about, how to start your bicycle shop without failure. Those who fail are those who haven’t learned what works and what doesn’t.

They don’t have the benefit of the ‘secrets’ you’re going to read in the next few paragraphs.

The first secret you already know: Start small, and build slowly and carefully.

Secret Number Two: You’ve got to take in more than you spend.

In my very early twenties, during the growth of my very first bike shop, I also rented and sold cross-country skis during the winter. I had many requests to do tune-ups on downhill skis, but I did not know anything about that skill. One who does has to know all about inspecting and adjusting bindings, filling scratches with plastic candles, and planing the bottoms good and smooth. I had a friend who was an unemployed ski mechanic. Both of us not knowing any better, I invited him to rent some bench space in my shop and start his own micro-business within mine. He would be our downhill ski expert. The bench rent was to be $80/month, which he could start paying after his first month.

We put up a paper sign in the window advertising ski repair, an in that very first month, he took in quite a bit of money. Feeling successful, he bought things. He didn’t like his old beat-up electric drill, so he bought a new top-of-the-line drill. He bought some great bluejeans, and some excellent cowboy boots so he could be the stylish guy at parties. You know what? When it came time to pay his $80 rent, he didn’t have it! After a couple more months of watching him struggle with lack of supplies (although well-dressed), and never, ever seeing my $80 rent payments, I had to throw him out. It seems to me this poor fellow is destined to be someone’s employee forever.

So, you’ve gotta take in more than you spend – from the first day. If you can always follow this rule, you will be successful.

Now, you’ve been buying, selling and repairing bikes. You have experience, and at least a little money. Maybe it’s time to look for a business place.

It would be nice to have 10,000 square feet right in the middle of the busiest mall in town. That’ll cost you $25,000 per month in most communities. OK, so maybe 700 to 1,000 square feet in a strip mall or a place where people can see your signs and park. That will cost between $700 and $1,400 per month. With first month’s rent, security deposit, deposits with the utility companies, and some other startup expenses, that’ll work out to $5,000. You might need to buy some furnishings. You might need to expand your inventory. You might not be able to cover the rent out of your gross sales for the first couple of months. We’re talking about perhaps $15,000 that you can afford to risk. If you don’t have that amount yet, no worries. Just go ahead and continue to run and expand your existing business.

An option is to draw up a business plan, show it to bankers, or wealthy family members, and borrow the money to start. I don’t recommend this approach. It shortcuts what is typically a necessary learning experience, and puts you in a high-stress situation that tends to last for years. It is also not necessary. Also, depending on the nature of the loan, you may feel like someone’s employee, who has to do things the way they want them done, and has to explain why the repayment isn’t happening as fast as they’d like.

Location

“Location, location, location.” You’ve heard it before, and it couldn’t be more relevant than when renting a place to conduct a bicycle business.

First, you need exposure. You need to rent a store where your signs can be seen by a lot of traffic. This will work far better than any other sort of advertising. A good location is at busy intersections where people have to wait for red lights to turn green. They’ll look around and see your bikes lined up out front. This has to be an intersection where everyone comes by from time to time, not an intersection in a neighborhood where it is only the same 500 commuters every day. Another location is inside a mall where there is a lot of foot traffic. And, not just any foot traffic. These people are there to spend money. Malls can be hard to get into, and expensive. If they’re not, there may be a reason. I have seen malls with many closed stores, and very little foot traffic. That’s not the mall for your store. If you can locate next to, or within eyesight of a Walmart, a busy movie theater complex, or even a RadioShack store, you’ll do well, assuming people can park.

If people find it hard to park, they may never bother to visit your store, so easy access is essential. Even though your business is bicycles, a majority of your clientele will arrive in automobiles. Look beyond easy parking. The parking lot should look inviting and have easy access. If people have to make a U-turn, negotiate speed bumps, and wait for an unloading truck to move, they’re going to shop elsewhere.

Parking meters are death to a retail business. If your customers have to put coins in the meters, they’ll be agitated, impatient shoppers. Rather than focusing on buying your stuff, they’re worrying the whole time they’re in your store that their meters will run out of money. Worse, they remember this feeling from other times they have shopped in stores where they had to park at a meter. They may have even forgotten or got tied up, letting their meters expire, and had to pay parking tickets. So, they may never come to your store in the first place. They’d rather drive another ten miles to another bike shop than park at a meter.

In many communities, there’s the ‘good side of the tracks’ and then there’s the other side. The other side is not always so terrible. If you are a good manager of people so that you can deal with the occasional unruly customer, you can save a lot of rent. You’ll be serving a grateful clientele, one that consumes bicycle products and services as much as, or even more than a suburban clientele.

Some of the most successful bike shops I have seen are in the worst parts of town. Once the bike shop develops a reputation, people from all sides of the tracks will shop there. On the other hand, the suburban bike shop will tend to service only a local clientele.

My first bike shop was in one of the ‘terrible’ areas. Most of my clients were amiable, good people that I enjoyed having in my store. A few were real weirdos. One fellow, although very nice, came in and browsed almost every day. He never said much. Oddly, he always wore brown pants and tan shirts. Not a uniform, just his colors, I suspect. But that’s not too weird.

Now, Larry was weird. He was an air-traffic controller who became over-stressed in the Vietnam war. He was also one of the highest-ranking chess players in the nation. Very thin – I suspect because he often forgot to notice he was hungry. Sometimes he’d come in during the summer dressed in seven layers of shirts and sweaters. Sometimes he’d wear a huge clunky necklace he’d made out of derailleurs, brake calipers, hubs, and other parts. He was quick and jerky in his movements and in his speech. He became a bike shop regular.

You’ll soon discover that every bike shop has its groupies. Most of them spend only a little money every month, but they are very worth supporting because they bring all their friends to your store. Larry, however, was an exceptional case. He’d do something like start a conversation with another customer. Then, out of nervousness, he’d take a bite out of the newspaper he was holding. Discovering that his mouth was full of newspaper, he felt he had no choice but to chew it up and swallow it. I don’t know whether Larry had any friends, but he was so quirky, I enjoyed having him around. That is, most of the time.

One slow winter day, he challenged me to a chess game. He had a three-minute limit. I had infinite time. He sat on a stool at the sales counter, facing away from the chess set, and blindfolded. Of course I was able to look at the chess set. As soon as I announced a move, he called out a response. Typical of Larry, his responses were lightning-quick, and way too loud. I pride myself in being fairly good at chess. Larry won in 20 moves. with two minutes and twenty seconds left on the clock – two seconds per move! Then, he had me reset all the pieces, and still blindfolded, he replayed the entire game from memory.

I used to keep the phone on the front counter, so I could answer it without having to move anywhere. One day, it rang as usual and I reached to pick it up. Larry snapped it up in a split-second, listened for perhaps five seconds, then yelled, “*%@@&!” into the phone and hung up. I threw him out of the store. The phone rang again. It was the sister of one of my mechanics wanting to arrange a lunch with her brother. For the next 45 minutes, Larry loitered across the street, trying to look casual while leaning on a vending machine. Finally, I let him back in the store.



The Counter where Larry grabbed the phone

I have had a few worse customers. Shoplifters. People who just can’t seem to stop yelling. People who are obscenely dressed. They are few and far between, but if you have a sensitive heart, you might prefer to set up in a ‘better’ part of town, or hire salespeople who have strong people skills.

Saving rent is essential, especially in the early stages. The difference between $1,000 per month rent and $1,200 is a lot of inventory. On the other hand, if you can get a location with good exposure and parking for $1,200, or a junky location for $1,000, you are way, way better off getting the place with exposure and parking. For the $200 per month you’d save, you could never buy enough advertising to make up the difference.

Did I say, “buy” advertising? I meant “get free publicity.” Just about any form of advertising that a small bicycle shop can buy will be entirely ineffective. Yellow pages ads are the worst. You end up paying a lot of money per month to the phone company, or a phonebook publisher, and get little effect. People don’t use phone books any more. They use the Internet. So you’ll want a website. It can be a simple one-page affair. All people want is your address, the hours you’re open, and phone number. You can do some search engine optimization tricks (SEO), which I’ll discuss later, to get people to your webpage. If you’re in a city with a dozen other bike shops, they’ll all have their own websites, and without SEO or some other tricks, you might be 13th on the list, on the second page, when people google your town name and “bicycle” or “bike” or something like that.

Licensing, Paperwork, Credit Cards

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I’ll bet you’ve been thinking that licensing and paperwork are difficult to deal with. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At first, when you’re just doing something small, like selling out of the trunk of your car, fixing neighborhood bikes, or selling at flea markets, you don’t really have to keep track of anything. Oh, yes, technically, you are supposed to have a business license and collect sales tax. But no one does. Think about it. If those things were truly enforced, everyone would have to file before having a garage sale, and pay sales tax after. Kids couldn’t have lemonade stands.

If you want to be entirely kosher, you can get a business license, or at least collect sales tax for later payment to the local government. And if you make any money at all, you ought keep track for when you pay income tax.

On the very rare occasions when people are caught running a tiny at-home business, they are given very tolerable treatment. Typically they pay approximately what they should have paid, plus perhaps a $20 penalty.

By the way, some businesses are very simple. If you buy and sell on eBay, all you need to do legally is keep track of your income and sales tax or VAT collection in most countries and all but the five US states where sales tax is not collected. You don’t usually need to comply with zoning restrictions if you don’t have customers coming to your home. In fact, piano teachers run more risk than eBay sellers.

But this book isn’t about how to do anything illegal. I suggest that you do try to comply with the law as soon as you possibly can. Certainly, by the time you start an official retail bicycle shop, you ought to have all your legal ducks in a row. These are the ducks:

1. You must rent space where the zoning is correct. The reason you don’t see auto body shops in residential neighborhoods is because they are typically noisy and stinky, and so the neighbors, through local government, have agreed that only homes can be established in those neighborhoods.

In the middle of the city, where there are stores, factories, offices all lined up, the zoning is much less restrictive. Pretty much anything goes, but before you sign any leases, you’ll want to actually google your community’s zoning office, then email, phone, or visit them with the address you’re proposing to rent to see whether it checks out.

Zoning also controls what kind of signage you can display. Be careful about that before renting. You wouldn’t want to be restricted to a 2-foot by 3-foot plaque as I once was at a business location in Marin County, California. If you violate signage zoning, they typically issue a notice to stop doing that – take down your offending sign – within 30 days. No fines, no court, no jail time.

In fact, in most business offenses, the various government agencies realize you are not trained in business law. They are very flexible and forgiving in accommodating your mistakes, unless you continue to misuse the system after knowing better.

2. Business checking account. Get a business checking account at your bank. It is free at most banks.

3. Business license, often called DBA, which stands for Doing Business under an Assumed Name (even if it is your own name). Each community handles this in their own way, but while you are chatting with the zoning people, you can ask who handles business licenses. Go to that office, and fill out the single page form. It takes five minutes. In most places, they want an annual fee. It will be in the range of $5 to $150. In order to prove that you’re in business, they may ask to see a business checking account number.

4. Sales tax collection is not required in Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. If you are in one of the other states, or in any country that depends on VAT or sales tax, then ask at the city offices who to visit to set up sales tax collection. They’ll know exactly where to send you, because that’s everyone’s next stop. That too, requires a simple one-page form and is free. You are obligated to collect sales tax on all appropriate transactions. In some places, labor or second-hand merchandise is exempt. In others, everything is taxed. In some places, Native Americans, members of the clergy, or others are exempt. They’ll hand you a pamphlet with all the details. In most cases, as you conduct your business, you periodically set aside the sales tax you have collected in a savings account. Once every three months, the tax people mail you another one-page form in which you state your gross (total) sales, the sales that are taxable, anything you’ve taken from inventory for your own use (taxable), and how much you owe. Throw a check in the envelope, and you’re all set for another three months.

5. Fire inspections. In some communities, the fire department comes along every year or two and inspects all businesses. They want to see that isles are clear so people could escape a fire. They worry about extension cords, and want to see fire extinguishers hung on the wall. Compliance is easy. After a typical inspection, you may have to move some equipment to eliminate an extension cord and buy a fire extinguisher.

6. Insurance. Sometimes, a landlord will want to know that you plan to carry liability insurance before they’ll grant a lease. But you may want to get insurance anyway, as soon as you can afford it. If you are wealthy and something should happen, you want to protect your assets. You don’t want to be sued, or if you are sued, you want the insurance company’s lawyers working for you, and you want them to cover any eventual settlement. If you have pretty much nothing, you are not likely to be sued, because the opposing lawyer will see there’s nothing to collect, and therefore no incentive take the case. Still, you may want insurance. This is to protect your customers. What if something did happen? In a bicycle shop, there are exposures. A customer may crash on a test ride. A customer may fall on the front step. Once, an eleven-year-old boy tried to ride his bicycle up a stair and into the narrow front door of my shop. He lost control and slammed into a plate glass window. Fortunately, the window didn’t break and the kid wasn’t hurt, but it could have been a different story.

Another time, I was trying out a new mechanic. She came highly recommended, but she was very shy and nervous about her trial day. If you’ve ever been nervous, you may remember how you somehow don’t see details as clearly as you would if you were calm. We had a chain strung up at waist height across an opening between the sales floor and the service area, with a sign that said, “Authorized Personnel Only.” Just before lunch, in front of two mechanics, three sales people, and several customers, she came walking through that opening at a fairly good clip, and somehow didn’t see the chain. She went head over teacup, or whatever the expression is, doing an almost 360 degree flip over that chain. She wasn’t hurt, but she was so embarrassed she ran out of the shop and didn’t return. I had to phone her at home and let her know no one was laughing – even though secretly we were.

You get the idea. If something serious happened to a customer, wouldn’t you want to know there’s a way to compensate them? For a regular size bicycle shop, general liability insurance costs around $500 to $800 per year. A fringe benefit to the general liability policy is that your own tools and inventory are covered in the case of a fire, major theft, or a similar eventuality.

Are you starting to worry that something could happen? In all my 15 years in the bicycle business, I have to admit I took some rather large risks, but I was never sued. I never even came close because I cared about my customers, so I was always conscious of making sure bikes were safe, and that the store itself was safe – no ice on the sidewalk and that sort of thing.

Another bicycle shop, about the size of mine, had three concurrent lawsuits. What was the difference? I was always polite, and more than polite. I was friendly, with my customers. I kind of wanted them all to be friends. They knew this, and loved it. If I had been like the owner of the other place, I would have been grouchy, and well, just the kind of person people would want to sue, given half a chance. He was also careless in his repair work. I think his motto was just get it done, charge the money, and get it out of the shop. The people he hired were the same way, or they became that way once they had been working there a while, and adopted the owner’s business mood.

You may have heard of Patch Adams. He is a doctor, a general practitioner, who practices for free, or for donations. He does not carry malpractice insurance, which is unheard of for medical doctors. One out of sixteen doctors is sued every year. But Dr. Adams is doing good work, really cares about his patients, and they know it. If something goes wrong, they know he did his best. Consequently, he hasn’t ever been sued, as of the last time I checked. But it isn’t quite as simple as that. He may be lucky, or probably has little personal wealth, so suing him might not be sufficiently profitable. However, the insurance companies do not take into account how likable or how well-meaning a person is. They just look to see if there are assets to be taken, and a legal way to take them. So, as you start to gain wealth in your bicycle business, you may be well-meaning, and you may have a well-meaning client who has been injured. The client would never sue you, but his insurance company will.

If you are in America, when it comes time to fill out your federal income tax, you’ll discover a thing called a Schedule C. This is also a single sheet of paper, and is easy to fill out. It will ask about the value of your inventory at the start of the year, the end of the year, and how much you spent on rent, utilities, office supplies, and things like that. As you work your way through the Schedule C, which takes maybe 15 minutes, you discover how much you actually made that year, and write that number into your 1040. These days, it is even easier. If you use TurboTax or HR Block Online, or any of those services, the software just asks questions, which you answer, and everything else is done for you.

In America, because you are self-employed, you end up paying 13.5 percent of your personal income in Social Security Tax, which seems like a lot compared to the 7.25 percent that is withheld if you have a job. But the truth is your employer pays the other 7.25 percent. Still, it is a lot of money, and the government doesn’t trust you to hold it. Therefore, you are supposed to fill out a 1040-ES four times a year, and pre-pay your taxes. For the average bike shop owner, the income tax situation may seem shocking at first. Instead of getting a big refund at the end of the year, you have to pay thousands of dollars four times a year. To reframe this more comfortably, remember that as a self-employed person, you have the potential to make far more money than most employees will ever get. Once you’re making enough, the taxes seem trivial. This is pretty much the same in most countries.

As far as filing your 1040-ES forms, Schedule C, and all that, the online software will guide you. Or, if you like doing things yourself, you can find out everything you need online, and you may discover it is all rather simple in the end. By the way, if you fail to pay the 1040-ES payments, life doesn’t end. You just pay it all in April, and a small ($20 – $50) fine for not pre-paying. If you can’t pay in April, the IRS will let you make payments, although they do charge a fairly hefty interest rate.



Photo credit: mediaphoto.org

Setting up to accept credit cards used to be complicated and expensive. In one of my businesses, I had to sign a three-year contract at $35 per month to get a credit card machine. Now, PayPal.com, an online money transaction company, makes it super-easy, and free! Sign up for a free PayPal account if you don’t already have one. Then look for “On Your Mobile Device” or something similar, since they change the layout of the website from time to time. When you click through, you are taken to a page that explains you can accept all common credit cards on any standard smartphone. PayPal even mails you a free attachment for swiping the cards. When you take a card payment, the money goes instantly to your PayPal account. From there, you can transfer it to your checking account, spend the money on eBay, have a check mailed, whatever you want. PayPal takes only a small percentage from each transaction, the same or less than any of the old-fashioned credit card companies used to charge.

That’s pretty much it. Nothing more, except inventory management, and that’s actually quite fun!

Inventory

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When you’re just starting out as a home business, you can buy things on eBay and mark them up a bit. But that’s not sufficient for a proper retail store. You want to buy from the wholesalers. They have catalogs and secret price lists. Once you have a business, these catalogs are very easy to get. The wholesalers want you to buy from them, and eventually they’ll seek you out. Initially, you need to seek them out. In order to prove you’re in business, so you can get the secret price lists, you need to show them a sheet of paper called a resale certificate. This is what your state’s sales tax office gives you when you sign up to collect sales tax. You mail or fax a copy to the wholesaler, and you’re in business. Sometimes all you need to do is tell them your sales tax number on the phone or in email. If you are in one of the five non-sales tax states, they’ll probably ask for a copy of your DBA. In other countries, I’m guessing the procedure is the same, just the names of the paperwork may be different. You’ll want contact your local government offices to become aware of any possible differences.

You can find wholesalers by simply googling “wholesale” and whatever you’re looking for. In some cases, “wholesale” won’t quite do it. Instead, you just google the brand name, come up with the manufacturer’s website, contact them, and ask whether they wholesale directly, or through general wholesalers. You’ll find variations in the way they do business. You might also want to sign up for the free newsletter at BicycleRetailer.com. You’ll find many leading wholesalers advertising on the site and in the newsletter.

On one end of the spectrum is West Coast Cycle, which is a general bicycle parts and accessories wholesaler in Carson, California. From them, you can buy Zefal pumps, spokes, headlights, brake pads, handlebar stems, whatever you need. They also supply the CyclePro line of bicycles. Anyone who has a bike shop can buy from West Coast Cycle.

Then there are specialized companies, such as “Specialized.” (Yes, that’s their actual name.) They sell only certain parts or bikes that carry their brand name. Companies like Specialized, Raleigh, KHS, Schwinn and others have what they call protected dealerships. If another bike shop within a certain distance of your store, typically five miles, is carrying the brand already, you can’t carry it.

Schwinn used to be on the far end of the spectrum. In the past, you had to be an exclusive Schwinn dealer. You couldn’t sell Peugeots along with your Schwinns. You had to have company-approved display equipment. Even the cash register had to be Schwinn-approved. There may still be some companies around with such severe restrictions, but they are few and far between.

In my first bike shop, for my first parts and accessories purchase, I had a total of $200. I wanted to have a few of the popular size inner tubes, a few patch kits, one headlight, one taillight, one bar lock, and so on. I had to show the widest possible range of inventory. I always thought dealers had to buy things in dozen-lots or even hundred-lots. It turns out most wholesalers will sell as few items as you want. From some, you can literally buy a single axle nut. The prices for such small quantities are only a fraction higher than in large quantities. For instance, you can buy a single patch kit for 50 cents. If you buy a hundred of them, they are 40 cents. I was also surprised by the size of the markup. I figured on a $20 saddle, I’d make perhaps $4 or $5. But no, the saddle that sells in the store for $20 costs only $10 or $12. Sometimes, the wholesalers will put that saddle on sale for $8.

Of course I’d advise that you, too, start out with small quantities and a large variety. Even if you have a lot of capital to start, you ought to start with small quantities, because you need to learn what sells and what doesn’t.

I heard about a camera store that started with a single Hasselblad – a top-of-the line camera at over $1000. When it sold, the proprietor bought five more. Turns out, he accidentally tied up $5,000 for quite a while, because Hasselblads only sell once every few months. If you play your initial inventory right, you can turn it four or five times a year. This means that the entire value of your inventory will be sold and replaced four or five times. Oh, not every item. Some things will get dusty on the shelves. But others will turn ten or twelve times a year.

In very short order, you’ll learn what to stock in larger quantities. You’ll find that you probably need to keep a hundred 26 x 1.75 inner tubes in stock. On the other hand, if you stock a couple of 26 x 1-3/8″ inner tubes, you may still have them four years later.

Should you use a computerized inventory control system? No. If you do, you’ll be a slave to it. Computerized inventory can be pricey and time consuming for the small bike shop. Later on, when your store is grossing $1 million or more, and when you have employees, computerized inventory makes sense. In the meantime, the best system is want lists. You, and everyone who works in the store should have little notepads available. As soon as anything appears to be in too low a quantity, it needs to be written onto the list. So, if a mechanic uses the only seven-speed trigger shifter, she writes it onto the list, and a replacement is put back in inventory. If the sales person notices that there are only six Kryptonite locks left, they go on a list. You place small orders from the want lists every couple days. Maybe every day at first until you have enough wealth in the store to support a larger, more redundant inventory.

As you order things from the want lists, you cross them out. If an order arrives but something on the order was out of stock, it is written back onto a want list.

You’ll want to have accounts with several wholesalers. You will find that one has a certain popular tire for $3 less than the others. So you buy those tires from that supplier. Another will be the only one who carries seatposts (OK, “seat pillars” if you’re obsessive in bicycle terminology.) in all the diameters you may need, and yet another has all the little Shimano parts that the others don’t carry.

You’d be surprised at how helpful the wholesale reps, and the salespeople in the wholesaler’s office can be, if you’ll ask them. Oh, they probably don’t know much about bike repair, but they can tell you that 26 x 1-3/8 tires don’t sell very often (so you shouldn’t stock very many), and 26 x 1.75 tires are the most common. You might already know this, but no doubt there are places where you can use their guidance. You can do things like tell them to send you $400 worth of the most common handlebar stems, letting them work out the details, so you don’t end up with the weird stuff, and you can fulfill most requests when someone needs a handlebar stem.

With careful management, your store can satisfy 90 percent of your customers’ requests. More important, more than 90 percent of the repairs will be completed in a single session. It is expensive to start a repair, wait for a part to arrive, then resume. Furthermore, the customers don’t like having to wait a few days for parts.

Interestingly, with a fairly small, well-managed inventory, you can fulfill ninety percent of requests. If your inventory is ten times larger, you can still fulfill only perhaps 92 percent of requests.

In time, you’ll find out which wholesalers are best for most of your inventory. Then, every couple of months, you can crack open a catalog or website you don’t usually deal with, and order a bunch of things your store doesn’t normally carry. You’ll be surprised by a few of the items. For instance, you may discover that a certain kind of mountain bike fenders are very popular. You’ll also end up with a lot of odds and ends to fill out your inventory. But, how nice it is when someone comes in for a Campagnolo bearing cone, or a pad for a Mafac brake, and you have it in stock!

Once your shop has a large inventory and plenty of money, you can make even more money by ordering as many sale items from wholesalers as possible. Almost all wholesale suppliers will have weekly, monthly, or holiday ‘specials,’ as well as other reasons to discount some items. Many of the discounted things will be oddball inventory that you can’t sell, but much of it will also be spot-on. You’re looking for sales on the ordinary everyday things that sell all the time, such as brake cables, inner tubes, helmets, and locks. You can constantly shop the sales, stocking up on large lots of anything good that’s on sale. So, if you normally pay $8.00 for 26 x 1.75 tires, and you can get a hundred of them on sale for $5 each, your profit is an additional $300.

My bicycle shop started smaller than what I recommend to others. I started in the autumn in a city that gets significant snowfall. I had six used bikes. After paying the rent and deposit, I had $120 left, which quickly went to utility deposits, paint and wood for signs, and so on. It wasn’t even a real bike shop. Because I had so little, I started it as a general fix-it shop, specializing in bikes. In time it evolved into the premier ‘pro’ shop in the city. But the first few months were tricky. From the beginning I planned to make it a bicycle shop, not a fix-it shop. By the end of November, I had $200 more than necessary to pay the rent and utilities. I placed my first wholesale order of parts and accessories. I sold most of the original $200 order, and got more. By Spring, I was ready to order my first new bicycles. I was so excited!

One of the wholesalers carried a full line of bikes, while most of the others carried only mid- to high-end bikes, so I placed my order with that company. I purchased four mid-level adult bikes in varying frame sizes. I purchased a low-end bike, which can purchased in department stores for less than the wholesale price. And, I purchased one child’s bike, also in competition with department store bikes. Guess what? The four mid-level bikes sold fairly soon. It took months to dump the child’s bike, and the low-end adult bike gathered dust in my store for more than a year, while I sold and reordered bikes all around it. In that first year, 125 new bikes sold.

Knowing what I do now, I would have ordered nothing but mid-level and semi-high-end bikes right from the start. I would never try to compete with department store bikes. In time, I sold very high-end bikes, but like Hasselblads, they sell slowly, and so are not a good investment for a shop just starting out.

I also learned about frame sizes. The most common sizes sell regularly. As you reach toward the limits of very large and very small bikes, they sell less and less often. You might fill your store with eighty percent normal-sized bikes, and only twenty percent, or even fewer, particularly short and tall ones.

One thing I didn’t know is that it is important to stay mainstream. It took me a couple of years to learn this. I put a number of really weird bikes in the store. I had a recumbent. I had a penny-farthing replica (an antique high-wheeler), a bike with very fat tires, and so on. They took forever to sell, and in the meantime, they took up valuable floor space. Later on, these odd ducks became valuable to my store in an unexpected way. The place became a bit like a museum. People brought in people who wanted to see the unusual machines. Then, when these new people needed an ordinary new bike, guess where they bought it? Right! In time, I displayed a 90-speed bike, a 9-foot tall unicycle, an ultimate wheel (a unicycle with no seat or frame), and a PPV (a People Powered Vehicle – pedal-powered car) just to attract attention. It was great free publicity.

Another upside to weird bikes, if you have the money to buy them and the space to display them, is that something unexpected may become popular. I made a frame with polished-steel tubing under clear paint. It was just an experiment, and was a weird-looking frame indeed. Guess what? Everyone wanted one!

One downside to weird bikes worth considering: You are responsible to keep them running. If your customers need a replacement part, you are expected to be able to get that part. So, ideally, buy only oddball bikes for which parts are available, and from manufacturers who you expect to stay in business.

I loved the weird stuff, and I’ll bet you do too. For instance, one day a wholesale rep gave me a prototype all-plastic freewheel that his company was considering carrying. This was in the days when freewheels screwed onto hubs. Every part of this was plastic except for six little gravity and centrifugally loaded steel pawls that engaged the plastic ratchet surface. I was excited, and asked the rep whether I could put it on a bike right away and test it. He was enthusiastic to see the result also, so I put it on a bike and took it for a little test ride. I do mean little. I went approximately six feet (two meters) before the pawls chewed through the plastic ratchet.

The second year I was in business, I sold 625 new bikes, with the help of the wholesalers. It turns out, they’ll offer credit to an established customer. When open credit was offered by one wholesaler, I put $7,000 worth of bikes on the sales floor that I didn’t have to pay for until 90 days later. I was quite worried about making the payment in time, but I did it with room to spare.

Bicycle shops handle test riding in various ways. At first, I would let anyone ride anything if they could leave a parent or a drivers’ license in the store while they were out riding. But one day, a guy left a license, and never came back. He had stolen my bike! After a couple of hours, I looked at the license, and discovered the picture wasn’t even of him. He had probably stolen a license, and used it to steal my bike.

That incident caused me to really think about the test ride policy. I considered everything from not allowing test rides at all, to making no policy change. In the end, I considered test rides important, but I didn’t offer test rides to people who didn’t seem trustworthy, and just held driver’s licenses from those who did. No more bikes were stolen in that way. I did lose three more bikes during the five years of my first bike shop. That’s a reasonable proportion compared to the number of bikes I dealt with. Two just disappeared off the sales floor one day. I think someone just walked out with them when there was no salesperson in the front room.

In another case, I learned about extending store credit. A fellow bought a new bike. I tried to sell him a lock, but he wasn’t interested. A few days later, he came to buy another bike. His first had been stolen. Still, he wouldn’t buy a lock. A month later, this happened again. In retrospect, I should have realized this guy had a screw loose. Anyway, over the course of a year, he bought a total of five bikes. When it came time for the sixth bike, he told me he was short of cash, and could I just give him the bike today, and he’d bring the money on Thursday. Since he was such a good customer. . . I never saw him again.

I don’t want you to think that a bike shop is all about selling new bicycles. In fact, I could have been just about as successful if I didn’t sell any new bikes at all. The bulk of the income came from repairs, accessories, and parts, in that order.

When you sell a spoke, it may cost you five cents, and you might sell it for 25 cents. A great markup, but a small profit due to the handling time involved. When you sell a $20 saddle, you make $10, for only a couple minutes work. When you sell repair labor, the markup is around 200 percent. In other words, your labor cost on a typical repair may be $20, but you sell it for $60.

In my first bike shop, I didn’t pay much attention to the used bike market. Too bad, because my shop could have been even more profitable. A typical used bike costs $30 as a trade-in. You put $40 worth of parts and labor into it, so the total cost is $70. Then you can sell it for $150. In my later bike shops, I bought and sold a large number of used bikes.

New bikes are horses of a different color. A typical new bike costs the store $350, plus $25 for shipping (if you buy a large enough quantity of bikes at once). Then you have to pay a mechanic to assemble and adjust it, unless your business is small enough that you do that yourself. Then, you have to take quite a bit of time in selling it. So, you might have $50 labor tied up in it. And, all you can get when you sell it is $495, so you make $70 for all that investment. Then, you may have to pay for more labor to make adjustments or warranty repairs after the sale. The manufacturer or wholesaler will cover parts, but labor is out of your pocket. So maybe you end up with $50.

New bike sales become profitable when you sell accessories to the new owner. And when, during the following years, the customer brings it in for repairs.

Oh, a bicycle store can be profitable by blasting out hundreds of new bikes. Many have done it that way. But if you are starting out with a small store, you may want to focus on repairs, parts, accessories, and used bikes.

For more profit when you sell a new bike – or a used bike – see what you can sell along with it. You are doing the customer a favor if you recommend a lock, helmet, and such accessories. You are not doing the customer a favor if you go too far with it. You can make the customer aware of accessories, but it is not right to insist or oversell. The same is also true of the bike’s price. Many salespeople push a higher-level bike than the customer really wants. In the long run, that will backfire. I think I surprised many customers when they came looking for a $600 bike, and I showed them $400 bikes, explaining why spending more was not necessary.

As I mentioned earlier, I started my first bike shop in a small city of about 350,000 residents, where the winters were harsh, and there were ten other bicycle stores. One would think the numbers were against me. But my store was immediately successful because, not knowing any better, I focused on bicycle repairs. Over time, my store became one of the larger ones in town, and was eventually considered a ‘pro’ shop, specializing in high-end equipment and customization for racers, tourists, and serious commuters.

To survive my first winter, I took in any kind of general fix-it work I could get. I put cords on lamps, got vacuum cleaners running again, and reglued dining room furniture. In later winters, as my place became a real bike shop, I still felt it was important to supplement my income. I enjoyed cross-country skiing, so I bought twenty pairs of cross-country skis, and started renting and selling them. I bought an initial inventory of twelve Victorinox Swiss Army knives. These took up space in a three foot long glass display case.



The display case with the Swiss army knives

The Swiss Army knives sold very well, especially right before Christmas. In time, I had hundreds in stock, and carried every model the company produced. In my last couple of winters in my first bike shop, I started teaching bicycle repair, wheelbuilding, and then framebuilding. These classes covered my expenses nicely. The framebuilding went especially well because the students not only bought the lessons, they bought the materials, and eventually most of them furnished the bikes with components purchased from my store.

Let’s talk a bit more about the cross-country ski rentals. I started with twenty pair. Figuring the big ski shops in town were too competitive, I didn’t try to sell them. I planned to rent them, hoping to get fifteen pairs out every winter weekend. I did manage to get ten or twelve pairs out most weekends, but to my surprise, people wanted to know whether they could buy the rental skis, poles, bindings and boots, figuring they’d get a better deal on used rental ski sets than on new ones. I charged almost as much as new ski sets would cost and people bought them. So, it turned out I was in the ski sales business. In time, I added and sold more ski inventory, sometimes just letting people think they were used, even though no one had actually rented them. This was in the era when most serious cross-country skiers used waxable skis. The various hardnesses of wax came in different colors, which made the wax kits attractive-looking gifts. I sold quite a few of those wax kits.

Bicycle stores will do other things to survive the winter. Many sell camping gear. That’s not a winter inventory per se, but tends to sell more year-round than bikes.

Neils, a brilliant fellow had a friend a few years ago who was a printer. The printer had a rush order one evening that was to be completed by morning. Unfortunately, he was too drunk to do it. He gave the print shop keys to Neils, Not knowing the first thing about offset presses, ink or anything like that, Neils looked around, put two and two together and by morning, he had the order ready to deliver. Within days after that success, he bought the business from his drunken friend.

Neils was fluent in English plus four Eastern European languages. In fact, his sons, ages five and six at the time, could speak three languages, and the six-year-old was reasonably proficient in writing in English, and Romanian.

Neils got what few orders there were in our city for printing in these other languages, but business wasn’t great. To supplement, he started selling camping gear out of his store. Still, he struggled in business. Not many people wanted to buy camping gear from a print shop, and not many printing customers trusted a camping goods store to do their jobs right. Besides, Neils’ inventory was out of balance. For instance, he had replacement mantles for lanterns that he didn’t stock. Neils was brilliant, but not a nice person. He started refusing all refunds. One time, as I was visiting in the back of his store, someone returned a raft they had rented. Neils went into the back room and stuck a screwdriver in the side of the raft. He then went back out and showed the hole to the customer. He said he couldn’t return their deposit, since they had somehow punctured it. He came back into the back room with a big smirk on his face, and that sickened me, so it was the last time I visited him. Shortly after, as I rode my bike past his shop one morning, I noticed it was totally empty. No more Neils.

Some bike shop owners just take it easy, or go on vacation all winter. I know of one owner who’d run his small store during the warm season, then go down to Florida and work as an employee of a large bicycle store in the winter.

Sales Techniques

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I mentioned that my first store started out with ten competing stores in a small city. How did I survive? There were a few factors, most of which I managed to figure out only because I was lucky:

1. My personal expenses were low. If you are planning to start a retail bike store, one of the things you can work on as you are building up to it is to lower your personal expenses. Can you move to a smaller apartment? Can you avoid car payments? Can you drop some channels off your cable bill? Do you really need a new computer right now?

2. I put myself out as a sincere individual. I listened to my customers. By doing so, they became my friends. They’d do just about anything for me, even recommend my store to all their friends. By listening to my customers, I was able to tailor my service and inventory to their needs. When a fellow came in and told me about a certain brand of bike he thought was special, I ordered two of them. They sold, and I bought more. That particular brand eventually became a staple of my business.

3. I learned some sales techniques. If you have someone who is pondering the purchase of an accessory or component, put one in his hand. Let him handle it. Once you do that, it is as good as sold. Taking it a step further, I bought a triple-beam balance and put it on the sales counter so anyone could weigh parts. They loved this, and often purchased a certain brake, hub, or derailleur because it was lighter than the others. Many of these are people who came in not expecting to buy anything.

Taking the tendency of customers to loiter around that scale one step further, I found a couple bar stools and planted them in front of the sales counter, like what you see at car parts stores. The shop regulars lived on those stools, not unlike the characters in Cheers, the old 1990s TV show. When all the salespeople were busy, they might start selling a bike for us. If someone was considering a certain bike, they’d endorse it, or endorse our service policies. They’d bring their friends in, many of which turned into regular customers. So letting the regulars tie up the space in front of the sales counter turned out to be quite profitable.

4. I picked up an old reel-to-reel tape recorder because it intrigued me. I set it up in the store, and experimented with recording background music. I noticed that if I placed an up-tempo song in the mix about every fifteen minutes, I’d have a rush at the sales counter right after that song played. Sales in general seemed to pick up once I put in full-time background music. I think people are more comfortable when there’s background music to muffle the sounds of life – coughing, shuffling of feet, and so on.

5. My store was laid out in such a way that customers could see the entire repair department from the sales floor. They felt they could trust the mechanics if they could see them at work. Taking this a step further, I filled the shop with important-looking tools, so the customers would be impressed. Actually, that’s not why I did it. I bought those tools because I loved collecting tools, but the tools did impress the customers.



scenes from the repair area

6. The customer was always right. I would never argue with someone about a problem. (Probably because I was too timid.) It was instant refund, always. The percent or two of gross sales this may have cost was well offset by the reputation this built.

7. I would make special deals, accommodate special needs, and talk to individuals as if they mattered – because they did. When someone brought in a bicycle for repair, I’d take a couple of minutes to look it over carefully. I might find a loose headset, or an untrue wheel. I’d recommend additions that made sense, but would not push them into buying more than they wanted. For instance, a customer might bring in a bike for a tune up, which was $29.95 back in those days. I’d notice that the back tire was quite worn, and sell a tire and installation, so now instead of a $30 sale, I had a $50 sale, and a happier customer, because I noticed a problem with the tire that could have caused trouble for him later on.

8. I found that in a competitive environment, people often shop around quite a bit before they’ll commit to buying. They’d come look at my Raleighs and then go to the Schwinn store, then maybe the store selling Fujis. Sometimes they’d come back. Sometimes not. In time, more and more came back. Why? Because my salespeople and I learned to talk with them. When they first came in and expressed interest in a bicycle, a salesperson would generally not lead them to a row of bikes right away. Instead, the salesperson would spend a little time finding out who they were. We would ask about hobbies, family, wherever they wanted to go, conversationally. Sure this took an extra ten minutes, but then when it was time to talk about bicycles, the salesperson was already their friend. We seldom put ourselves across as experts. Oh, we knew the specifications and the reasons you’d want this feature or that, but the salespeople would often wait for the customers to ask specifics, rather then just blurting out information like a waiter telling restaurant customers about the daily specials. If a buyer was misinformed, we didn’t argue. The salespeople didn’t lord over them in any way. If their misinformation was going to cause them trouble, we might find a way to work a correction into the conversation metaphorically, or in a way that would not offend them, or make them feel inexpert. For all we knew, every customer was a respected doctor, lawyer, celebrity, or child prodigy. So who were we to tell them what’s what?

9. I really tried to notice what people want. If there was a lot of interest in cable locks, I made sure to carry a wide variety of cable locks. If two or three people asked for a brand I didn’t carry, I’d try to get it.

10. As I started hiring salespeople, I tried to look for the same qualities in them. They had to do more than know brands and specifications. They had to be personable. Oh sure, some needed a bit of training. For instance, I had seen sales people closing a sale, and then keep on talking about features, as if the customer didn’t already agree to buy the bike. As soon as your customer says yes, start the paperwork. Then see if you can sell some appropriate accessories. I didn’t know this at first, but learned it from one of my first salespeople. I learned a lot from them.

11. With new bike sales, buyer’s remorse is common. When I encountered that, I told them that I completely understand, and hat they could keep the bike for a while, as long as it remains looking fairly new, until they made their final decision. And I let them know that if they didn’t want the bike in the end, I’d refund it entirely, without a problem. Most ended up keeping their bikes. The few that were refunded, I sold as ‘slightly used’ at a small discount, and still came out ahead.

12. I feel that with bicycles, test rides are important. Once the customer has ridden three bikes, s/he will have an opinion, and will know which one is right. I encouraged test rides – for those buyers who I thought were responsible and legitimate. From those customers, I would hold their car keys or driver’s license until they returned. Some stores do not allow test rides, preferring to keep all the bikes absolutely new until sold. I understand both points of view, so I leave that judgement up to you. By the way, if you do allow test rides, it is absolutely essential that all your bikes are properly tuned so the customers will be impressed. Between test rides, I make sure the derailleurs are set to a low gear, so the bike will seem effortless when starting out.

Managing Employees

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In most bike shops, the employees are paid an hourly rate near minimum wage. The sad truth is there are many people who would like to work in bike shops, so they don’t have to be paid much. But, as Armand Hammer pointed out, “When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” At first, as my shop grew and I started hiring people, the quality of their work wasn’t great. Even though almost everyone I hired had good references from other bike shops, they weren’t what I was hoping for. People came in late or not at all. Some took overly long lunches. Sometimes bits of inventory or tools disappeared. Some of my salespeople exaggerated or even lied to customers. Some just didn’t care about the customers. The repair people did less than ideal work. Well, not worse than average, but they just weren’t great.

Somehow I discovered a better way. One day, I made an offer to one of my mechanics. For a week, we would add up his labor charges. At the end of the week, if 1/3 of the amount of labor charged to the customers exceeded his hourly wage, he would get paid that amount instead. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but his hourly wage was something like $200 for that week. But, he had done $900 worth of repairs, which magically, was quite a bit more than he would typically turn out in a week. (He usually generated about $500 worth of repair labor.) So I paid him $300!

The other mechanics liked this quite a bit, and as you can imagine, they begged me to do the same for them. So I did. All except for one fellow who ranted and raved that being paid piecework was “un-American” among other choice words. So I fired him.

Guess what happened next? We never missed that guy. The remaining three mechanics easily did the work of four. They each took home more money. Because of a clause I added, their work was of higher quality than ever before. The clause was this: If a repair failed due to workmanship, that mechanic would do it again for free. And, if the customer was present, the mechanic might have to do it while the customer sat on a stool and watched – if the customer was so inclined.

I figured that what was good for the goose was good for the gander, so shortly thereafter, I put all the sales people on commission. They got five percent of new bike sales, and ten percent of all other sales. The ten percent commission included parts, accessories, labor, and used bikes. They, too, made more money, and sales increased. I had to be careful to monitor them at first. They did tend to oversell. In time, being paid more than bicycle personnel anywhere else in town, they took pride in their work, in their customer relations, and felt no need to oversell.

Especially when the next phase hit. It didn’t take long for all the experienced bicycle professionals in town to apply for a job at my place. Instead of the going wage of $8 to $10 per hour (at the time, late 1970s) they could get $15 to $18 hour, if only they could work in my shop. Now, I had my pick of the very best! As my business grew, I could pick and choose the most experienced sales and repair people, some with a clientele that would follow them to the ends of the earth.

In the end, even though I paid my people twice as much, I made more profit from their work.

I didn’t quite know the best approach regarding employee taxes. I figured they were actually independent contractors and treated them as such. I didn’t collect income and Social Security taxes for these former employees who were now contractors.

At one point, one of the mechanics consulted the IRS about how to fill out his tax forms. They mailed me a questionnaire that kind of scared me. After all, no one wants to be in trouble with the IRS. They had about twenty questions. Among them were: Do I set the hours or do the employees get to pick their own hours? Do they own their own tools? Do I tell them what to do? Can they refuse to do a job?

I answered every question truthfully. I sent the letter back to the IRS and waited six worrisome months before they finally replied with one short sentence, “The IRS has decided in your favor.”

Knowing what I do now, I would have continued to withhold taxes and do the proper paperwork for these people anyway, considering them as employees instead of contractors. In fact, in later businesses, that’s exactly what I have done, and all has worked out perfectly.

You may be wondering what’s involved when you get your first employee – or ‘contractor.’ Turns out, it is fairly simple. Contact your insurance agency and let them know you’re going to have employees. They’ll set you up with Workers’ Compensation insurance. You legally need to carry that, probably even with contractors if they work in your store, but it is not very expensive.

You need to do some paperwork to handle withholding taxes. Or not. There are companies that do all the heavy lifting for you, such as ADP (www.adp.com). For around $50 per employee per pay period, they’ll take care of all your employees’ paperwork needs. They’ll keep you informed of what and where to pay, and forward to you the occasional paper that needs a signature. And that’s all there is to having employees!

Many small business owners start by hiring friends and family members. While this can work out well, it is far better to surround yourself with people who know as much or more than you do about bicycles. Finding people to work in a bike shop is easy. You’ll get unsolicited applications every day. Most of the customers who ask whether you have a job opening have no useful experience. If they have worked in other bike shops, that is a good indication that you should record their name and number in case you ever do want to hire anyone. Even as you take their contact info, let them know that the chances are slim that they’ll get hired. People have this amazing optimism about jobs, so if you say something like, “I’ll put your name in the file,” what they hear is, “We’ll get back to you in a week or two, and you have the job almost for sure.”

When you have someone with previous bike shop experience that you might hire, you’ll probably want to conduct an interview. Ideally, everyone who has to work with this person will be present. This way, if there are going to be sparks between a partner or existing employee and the new person, you can know about that before you hire the person. You’ll want to be careful to avoid asking discriminatory questions and you can’t base hiring decisions on sex, religion, skin color, weight, and so on. That’s illegal, and immoral.

There are two things you’re trying to discover during the interview: Whether the person has sufficient technical knowledge, and whether the applicant’s personality is right for the job. You don’t want someone with a grouchy monosyllabic attitude in your sales department. You don’t want a mechanic who doesn’t know which end of a screwdriver to hold. So, you ask technical questions, and have a conversation in which you’re trying to discover something about the true nature of the individual. I once hired a salesperson who said the word “pray” at least six times during the interview. That should have been a clue. I had to let him go because he started trying to convert customers. It was more important to him to talk about religion than to sell bikes. It was more important to me that he sell bikes. We did discuss it, but he refused to change. You can’t discriminate based on someone’s religion, but you are not required to let an over-zealous person poison your business. So, you can’t refuse to hire someone, or fire someone because he’s Catholic and you’re Protestant, or whatever, but if the individual is not properly performing the duty for which he was hired, that’s another story.

Check their references. I can’t emphasize this enough. Remember that they’ll give you their best references. They aren’t going to volunteer names of people who fired them or have a grudge. When you call their former employers, remember that most will try to give glowing reports. If possible, you want to dig past that. Most people do enjoy talking, and employers are no exception. If you can have a friendly conversation with the former employers, you may find interesting surprises. More than once I found that a person who said they quit a job were let go due to performance issues. In one case, I spoke with a former employer who initially gave a glowing report. After ten minutes, I discovered that the person came in drunk after lunch more than once. The person was let go when in a messed-up state, he sexually harrassed a customer.

Before you hire anyone, make sure they understand that it is initially a trial. That they may get to work for a day or a week or two, then be let go if they aren’t a good match for your shop. I once went through twenty people who tried out for a job as a mechanic. Each had previous bike shop experience. None were really, truly gifted as mechanics – and that was what I wanted. This was before I started paying on commission. After that, I had a whole list of remarkably qualified applicants.

Finally, before you hire a new person, make sure they understand all the important details up front. They should know exactly what is expected of them, what hours they are expected to work, whether they can come in late occasionally, whether they need to dress a certain way, and the exact way they’ll be paid. You’ll find it helpful to write up a list of requirements in advance, and when a person is hired, have that person read and sign a copy of the list.

I prefer a flexible management style. If I have a problem with someone, I first try to understand their motivation for what they are doing. Sometimes I can accommodate whatever they are doing, once I understand that it makes sense. For instance, I had a mechanic that spent what I thought was a ridiculous amount of time cleaning bikes at the end of tune-ups. But, it seemed important to him. I wanted higher productivity, but I realized he was good, and since he was being paid on a commission basis, it didn’t really cost me anything. It also made the customers happier. If I do not want to accommodate a certain behavior, I try to address the behavior as well as the motivation in a calm, conversational way. Sometimes, rather than taking a drastic measure, such as firing the person, I see if there is a way to make things better. More than once I moved a person from a mechanic’s position to a sales position, and if qualified, visa-versa.

If you do need to let someone go, try to give them some warning, and a chance to correct their behavior. If it still doesn’t work out, then tell them the exact reason you’re letting them go. And just as you can’t hire someone based on their age, sex, color, religion, etc, you can’t fire them for discriminatory reasons.

With practice, and empathy, you can strike a balance between being the boss, and being one of the workforce. In a toxic workplace, there is a ‘us against them’ attitude. On the other hand, if you are one of the guys, friends with your employees, all sorts of magic happens. Your employees will work late without being asked when the shop is busy. They’ll go out of their way to treat your customers right. They’ll bring in their own tools to help support the shop. In our shop, we had developed a tradition of all riding our bikes to a pizza place on Friday evenings. In time, owners and employees from some of the other bike shops in town joined us on our Friday pizza outings. A great time was had by all.

On the other hand, I may have gone a bit far with the ‘just one of the guys’ attitude. It’s not entirely believable, since I did own the shop after all. There must have been some envy, so I tried to counteract it by being an especially ‘nice’ guy. In retrospect, I think it is best to maintain a bit of an ‘alpha’ personality, be the boss, so you get things done the way you want them done, while at the same time, being empathetic and friendly.

You could think of all the other bike shops in town as competitors. Or you could think of them as friends, maybe with a “we’re all in this together” attitude. Once again, magic can happen. On dozens of occasions, we’d need a part to complete a repair, call another shop, and borrow it. And they’d borrow parts from our inventory. We shared ideas. We sold and traded equipment back and forth. When I decided to sell my shop, guess who bought it? Right, one of my ‘competitors.’



Advertising and Publicity


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It is easy to buy advertising. There are many salespeople who would love to have you advertise in their newspaper, in their phonebook, their website, or on their radio or TV station. If it doesn’t bring the results you expected, they’ll just tell you that you didn’t buy enough advertising yet. They’ll tell you people need to hear the same message over and over. But you do need to buy some advertising, right?

Did I say, “buy” advertising? I meant “get free publicity.” Just about any form of advertising that a small bike shop can afford will be entirely ineffective. Yellow pages ads are the worst. You end up paying a lot of money per month to the phone company, or a phonebook publisher, and get little effect. People don’t use phone books any more. They use the Internet. So you’ll want a website. It can be a simple one-page affair. All people want is your contact information. You can do some search engine optimization (SEO) tricks, discussed in the next chapter, to get people to your webpage. If you’re in a city with a dozen other similar bicycle stores, they’ll all have their own websites, and without search engine optimization, you might be 13th on the list when people google your town name and “bicycles.”

So, when it comes to paid advertising, almost nothing works for a small business. Good free publicity, on the other hand, can change things overnight.

You may be thinking I’m talking about sending press releases to the local newspapers, radio, and TV stations announcing that you have a new business or have added something to your business. That can have a small effect. Much greater is to do something newsworthy, meaning, something positively eccentric.

I mentioned this to one bike shop owner, and he said, “Oh, like give away free water bottles printed with the store logo?” He didn’t get it. Better is to sponsor something unique. Sponsoring a compelling but unusual free entertainment event, or offering a free workshop is a start. Getting clients to wear your custom printed T-Shirts is a step in the right direction. Then, they will hopefully tell friends to do business with you. That will have a small effect, but it is not newsworthy, and it really isn’t free, because you have to pay for the T-shirts. I’m talking about something newsworthy. Let me give you an example.

Customers of an old bookstore in San Francisco used to complain from time to time because is was sort of dark in there, especially in the deeper shelves. That gave the owner an idea. He held a one-time special sale. All books were 1/2-off. But, the sale ran from midnight to one in the morning. And, he turned all the lights out. At the door, all the customers were handed flashlights. That not only made the news, but it is still talked about today, twenty years later. After reading the story, thousands of new customers visited the store, mostly because they were curious about how dark it really was, that people were complaining.

At another bookstore, some college students created an art project. Their idea was to rearrange all the books, not by subject and title, but by color. Shopping there during that time may have been tedious, but all sorts of people came by to see it, and no doubt many of them came away with books they would never have noticed normally. (After two weeks, the same college students put all the books back in subject and alphabetical order.)

So, what kind of positive eccentricity can you think of for your bike business?

Your author had a one-acre yard behind his second store that could be seen from the street. In time, old junk bikes started collecting there. They were for parts. As a last resort, if a new item wasn’t in stock, if a customer just couldn’t afford a new derailleur, or if we wanted to grab some material to build something, there was that pile of junk bikes. As you probably know, bike frames tend to accumulate. In time you sell the wheels, the shifters, the pedals, but the frames tend to be the last things to go. Soon, my pile of stripped frames had grown quite large. I was thinking I ought to build a fence around the pile, so I built it out of these old frames. It kind of looked like a sculpture. People driving by saw the fence, and immediately knew we had a bike shop there, even if they didn’t see the sign. So, the crazy fence was acting like free publicity. People used to start telling their friends, “. . . you know, the place with the bicycle fence.”

That fence played a bigger role that was unexpected. Upon noticing the fence as they drove by, people inevitably also noticed that there was a pile of old bikes behind the fence. They started stopping into the store and asking whether we wanted more old bikes. They were giving them away. I instructed my sales people to say, ‘yes’ – that we’ll recycle the bikes to the best of our ability. After a while, we had a quarter-acre covered five feet deep in old used bikes. Now, we never had to buy low-end and mid-range used bikes. We had plenty. All we needed to do was fix them up and sell them. Very profitable. And of course as people saw more and more used bikes accumulating around the store, more people came in looking for used bikes. Many bought used bikes, and many others bought new bikes from my store. And, we had a sideline – we had a parts junkyard. Many customers loved this. Imagine, someone would donate a bike for our pile. We’d sell a derailleur for $8, a rear wheel for $20, a fork for $15, a saddle for $10, and by gosh, it was very profitable indeed! The junkyard business could have supported the bike store by itself. And never once, did I advertise the availability of used parts.

As I mentioned, having at least a basic website is important for most businesses. Fortunately, a one-page site is sufficient for most, and easy to create. You can do positive eccentricity on a website as well. We’ll talk a lot more about websites in the next chapter.

A guy who’s business was repairing Apple computers uploaded a little video to YouTube and linked to his website, that showed him dropping a PC and a Mac computer off a six-story building. Both crashed to the sidewalk. The Windows computer was smashed to bits, but with the aid of trick photography, the Mac had only a couple of scratches. That was a fun video. I don’t think anyone has done a ‘drop video’ of bicycles yet.

In one of my bike shops, I had an area of wall above a double-wide door that I covered in broken bicycle parts. This included a horribly bent wheel with spokes sticking out every which way, a Zefal pump that had been run over by a car, some mangled derailleurs, and things of that nature. Many people talked about that wall. It was part of what made the bike shop what it was.

One day Sam, a fellow in a wheelchair and his hired helper came in to buy some more material from our junkyard, These guys had been in several times before. Sam had cerebral palsy or something like that, so his body was really quite twisted. He could stand up for brief periods of time, but his stance was odd and he was wobbly. Sam’s hobby was building human-powered machines. The helper would do the actual construction work, while Sam did the inventing. His helper saw the badly bent wheel on the wall, pointed to it and said, “Sam, that wheel is as bent up as you are!” We all laughed.

Then there’s the old fashioned way to bring customers – business cards and flyers. Putting business cards in everyone’s hands who comes your way can build a business slowly, but surely. Of course, giving them something more interesting such as a keyring tape measure, or an interesting hologram, will be more effective. A computer store can give out business cards that have a chart of the common [Ctrl] (or [Command] on Mac) keyboard shortcuts.
You know:

[Ctrl] + [A] = Select All

[Ctrl] + [C] = Copy

[Ctrl] + [F] = Find

[Ctrl] + [V] = Paste

[Ctrl] + [X] = Cut

[Ctrl] + [Z] = Undo

So what kind of bicycling information could you put on the back of your business cards? (Hint: A gearing chart is too common, and not interesting enough.)

For a short while, I experimented with what I called micro-books. These were the size of business cards, but had a dozen pages. They contained a wealth of fun bicycle trivia. The front and back of the little books had my shop name, address, phone number and a map. I gave up the idea because it took too long to organize the pages and staple them together. Customers used to pull the books out of their pockets years after I gave them away, just to show me they had kept them all that time.

These days, it is a simple matter to print business cards on your own computer printer. You might look into using photo paper. It is almost as thick as card stock, but the glossy surface looks like a million bucks. Especially if you incorporate a nice graphic or photo. Avoid the tendency to put too many words on your cards.

You might also consider using cards as coupons. You can give out cards that are a dollar off on helmets, or 10% off tires, etc. Put an expiration date on them, so you don’t have to deal with discounts years after you’ve moved on to something else.

Putting flyers on all the local bulletin boards can surprise you. You’ll get more business with no cost. Bulletin boards at laundromats work well, because patrons have to spend idle time waiting for the wash. You might think that laundromats attract low-end clientele – those who can’t afford their own appliances. This is true, but they also attract a higher-end clientele. These would be customers who have to wash blankets bigger than their home washer can handle, or people who are waiting for their home machine to be repaired, or – I hate to say it – people who will wash greasy rags in a public machine because they don’t want to mess up their own machine. All these may be bicycle customers.

Bulletin boards at natural food stores work especially well. I’m not quite sure why. Bulletin boards at diners, quick-change oil places, and elsewhere can work well, too. The best kind of flyer is one that makes only a few quick points, because too much text is hard to read. The best flyers have little pull-off tabs at the bottom with your shop’s contact info, especially your phone number. You might want to have full-page and half-page flyers, since many bulletin boards are too full to accommodate full pages. When space is very limited, you can put several business cards fanned out under a thumb tack, indicating to people it is OK to take a card. For this use, the cards ought to have large text that’s easy to read at a distance. There’s a color called “Solar Yellow,” that’s very bright and sometimes used for cards and flyers. It is a bit loud for sure, but in a jumble of white flyers, it gets noticed.

You may find a big drawing of a bicycle is helpful. It will draw people in from thirty feet (10 meters) away if they’re interested in bikes at all.

Sometimes people will tear off a tab on each of the flyers they put up. This is to make the general public think there’s interest in what the flyer advertises. Chances are, for your bike shop, that won’t be necessary. Flyers work particularly well if you include a special offer. Like $10 off a tune-up when someone brings in a pull-off tab. Or a free safety inspection. Or 10% off accessories.

Going a step further, you might replace your flyers from time to time. One might advertise half-price headlights until the end of September. The October flyer might offer a “Fall Tune-up Special,” and November might be 10% percent off all cycling clothing. Each flyer should look different than the previous ones, so people recognize that something new is being offered.

You might think flyers on local bulletin boards are not professional enough to represent your shop. More likely, they will attract many new customers, and once people see your shop itself, they will have no doubt about your professionalism.

Are you concerned about the cost of printer ink? If you’re printing color cards or flyers in the hundreds or thousands, you’ll use up ink quickly. And we all know how much that costs! But you don’t have to pay $30 per cartridge. For most printers, you can buy replacement ink cartridges on eBay for remarkably low cost. I mean really low. For my Brother MFC-255CW printer, I get cartridges for under $4, postage included. Now that that’s taken care of, what about wear and tear on your printer? My Brother printer is years old, and it has spit out 20,000 pages, yet it is still working like new. I think most printers are like that these days. The one thing many printers can’t stand is not being used. If you ignore your printer too long, the ink dries up in it.



Websites That Work


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Just about any bicycle store will benefit from a website. In fact, some businesses can be entirely websites. I won’t go into much detail about deriving profit directly from the Internet, because this is supposed to be a book about “bike shops.” However, it is possible for your bike shop to derive a nice additional income from online activities, such as selling on eBay. In any case, your store will be more successful if you do a few simple Internet things.

You don’t have to be an HTML master programmer to create effective websites. In fact, you don’t have to know anything at all about HTML, Javascript, or any of that.

There are now several places where you can create your own website by simply cutting and pasting or entering text, dropping in a picture or two, and click an OK button. Blogger.com and Tumblr.com come to mind. However, if you want to take advantage of all the ideas in this book, you might want to learn some basic HTML, or just hire someone to help you with the optimization parts.

Whenever you hire someone to help you with a website, make sure to maintain all access. You don’t want the site on some guy’s server. You want it on a big national company’s server such as Godaddy.com. Because, what if your webmaster goes broke, leaves town, or has an argument with his wife and shuts down his server?

It is very important to get all passwords associated with the site. You don’t want to have to hire the same webmaster over and over again for each little change that you could eventually make yourself, or pay someone else to make for you. What if your webmaster disappears and you don’t have a password? I can’t tell you how many times, I, as a business coach, have had to tell business owners (kindly), “I told you not to trust that webmaster.”

The most important thing websites need is visitors. There are three main ways to get visitors.

1. Buy advertising. That mostly doesn’t work. Or more specifically, with enough money you can buy visitors, but that would be fewer visitors than you would need just to pay for the advertising. I think it was Pets.com that was famous for that. Right before the big tech crash of 2000, this company had a popular website. It turned out that the company had spent millions of investors’ dollars on advertising, and their revenue was far below the expenditures.

There is one form of advertising that can work nicely for bike shops. That’s Google AdWords. You can sign up for an AdWords account for free. Once there, you bid on keywords. They should actually be called “key phrases” because most keywords are more than one word. Let’s say your keyword is “bicycle shops Cincinnati.” You may find that your closest competitor has bid $2.17 per click on that same keyword. You can bid $2.18. Then, your ad will show up at more websites, and closer to the top of the paid side of Google search results than your competitors. So, your ad is then shown on random websites. Well, not random. Targeted. This means that if someone has a website that has something to do with bicycles in Cincinnati, your ad – and your competitors’ ads – will show up on that site. Or if no one has a site about bicycles in Cincinnati, then you’ll show up on websites about bicycles, and other sites about Cincinnati, Ohio. When someone clicks your ad to go to your website, Google takes $2.18 from your account. You can adjust maximums, and all sorts of other settings so that if it runs wild, you won’t go broke. You can do things like change your keyword to “Bicycles Cincinnati Ohio” (adding “Ohio”), which may not cost anywhere near $2.18 per click. Fewer people enter “Bicycles Cincinnati Ohio” than “Bicycles Cincinnati” when they are looking for a bike shop in Cincinnati, but those who do will see your ad right at the top.

AdWords works particularly well because it is well-targeted. Google’s automated software does a good job of making sure your ad shows up on only the most relevant sites, and with only the most relevant search results.

Think about the results: How much does your average customer spend per year? You’ll find each regular customer is worth hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars, right? So what’s $2.18 compared to that? Not everyone who clicks through to your website will actually turn into a regular customer, but the ads are well-targeted, so a good many will. Especially if your website is well-designed, which we’ll talk about in a minute.

2. SEO – Search Engine Optimization. You can do some simple things to make sure your website shows up near the top of search results in Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines. We’ll talk mostly about Google, because it is the elephant in the room. My guess is that at least seventy percent of all searches are done through Google, with the remaining thirty percent handled by Bing, Yahoo and a hundred lesser search engines. Then too, if you make a website that works well with Google, it will work pretty much the same with the other search engines.

Google ‘ranks’ pages based on how closely parts of the page match the keyword people are searching for, and on how many other websites link to a page. The first aspect, matching elements of the page to the keyword is easy. The second is more work and takes longer to achieve, but that’s OK, since it is probably less important.

By the way, don’t let anyone tell you they have a magic formula to get top ranking. There are hundreds of companies out there willing to take your money for search engine optimization that is all smoke and mirrors. What you are going to read in the next few paragraphs is the heart and soul of search engine optimization. Oh, there are some complicated schemes that might bring a marginal increase in results, but these companies that promise the sky do not deliver. That’s guaranteed.

Because your business is a bicycle shop that serves a local clientele, and because the term “bicycle” is so common on the Internet, you’ll want to target your website to your local community. What are the chances that someone googling some aspect of bicycling is in your area? It’s one in a million. On the other hand, what are the chances that someone who is in your area is googling something about bicycles? That happens all the time.

So, to attract people who are searching for “bicycle shops Cincinnati,” for instance, all you need to do is put that phrase in the page title – between the <title> tags, and in the< It can be helpful to have a page filename that also matches the keyword, such as www.mywebsite.com/bicycleshopscincinnati.htm. Google says that as of October 2012, having an exact match page name is no longer significant. However, I have noticed that if you have an exact match domain name, such as www.bicyclescincinnati.com, Google seems to index your page – include it in their search engine listings – within a day or two, rather than within two to three weeks.

So how many people are looking for “bicycle shops Cincinnati?” It would be important to know that, wouldn’t it?

As of now, 140 people per month are entering that keyword. How do I know? I used the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. It’s free when you sign up at adwords.google.com. Signing up for AdWords is also free. It only costs money if you place a bid on a keyword. You can enter any potential keyword, and it will show you how many people are searching for that. It will also tell you how much AdWords bidders are paying for the keyword and some other interesting information. It will then offer a list of related keywords, in case you find there are already too many websites optimized for your keyword.

Once you are on the AdWords home page, select the “Tools and Analysis” tab, and then “Keyword Planner.” Once that’s in front of you, select “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas.” Enter a keyword in the “Enter Your Product or Service” field, the scroll down and click the “Get Ideas” button.

You’ll see an interesting list, but that’s not the list you’re looking for. Click the “Keyword Ideas” tab. Now you see information for your specific keyword – data about the people who have entered exactly your keyword into Google, and below that, you’ll see a long list of suggested keywords based on what you entered.

So, the next step is to see how many people have already optimized websites for your keyword. Good news, well fairly good: Not many people have optimized sites for “Bicycle Shops Cincinnati.” When you simply enter that keyword in the Google search engine, several sites come up, some which have the term in their titles, descriptions or <H1> tags, but none seem to be doing it in all four.

As you may know, you can see the source code of any web page by right clicking (or [Ctrl] and click on a Mac) and selecting “View Page Source” in FireFox, or from within a context-sensitive menu on other browsers.

So if your bike shop is in Cincinnati, you could be the top page in Google search results, and most of 140 people a month who are actually looking for bicycles would click through to your website. Gosh, that could bring you 40 or 50 new customers every month! If you treat those customers well, they’ll spend on average perhaps $400 per year in your shop, raising your gross sales by $16,000 per year each and every month! In real life it may not be as efficient as that, but it will certainly be significant.

If many websites have already used your keyword, there are still some things you can do. You can change the keyword a little bit, checking the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and actual search results, until you get something that has enough people looking, and isn’t highly optimized. Maybe “Bicycle Shops Covington” (a small city just a few miles away), or “Bicycle Repair Cincinnati,” or “Bicycling Cincinnati.”

You can optimize for more than one keyword. Or, you can make a whole bunch of similar web pages each focused on one area, or put several area names in your tags. For instance, “Bicycle Shops Cincinnati, Covington, Florence, Ohio.”

Next on the list is backlinks. This thickens the plot a bit. If a thousand websites have added links to your page, Google puts you higher in search results than someone who may actually have better on-page SEO, but fewer backlinks.

This is another place the charlatans go crazy. They tell you they have all sorts of ways to get instant, automatic backlinks, for only $39.95 per month. . .

Don’t fall for any of that snake oil. Much of what they do, when they do anything at all, is pure spam, and in the end, may weaken your position with Google. You don’t need to pay money for backlinks, and you don’t need to do spammy things to get them. Google’s automated software has little tolerance for spam, and tends to penalize websites that have been linked with any disreputable practices.

The charlatans also tell you that backlinks are essential. However, with a well-selected keyword you can usually ignore backlinks and still end up with lots of hits. Nevertheless, we’ll talk about the best ways to get backlinks in the next chapter.

Many SEO experts are saying that you want to make sure your website stays natural. If you weave too many keywords into the text of your website, so you no longer have sensible English sentences, your site will be less effective in two ways. First, the search engines will not rank you as high as when all your on-page SEO is reasonable and your backlinks are organic – meaning derived from actual people deciding to link your site from their blogs, websites, and forum posts. And then if your customers can’t make sense of your website, or if it seems too spammy, they are less likely to actually visit your store.

Besides asking webmasters to add a link – many will, without cost, just because you asked, you can trade links, as long as you don’t mind adding a reciprocal links list to your site. Better yet, you can post in newsgroups, forums and discussions, especially on social networking sites. You can answer questions, or ask questions. At the end of every single post, you are allowed a tag line in almost all forums. Your tag line can contain a few words about what your site is, plus an actual link to your site.

Not only will these be noticed by Google as backlinks, but some real people will actually click through, bringing up your visitor count organically. The trick to not spamming is simple: Contribute legitimately to the discussions in which you participate. You can answer questions, postulate theories, bring up analogies. If you don’t know much about a subject, it is completely OK to ask questions, as long as you are not selling ‘expert service’ on your site on the very subject of which you’re asking questions.

What’s wrong with spam? Besides the fact that you’re interrupting people, and diluting the value of bonafide discussions, Google and the other search engines have become quite smart about spam.

Another little trick that can be helpful when you’re not at the top of the Google search results is to become a verified author through Google+. You need to join Google+, a social network, but it is free. Then using Google itself, you can look up “verified author Google+” where you will find the details. Basically, you have to certify that you are the author or owner of the content on your website, then add a little bit of Javascript code to the page. When Google sees this, they put your picture next to the brief description in the search results. Google also ads some other data for you. But displaying your picture is the main thing. People are more likely to click through when they see who you are. Even if you are not particularly photogenic, they’ll click through because on some subconscious level, they feel they know you now that they’ve seen you. Some people will show their place of business rather than a picture of themselves as the proprietors. It turns out showing your actual face is more valuable in causing people to click through.

Once you’ve built or updated your website, you can let Google know it’s there. This is especially important if no other websites link to it yet. Without any backlinks, Google has no way to know you’re out there, because Google finds websites by investigating links from other websites, crawling the entire Internet every two weeks or so, link by link. However, you can expedite the process through “Fetch as Google” a simple, free and easy-to-use part of Google Webmaster Tools.

If all goes well, you can have a dozen visitors within 24 hours of building a new website.

Valuable Content

Once you’ve got at least a handful of visitors coming to your site, you can do some more things to make sure it works.

If you can provide some useful content or positive eccentricity, then people will tell people who will tell people. Your site can go viral. Take a look at hamsterdance.com. Especially take a look at the “Hamster Classics” and then “Interactive Dance.” This one dance page is similar to how the whole site originally looked.

It seems a computer science student made a one-page website as a thesis project. All it did was show lines of cartooney dancing hamsters with some background music. That was in the late 1990s, when it didn’t take much of a website to excite people. There was something about the cuteness of hamsterdance.com that caused everyone to email everyone else, and it went viral almost instantly. Millions of visitors came. The creator saw the potential, and quickly added more pages and advertising to the site.

It will take more than dancing hamsters to impress people these days, but if you can do something sufficiently amusing, or informative, you win the game!

Another example is Crayola.com. There, you’ll find quite a few interesting and interactive things for children. People come to the site because there’s something useful there.

Yet another example is a website where you can buy an antenna for specialized electronics. The site has many charts with just the information that radio designers need, so of course this site is where the radio people go to when it is time to order antennae.

Your author has made several such sites. One of the more interesting sites is www.worlds-worst-website.com. Its sole purpose is to cause people to tell people, who will tell people, and so on. If I recall correctly, I have never done any SEO with the Worlds Worst Website. This is because the site has functionality and eccentricity.

Then of course we have BikeWebSite.com. Built by your author, with only a total of eight hours spent posting in forums, it received over 385,000 visitors before I sold it six months later.

Once you’ve got a site that gets visitors, you want to direct their time there. It would be a shame to build a large visitor count, then have all your visitors become confused and leave the site without satisfaction. Or more to the point, you want them to do something that satisfies you, also, like come to your bike shop. Think of your webpage, or your website, as a funnel. The top is wide. Lots of people spill into your site. The funnel narrows, directing people downward. Or more specifically, it holds their interest. Someone told me the average web page visitor stays one and a half seconds, unless something catches their interest in that time. The funnel eventually directs them all through the spout. The spout is the action step. What do you want people to do? Click the “Buy Now” button? Give you a phone call? Come to your store? Set up the page to have this effect.

You should have a compelling title, or short bit of text in the upper left corner, since that is where most people look first. The purpose of this top left item is not to sell something, but merely to cause them to feel that your site is worth focusing on. To have them become invested in your site enough to stay on the page and read more, perhaps click through to other pages on your site. Finally, at the bottom of every place they might go within your site, you have your action step – the button to click, the phone number to call, a map showing how to get to your store – whatever you want them to do. During this process, you may also want to convince them that your site is so excellent they should tell all their friends.

One thing you almost never want is links away from your site. In this book, I can tell you about crayola.com, because you already bought the book. I don’t need to sell you anything. But if I did, I would not risk losing you to Crayola. Besides, I think I’ve got your interest by now. Hopefully, I have you well on your way to starting your own bicycle store!



Social Networking


Table of Contents

There’s a super-effective trick with the social networking sites that can bring you hundreds of new customers, but which is oddly left out of most social networking discussions. I’ll tell you about it after a brief introduction and ‘how-to’ in case you are new to the whole phenomenon.

The Big Three

The big three social networking sites are Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Some may argue that MySpace is one of the big ones also, but I think it was more than it is now. There are hundreds of others. And then, there are sites that you may not think of social networking sites, but have interactive features and can be used for social networking. These include Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, and even eBay.

For this discussion, we’ll just focus on the big three. There’d be little sense in putting much effort into ‘lesser’ sites when the same effort on one or more of the big three will yield ten times the results.

Twitter

Let’s start with Twitter. The main concept is that anyone can enter messages at any time of up to 140 characters in length. You can also attach pictures, links and videos. But the core of Twitter is these little messages, called tweets. What in much of the Internet world might be considered spam is perfectly fine on Twitter. In other words, sharing trivia about whatever interests you, as often as you like, is perfectly fine.

Amateurs use Twitter to tell you they hate today’s homework, Jane wore the wrong dress, the boss said something insane, Frank just took a picture of his malamute – you get the idea.

Most communication of this type happens among people who have decided to follow each other. For instance, if you start following Barack Obama, you’ll get his tweets about the things that interest him – health care, politics, international relations, and so on. When he posts a tweet, only those who have opted to follow him see his messages. In his case, millions of people are following. But unless you are the President of the United States, not that many people will follow you.

Here comes a big trick with Twitter: You can incorporate hashtags into your tweets. A hashtag is a word or phrase that starts with a number sign. Phrases consisting of more than one word are compounded, like this: #MileyCirus. When you put a hashtag in your tweet, anyone who has elected to see all messages about that subject will see your message. Now, rather than the three people who are following you, suddenly thousands may see your message.

If you pick something too common, no one will be following because the number of tweets are simply overwhelming. For instance, if you add a #bicycle hashtag, chances are few people will react because there may be thousands of tweets about bikes every day. On the other hand if you pick something too specialized, no one will care. Something like #BicyclingCovingtonKentucky – just isn’t going to bring results. But if you use a hashtag that some people are going to be following, such as #Cincinnati, magic can happen.

First, they’ll get your message, and perhaps go to your website to learn more about what you’re doing. Then, if your tweet is compelling, they may start following you, so you can speak to them even in ways you can’t incorporate effective hashtags. Finally, they may tell their friends about you or your website, or at least your tweets, in their own tweets to their friends (called retweeting).

Facebook

Can you do the same thing in Facebook? You bet. Hashtags work almost the exact same way. You can even link Twitter and FaceBook together (and even several other social networking sites), so that when you post a tweet on Twitter, it also shows up in your Facebook activity.

Facebook has a concept called Groups. There are thousands of groups. These are just what you’d think: People with a similar interest ‘subscribe’ to a group, where the photos, messages, videos, and links are all about the topic of the group. For instance, there are more than 4,000 in a group about juggling. There, you’ll find posts about jugglers who have appeared on television, pictures of people juggling three, four, five and more objects, how-to information, and more.

You’ll find many general bicycling groups as well as specialized aspects of bicycling, such as classic bike collecting or road racing. You may even find groups about bicycling in your community.

The magic of Facebook groups is that you can subscribe to a group and post messages that will be seen by everyone in the group. Unlike Twitter, you don’t have to depend on people searching for hashtag terms, and you don’t have to already have made friends with hundreds of people. Just post in an appropriate group, and you can have dozens of targeted visitors to your website within hours.

Just like the rest of the world, you don’t want to spam groups. You can’t subscribe to a group about orchids, and post about inexpensive mountain bikes. Well, actually you can, but you’ll probably be banned from the group. Besides, it is just plain not nice. Spam weakens a group. Have you ever seen a group that has lost the spam war? It’s disappointing. You might want to read about a vegetarian diet, but every post pushing weight-loss products. As a group is dying, you see nine out of ten spam posts, and have to sort through them to find a tiny bit of good stuff.

But you can post on-topic material, and leverage your presence in the group. You might find a group about the Cincinnati Bengals. There, you can say whatever you want about other football teams. The Bengals fans in the group will love you for it. Then, at the bottom of your post, you can have a signature line, complete with a link to your website. In fact, you don’t even need a signature line. You can add links to posts – as long as they aren’t wildly off-topic. You don’t even have to do that. Many people will wonder who you are, check your profile, the links you have posted there, and so on.

It is better to stay nearly on-topic, even with your signature and links, if you can. You can post in running, kayaking, and other outdoor sports groups in which you can participate in a valid way, but it is better to stay closer to home, subject-wise. If you post in a bicycle racing group, you’ll get bicycle enthusiasts coming to your bicycling website. Many of them will visit because they are interested in everything ‘bicycles.’ If you post a bicycling link in a mountaineering website, even if your text is a valid on-topic post about mountaineering, few people will actually click the link.

Let’s say you’ve found the pay dirt. Perhaps you found a group that is specifically about bicycling in your city. You can’t just post over and over again that you’re selling bikes. What you do instead is offer interesting bicycle trivia, post technical information, state that your first bike was a Schwinn Continnental, and so on. You can answer questions that you’re qualified to answer. You can ask questions if you’re not an expert. You can ask controversial questions which will sometimes keep an active discussion going for weeks. With all this stuff on your wall, you can become somewhat of an authority on the subject. By simply participating in a natural and appropriate way, you’ll bring many visitors to your website who end up visiting your bicycle store.

As of 2010, Facebook added a concept called “Like.” You can paste “Like” or “Share” buttons onto your web pages. When people click a “Like,” a message appears on their Facebook wall with a link to your site. These can be valuable backlinks, especially if someone with a large following clicks your “Like” button. Many other social networking sites have a similar concept, but you’ll find that Facebook Like buttons are the most effective by far.

Google+

Finally, we have Google+ (www.plus.google.com). Anyone can sign up. You may be already signed up and not know it. Google has recently taken the initiative to link all their divisions together. If you are using Gmail, or YouTube, Google knows who you are, and you can just start using Google+.

Google+ has hashtags and groups. Their term for groups is “communities.” Communities work pretty much the same as Facebook groups, but are not yet as popular. For every Facebook group, a Google+ community will have perhaps a third as many people. The reason to pay attention to Google+ is that it is up-and-coming. Some experts are predicting that Facebook is a fad, that five years from now, it will be a ‘thing of the past.’ Google+ may suffer the same fate – that all social networking will evolve into something else. But your author’s opinion is that in the next few years, Google+ will grow considerably. They certainly have a powerful organization behind them.

Google Groups

Google also has something called “Groups” but it is not the same as Facebook groups. This is an extension of Usenet newsgroups.

In the early days of the Internet, before the WorldWide Web took off, there was another division called Usenet, also known as Usenet newsgroups. Usenet still exists, but most modern Internet users are unaware of it. There are more than 100,000 newsgroups, covering a huge variety of topics. A newsgroup is a list of messages by individuals. You can click titles to read messages, answer messages, and post new messages. It is a lot like email, except every message is addressed to the world at large – anyone who wants to subscribe to the groups. Just like email, messages could have files attached. Most of the time the files were pictures. In the past, you had to download special software, and put up with funky free access, or pay money for a subscription in a ‘newsreader’ service to gain access. Now, Google has made it much easier. Anyone with a Google account can go to groups.google.com and participate. The messages show up in your web browser – no special software required. There are two major differences: Google doesn’t support attached files. With Google, it’s just about text messages. And, there are even more groups, in addition to the Usenet groups.

So, if you want to publicize something, you find appropriate groups, post messages, and add a tag line at the bottom of every post. Or, in some groups, you can blatantly advertise. Of course the ones you can advertise in directly don’t have much valuable content. They are often called “spam traps,” I experimented with some, such as alt.test.test, and alt.announce, misc.forsale, and sure enough, there are a number of people just idling around there who will read pretty much anything interesting, and click through to see what you have.

Let me give you a concrete example of how you can use Google Groups. Actually, you can use this same technique in Facebook groups, on Twitter, and even on YouTube.

I wanted to publicize an idea about bike safety. I found a group called ba.bicycling. After reading a few messages, I figured out that the group is about bicycling in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place I have lived. There is a popular bicycling road that goes out to the rural edge of west Marin County called Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. It is dangerous because it has no shoulders, blind curves, and trees casting mottled sun and shade, making visibility difficult at times, especially since it heads due west into the sunset in the evenings. So I said so. I created a brief post stating that Sir Francis Drake was dangerous, and exactly why. At the bottom was a link to my bicycle safety website. You’ve gotta remember, I just told a bunch of bicycle lovers that the place they like to ride is dangerous. That was very controversial, just as I thought it might be, and so I was able to keep the discussion alive for a week. On the first day, 400 people came to my website. By the time the discussion died out, 1,000 visitors clicked through. And, these were exceedingly targeted customers – the very bicycle advocates I wanted to come to my site. My site was actually of international interest, but I happened across a Bay Area newsgroup, and remembered the problem on Sir Francis Drake, and so was able to make my little splash.

You may notice that I keep mentioning putting links to your website in your messages. Why not just the address and the phone number of your bike shop? The reason is that almost no one will drop what they are doing and go visit your bike shop. By the time they are out and around town, they will have forgotten all about the mention of your store in something they saw online. But if you link to your site, they may go there, spend enough time to be convinced they have to visit your store, and eventually they’ll show up. Furthermore, if they find something interesting or valuable about your site, they’ll bookmark your site, come back from time to time, and they may tell their friends and associates. As if that wasn’t enough reason, you may find that you can earn money directly from your website. Maybe people don’t need to come to your store for some things. You can do a mail order business from your site. Now, if you try to sell the same things everyone else is selling online, forget it – there’s too much competition. But what if you have invented a little something that bicyclists would like, and you are the only source? Right, you can sell it from your site. If your site is interesting enough, perhaps a virtual museum of some aspect of bicycling, perhaps it contains some interesting bicyclist biographies, or an interactive cyclists’ forum on a specific topic, you can add Google AdSense, or affiliate links to whatever products you like. You don’t even need a bike shop. Just earn a living from you website. But that’s way off-topic for this book, isn’t it?

But you can certainly augment the profit from your bike shop. In some cases, that can make the difference between success of a retail store and well, not success. For instance, I once had a bookstore in a time when bookstores were already flailing due to Amazon, Alibris, ABE and other online booksellers. Kindle and other ebooks were making inroads, and many people do seem to prefer videos and interactive computer activities to reading books. My bookstore started out like most little bookstores, selling books to people who came into the store. I learned to list some of my books on Amazon.com. In less than a year, my store did more business out of the back room selling books on Amazon, than it did out of the store itself.

For you, that may or may not be acceptable. Some people just love retail, and that’s all they’d want to do. Others are willing to make money any way it comes to them. Yet others love any opportunity to avoid the public, and would like to make money somehow involving bicycles online, without a bicycle store!

Letting eBay Spread Your Message

I’ve listed some things for sale on eBay, and noticed that hundreds of tire-kickers may come by before anyone actually buys a thing. How can you leverage this? You can post things that are not designed to sell. If they do sell, that’s just frosting on the cake. The reason for posting is to get a couple hundred viewers, who will then click through to your website and eventually visit your store.

Now, eBay frowns on sellling things outside of eBay through an eBay listing. So you can’t do that. But you can mention a non-competing website in your listing, and you can direct people to your ‘about me’ pages on eBay.

You may find this chapter interesting. It is all about buying and selling on eBay as it relates to the bicycle business.

YouTube

YouTube is another great website that you can use in a social networking sort of way. People love videos, especially ones that explain something or eccentric videos. Within your video, you can include links to any site you want. YouTube even gives you ways to monetize your videos directly. Let’s say you have done something weird enough that it goes viral, like this one:


Danny McCaskill

For those of you who are reading this on a device that can display web pages, you can click the picture to see the video. Otherwise, you can go to this link to see it on another device: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z19zFlPah-o

The bicyclist is Danny MacAskill. As of today, this video has been viewed more than 34 million times.

If that were your video, you could have YouTube supply advertising within and around the video. Their advertising is linked to Google AdSense, which is no surprise, since Google owns YouTube. AdSense places context-sensitive ads automatically. Ads will be displayed that are related to the subject matter, (probably “bicycle” and “BMX” and “Danny McAskill”), and also to what the viewers have shown an interest in. For instance, Google must be hip to the fact that I have been interested in Dremel and Foredom tools lately, because these are among the ads I see. Or, you could embed your own links into the video. So, if you own a bicycle store in Miami, then you might make an interesting and unique video about bicycling in Miami. People who search for “Miami” or “Bicycling” or “Bicycling in Florida” or something like that will want to take a look at your video. You’ll see the visitor count at your website build, and ultimately, welcome hundreds of new visitors to your bike shop.

Interestingly, the quality of a video is not nearly as important as the content, or the subject it addresses. Many successful YouTube videos were shot with cellphones, and barely edited, if at all. But what all the successful ones have in common is that they do something people want to see. They are informative or eccentric.

If your video is like most, and gets three visitors, one of which is your mother, you may need to do some adjusting, so it’s title and description contain keywords that people are actually looking for, or so it is sufficiently interesting or eccentric to go viral. For instance, this video of Steve Moore, known as “The Crazy Drummer,” shown below, had very few visitors. It just sat on YouTube for two years being generally ignored. Then the title was changed to “This Drummer Is At The Wrong Gig,” and suddenly, 23 million people had to see it.

Steve Moore
Crazy Drummer

And there are the other websites. You can post photos or artwork on DeviantArt.com, Pintarest.com, PhotoBucket.com, you can make interactive blogs on Tumblr.com or Blogger.com.

Memes

In these websites, or any social networking or similar websites, memes can be effective.

A meme (pronounced ‘meem’) is a unit of information that carries an idea from person to person almost in the way that genes carry physical traits from generation to generation. Shortened from the Greek mimeme, which means “imitated thing,” the term was coined by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, in 1976. Modern memes can be a written phrase, an image, an animation or sound clip.

Bumper stickers might be typical memes. A common one from years ago had a picture of a golfer and said, “Don’t drink and drive. Use a 7-iron.” Hopefully, this meme made driving a little safer. Bumper stickers promoting your bicycle store can be somewhat effective. You’ll have customers who are almost like groupies. If you were to give them bumper stickers, they’d proudly put them on their cars, and on the toptubes of their bikes.

But, it’s easier to create memes these days. You can just upload a little something to Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, you name it. And if your meme is successful, everyone will share it with their friends and associates, and soon, your meme will be seen by millions. A typical image meme would have a photo or drawing, and a bit of text. There are no standards – yet. Your meme can be any size, any of the standard Internet formats – .jpg, .bmp, .gif, or .png), and of course it can contain anything you want. All you do is make your meme, including a link to your website, upload it somewhere, set back, and watch the business roll in. At least that’s the idea.



Your author’s attempt at a cycling meme

As with so much of this Internet-based publicity, it will be more effective to create memes of interest to your community, than to the world of bicycling in general. That’s because everyone in your community can come to your bike shop. But to the whole world of bicycling, very few live near enough to your store.

It would be pretty hard to make a text-only meme. The closest I came is this: “If all the toilet paper used in America was on one giant roll, we’d be unrolling it at 7,600 miles per hour, roughly ten times the speed of sound.” This could be uploaded to some trivia websites, or into various groups on Facebook, along with a link to whatever you’d want to link.

The problem is that text memes will tend to get separated from their links when people spread them around. So, a better solution is to embed the text and link in a picture, so it is the picture that gets passed around, not just a line of text. Besides, the picture may enhance the concept of the text.

You can also make video memes, with or without sound. They have the advantage that they more completely involve the viewers. The downsides are that they take a bit more effort to produce, they don’t run consistently in all environments, and people have to sit and watch them before they get the entire message. In this information-rich society, you’ve gotta remember that the attention span is said to be one-and-a-half seconds. If your animated meme doesn’t catch people in that amount of time, it isn’t going to be effective.


Craigslist


Table of Contents

I wanted to tell you about a couple of Craigslist tricks that can be important to your bicycle shop, especially if you buy and sell secondhand bikes. If you only sell new bikes, you’ll find the same ideas work nearly as well. You can also use this information to sell parts and accessories.

First, let’s talk about a couple of tricks for selling things on Craigslist.

When you list a bike for sale on Craigslist, it scrolls down the list as other people add the bikes and related items they have for sale. In a busy community in a busy category, such as Chicago or Seattle, your ad can scroll out of sight within a few hours.

So, here’s what you do: Every couple of hours, add a different bike. You can put up an ad for a BMX bike at 1pm. Then at 3pm, you can put up an ad for a tandem. Then at 5pm, a mountain bike, and so on. Each one of these ads carries a link to your website, saying something like, “many more bikes available at mywebsite.com.” You might even have thumbnails for some your other bikes at the bottom of each ad. This is not spamming, because every ad is for something different.

As you may know, with Craigslist, you are welcome to ‘renew’ an ad every 48 hours. This means that your ad will reappear at the top of the list. So, after you’ve built up a sufficient number of ads, you can start renewing them, one at a time, every couple of hours, so you always have something near the top of the list.

The other trick, which I already alluded to above, is that you can have a website that has a larger list of your inventory. Every one of your Craigslist ads can link to your website. It seems to work well to have a vertical table on your website, with thumbnail images of each bike on the left, descriptions to the right, and prices to the far right. I did this for a short while when I was building a business to help some relatives. We kept an inventory of about 18 used bicycles and each was pictured on our website until sold.

I have to admit we didn’t stay up to date with posting on Craigslist. I usually only managed between one and three ads per day, and skipped some days altogether. This was because our bottleneck in the used bicycle business was getting bikes, not selling them. Unlike many other product lines, all except high-end bicycles are too big to buy profitably on eBay – due to the shipping cost, and you can’t just buy used bikes from wholesalers, so we had to depend on a local market. And there too, I have to admit, we could have done things to purchase more bikes locally, but I had other business interests at the time and the idea was to start something simple that could be maintained after I moved on. Still, we sold twenty bikes per week with an average profit of $75 to $100. So this could work the same way for your business. After doing it for three months, I moved on to other pursuits, but during that time, strictly from Craigslist exposure, our bike inventory website had received over 20,000 unique visitors.

When an item sells, it is appropriate to delete it from Craigslist as soon as you can, but I think it is better to leave the listing on your website for a day or two, marked “Sold,” leaving the price visible. When people see that your business is active, an unconscious impulse causes them to want to buy something ‘before it’s too late.’ It also keeps tire-kickers coming back. They want to watch the activity, and eventually when they need an item, or have a friend that does, where do you suppose they’ll look?

You can use Craigslist to sell new merchandise also. The public is a bit more finicky about spamming, if you do something like list Raleigh after Raleigh after Raleigh on Craigslist. Better to list a saddle, a taillight, a lock, a tire, along with just an occasional bike, and each item links to your website. Even better, the items you list can be on sale. Like, “Today only, Genuine Kryptonite Lock, $32.95, regularly $42.95.” You’ll still make a little bit of money if you bought your locks well, but once the lock buyers come into your shop, they may buy other things at full markup. Furthermore, if you treat them well, they may become regular, dedicated customers, worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.

The impact of such listings grows with time. Several months later when Fred, who doesn’t need a bike, hears that Jenessa wants a bike, he’ll remember the ‘bikes wanted’ ad on Craigslist, and direct Jenessa to your linked bikes-for-sale website.

And of course, on your website with your list of items for sale, you can mention that you are also a buyer.

One of the best ways I could have increased our purchasing of bicycles at the time would have been to keep an ad active in the “Items Wanted” section of Craigslist telling people that we buy used and broken bicycles. This would have the added advantage that our ‘wanted’ posting would also link to our website, so people who see that we want bikes, will also see we have bikes, in case they are upgrading, or looking for a bike for any reason.

Unfortunately, the only category on Craigslist for buying is “Items Wanted.”
Whereas you could post multiple similar ads such as “Cash paid for bicycles,” “I buy name brand bikes,” and “I want your quality used bikes,” in Items Wanted, this verges on spam, in fact it pretty much is spam, in the “Items Wanted” category. Not only does spamming make a mess out of a good category, and is unethical, and will probably get you a bad name, but Craigslist users will probably get in the habit of flagging and deleting all your ads. You might be able to expand in the items wanted category if you are careful. You could run an ad that you are buying mountain bikes on Monday, an ad that you are buying broken bikes on Tuesday, and an ad that you are buying road bikes on Wednesday, but I think you’ll find this is too risky.

If you’re offering a service such as teaching bike repair, detailing or repairing bikes, you’ll discover the same problem. There is only one category on Craigslist for “Services Offered.” Everyone is going to be posting there from rug cleaning services to computer repair. An ad there is seldom seen.

A better way to let people you’re buying things on Craigslist, or offering a service is to sell things.

Now that you’ve read this book, you have a good idea about how to buy and sell things at a profit. I’m going to suggest you dabble a bit in selling items, even if that is not your primary business. Now, you can put ads in the bicycling section of Craigslist for your bikes or parts and accessories, doing the tricks stated above. But your objective may not be to sell the things, although that could be a good income on the side. Your ads are there mostly to let people know that you’re buying, or present the links to your website where you sell the lessons and repair services that you offer. If you don’t really want to mess around with buying and selling (but who wouldn’t?), you can keep your prices too high. The point is that people looking for used items are often the same people who want to sell their junk, or want lessons or repairs. This is where they’ll be, in Items for Sale, not Items Wanted or Services Offered.

You might be surprised to discover that the for sale ads which happen to carry a message that you’re also a buyer or are offering a service are far more effective than the single ad you can legitimately run in the Services Offered or Items Wanted category.

How can you tell? You can go to a website such as Vendio.com which offers free hit counters. You can past a counter into the text of your ad and that way you’ll know how many people are looking. You can use a Hidden counter style, if you don’t want the general public to see how many hits you’re getting. Many items offered by Vendio are free including hit counters. Since Vendio specializes in ecommerce solutions on eBay, Amazon and other such sites, it takes a bit of looking to find the type of counters you can put on general web pages. Vendio calls this category “Web Counters,” and the place to create new counters is “Manage Web Counters.”

Finally, for building awareness through Craigslist, you’ll notice that there are forums at the left side of the home page. Yes, another social networking opportunity. You can participate in those forums. You can teach what you know. You can answer questions. You can ask questions about what you don’t know. But at the bottom of every posting, you can have a low-key link to your website. Keep in mind that some of the forums are national, so you’ll want to notice that before you post a link for local service or large items for sale.

You can also leverage Craigslist as a buyer. People who are moving out of town, don’t want to pack and ship things, and who want immediate cash will sell things for much less then they would otherwise be worth online, or if they had all the time in the world to attract the right buyers. They can’t get the full value for these things, because the market is limited to the local community. So of course you can come along, swoop these things up, and sell them for a profit. Sweetening the deal, many of these bikes offered on Craigslist are not in ideal condition. The sellers know this, but so do you. So, you might discover a mountain bike that you can sell for $500, once you replace the rear wheel. The seller is happy to get $75 for a bike that was once nice, but now has a broken wheel.


Leveraging eBay

Table of Contents

Imagine having a retail store with unlimited space, where you don’t have to actually greet customers, it’s open 24 hours a day even though you have no salespeople, has almost no overhead costs, and has not hundreds, but millions of customers!

That would be eBay. More than 150,000 people are earning their livings entirely on eBay, and you can be one of them. In fact, if you have a bicycle store, your opportunities to add eBay into your profit mix can be rather amazing. The most common way to use eBay is to sell things that might come through your store that would be difficult to sell to a local clientele. For instance, an old Simplex plastic derailleur is something that will not be asked for very often. Probably never. So if you put on in your inventory, it will gather dust for a very long time. If you’d rather sell it, put it on eBay, where it will be seen by an international clientele, not just the people in your local community. Someone out there collects plastic derailleurs. Maybe there are two or more such collectors, and they’ll get it a bidding war for your derailleur, driving the price up much higher than you might expect.

eBay is one of the easiest businesses to set up, and can start bringing you money within just days. It is possible to start an eBay account, list your first-ever item, and have it sell 10 minutes later.

Setting up an eBay account is as easy. You enter your name and contact info, make a couple of choices, and you’re all set. You’ll also want to set up a PayPal account, which is equally easy, and also free. PayPal is a division of eBay that takes care of collecting money, so you don’t have to deal with credit card numbers or anything like that.

You can start your eBay business with a single bicycle component. For an example, let’s say you have a Sturmey-Archer AW 3-speed hub.

You might first want to find out whether your hub is worth anything. On the top of most eBay pages is a search field. You can type in a description of your hub. Maybe something like “Sturmey-Archer AW” You will see a list of any such hubs currently being sold on eBay.

This list is interesting, but not very helpful. It shows only what’s currently being offered. Some items are being sold as fixed price, but you don’t know whether they will actually sell. Others are being sold through auction, and you don’t know what value they’ll rise to when finally sold. So, scroll down the column on the left where you can narrow down the search results. Click “More Refinements,” then “Show Only” and finally “Completed Listings.” That’s more like it. Now, you have a list of all items that closed during the past 30 days.

Items that didn’t sell have their prices shown in red. The sellers may have ended the item early, or let the time expire without a sale.

Items that have their prices in green did sell. So you can see how much people have actually paid for your hub. You can click any of the items, see the pictures and read the description so you can better understand competing conditions. For instance, you might find that four of the hubs sold for only $12, while two others sold for $50. Upon reading the descriptions, you see that the four $12 hubs were without axle nuts and indicator chains (the linkage to the shift cable). You might see one that sold for $250. What’s up with that? Click through, and you might discover that it was a rare version with an aluminum alloy hub shell. And look at that! You didn’t notice it before, but yours also has an aluminum shell!

Now it is time to take some pictures. eBay requires that you supply at least one picture, and allows for up to twelve pictures at no cost. You’ll want to take your pictures in such a way that they make your hub as appealing as possible. You might want to set the contrast up just a little tiny bit. Make sure the camera is held still, and the focus is good and sharp. Think about the background. It should be non-distracting, and of a contrasting color.

I have found that including your hand in pictures seems to slightly enhance sales. I don’t know if something that’s flesh colored automatically attracts people’s attention, or if it makes an item seem more real, or perhaps it makes people feel as if it is their hand holding the item.

Keep in mind that the first picture you upload will be used as a little thumbnail. You want your hub to be obviously a Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub at first glance in the thumbnail. Or sometimes, it is better to make it questionable. It is possible to create thumbnails that spark curiosity. People will want click in so they can figure out what they’re seeing.

Then you create the listing. First you select the right category. Most of the time, the right category is within the Sporting Goods | Cycling section. Other possibilities include the “Weird Stuff” section under “Everything Else.” This would only be if you do have a weird item for sale. People look in that category who don’t know they’re going to end up buying a bicycle item.

For the item title, describe your item in appealing terms, but don’t forget to use the keywords someone who wants this hub will actually be entering.

Click the various options as you create the listing to set it up the way you want. Be honest and straightforward throughout.

These options include:

Condition: New, used, etc.

Description: If it is collectible, state why. If it has special features such as signed by a celebrity, make sure to include that information, even if it is in the pictures.

If there are any flaws, you must mention them. You cannot omit something like a cracked spoke hole. If you try to sell it without mentioning such flaws, you will not be an eBay seller for long. On the other hand, honest mistakes can be made, and as long as you don’t do it excessively often, all will be OK.

Size: For some bicycling items, you can select a size. Whether or not you have a field in which to enter a size, put it in the description also. You don’t want buyers to forget that they have to take size into consideration. However, there are also many professional buyers. They don’t care so much about size, because they’re just going to sell it to whomever it fits.

Some items have other important specifications, such as number of spoke holes. For instance, 40-hole Sturmey-Archer hubs were very common, but 40-hole rims are not common. If your Sturmey-Archer hub has 36 holes, it will be far more desirable. On the other hand, if you fail to mention it is a 40-hole hub, your buyer may be disappointed, or may even want a refund.

Auction or Buy-It-Now: An auction listing can run for one, three, seven, or ten days. You get to pick an opening price. For instance, you may decide that there’s no way you’d accept less than $30 for your hub. So that’s your opening price. As the auction progresses, people will hopefully bid higher and higher. There is no limit. I once started an item at $50, figuring I’d be happy if at least one person would bid and give me $50. It sold a week later at $1,200. If you’re lucky, at least two people will want your hub, they’ll get into a bidding war, and the winner will pay way more than you think is sane!

You can also set a secret reserve price. You can start your hub at 99 cents, with a $30 reserve. This way, you can see what people are willing to pay. If no one pays $30, you get to keep it, yet you can see what they were willing to bid. Maybe the bidding stopped at $25, for example. Most savvy eBay sellers don’t use reserve pricing.

For ordinary non-collectible things, Buy-It-Now, also known as “Fixed Price,” is probably a better option. You set a price, and your hub remains available until someone is willing to pay your price. Many people don’t like the auction game. They come to eBay to get something, and they want it as soon as possible, and it would drive them crazy to have to wait until an auction closes to find out whether they won or not. Buy-It-Now generally closes a bit higher than auctions on non-collectibles. Buy-It-Now runs thirty days, and can be set to automatically renew every thirty days until the item is sold. It is not uncommon for a merchant to list an item for a fairly high price, and then wait eight months until it sells.

Return Policy: You can decide what happens if an item doesn’t work out. Will you accept a return? Will you pay return shipping cost? If so, you may find that ten or fifteen percent of what you sell comes back. On the other hand, the individual buyers are happy to pay much more when they know that they can return things if necessary. With bicycle clothing and buyers who want things for themselves (as opposed to professional buyers and sellers), ending up with the right size is essential. For them, a return policy can be very important.

Shipping: You get to decide whether you’ll ship an item for free, or whether the buyer has to pay a shipping charge to you. Many sellers offer free shipping, thinking that will make their items more attractive. Others charge the exact amount the shipping will cost them. I charge a bit more to cover the cost of packing materials (when I don’t use the free envelopes and boxes provided by the Post Office), and to cover my time in packing the item and applying postage. I feel that whereas free shipping is an attractive offer, my prices feel lower, because people don’t really think very much about the shipping cost when they’re considering an item.

You can ship by any carrier you like. You may prefer UPS, FedEx, US Mail (USPS), or another. I like US Mail because most of my items are fairly small and light, so the costs are smaller. Working with the US Postal Service seems a bit easier to me than the other services. Out of thousands of packages shipped, only a a handful have been lost in the mail. More specifically, I’ve probably shipped 20,000 items to customers in the US, and only around six of them were lost or damaged.

eBay has a fairly new service called Global Shipping. Before that, if you chose to sell to buyers outside the USA, you had to fill out customs paperwork on each item. You also had to pay for shipping insurance, or risk that some items would be lost in the mail. I used US Mail exclusively for my overseas shipments, and I’m going to guess that ten percent of the packages I shipped were lost or very delayed. Dealing with the insurance was tedious, so I generally didn’t bother.

With Global Shipping, I send the packages to a central processing location in Kentucky. They take care of the customs forms, and guarantee delivery. If a package is lost or delayed, I don’t hear about it. eBay takes care of it with the customer for me. There are only two small difficulties: eBay Global Shipping doesn’t service all countries. Occasionally someone will write from Russia or one of those countries asking if I’ll ship an item by other means. I always decline. It just isn’t worth the trouble for me or the customer. The other problem is that eBay Global Shipping determines the price the customer has to pay. I only charge an amount sufficient to send it to Kentucky, just as if I was shipping to any US customer. But, the shipping price the customer pays is more – enough to cover whatever it is eBay has to do to get the package to them. I don’t get to see what they pay, because I’m only seeing eBay from the US site. When I have asked customers about the shipping prices they are charged, they seem to vary greatly. Sometimes reasonable, sometimes remarkably high. One customer told me it was something like $22 for a two-ounce package.

When you list an item, there is a small listing fee. Depending on a few factors it can range from five to thirty cents. You can also add options such as subtitle, or larger pictures, so the listing fee will be over one dollar, but I don’t recommend any of these options. They make more money for eBay, but don’t generally help your item make more money.

When an item sells, there is also a closing fee. This too, is a variable amount, but it averages around eight percent. Finally, PayPal has a fee of around three percent. I like to ballpark my figuring by saying all the fees add up to twenty percent. It is a bit less, but this factors in mistakes and return expenses. So, if something sells for $100, you actually get about $80 after costs.

You’ll find shipping is easy, because eBay includes a free part of their website called Shipping Manager. You put your item in a box or envelope, click Shipping Manager, choose your carrier UPS, Fed Ex, or US Mail, enter the weight of your item, a couple of other choices, and print a shipping label with the address already filled out on an ordinary printer using ordinary paper. Later, you can get a fancy label printer, if you wish. The shipping cost is automatically deducted from your PayPal account. Shipping with eBay Shipping Manager is slightly less expensive than taking this to the Post Office and paying there.

eBay has a feedback system in which a buyer can rate the transaction. They can give you a positive, neutral, or negative vote. In almost all cases, they’ll give you a positive one. In order to get a neutral or negative rating, you have to misrepresent your item, ship it quite late, and communicate badly with your customer. If you have made a mistake, such as listing the size incorrectly, but communicate with your buyer and do your best to make things right (offer an exchange or refund), then you won’t get negative feedback. Oh, there is the occasional crackpot who is mad at the world and issues negative feedback for no good reason, but that is rare, and eBay has some mechanisms in place to keep that to a minimum.

You can sell things if you have no feedback. Many people will trust a brand new seller with low-value items. If you have something that is selling for a lot of money, lack of feedback can cause some people not to bid. However, most people understand that eBay offers so much buyer protection that even if you turned out to be a horrible seller, they’d be reimbursed by eBay.

As you start selling things on eBay, you will build more and more feedback, and that enhances your profit slightly. If you want to accelerate the feedback process, you can buy a number of inexpensive things on eBay, since feedback is offered on the buying side of transactions also. However, sophisticated buyers can tell the difference between feedback as a buyer, and feedback as a seller. You might rummage around and find a number of inexpensive things to sell on eBay to generate feedback quickly, before you start offering high-end items.

I have discovered that there is a market for many common bicycle parts on eBay. It might even be possible to buy a low-end bike at Walmart, take it apart, and sell all of its pieces for a profit, although I’m sure there are easier ways to make money.

One way is to advertise through your store or on Craigslist that you’ll buy broken bicycles. Many can be had for only a few dollars. The sale of a single derailleur or handlebar stem can bring more than the entire cost of the bike. If you can find collectible bikes from the 1970s or earlier, you’ll find the parts are quite valuable.

You’ll find wheels are problematic on eBay. Unless a wheel is quite valuable, the shipping cost is so high that you’re better off selling the hub, and perhaps the rim, spokes, and tire separately. You can send a rim through plain old US Mail by simply attaching a flat piece of cardboard to hold the mailing label. No packaging is required. That is, unless it is a particularly valuable rim. Then you might want to protect it in cardboard. As with any kind of shipping, you want to balance the cost of secure packaging against tho value of the items being shipped. There’d be little sense in putting a $10 rim in a custom-fitted box that costs you two dollars and adds a pound to the weight. The worst case scenario is that you’d have to refund the $10 if the rim is damaged in shipping. On the other hand, a rare wooden sew-up rim ought to be double-boxed, with an inch of padding all around.

You can sell entire bikes on eBay, but there is the added difficulty of packing them for shipping. If you have never done that, you’ll be amazed at how much time it takes. Since the cost of shipping bikes is high, you’ll be restricted to high-end bikes where the shipping is a smaller fraction of the entire cost.

eBay can also be a source. If you’re repairing a bike that requires a rare part your wholesalers do not carry, check eBay. Sometimes, you can find whole bikes that are a good deal, even with the shipping cost. Be careful to check the shipping terms with whole bikes. A large number of people list their bikes for sale with “Local Pickup Only.” This means that the seller will not assist in getting the bike to you. If you’re in Los Angeles, and you buy a bike with “Local Pickup Only” that’s also in Los Angeles, no problem. You just go pick it up. If you are in L.A. and buy a Local Pickup Only bike in Boston, you’ve got a problem.

If you can invent something that bicyclists would want, and no one else sells something similar, you can potentially sell hundreds of them per day on eBay.


The Guy Who Did Everything Wrong


Table of Contents

As you’ve read elsewhere, my first business coaching client owned a bicycle shop, back in
1979, before the days of the Internet. His business had put him $140,000 in debt. I won’t say he really did everything wrong, but he made many of the mistakes that people tend to make in the bicycle business. This is an entirely true story of what was needed to get him back on track. Of course every situation is different, but you may see some things here that you can apply to your own business.

Jason (not his real name) had seven employees. The business could run
well with four. If there is an alternative, it is always best to avoid
firing people, so after we talked, he called around and found positions for them
in other bike shops.

The employees who remained could have felt that they were being given
more work without more pay. So, they were switched from hourly pay to
commission. The salespeople were given ten percent of gross sales, and the
mechanics were given thirty-three percent of the labor charges. This was less of a
percentage than they were making before on the hourly basis. In other words,
mechanics had been costing fifty to sixty percent of the labor income, and sales
people had cost up to twenty percent of gross sales. Still, they ended up with
bigger paychecks at the end of each week. In fact, they became the
highest paid bicycle personnel in the city. Interestingly, with the
higher pay – that they truly earned themselves, they took more pride in
their positions, and in their work. There was only a bit of training
necessary to make sure they understood the consequences of working too
fast, or over-selling customers.

Part of the decision as to who was to be transferred to other bike
shops, and which employees stayed, was based on their reaction to
the change from hourly to commission. Those who understood and figured
they could make more money stayed, and those who only wanted hourly pay
left. (If you’ve ever read Atlas Shrugged or seen the movie, you might see a situation reminiscent of the Twentieth Century Motor Company here.) This change in structure really worked out to suit everyone.

Jason had an inventory that was quite out of balance. So, learning of
an upcoming bike swap 60 miles away, they rented a truck and shlepped all the misfit and
overstock items and a bunch of borrowed tables to the swap meet, and
sold it at or even below cost, bringing in $12,000. We took that
$12,000 and purchased inventory that was just right, the kind that
turns several times a year. Jason had to learn not to buy everything in
lots of a dozen or more just to save a small percentage. On items he
sold infrequently, he started purchasing ones and twos from wholesalers
that would sell on that basis. Before long, almost everyone who came to
the store to buy something got what they wanted. Repairs were no longer
put on hold waiting for parts.

All generic advertising was canceled except for the main phone book ad,
which was reduced in size. Carefully designed, smaller ads were placed
that carried specifics. For instance a tune-up special (with coupon)
for $19.95 (the typical price was $29.95 in that era). When a bike
came in for a tune up, the sales people learned to look for other
things that would pump up the sale. If the customer was agreeable,
accessories would be shown, new tires discussed, and so on. The
mechanics loved the tune-up special because they became routine and
only took about fifteen to twenty minutes each, complete with accessory
installations, which, of course, brought additional commissions.


The somewhat toxic atmosphere on the sales floor changed almost
overnight. Like many such stores, the sales people acted like the
customers were an inconvenience who didn’t know anything and really
ought to get their education elsewhere. Once the sales people were
switched to commission, they somehow became the sweetest people. It
didn’t take long for the reputation on the street to change so that
people dragged their friends and relatives to this bike shop, not
any of the others in town.

We found some other product lines that Jason liked so he’d have
something to sell in the winter months. These were board games,
Swiss army knives, new and used books about bicycling, and bicycle repair
classes (six people per class, six weeks, two hours per week, $120 tuition,
in 1979 money).

There were plenty of smaller changes also. Jason had to discover that
it is OK to guess at a price when a price tag was missing. Before the
change, I once saw a sales person approach him while the customer
waited to find out the price of a child’s bike. Fifteen minutes later Jason
came out of the office clutching an invoice and announcing that the
bike was $69. The customer had long since left. Now, he just takes a
guess. It might be $59, or maybe $79, but he wins the sale, saves his
valuable time for more important tasks, and enjoys his business more.

And that was in 1979. The bike shop still exists and it’s doing fine.


Summary


Table of Contents

There are many reasons for starting a bicycle shop, including a profit that can exceed what you can earn as an employee. Unless you are wealthy, it is best to start out small, very small, offering a bicycle-related product or service that you can do out of your car, home, or perhaps a little place like a flea market. Let your micro-business grow until it is flourishing, then slowly evolve it until you are in a good position to rent a store, and start a real, glass-front retail bicycle business. Partnerships make a lot of sense if you don’t have something you need such as time, experience or money. But partnerships can be tricky, so should be considered carefully. Never spend more than you take in. Free publicity is better than paying for advertising. Treat your customers well and listen to their needs.

Have fun and prosper! – Jeff


You may enjoy more books like and unlike this one at 500ways.com


Bicycle Technology Picture Book

A Coffee Table eBook

Copyright 2019, Jeff
Napier

Table of Contents


Start Here

History

Unicycles

Circus Bikes

Plastic Bikes

Recumbents

Tricycles and Quadracycles

People-Powered Cars and Boats

Electric Bikes

Art Bikes

Cargo

Derailleurs and Sprockets

Bits and Pieces

Saddles

Planetary Gearsets

Mysteries

Everything Else

Start Here


Table of Contents

A bicycle is the most efficient machine in terms of energy
expended for moving weight over distance.

A human on a bicycle is also the most efficient animal on earth in
terms of energy spent for travel.

According to at least one statistical study, the health benefits
of cycling outweigh the risks by twenty to one.

Therefore, taking a closer look at these wonderful machines will
be fun, don’t you think?

This book was built for your enjoyment. It is a coffee table ebook
containing pictures of all sorts of bicycles and related equipment
from the very first bikes, to prototypes so modern they can’t yet be
built. Most of the pictures illustrate mechanical engineering at its
finest. I have inserted brief explanations and commentary where I
thought it might be useful.

Don’t forget to check out the Art Bikes
chapter!

Enjoy! – Jeff
Napier
, author

History


Table of Contents

When people first figured out that you could attach pedals to
bicycle wheels, they discovered that the bikes didn’t go very fast.
But, if they could make the wheels bigger, they could go faster. This
was the world’s first version of "gearing up."

The limitation was the length of the rider’s legs. Pretty soon, it
became ordinary for bicycles to have large front wheels, ranging from
50 to 64 inches (127 to 162 cm) in diameter. So, these became known
as "ordinary," bikes, commonly referred to as "ordinaries,"
or "ordinary racers." They were also called
"Penny-Farthings" named after large and small coins of the
era, and sometimes "boneshakers" because they had solid
rubber tires, and no shocks, while the bumpy streets were typically
unpaved or made from bricks.

It was still years into the future before veterinarian and
inventor John Boyd Dunlop would create the first air-filled tires for
his son’s tricycle.



A rider on a penny-farthing replica
image by Agnieszka
Kwiecień, license: CC-BY 3.0

Penny-farthings weren’t the first bikes. The first is credited to
a German inventor, Karl Drais. He built the first one in 1818, and
called it the Laufmaschine. It wasn’t long before his simple
contraption was copied throughout Europe and the United States. The
English started calling them dandy-horses. In America, they
were hobby-horses. and the French called them draisiennes
or draisines. It wasn’t until 40 years later than someone in
France figured out to attach pedals to the front wheel, so riders
didn’t have to kick along the sidewalk to go places. This new French
version was called velocipede (literally: "speed foot"),
although that term has come to mean any of a wide variety of early
bicycles.



draisine




Whippet "Safety"
image by Ian.wilkes

Penny-farthings with their outlandish proportions replaced
draisines to gain speed. Bikes were safer dimensions but still
capable of great speed were soon invented, and they became commonly
known as "safeties." The picture above is an oddly
over-engineered model.



McCammon "Safety"
image by Ian.wilkes

This one uses an ingenious seat height adjustment that might be a
nice modern re-invention.



Fred Birchmore

In 1934, Fred Birchmore, of Athens, Georgia, who was 22 years old
at the time, took a 40,000 mile (64,000 kilometer) mile trip. 15,000
of the miles were water crossings, but the remaining 25,000 miles
(40,000 kilometers) were by bicycle, as he circumnavigated the
globe.



A bike from 1865




Classic English bike with rod brakes
image by Pramod
Kumar T.K.




Bike repair in Africa, early 1930s




Shaft drive bikes have been around almost as long as chain drives

image by Ian.wilkes

Shaft drive bikes eliminate the need for pants clips, and you
won’t get greasy. Changing the gear ratio requires parts that are not
usually available.



An early form of gearing. Pressure on pedals unwinds straps
around racheted drums.
Nicola




A restored Shelby from 1938
Aaronwiegand




Military use of bicycles

The caption on this picture says, "US 25th Infantry on
bicycles. Caption: "On June 14, 1897, Lieutenant James Moss,
U.S. Army, led his bicycle corps of the 25th Infantry, from Fort
Missoula, Montana, up wagon trail and Indian path, to St. Louis,
Missouri, arriving July 16, 1897."

from highonadventure.com/Hoa97aug/Montana/montana.htm.






Swiss army bike
Joe
Mabel




Tieum512




Side-by-side tandem
State
Library of New South Wales

Unicycles


Table of Contents

You would think that the idea of pedals and cracks attached
directly to a wheel would have died out with penny-farthings. But no,
there are still vehicles with direct drive wheels. These would be
unicycles.


Unicycles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are for
off-road competition, a somewhat dangerous skill that is quite
difficult to master. These typically have large diameter wheels with
fat, knobby tires.



Off-road unicycling
image by Samuel
Mann

Others have thin
large diameter wheels for city commuting.



A commuting unicycle
image by Midiman

Other unicycles
have small wheels, sometimes for children, and sometimes for
performance, since with a smaller wheel, you can maneuver more
precisely at slower speeds, and on a smaller stage.



image by xeaza

Another category
is tall unicycles, often called "giraffe" unicycles. Using
a chain drive from the pedals to the wheel, they can range from 4-1/2
feet to over 100 feet (1.4 to 30 meters) tall.



image by Russavia

Sem Abrahams holds the world record with a unicycle more than ten
times taller. His unicycle was just a bit over 114 feet (34 meters)
tall. The picture below links to a video of Sem’s world record ride.
If your ebook reader doesn’t support Internet links, you can go to
http://www.semcycle.biz/record/html/35m.html.




World’s tallest unicycle

Then there are monocycles. Whereas a unicyclist sits above the
wheel, or outside of the wheel, the monocyclist sits within the
wheel.



Monocycle

What do you suppose will happen if this rider has to stop fast?
Right! One of the problems with monocycles is when you put on the
brakes, you tumble right around with the wheel.

You would think that you can’t remove much else from a unicycle,
and still have a human-powered vehicle. But actually, you can remove
the seat, frame and bearings. Then you have what’s called an
"ultimate wheel."



image by Ian
Muttoo

When first learning, you can cover the
sides of the tire with electrical tape. This way, you can use the
insides of your shins as a frame and bearings. Just squeeze your legs
close together, and let the wheel rub as needed. In time, you can
learn to ride without contacting the tire at all. At first however,
you’ll want to wear pants, at least, since the wheel will inevitably
tilt one way or the other and rub uncomfortably hard.

Circus Bikes


Table of Contents

Amazing tricks can be performed on a BMX bike.



Freestyle BMX bike
image by Tukka

In the
above picture, notice the footpegs on the front and rear axles. Also
notice the rotor, a device mounted on the handlebar stem so that the
handlebar can be turned all the way around without interference from
the brake cables. This bike also has a long frame to accommodate
turning the front wheel around without interference from the rider’s
feet or knees.

Even more
remarkable tricks can be performed on a circus bike.




Circus Bike



image by
Vintageedept



image by Shizhao



image by Shizhao

Plastic
Bikes


Table of Contents

The idea of making bicycles almost entirely from plastic has
enticed people for years. In 1971, Original Plastic Bike Incorporated
was founded based on a design for a complete road bike that was
supposed to weigh just 17 pounds (7.5 kg), and be as strong as, or
even stronger than steel and aluminum alloy bikes. Some prototypes
were built, but the bike never went into production.



Itera Plastic Bike

We are no longer surprised to see plastic bicycle wheels in the
smaller diameters. These wheels aren’t quite all-plastic. The hubs
are made from regular steel components.



image by Incase

Recumbents


Table of Contents

Recumbence: The act of laying down.

Recumbent bikes, sometimes called "bents," seem like a
relatively new invention. Here’s a picture of a recumbent from 1914:





Trans-V recumbent




Toxy CL recumbent
image by EvaK




Cruzbike Vendetta
image by Bentrider811








Android front wheel drive recumbent
image by
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Android_FWD_recumbent_4.jpg




Velokraft No-com




image by bradhoc




Tandem recumbent
image by BetacommandBot

Recumbent tricycles answer to the slow speed stability problem
from which many recumbents suffer, and to starting and stopping
nicely, but have design issues. With two front wheels, they tend to
catch a lot more wind, which defeats one of the primary advantages of
recumbents. With two rear wheels, traction can sometimes be a
problem, and transmitting power to one or both wheels requires a more
elaborate drivetrain.



Recumbent Tricycle
image by Boliston

Tricycles
and Quadracycles


Table of Contents




Rickshaw
image by Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden

Rickshaws are almost always designed with one wheel in the front,
and two in the back to support the weight of passengers. You’d think
rickshaws were invented somewhere in Asia, but they are an American
invention.



Rickshaw
image by Les
Chatfield

Quadracycles can be unique and fun, but don’t add anything in
terms of efficiency. They may be safer, since they are hard to fall
off. (Your author has discovered it is not impossible to fall off a
quadracycle!)

Quadracycles are often used when a group of three or more people
want to go together on a human-powered machine.



Antique quadracycle
image by Randal J. (RJFerret)




Quadracycle
image by Prayitno

Tricycles and quadracycles are often created for
people who have disabilities, such as paralyzed legs, since balancing
a two-wheeled machine would be difficult.

Human-Powered Cars and Boats


Table of Contents

Through the years, inventors have tried to add car-like features
to bicycles, with varying degrees of success. The problem quickly
becomes one of weight versus convenience. Putting doors, a roof, and
comfortable seats in a human-powered vehicle raises the weight so it
is hard to take it up hills. Maintenance can also be an issue. Until
someone makes a standardized one that is very popular, replacement
parts will not be readily available.

Finally, if you enclose a rider, you need to do something to keep
that rider cool in warm weather.

One machine that was popular in the mid 1970s was the PPV
(People-Powered Vehicle). This semi-enclosed vehicle could
accommodate two riders, or one rider with several bags of groceries.
With one rider, it was a monster taking it up hills, even with its
three-speed transmission. To the inventor’s credit, for durability,
it used a real transmission instead of a three-speed Sturmey-Archer,
Shimano or Sachs hub. On the other hand, for stopping, it depended
entirely on a drum brake in the front wheel, controlled by a single
brake handlever and cable.



PPV
image by livewombat

Pedal-powered boats are terribly inefficient, but they’re fun! You
can rent these at many resorts, parks, marinas and so on, and they
are calm, meditative fun.



Pedalboat
image by Bart Everson

Electric
Bikes


Table of Contents




image by Pleclown

The idea of hooking up a battery and motor to a bicycle is
attractive. Imagine that you are a healthy commuter who has an off
day. Wouldn’t it be great to let the bike to all, or most of the
work? Or, perhaps you’re not so healthy. You can work your way slowly
to better health by letting an electric bike do most of the work at
first, and less and less as you regain your health.

The line between what can be called an ‘electric bike’ and other
two-wheeled electric-powered machines is blurry.

Electric motorcycles are being manufactured that weigh hundreds of
pounds and have great speed and range.

Electric scooters of all sorts ranging from toys to machines
ridden by professional security, maintenance and guide personnel,
such as the Segway, might be called electric bicycles by some.



Segway

Conversion kits can be attached to most adult bikes, so the
mountain or road bike you’ve always enjoyed can continue to entertain
you, but now as an electric bike. However, conversion kits can be
somewhat clunky compared to bikes designed and manufactured to be
electric bikes in the first place.

Hundreds or thousands of people have tried their own homemade
conversions.



A homemade electric bike conversion
image by Hamish
Darby

The unwieldy-looking bicycle pictured above used an ordinary car
battery mounted above the front wheel. These batteries have poor
range to weight ratio. Being filled with liquid and lead, they are
remarkably heavy. The inventor of this bike reports having crashed
into a tree and smashed his battery shortly after the picture was
taken.

Electric bicycles are manufactured with and without pedals and
human-powered drivelines. Perhaps without pedals, it can’t be called
a ‘bicycle.’ I’ll leave you to decide.

Art
Bikes


Table of Contents

Bicycles are good candidates for artistic treatment, as the
following pictures illustrate.





image by Chris
Gilmore




image by Donna
B McNicol




image by hAdamksy




image by Amit Patel




image by Porsche
Brosseau


The Orange Krate, one of a series of art bikes, all
in the same configuration, but with varying colors, manufactured by
Schwinn in the late 1960s.
image by Nels
P Olsen




image by Andy
Mitchel

Artistic Unicycles


Then we have art unicycles. Unicycles have been decorated,
outfitted with colored lights, and made to look like other objects,
such as wheelbarrows.



image by Steph
B

Most artistic unicycles have something added, since there isn’t
much left to remove from a unicycle.

One goofy addition is a "handlebar unit." This is not
attached to the unicycle, but pushed along, generally in front, not
for assisting the rider in balancing, but for show. At first, it
appears the rider is on an ordinary bicycle. But wait, there’s no
frame between the front and rear wheels. Then the rider can turn the
handlebar unit this way and that, hold it over head, throw it and
catch it, and so on, resulting in a rather amazing show for anyone
not expecting that.


image by Daniel
Oines

Your silly author added a couple of wheels to make a tall unicycle
in which one tire rubbed on the one below, turning that wheel
backward, and that one’s tire rubbed on the bottom wheel, turning it
forward.



The author on his three-wheel unicycle
This picture is fuzzy because it was a low-quality snapshot. No one realized this picture might be important later.

Cargo


Table of Contents




image by Paretz
Partensky




Italian firefighter bicycle
image by Harlock81

What can be carried on a bicycle is amazing. Carrying too much
badly is also a cause for many bike accidents, so please be careful.




A rolling shoe repair shop
image by Pivari.com




A cargo bike
image by Salim
Virji




Long wheelbase cargo bike
image by Tulio
Bertorini




image by Bernard
Gagnon




Bicycle ambulance
image by Oxyman




Stougard




Bicycle trailer with passenger




Bicycle truck




Stougard

In the mid 1980s Tom Wooten, known as Wrong Way Wooten, from Bryn
Mawr, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, became rather famous for
riding his bike backward.



Wrong Way Wooten

He built a custom bike for his purpose. It was based on a Schwinn
Varsity, which was a very heavy all-steel bike of the late 1970s,
with a one-piece crank. He put padded tape on the handlebar to make
sitting more comfortable. He installed two mirrors on long arms so he
could see where he was going. He removed the seat, and put a portable
television in its place. He then somehow attached another ten-speed
bike to the rear of his bike in order to carry more gear.

Wrong Way then set out on a journey across the
United States with a specific self-appointed mission. "The main
reason I do what I do is to get people to realize that they have a
responsibility to other people." He represented several major
charities including The American Cancer Society, The American Lung
Society, The Heart Fund, the Jaycees, United Way, and March of Dimes,
encouraging people to donate to their favorite charities. According
to the legend, he criss-crossed the country several times totaling
28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) over the next 17 years.

Derailleurs and Sprockets


Table of Contents




Simple but high-end, non-index shifters
image by Arnoooo

One of the latest changes in derailleurs isn’t in mechanical
design, but in the word itself. It is slowly evolving to be spelled
"derailer."



SRAM Rival rear derailleur
image by Fanny
Schertzer

< IMG width="95%" src="http://500ways.com/wp-content/uploads/bike/derailleur3.jpg"0>

SRAM Rival front derailleur image by Fanny
Schertzer




A Huret Svetto derailleur, circa 1970
image by Paco Girasol




Shimano LX e-type front derailleur image by Jeremy
Mikesell




Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur




Single-speed bike with a chain tensioner
image by Ralf
Roletschek

above configuration seems redundant until you notice that the bike
has vertical dropouts. There is no way to adjust chain tension. Many
years ago, "half-links" were available, so you could adjust
a chain’s length to the nearest link, not to the nearest set of two
links. That was generally adequate adjustment granularity for most
uses.

Let’s hope this bike has a freewheeling sprocket. If fixed gear,
the first resistance against the pedals would cause the tensioner to
let out all the slack.



image by Ralf
Roletschek




image by Cvosmer




Belt drive
image by Keanu @ no:wp

Brakes


Table of Contents

There are more ways to stop a bike than to make it go. Below are
pictures of some interesting concepts in braking:



Spoon brake
image by AndrewDressel

One of the first brakes, called a spoon brake, just rubbed
on the surface of the tire. This was common on penny-farthings (also
called "ordinaries") – the bikes with huge front wheels –
if they had brakes at all.



Fongers rod actuated brake on Westrick rim
image by Jeremy
Burgin

It didn’t take long to figure out that rubbing something against
the rim was more durable than against the tire.



A typical old coaster brake

Coaster brakes are relatively complex mechanisms, yet they
appeared early in the history of bicycles.



Generations
www.flickr.com/photos/motoyen




Early drum brake
image by Ralf
Roletschek

Something more powerful was needed for motorcycles and cars, so
the drum brake was invented. This has two half-circle shoes that rub
against the inside of the hub shell when actuated with a cam. Just
like most caliper (rim) brakes, these work poorly when wet, unless
sealed against the weather.



Modern drum brake
image by Haupseite




Band brake
image by imoni

A band brake fits loosely around the outside of a drum mounted on
the hub. When actuated, the band tightens around the drum. This type
of brake is used extensively on slow-moving machinery such as riding
movers. Interestingly, in one direction, generally forward, the brake
is easily controlled. In the other direction, as soon as the band
touches the drum, it tends to tighten itself, making braking touchy.
Band brakes are seldom used on bicycles.



image by Ralf
Roletschek

A very common type of brake used in bicycles is a caliper brake.
There are several variations. This one is called a "centerpull"
style, because the cable pulls equally on both sides. Sidepull brakes
have a cable in which the inner wire pulls on one side, while the
cable housing ("equal and opposite reaction") pushes on the
other side.



Campagnolo Delta – a highly styled caliper brake
image by
Christian
Kunze




Rollercam brake – uses a cam instead of a bridge cable
image
by Jeff Archer


And then we have disk brakes. These are easier to keep adjusted
than caliper brakes. Because the rotor is small and near the center
of the wheel, it is less likely to get bent. The overall weight is
low compared to other kinds of brakes.

Bits
and Pieces


Table of Contents

a Few Modern Components





image by Hauptseite




image by Ukxpat




image by KMJ




image by AndrewDressel

And
a few old ones:




image by Wp-0001

When chains and sprockets were first used with bicycles, they were
adapted from farm and industrial machinery. At the time, skip-link
also known as inch-pitch chain was common.



image by tetedelacourse

Sew-up tires, also known as "tubulars"
are far less common today than they were until the early 1980s. These
are made like an American football. They have an inner tube that is
completely surrounded by the tire. The tire is sewn together with
heavy stitches along the inside edge. You can inflate a sew-up off a
wheel, and it will look like a giant, thin donut. They were very
popular for road and track racing, since they can hold a very high
pressure, and are thin and light. These are glued or fastened to the
rims with double-sided tape.
The sew-up is a simple tire compared to the modern kind, called a
clincher.



Crosssection of a typical bicycle wheel
image by Deerwood

In the picture above:

1. The metal wheel rim.

2. The rim strip. This is a rubber, cloth or plastic strip that
protects the inner tube from punctures caused by contact with the
spoke heads.

3. The side of the rim where a caliper brake can be used.

4. Inside the edges of the tire are steel cables. Without these,
when pressurized, the tire would stretch and blow off the rim.

5. The inner tube. Because of the small volume of air in a bicycle
tire, the smallest leak would cause it to deflate quickly. Since
bicycle rims usually have to accommodate spokes, it would be
difficult to seal the spoke holes. Therefore, it is not practical to
make a tubeless tire, such as cars use. The inner tube makes it
possible to have a system that is not microscopically precise, yet is
air tight.

6. The tire casing is made of cloth, and has sufficient strength
and flexibility to withstand the air pressure and bumps and cracks in
the road surface.

7. The tread of the tire is usually rubber impregnated with
carbon. That’s why most tires are black. The carbon keeps the rubber
from wearing out immediately. Without carbon, instead of 2,000 miles
(3,000 km) per pair of tires, they might last 10 miles (15 km).



Wingnut

For a short while in the 1970s, wingnuts were popular. The idea is
that riders would not have to use a wrench to remove and replace
wheels. Even though hollow axles with quick release skewers were
available then, they were somewhat more expensive.

The problem with wingnuts is that it was
hard to get them tight enough. The rear wheel would typically pull to
one side on a hard hill climb, so the rider would have to stop and
reposition the wheel, then attempt to tighten the wingnut
sufficiently. Sometimes the wings would break off. Worse, wingnuts on
the front wheel could come loose by simply parking against a bush or
bumping a wingnut with a shoe.

Seats or Saddles


Table of Contents




image by Ralf
Roletschek

Serious cyclists call seats "saddles."

Serious cyclists call seatposts "seat pillars."

Go figure!



image by AndrewDressel





A "banana" seat from a stingray bike of the late 1960s

image by AndrewDressel




A sprung leather saddle
image by Suleyman
Habib




The Brooks Professional, a top of the line leather seat
image
by The
Javelina




image by Hutschi

New riders are advised to limit the length
of their rides until they get used to their saddles. Until a rider is
quite experienced, most saddles are uncomfortable. For that reason,
inventors have been working since the beginning of bicycling to come
up with better alternatives.

Planetary Gearsets


Table of Contents

Only a few short years elapsed between the time when bicycles
started to standardize as "safeties," and when planetary
geared hubs, also called planetary gearsets, started to appear.

Safeties were bikes with same-size wheels and a chain drive from
centrally located pedals with a large sprocket to the rear wheel with
a smaller sprocket – in other words, the typical modern bicycle
design. Before safeties, bikes had pedals attached directly to a
wheel. The driven wheel had to be as large as possible. That way,
each turn of the pedals would carry the bike a reasonable distance,
so as to avoid being a slow-poke.

With a planetary gearset, the hub can turn different speeds than
the sprocket mounted on the hub. Planetary gearsets are also known as
"epicyclic gearing" or "gear hubs." The first
ones showed up around 1880, but the first commercially successful
two-speed planetary hub, called "The Hub," was in
production starting in 1898. By 1902, a three-speed hub was
available.

Now, more than a century later, planetary gearsets are still
available, with versions containing as many as 14 distinct speeds.



 The Rholoff Speedhub – 14 Speeds
image by
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Marcela">Marcela

The planetary gearset has some advantages. The system is enclosed,
so is less vulnerable to weather and dirt. There’s no low-hanging
chain tensioner to get bent or caught in the weeds. The chainline is
simple, so easier to enclose, preventing grease marks on socks and
pants. In fact, belt and fully-enclosed shaft drives work with
planetary gearsets. Because a derailleur system can only be shifted
when the chain is moving, the planetary gearset is easier for
beginners, and commuters, who often have to shift after having come
to a stop. Derailleur bikes almost always have dished rear wheels.
This means that the hub flange on the right-hand side is offset
toward the center of the hub in order to make room for the sprockets.
A dished wheel is weaker against lateral forces. Planetary hubs can
have widely spaced flanges for strong rear wheels.

The downside of planetary gearsets is that they tend to
concentrate a lot of weight in the rear wheel, and may cost more.

One of the most prolific manufacturers is Sturmey-Archer, who made
a hub that remained mostly unchanged for many years, and was the
centerpiece of the classic European three-speed bike, which was very
popular in America during the 1950s and 1960s.



Classic Raleigh Three-Speed with Sturmey-Archer Hub
image by
Degen_Earthfast

When you come across an old three-speed, you can wipe the road
grime away, and read the month and year of manufacture on the outside
of a Sturmey-Archer hub.





Sturmey-Archer three-speed shifter
image by huubvanhughten




image by PeterWiki,
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Planetengetriebe_Prinzip.jpg

Then there is a new variable speed hub design, called NuVinci that
doesn’t use gears at all. There are no clicks or stops on the
shifter. You can select the exact ratio you want at any time. This
uses a system of cones and rollers to vary the ratio.



The NuVinci hub
image by Keanu @ no:wp




Inside the NuVinci hub
image by Keanu4

Mysteries


Table of Contents




image by Usien




image by SJu




image by SJu

Everything
Else


Table of Contents




Change – a folding mountain bike
image by Jean.rhs




image by Erik
Enfors




image by Andrew
Dressel




Bicycle for three
image by AndreasFahrrad




Bicycle workshop in a village in Burundi in the province of
Ruiyigi.
image by Andreas31




Modern six-day race
image by tetedelacourse




Start of a road race in Mendefera, Eritrea
image by David
Stanley




Road race in Belgium
image by Wouter
Hagens




Rental bikes
image by Tullia




In Amsterdam
image by Clive
Power from London








Dahon folding bike
Tine




Geoff Gallice
from Gainesville, FL, USA




Touring bike
image by Keithonearth




"Yellow Bike" (see below)
image by Wolfgangus
Mozart

This yellow bike is in Varberg, Sweden, and may be a "free
rental" bike. In Portland, Oregon and various other communities
throughout the world, "Yellow Bike" programs have been
tried in which bikes, which are typically painted yellow, and
converted to one-speed coaster brake machines, are given to the
public for free use. This cuts down on pollution and noise, and
reintroduces adults to bicycling who might not otherwise ride a bike.
Most yellow bike programs do not last long, since the bikes tend to
disappear faster than additional bikes can be added to the fleet.
Most yellow bikes carried signs specifically explaining that they
were free to use.



A field of bikes in Oxford, England
image by Adam
Wood




image by Halfalah




A hand and foot bike
image by www.skywheel.kr/

This is must be an interesting
contraption to ride. You can power this bike with your hands as well
as your feet. Notice that the handlebars are not hooked to the front
wheel at all. The fork has a strong reverse camber, so leaning should
be sufficient to control the bike’s direction. Starting might be
disconcerting at first.




A railway bike
image by
PekePON




Leo Tolstoy’s bike
image by Moscvitch




image by Russ
from Grosse Pointe Park, USA




playground ride. Lund, Sweden.
image by Popperipopp




Doing everything wrong
image by
www.flickr.com/people/catt1788/

In the above picture, the rider has no helmet, is riding with flip
flops on his feet, his seat is way too low, and look at that: he has
no brake levers or cables! I think we can assume it is a test ride.



An amphibious bike created in 1932




Bicycle lawn mower
B.
Jankuloski

Table
of Contents


bike bus

Bike Fact Book

Unusual Information About Bicycles and Bicycling

Copyright 2019, Jeff Napier


Table of Contents

Start Here

Planetary Gearsets

History

Unicycles

Monocycles

Ultimate Wheels

Circus Bikes

Plastic Bikes

Recumbents

Tricycles and Quadracycles

People-Powered Cars and Boats

Electric Bikes

Art Bikes

Wrong Way Wooten

Cargo

Derailleurs and Sprockets

Bits and Pieces

Saddles

Bicycle Safety

Random Bicycle Facts

Start Here

Table of Contents

A bicycle is the most efficient machine in terms of energy expended for moving weight over distance.

A human on a bicycle is also the most efficient animal on earth in terms of energy spent for travel.

Bicycling is six times more efficient than walking.

Using a bicycle, it takes 35 calories to move an average-size person one mile (1.6 km). It takes 1,860 calories to move a person a mile in a car. So, the bicycle uses two percent as much energy as a car.

The average bicycle costs three percent as much as a typical car.

“One of the key studies of cycling has found that people who cycle to work experienced a 39% lower rate of all-cause mortality compared to those who did not even after adjustment for other risk factors, including leisure time physical activity.” – CyclingEngland

According to at least one statistical study, the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by twenty to one.

Therefore, taking a closer look at these wonderful machines will be fun, don’t you think?


Planetary Gearsets

Table of Contents

Only a few short years elapsed between the time when bicycles started to standardize as “safeties,” and when planetary geared hubs, also called planetary gearsets, started to appear.

Safeties were bikes with same-size wheels and a chain drive from centrally located pedals with a large sprocket to the rear wheel with a smaller sprocket – in other words, the typical modern “diamond-frame” bicycle design. Before safeties, bikes had pedals attached directly to a wheel. The driven wheel had to be as large as possible. That way, each turn of the pedals would carry the bike a reasonable distance, so as to avoid being a slow-poke.

With a planetary gearset, the hub can turn different speeds than the sprocket mounted on the hub. Planetary gearsets are also known as “epicyclic gearing” or “gear hubs.” The first ones showed up around 1880, but the first commercially successful two-speed planetary hub, called “The Hub,” was in production starting in 1898. By 1902, a three-speed hub was available.

Now, more than a century later, planetary gearsets are still available, with versions containing as many as 14 distinct speeds.

The Rholoff 14-speed planetary gearing bicycle hub
The Rholoff Speedhub – 14 Speeds
via: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Marcela

The planetary gearset has some advantages. The system is enclosed, so is less vulnerable to weather and dirt. There’s no low-hanging chain tensioner to get bent or caught in the weeds. The chainline is simple, so easier to enclose, preventing grease marks on socks and pants. In fact, belt and fully-enclosed shaft drives work with planetary gearsets. Because a derailleur system can only be shifted when the chain is moving, the planetary gearset is easier for beginners, and commuters, who often have to shift after having come to a stop. Derailleur bikes almost always have dished rear wheels. This means that the hub flange on the right-hand side is offset toward the center of the hub in order to make room for the sprockets. A dished wheel is weaker against lateral forces. Planetary hubs can have widely spaced flanges for strong rear wheels.

The downside of planetary gearsets is that they tend to concentrate a lot of weight in the rear wheel, and may cost more.

One of the most prolific manufacturers is Sturmey-Archer, who made a hub that remained mostly unchanged for many years, and was the centerpiece of the classic European three-speed bike, which was very popular in America during the 1950s and 1960s.

Raleigh bicycle with Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub
Classic Raleigh Three-Speed with Sturmey-Archer Hub
via Degen_Earthfast

When you come across an old Sturmey-Archer three-speed, you can wipe the road grime away, and read the month and year of manufacture on the outside of the hub.

Sturmey Archer 3-Speed Bicycle Hub

Sturmey-Archer Three-speed shifter
Sturmey-Archer three-speed shifter

via huubvanhughten



Inside a Sturmey-Archer AW three-speed hub

Photo by Keithonearth


Shimano made competing three-speed hubs, typically the FA model. It was low-cost, but unfortunately not as strong as Sturmey-Archer’s most common model, the AW. A strong bike racer could wreck an FA hub within a couple of miles.

The Sturmey-Archer AW, in production from 1936 until at least 2008, and possibly even today, has an alarming problem of its own: There’s a neutral position between second and third gear. If the cable tension is not properly adjusted, the hub can slip into neutral. This can be a serious let-down when climbing hard up a hill.

Modern planetary gearsets are still available with three and more speeds. Shimano makes a popular 7-speed model and offers 8 and 11-speed models as well. Sachs, now part of SRAM, has been making planetary hubs since 1904, and currently offers a 7-speed model that has a wider range than Shimano’s 7-speed.

Believe it or not, there can be room left over in planetary hubs, so manufacturers make models with built-in coaster brakes. For those who don’t know the term, a coaster brake is a hub in which when you pedal backward, typically a quarter-turn of the pedals or so, a braking mechanism is applied in the hub to stop the wheel.

For many years, Shimano, Sturmey-Archer, and Sachs have all incorporated coaster-brakes. You would expect trouble due to the heat generated in the hub by breaking, but in practice, this seems to be a non-problem, since there are many decades-old planetary hubs with coaster brakes that still work like new. Interestingly, the trouble-maker is Shimano’s external roller brake, that can overheat on a long hill, making screeching noises, and fading in effectiveness. Some of the most recent high-end planetary hubs accommodate a disk brake around the left side.

During the 1960s, Bendix an American compnay founded in Elmira, New York, made a two-speed hub that incorporated a coaster brake and automatic shifting, sort of. If the rider backpedaled a little bit, the hub would shift into the other gear. So if it was in high, then it would be in low, and vice versa. They had three models of the “Kickback” hub, identified by colored bands around the middle of the hubs.

The ‘yellow band’ and ‘blue band’ hubs had a shoe style internal brake. When backpedaled, a course screw would push a cone against four grease-covered quarter-circle steel shoes that rode loosely along the inside of the hub shell. The cone would press them against the shell, and the bike would stop.

The yellow band had a straight-through speed, and a lower gear for hill climbing. The blue band was identical except it had a straight-through gear and a higher gear.

The ‘red band,’ Bendix’s most common two-speed kickback model, was straight-through and low, but had a different kind of brake. This had a pack of alternating disks coated in grease. Every other disk was splined to the hub and turned. The disks in between were splined to the axle, so of course they did not turn. When the brake was applied, the pack of disks was squeezed together. Several other coaster brake manufacturers used the disk pack system, but not Bendix. Of the millions of coaster brakes made by Bendix, this was one of the few with a disk pack.

You may wonder how a planetary gearset works. I did. When I was twelve years old, I took apart my Shimano 3-speed hub to see what was inside, and couldn’t quite get it back together. Fortunately, my father came to the rescue, and showed me how a couple of parts might work, and with that hint, I was able to understand it, and get it back together. 10 years later, I owned a bicycle shop, and had overhauled hundreds of 2-, 3- and 5-speed hubs. 40 years later, I took apart a Shimano 7-speed, and had a heck of a time reassembling it properly.

bicycle rear hub planetary gears
Modified, originally via PeterWiki,
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Planetengetriebe_Prinzip.jpg

So, here’s the scoop: You have a ring gear, three or more planet gears, and a sun gear all in constant contact. Through some sliding mechanisms and ratchets, you can connect the sprocket and the hub shell to various parts of the gearset. The sun gear is mounted on the axle, and does not turn, so the planets turn around it, and the ring gears is turned by the planets. The planets are kept in position by a large ring called the planet carrier. If you connect the sprocket to the planet carrier, the planets are pushed around, and because they have to rotate around the sun gear, the outer surfaces of the planets are rotating faster. The ring gear is attached to the hub, and so you have a high gear. If you connect the sprocket to the planet carrier, but also connect the hub to the planet carrier, you have direct one-to-one gearing, and the ring gear spins uselessly. Finally, if you connect the sprocket to the ring gear, and the hub to the planet carrier, you have low gear.

That accounts for a three-speed hub. For more than three speeds, you have multiple or “compound” planetary gearsets. If you have one gearset in a low gear, and another gearset also in a low gear, you have a lower “low-low” output.

A few people and manufacturers have experimented with combining derailleur systems and planetary gearsets. Your author put together a bike with a triple chainwheel, six rear sprockets, and a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed hub, for a combined total of 90 speeds. In the lowest gear, a rider could merely set the weight of a foot on a pedal, and the front wheel would jump a few millimeters off the ground.

Theoretically, with today’s equipment, one could have a triple chainwheel driving ten rear sprockets, connected to a 14-speed planetary hub. This would result in a 420-speed bike, although of course some of the ‘gears’ would be redundant.


History

Table of Contents

The previous chapter got rather historical, so let’s go a step further into the history of bicycles.

When people first figured out that you could attach pedals to bicycle wheels, they discovered that the bikes didn’t go very fast. But, if they could make the wheels bigger, they could go faster. This was the world’s first version of “gearing up.”

The limitation was the length of the rider’s legs. Pretty soon, it became ordinary for bicycles to have large front wheels, ranging from 50 to 64 inches (127 to 162 cm) in diameter. So, these became known as “ordinary,” bikes, commonly refered to as “ordinaries,” or “ordinary racers.” They were also called “Penny-Farthings” named after large and small coins of the era, and sometimes “boneshakers” because they had solid rubber tires, and no shocks, while the bumpy streets were typically unpaved or made from bricks.

It was still years into the future before veterinarian and inventor John Boyd Dunlop would create the first air-filled tires for his son’s tricycle. Back in the day, 1887 to be specific, doctors and vets had to make their own rubber gloves. He was already auspiciously equipped to experiment with rubber tires. Irish bike racer William “Willie” Hume was the first one to purchase a “safety” bike outfitted with Dr. Dunlop’s tires. He won all four races he entered, so the fate of pneumatic bicycle tires was decided.

Ordinary racer, bicycle, penny-farthing
via Agnieszka Kwiecień, license: CC-BY 3.0

The fellow riding the replica in the picture is making it look easy, but these were far from easy to master.

First, there was the matter of getting started. If you look carefully at the picture, a few inches above the rear wheel fork, on the far side, is a little footpeg. The rider would run with the bicycle to gain some momentum, then place a foot on the peg while holding the handlebar. The rider could stand on the peg and coast along, but most of the time, the rider would complete the mounting process by essentially jumping up into the saddle, then letting the feet find, or catch up with the pedals. This had to be done quickly, before the bike lost much momentum. Without enough momentum, the bike would start pitching wildly to one side or another. You can imagine a modern bicycle at a very slow speed. When you get down to around walking speed, it is very hard to steer a straight line. But with the tall, heavy bike, it really becomes an exercise in careening if you are way up there, with your head nine feet (275 cm) off the ground. Furthermore, if you turn more than just a few degrees, that big old wheel starts rubbing on your thigh. Anything beyond that, and you simply have to fall off.

So finally, there you are mounted on your ordinary, and you come to hill. You’d better pedal really hard, because you can’t gear down. Worse, when going downhill with the first ordinaries, the techniques for slowing down were all harrowing.

The first option would be to resist the pedals. But, you’re geared up, and have not only your weight to resist, but the 60 pounds (27 kg) of the bike as well. If that is not sufficient, you can rub the palm of your gloved hand on the top of the solid rubber tire – until your hand gets too hot. Some of the later ordinaries came equipped with a spoon brake. That’s a metal bar that could be operated from a hand lever that would rub on the top of the tire.

If you have to make an emergency stop, there’s only one ‘safe’ option: Jump backward off the seat, landing with one foot crosswise on the top of the back tire. This jams your foot against the fork, and skids the rear wheel. It costs rubber – and those tires wore out fast, but it could save your life. Otherwise, if something comes up where you stop quickly, such as hitting a pothole, you pitch forward. Not only will you find yourself flying forward, but the bike will very likely be caught up with you.

Tires for the ordinaries – and all sorts of other contraptions such as children’s wagons and baby strollers were sold in bulk rolls called “cab tiring.” You’d pick a width, and buy perhaps 50 feet of tire. It was a fat-walled rubber tube with a hollow middle. The rubber was quite basic by today’s standards. It had carbon mixed in, so that it wouldn’t wear out in the first mile or so. That’s why tires were always black. You’d cut off a length of cab tiring just the right length to go around your wheel. You’d insert a solid steel wire all the way through the tire. Where the tire material joins, you grab the ends of the cable and twist them together. Finally, you cut off the extra length of twisted wire, so the seam in your tire doesn’t have metal sticking out.

Some of the earliest ordinaries didn’t bother with rubber at all. They had wooden wheels, iron wheels, and sometimes wooden wheels surrounded with an iron tire. These were the true ‘boneshakers.’

There are more replica ordinaries in existence today than real ones. How can you spot the difference? The first giveaway is the pedals. Most of the replicas use modern pedals, which by law in most countries, have to be manufactured with reflectors. Back in the day, most of the parts were forged from solid steel and hand worked, so they had a clunky look with hammer or file marks here and there. Replicas will tend to use shiny, perfectly formed parts.

Ordinaries weren’t the first bikes. The first is credited to a German inventor, Karl Drais. He built the first one in 1818, and called it the Laufmaschine. It wasn’t long before his simple contraption was copied throughout Europe and the United States. The English started calling them dandy-horses. In America, they were hobby-horses. and the French called them draisiennes or draisines. It wasn’t until 40 years later than someone in France figured out to attach pedals to the front wheel, so riders didn’t have to kick along the sidewalk to go places. This new French version was called velocipede (literally: “speed foot”), although that term has come to mean any of a wide variety of early bicycles.

Draisine - an antique bicycle


Unicycles

Table of Contents

You would think that the idea of pedals and cracks attached directly to a wheel would have died out when safeties came along. But no, there are still vehicles with direct drive wheels. These would be unicycles.

unicycle

Learning to ride a unicycle is easier than it might seem. For best results, find a place with smooth level pavement and a chain-link fence. Place your foot on a pedal in the six o’clock position. By pressing down hard on the pedal with your foot, the unicycle will not be able to roll out from under you. While holding onto the fence, situate yourself on the seat. Just cling to the fence for a while as you roll a few inches (centimeters) back and forth to get a feel of the machine. When you are ready, roll forward just a single revolution of the wheel, while holding onto the fence. In time, you can hold the fence more loosely, and with more practice, you can go two or more turns of the wheel. If you are patient, you will soon feel confident letting go of the fence altogether. You’ll learn to turn and stop almost automatically. Your body will know which way to lean to control the unicycle.

Before you start riding for the first time, some safety equipment is recommended. An ordinary bicycling helmet is highly recommended. You may also like to wear the same gear that serious skaters use: Knee, elbow and wrist guards. Broken wrists are common with beginning unicyclists, so don’t avoid the wrist guards.
You may want to wear two pairs of socks, since when you are first learning, your ankles may bump the cranks with uncomfortable results. If you can arrange padding for your butt, that’s a good idea. In the beginning, it is possible to lose control such that the unicycle rolls out quickly, and you fall on your bottom, which can create an injury that’s painful for a month or more. Finally, you may want to wrap some padding around the seat. This is to protect the seat, not you. Unicycles tend to get dropped hard and frequently when learning. The good news is that once you become proficient, all these problems go away. Experts, just like expert bike riders, seldom fall.

Once you become an expert, you can learn a number of tricks such as riding backward, spinning in tight circles, riding with one foot, mounting and dismounting the unicycle in unusual ways and more. One of the important techniques to learn is idling, in which the rider rocks back and forth, maintaing balance in one spot. Once that’s possible, the rider can play a musical instrument, juggle, and other such activities, without needing to cover any distance. You can get a lot of unicycle trick riding ideas from YouTube.

Unicycles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are for off-road competition, a somewhat dangerous skill that is quite difficult to master. These typically have large diameter wheels with fat, knobby tires.

off-road unicycling
Off-road unicycling
via
Samuel Mann

Others have thin large diameter wheels for city commuting.

commuting unicycle
A commuting unicycle
via Midiman

Your author built what he called a “commutiuni.” It had a super lightweight tubular rim with a 700 mm (26-inch) 260-gram sew-up tire.
Besides a lightweight frame and seat, the commutiuni also had short four and a half-inch (113 mm) cranks, so the author could spin very fast, making up for the lack of gearing.

Other unicycles have small wheels, sometimes for children, and sometimes for performance, since with a smaller wheel, you can maneuver more precisely at slower speeds, and on a smaller stage.

small unicycle
via xeaza

Another category is tall unicycles, often called “giraffe” unicycles. Using a chain drive from the pedals to the wheel, they can range from 4-1/2 feet to over 100 feet (1.4 to 30 meters) tall. When tall unicycles are discussed in America where the unit of measurement is the foot, the size is usually exaggerated up to the next even foot. So, a five-foot-three-inch unicycle is called “six-foot.”

Tall unicycles can be problematic. One problem is that their frame tubes can flex to the point where the machine is too wobbly to be rideable. Frames can become permanently bent from incorrect mounting. The most critical, and the most common problem is that chains want to fall off. Many unicycles combat this to some degree by using two sets of chains and sprockets, one on each side. Others have one or more jackshafts with several sets of chains and sprockets, each leading partway from the wheel to the crank. Yet another problem is that sprockets that use regular bicycle technology to attach to the wheel hub can strip or slip, because the forces of balancing a unicycle, and the low one-to-one gearing, put more stress on the sprockets than they were designed to withstand.

Unicycles up to about 6 feet (2 meters) tall can be “free mounted” or “open mounted.” This means that the rider can get on the unicycle unassisted and without the use of a ladder or any accessory. There are two ways to free mount. One is to quickly place a foot on the tire while holding the unicycle tilted slightly forward. Then quickly place the other foot on the lowest pedal, and then the first foot on the other pedal, riding away before the unicycle becomes too unbalanced. The other way is to run forward while holding the seat of the unicycle, then as a pedal comes around, the rider places a foot on the pedal, causing the wheel to stop, and the rider rides up in the seat as the unicycle levers forward. Once the unicycle is a bit beyond vertical, the rider pedals, gaining an upright position.

tall giraffe unicycle
via Russavia

Your author became fairly proficient in free mounting six-foot (two-meter) unicycles. Upon building a custom nine-foot (three-meter) unicycle, the author felt that a test ride was required before handing off the finished product to the customer. He didn’t feel ready, but went ahead and tested the machine. This was done by standing on the top of a Volkswagen van (which dented the roof), then climbing up to the unicycle seat. After fifteen minutes of procrastination, the author then rode away from the van, completed a figure eight in a small empty parking lot, climbed off the unicycle, and stated that he would never build such a tall one again, because he didn’t like test riding such tall machines.

Nine feet scared your author, but Sem Abrahams holds the world record with a unicycle more than ten times taller. His unicycle was just a bit over 114 feet (34 meters) tall. The picture below links to a video of Sem’s world record ride. If your ebook reader doesn’t support Internet links, you can go to http://www.semcycle.biz/record/html/35m.html.

Sem Abrahams on world's tallest unicycle
World’s tallest unicycle


Monocycles

Table of Contents

Then there are monocycles. Whereas a unicyclist sits above the wheel, or outside of the wheel, the monocyclist sits within the wheel.

monocycle
Monocycle

What do you suppose will happen if this rider has to stop fast? Right! One of the problems with monocycles is when you put on the brakes, you tumble right around with the wheel.


Ultimate Wheels

Table of Contents

You would think that you can’t remove much else from a unicycle, and still have a human-powered vehicle. But actually, you can remove the seat, frame and bearings. Then you have what’s called an “ultimate wheel.”

ultimate wheel, a unicycle without seat or pedals via Ian Muttoo

Ultimate wheels have been made in various sizes. The easiest size to learn on is around 700 mm (26 inches) in diameter. The pedals should be mounted as close to the plane of the wheel as possible, on cranks of typical length – around 6.5 inches (20 cm). To get the pedals in close, the ultimate wheel is usually made by bolting or welding a plate into the middle of the rim, and attaching threaded holders for the pedals right on the plate. I have found from painful experience that you don’t want large openings in the center plate in an ultimate wheel. Otherwise, a rider who has lost control may get a foot caught in the wheel, which makes landing on one’s feet impossible.

When first learning, you can cover the sides of the tire with electrical tape. This way, you can use the insides of your shins as a frame and bearings. Just squeeze your legs close together, and let the wheel rub as needed. In time, you can learn to ride without contacting the tire at all. At first however, you’ll want to wear pants, at least, since the wheel will inevitably tilt one way or the other and rub uncomfortably hard.

To ride an ultimate wheel the first time, find smooth pavement along a chain-link fence, just like you would to learn a unicycle. Some people learn unicycling by being held up by friends. With an ultimate wheel, this does not work as well as doing it by yourself. Place a pedal just behind the bottom center position, and as you place your foot on that pedal, the wheel will roll under you. As the wheel rolls past you, place your other foot on the other pedal, and start riding, keeping your knees close together. Some people hold the top of the tire with one hand as they start.

The biggest problem you may encounter is that an ultimate wheel can roll away from you if you dismount quickly or fall. It can roll out into traffic, causing a real mess.

There’s also a “B.C. wheel.” This has pedals mounted on bearings in such a way that both pedals are always about an inch (2.5 cm) below the center. A rider can learn to coast on this machine, but can’t easily accelerate.


Circus Bikes

Table of Contents

circus bike
Circus Bike

circus bicycle
via Vintageedept

Amazing tricks can be performed on a BMX bike. Even more remarkable tricks can be performed on a circus bike. The definition is loose, but in general a circus bike has:

* A straight fork and centered handlebar so the front wheel and handlebar can be spun without throwing the bike off-balance. Common uses for this effect are to ride with the front wheel in the air, a “wheelie,” which is actually just like riding a unicycle. While in the wheelie position, spin the handlebar and let go, letting it spin a number of turns before grabbing it and moving on to the next trick. A simpler trick is to suddenly turn the front wheel a half-turn while continuing to ride forward, backward, or in a tight circle. In a sufficiently tight circle, the front wheel and handlebar can continue to rotate from the power of the turn itself, until the rider returns to a straight line.

* A fixed gear hub so you can perform all the standard unicycle tricks, plus riding backward, easy track-stand – a bicycle trick in which you can roll back and forth slightly to maintain your position without putting a foot down.

* Footpegs or ways to place your feet, and sometimes your hands in places they don’t ordinarily go in normal bicycling activities.

* A long frame so your toes don’t interfere with a spinning front wheel. Another reason for a long frame is it makes riding on the head tube (the tube at the front of the bike that the fork goes through) easier. You can free mount a circus bike much like a giraffe unicycle, using the head tube as your seat.

Your author was working on a circus bike routine that he never perfected. Perhaps you can: I would free mount the circus bike so that I was riding on the head tube. I’d circle around once or twice, then go into an idle, meaning I’d pedal back and forth a bit, maintaining balance like on a unicycle, without going anywhere. The front wheel had a quick release mechanism, so I’d take it off. Three tennis balls were stuck in the spokes of the wheel. I took them out. Next, I spun the wheel and balanced it on my helmet. A spinning wheel is easy to balance. Then I juggled the three tennis balls for only about ten throws. I’d toss the balls, one at a time, into the audience to keep as souvenirs, take the wheel off my head, reattach it to the bike, and dismount.


Plastic Bikes

Table of Contents

The idea of making bicycles almost entirely from plastic has enticed people for years. In 1971, Original Plastic Bike Incorporated was founded based on a design for a complete road bike that was supposed to weigh just 17 pounds (7.5 kg), and be as strong as, or even stronger than steel and aluminum alloy bikes. Some prototypes were built, but the bike never went into production. That may be because the plastic wasn’t quite up to the task. The company advertised that a static load of 2,500 lbs (1,100 kilos) could be put on the seat tube without damaging the bike. This would be the equivalent of riding a bike off the roof of a four-story building and landing on a paved street at 10 gees, without even bothering to lift your butt off the seat.

The hubs were made from plastic, and even the ball bearings were plastic. In an early test, a prototype went three thousand miles without showing any bearing wear. And, this is without any lubrication!

Maybe the frame itself was strong enough, but evidently they went too far trying to make the chain and sprockets out of plastic.

A bicycle distributor’s representative once gave me a plastic freewheel. It was super-light weight, and fascinated me instantly. In his presence, I put it on a bike, and rode about 100 feet (30 meters). At that point, the pawls in the freewheel stripped the plastic ratchet. Good idea. Bad execution. I took it apart, and found it wasn’t entirely plastic after all. It’s six centrifugally sprung pawls were made from steel. The ratchet surface itself, as well as the sprockets were all plastic. If I recall correctly, the threaded portion that screwed on to the hub (old style), was made from steel as well.

Not long after that, Nervar came out with an all plastic headset. It had the same shape as the headsets of the era, threaded parts with cone and cup bearings. Instead of 3/32-inch independent steel balls, it had 3/32-inch nylon balls. The promise was that it would outlast steel headsets, and this was possible. A steel headset is prone to “brinelling,” a condition in which in the case of a headset, the bearing races become pitted from hitting bumps. The plastic would absorb the impact much better. However, in use, the headsets felt a bit mushy, as if the steering was bound up with rubber bands. Then too, if one over-tightened the headset locknut, it would crack.

For a few years in the early 1980s, a Swedish company produced plastic bikes. In all, about 30,000 of these “Iteras” were made. There were problems, not the least of which was the fact that bikes were not bullet-proof. The plastic parts could be broken, perhaps more easily than equivalent steel or aluminum alloy parts.

Itera plastic bicycle
Itera Plastic Bike

Plastics have improved a lot since then. If you’re old enough, you may remember that if you dropped the TV remote, it was almost guaranteed to break. If you drop a modern remote, it probably won’t break. Plastic chemistry has improved since the early bicycle attempts, so maybe today, an all-plastic bike would work fine.

We are no longer surprised to see plastic bicycle wheels in the smaller diameters. By the way, I’ve been told that if you have one that’s bent, you can place it in your freezer, and it will remember its original shape. These wheels aren’t quite all-plastic. The hubs are made from regular steel components.

plastic bicycle wheels via Incase


Recumbents

Table of Contents

Recumbence: The act of laying down.

Recumbent bikes, sometimes called “bents,” seem like a relatively new invention. Here’s a picture of a recumbent from 1914:

vintage recumbent bicycle

The design has certain advantages, the primary one being less wind resistance. The rider can push higher gears because the limit on the power is not the rider’s weight (plus arm strength), but the amount of strength with which the rider can press back against the seat. The recumbent can be more comfortable on long rides, since the weight is supported by a large seat. On the conventional bike, the rider’s weight is supported only by the feet, hands, and the small area of the seat.

The recumbent rider has less distance to fall, so is less likely to be injured in a mishap. The rider is also able to stop more quickly than on a conventional bike, in which hard braking of the front wheel can cause the bike to flip.

The recumbent design has several disadvantages. It is less visible in traffic. It tends to weigh more, because the seat has to support the rider’s back.

The recumbent is hard to start, or ride at very low speeds. Unlike a conventional bicycle, most recumbent designs make it harder to push off the ground with one’s feet to get the bike rolling at a sufficient speed to gain control and put the feet on the pedals.

More of the rider’s weight is above the axis of the wheels on a recumbent than on a conventional bike, making it harder to control in unstable situations.

The drivetrain is usually more complex. Either it is longer to reach from the front mounted pedals to the rear wheel, or it must accommodate steering in front wheel drive (FWD) recumbents.

The rider on a conventional bike can rise off the seat a bit, balancing her weight on the pedals when hitting bumps. The recumbent rider cannot do that, so the shock is greater for the rider and the machine.

A smaller disadvantage in many recumbent designs is that the rider spends a small amount of energy keeping the legs in the horizontal position. There is a bit of muscle tension involved in supporting the weight of the legs between the seat and the feet.

Another small disadvantage is parts availability. While conventional bikes use mostly standardized parts, recumbents use many parts only available from the original manufacturer.

recumbent bike
Trans-V recumbent

recumbent bike
Toxy CL recumbent
via EvaK

recumbent cycle
Cruzbike Vendetta
via Bentrider811

recumbent bike

recumbent bicycle

bent bike
Android front wheel drive recumbent
via http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Android_FWD_recumbent_4.jpg

recumbent bike
Velokraft No-com

recumbent bicycle
via bradhoc

recumbent tandem bicycle for two
Tandem recumbent
via BetacommandBot

Recumbent tricycles answer to the slow speed stability problem and to starting and stopping nicely, but have design issues. With two front wheels, they tend to catch a lot more wind, which defeats one of the primary advantages of recumbents. With two rear wheels, traction can sometimes be a problem, and transmitting power to one or both wheels requires a more elaborate drivetrain.

recumbent tricycle three-wheeler
Recumbent Tricycle
via Boliston


Tricycles and Quadracycles

Table of Contents

This is supposed to be a book about bicycles, so I’ll keep the discussion of tricycles and quadracycles short.

The most common tricycles are for children, and adult riders who have balance issues or frequently carry a lot of cargo. Tricycles for children are terribly inefficient, but the kids don’t care.

The common adult tricycles are also inefficient compared to bicycles. The typical configuration is a front end just like an ordinary bike, and two rear wheels, with power going to only one wheel.

A differential, which makes driving both rear wheels practical in a car, is not often used in tricycles because of its additional weight and cost. Furthermore, the differential may have the opposite of the desired effect.

With power going to only one rear wheel, the speed of the other wheel can vary when going around corners. If both wheels were locked together with a solid axle, quite a bit of energy would be wasted in scuffing the wheels, since when cornering, one has to turn faster than the other.

But the differential will give power to whichever wheel is turning faster. So, if the rider leans to one side, or in sand or snow, one wheel will spin uselessly, and the other wheel will not add forward momentum.

Common adult tricycles often have a single-speed or three-speed drivetrain, and are not geared low enough for serious hill-climbing. These common tricycles are also quite flexible. As you pull hard (in a too-high gear) up a hill, you feel considerable flex. Older ones are often found with bent or broken frames. The wide seats these machines typically have are designed to seem comfortable, but they fool the purchasers. They are comfortable when the rider first sits down, but when pedaling any distance, they interfere with the muscles and quickly become uncomfortable and inefficient.

It is possible to ride a common adult three-wheeler on two wheels. The rider only has to lean to one side, possibly steering a bit to one side as well, and the tricycle will naturally raise one rear wheel into the air, becoming a bicycle with a large appendage hanging off the side. Oddly, riding this way is easy to do, and perhaps more efficient than riding on all three wheels. However, it is tough on the tricycle’s frame and the spokes of the rear wheel, since it is carrying weight at an angle, rather than on its plane. It can also be damaging to the hub bearings, which are not usually typical bicycle bearings, and can be difficult to find as replacement parts.

Rickshaws are almost always designed with one wheel in the front, and two in the back to support the weight of passengers. You’d think rickshaws were invented somewhere in Asia, but they are an American invention.

Rickshaw
Rickshaw
via Les Chatfield

Quadracycles can be unique and fun, but don’t add anything in terms of efficiency. They may be safer, since they are hard to fall off. (Your author has discovered it is not impossible to fall off a quadracycle!)

Quadracycles are often used when a group of three or more people want to go together on a human-powered machine.

quadracycle - pedal powered car
Antique quadracycle
via Randal J. (RJFerret)

bicycle technology quadracycle
Quadracycle
via Prayitno

Tricycles and quadracycles are often created for people who have disabilities, such as paralyzed legs, since balancing a two-wheeled machine would be difficult.


Human-Powered Cars and Boats

Table of Contents

Through the years, inventors have tried to add car-like features to bicycles, with varying degrees of success. The problem quickly becomes one of weight versus convenience. Putting doors, a roof, and comfortable seats in a human-powered vehicle raises the weight so it is hard to take it up hills. Maintenance can also be an issue. Until someone makes a standardized one that is very popular, replacement parts will not be readily available.

Finally, if you enclose a rider, you need to do something to keep that rider cool in warm weather.

One machine that was popular in the mid 1970s was the PPV (People-Powered Vehicle). This semi-enclosed vehicle could accommodate two riders, or one rider with several bags of groceries. With one rider, it was a monster taking it up hills, even with its three-speed transmission. To the inventor’s credit, for durability, it used a real transmission instead of a three-speed Sturmey-Archer, Shimano or Sachs hub. On the other hand, for stopping, it depended entirely on a drum brake in the front wheel, controlled by a single brake handlever and cable.

PPV - people-powered vehicle
PPV
via livewombat

I keep talking about efficiency in this book, so let’s consider something entirely different. That’s pedalboats. They are terribly inefficient, but they’re fun! You can rent these at many resorts, parks, marinas and so on, and they are calm, meditative fun.

pedalboat
Pedalboat
via Bart Everson


Electric Bikes

Table of Contents

electric bike, bicycle
via Pleclown

The idea of hooking up a battery and motor to a bicycle is attractive. Imagine that you are a healthy commuter who has an off day. Wouldn’t it be great to let the bike to all, or most of the work? Or, perhaps you’re not so healthy. You can work your way slowly to better health by letting an electric bike do most of the work at first, and less and less as you regain your health.

The line between what can be called an ‘electric bike’ and other two-wheeled machines is blurry.

Electric motorcycles are being manufactured that weigh hundreds of pounds and have great speed and range.

Electric scooters of all sorts ranging from toys to machines ridden by professional security, maintenance and guide personnel, such as the Segway, might be called electric bicycles by some.

Segway
Segway

Conversion kits can be attached to most adult bikes, so the mountain or road bike you’ve always enjoyed can continue to entertain you, but now as an electric bike. However, conversion kits can be somewhat clunky compared to bikes designed and manufactured to be electric bikes in the first place.

Hundreds or thousands of people have tried their own homemade conversions.

homemade electric bike
A homemade electric bike conversion
via Hamish Darby

The unwieldy-looking bicycle pictured above used an ordinary car battery mounted above the front wheel. These batteries have poor range to weight ratio. Being filled with liquid and lead, they are remarkably heavy. The inventor of this bike reports having crashed into a tree and smashed his battery shortly after the picture was taken.

Electric bicycles are manufactured with and without pedals and human-powered drivelines. Perhaps without pedals, it can’t be called a ‘bicycle.’ I’ll leave you to decide.

Some are assisted drive, meaning you need to pedal, adding a bit of your own power to engage the electrical system. Others can move entirely on electric power.

Most use nickel-cadmium or lithium ion batteries built into a pack. The actual batteries often look like ordinary D cells. Nickel-cadmium batteries are found in the lower-end machines. They require careful charging and use, otherwise, they don’t last long, and are expensive to replace. Lithium-ion batteries are more expensive to replace, but work with an electrical system that automatically balances the charging, so they’ll typically last much longer. They also provide more power for their weight.

Most electric bikes have regenerative breaking. When you go downhill or coast to a stop, the motor acts as a generator, slowing the bike, and charging the battery.

If you like to be accurate with terminology, the “battery” is the entire pack, composed of the individual “cells.”

The power of an electric bike is measured in watts. One with a motor sufficiently powerful to take an adult up a moderate hill will have a motor rated at 450 watts or greater.

Top speeds range from around 12 miles per hour to over 50 MPH (20 to 80 KPH). In order to be legally considered a ‘bicycle’ in most communities, meaning that licensing, insurance and perhaps a helmet are not required, the speed of an electric bike must be restricted.

electric bike


Art Bikes

Table of Contents

Bicycles are good candidates for artistic treatment, as the following pictures illustrate.

art bike

art bike
via Chris Gilmore

art bike
via Donna B McNicol

art bike
via hAdamksy

art bicycle
via Amit Patel

art project bicycle
via Porsche Brosseau

Schwinn Orange Krate

The Orange Krate, one of a series of art bikes, all in the same configuration, but with varying colors, manufactured by Schwinn in the late 1960s.
via Nels P Olsen

elliptical art bike
via Andy Mitchel

This last bike is kinetic art. As you can see, the front of the bike will rise up and down when ridden due to the off-center mounting of the front wheel.

Art bikes can be sculpted using welding to completely modify the frames, handlebars and other metal parts. Glue can be applied to frame tubing, and glitter, fake fur, plastic scraps, or just about anything you might imagine can be attached. Simply tricking a bike out in every accessory you can get your hands on is another approach. Then there’s color. Most sizes of tires are available in a variety of colors. You can mix and match accessories for color coordination. For the ultimate in color, you can paint the bike.

Millions of people throughout the world have painted bikes with ordinary spray paint getting varying but never perfect results. Some will paint the entire bike, wheels and all. Some will disassemble the bike, painting only the frame and fork. The reason spray paint that you can buy at the local hardware store doesn’t work out well is that it is scratch-prone. Under ideal conditions, it cannot be applied as strongly as factory paint, which in some cases is too toxic for home use, and in other cases is electrostatically applied and baked on.

It also takes a bit of skill to paint a bike. Professional painters use a siphon-feed gun that sprays a mix of air and atomized liquid paint. The expert will arrange a way to hold the frame and fork so that every angle is easy to see. The fork is easy, just hold it by the steering tube. For the frame, you can insert a junk seatpost as a handle. The professional will usually spray the intersections from every angle first, then the long straight sections of tubing. Depending on the type of paint used, the painter may use many light strokes, rather than trying to get the paint on all in one layer. This prevents runs and drips.

Preparation is also important. If you try to apply paint over grease or dirt, the paint will wipe right off when dry. If you apply paint over loose flaking or chipping paint, the new paint will chip off. If you apply paint over a contrasting color, it will show through your new paint. The best preparation is a complete soak in paint stripping chemical, which is dangerous because it is caustic, or sandblasting. You don’t want to use a heavy-duty blaster with a course sand such as a bridge or boat painter may use, because it will wear right through your bike’s frame tubing.

Sometimes a painter will spray a layer of white, gold or silver before the finished color, which can result in a more vivid finished product.

In the mid 1980’s two-tone paint jobs were popular. A frame would first be painted in a solid color. Then the intersections would be painted in a complimentary color. The center of the intersections would be painted solidly, but as the paint gun was moved away from the intersections, to the center of the frame tubing, the amount of paint would be reduced, so that the intersections would fade into the main color. Your author is guessing that anyone who brings back a two-tone job today would receive compliments. Examples of attractive two-tone color combinations are:

Burgandy main tubes, and darker reddish-brown, almost black intersections.

Light green main tubes, and dark blue intersections.

Yellow main tubes, and red intersections.

Artistic Unicycles

Then we have art unicycles. Unicycles have been decorated, outfitted with colored lights, and made to look like other objects, such as wheelbarrows.

stool unicycle
via Steph B

Most artistic unicycles have something added, since there isn’t much left to remove from a unicycle.

One goofy addition is a “handlebar unit.” This is not attached to the unicycle, but pushed along, generally in front, not for assisting the rider in balancing, but for show. At first, it appears the rider is on an ordinary bicycle. But wait, there’s no frame between the front and rear wheels. Then the rider can turn the handlebar unit this way and that, hold it over head, throw it and catch it, and so on, resulting in a rather amazing show for anyone not expecting that.

handlebar unit
via Daniel Oines

Your silly author added a couple of wheels to make a tall unicycle in which one tire rubbed on the one below, turning that wheel backward, and that one’s tire rubbed on the bottom wheel, turning it forward.

Jeff Napier three-wheel unicycle
The author on his three-wheel unicycle


The Legend of Wrong Way Wooten

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In the mid 1980s a man from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, became rather famous for riding his bike backward. At the age of 13, one of his friends said that riding a bike while sitting on the handlebar would be impossible. Tom Wooten proved his friend wrong. When he saw the way people reacted to seeing him ride that way, he decided it would be his career.

Wrong Way Wooten
Wrong Way Wooten

In his late 20s, evidently after driving a tow truck for a while, and receiving a degree in psychology, he planned his first cross-country tour. Originally, he was going to ride with five other people, but they all backed out before he started. He relates, “I learned never to count on anybody for anything.”

he built a custom bike for his purpose. It was based on a Schwinn Varsity, which was a very heavy all-steel bike of the late 1970s, with a one-piece crank. He put padded tape on the handlebar to make sitting more comfortable. He installed two mirrors on long arms so he could see where he was going. He removed the seat, and put a portable television in its place. He then somehow attached another ten-speed bike to the rear of his bike in order to carry more gear. There is no information as to how the bike was attached. There are conflicting reports as to how much the entire contraption weighed. The report that I believe says it was 160 lbs (72 kg). Other reports put it at “over 300 pounds” and some say it was 450 lbs.

He converted the bike to 21 speeds, quite rare in the 1980s, but left the shifters in their original position – on the handlebar stem. This meant that he had to reach between his legs to change gears. His bike had toe-clips, which were, of course, installed backward on the pedals.

Before his first trip to traverse the entire United States, he studied maps. Being independently wealthy (according to what little is written – and we don’t know how he attained that wealth) he then hired a small airplane to fly low, examining his route for overly steep hills, road construction and other such potential problems.

Tom, who legally changed his name to “Wrong Way Wooten,” then set out on his journey with a specific self-appointed mission. “The main reason I do what I do is to get people to realize that they have a responsibility to other people.” He represented several major charities including The American Cancer Society, The American Lung Society, The Heart Fund, the Jaycees, United Way, and March of Dimes, taking donations in person and also encouraging people to donate directly to their favorite charities. According to the legend, he criss-crossed the country several times totaling 28,000 miles (45,000 kilometers) over the next 17 years.

To some, it looked like what he is doing, riding around the country on a bike, would be limitless fun, but he cites some problems, such as flat tires, bad weather and racists who sometimes tried to run him off the road. “I can’t hate them, then I would be just like them.”

He did not recommend that other people should tour backwards. “One mistake, and you’re history.”

He planned on riding for twenty-five years. Unfortunately, in 2004, at age 47, he died of a massive heart attack. His credo was, “Bind yourself to nothing and seek harmony with all things. Only then can you be truly free.” People who remember him say he was a wonderful and very personable ambassador for kindness to others.


Cargo

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goat on a bicycle
via Paretz Partensky

What can be carried on a bicycle is amazing. Carrying too much badly is also a cause for many bike accidents, so please be careful. Your author was once carrying two six-foot (two-meter) unicycles with one hand while steering with the other. Suddenly, a gust of wind caused the unicycles to turn in the author’s hand. The seat of one of the unicycles caught in the spokes of the bicycle’s front wheel, and your author went flying, landing on a pedal of one of the unicycles. The injury was minor, but it could have been much worse.

One of the most common cargo mistakes is bungees (“stretch cords”) that aren’t properly secured. When a bungee comes loose, a hook end will almost always get caught in the spokes, wrapping around a few times, until the wheel stops. In worst cases, they’ll break several spokes, killing the wheel’s structural integrity. This results in a sudden and serious problem.

In addition to special cargo-carrying bikes, bicycle carriers, baskets, and trailers of all descriptions have been built. Your author was once commissioned by a bakery to make a special trailer for their needs. They had a warehouse six blocks away in which they stored flour. When the trailer was completed, once a day, a baker would ride to the warehouse, pick up 350 pounds (160 kilos) of flour, and haul it back to the bakery. The bakers were delighted, because until then, they used a pickup truck dedicated to that job, which made pollution, cost money for insurance and registration, and was hard to park.


Derailleurs and Sprockets

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The first bicycles incorporating a chain and sprockets were fixed-gear (direct drive). People soon figured out that coasting might be nice, so various arrangements for freewheeling were created, and the braking operation was changed from using your feet to resist movement of the pedals to much safer braking systems.

Now, inventors were free to go crazy. The planetary gear systems mentioned in the first part of this book came along fairly quickly. Shortly thereafter, people figured out that one could combine a chain tensioner with a stack of sprockets (often called “cogs” or a “freewheel”), so that by moving the tensioner sideways, the chain could be aligned with one or another sprocket. These first versions of derailleurs typically used only two three sprockets, closely spaced in gearing.

Then, for many years, until the late 1970s, ten-speed bikes were the norm, with five sprockets on the rear wheel, and two in front.

As you know, “ten-speeds” is a misnomer, since some of the speeds overlap, and one doesn’t shift from first through tenth, hitting every gear on the way. Just like a modern 24-speed bike doesn’t really mean you use all 24 speeds.

All modern rear derailleurs have two pulleys. The top one is called the guide pulley, and the bottom one is the tension pulley.

Some of the earliest designs had only one pulley, so shifting was a bit sloppy. At first, serious cyclists resisted two pulleys on a derailleur, figuring the extra pulley would eat up a lot of power with extra friction. It turns out that the second pulley uses only a microscopic amount of power.

During the late 1960s, some odd variations appeared, and became quite common. A French manufacturer, Simplex, made a derailleur in which the biggest parts were made from plastic. It worked quite well, but was prone to failure, as the points where the springs mounted would tear out of the plastic.

Another was by Huret. Their Allvit model was one of the very few that used ball bearings in the pulleys. This all-steel derailleur had a shell, sort of like a turtle, that protected the parallelogram mechanism which moved the pulleys in and out among the five sprockets. All the pivots were adjustable, with bolts and locknuts. Unfortunately, being adjustable, they frequently needed adjustment. Some of the Huret Allvits came with red pulleys, which became quite collectible for a while.

Index shifting did not become practical until the mid 1970s. Until then, one had to carefully adjust the shifter after selecting a gear to line up the derailleur properly for smooth and noiseless operation. The first index shifting systems generally put the detents (stops) in the derailleur, so it would precisely line up under each gear. Now, almost all systems have the detents in the shifter, depending on the cable to carry the message accurately to the derailleur. It seems like a system designed to fail, but index shifting seems to work well most of the time.

Most system have an adjusting barrel around where the cable casing meets the shifter. You can turn the barrel to adjust the system on the fly.

Colnago shifters
Simple but high-end, non-index shifters
via Arnoooo

One of the latest changes in derailleurs isn’t in mechanical design, but in the word itself. It is slowly evolving to be spelled “derailer.”


Brakes

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There are more ways to stop a bike than to make it go. Below are pictures of some interesting concepts in braking:

vintage bicycle spoon brake
Spoon brake
via AndrewDressel

One of the first brakes, called a spoon brake, just rubbed on the surface of the tire. This was common on penny-farthings (also called “ordinaries”) – the bikes with huge front wheels – if they had brakes at all.

antique bicycle brake
Fongers rod actuated brake on Westrick rim
via Jeremy Burgin

It didn’t take long to figure out that rubbing something against the rim was more durable than against the tire.

bicycle coaster brake
A typical old coaster brake

Coaster brakes are relatively complex mechanisms, yet they appeared early in the history of bicycles.

bicycle drum brake
Early drum brake
via Ralf Roletschek

Something more powerful was needed for motorcycles and cars, so the drum brake was invented. This has two half-circle shoes that rub against the inside of the hub shell when actuated with a cam. Just like most caliper (rim) brakes, these work poorly when wet, unless sealed against the weather.

bicycle drum brake
Modern drum brake
via Haupseite

bicycle band brake
Band brake
via imoni

A band brake fits loosely around the outside of a drum mounted on the hub. When actuated, the band tightens around the drum. This type of brake is used extensively on slow-moving machinery such as riding movers. Interestingly, in one direction, generally forward, the brake is easily controlled. In the other direction, as soon as the band touches the drum, it tends to tighten itself, making braking touchy. Band brakes are seldom used on bicycles.

Mafac Competition centerpull bicycle brake
via Ralf Roletschek

A very common type of brake used in bicycles is a caliper brake. There are several variations. This one is called a “centerpull” style, because the cable pulls equally on both sides. Sidepull brakes have a cable in which the inner wire pulls on one side, while the cable housing (“equal and opposite reaction”) pushes on the other side.

Campagnolo Delta bicycle caliper brake
Campagnolo Delta – a highly styled caliper brake
via Christian Kunze

Shimano Rollercam bicycle brake
Rollercam brake – uses a cam instead of a bridge cable
via Jeff Archer

Caliper brakes often squeak. Squeaking is caused by vibration, as the brake pad sticks, the brake arm flexes, the pad lets go a bit, then sticks again, and so on, in very rapid rhythm. This is usually remedied by cleaning the rims, replacing the pads, or adjusting or bending the brake calipers a bit, so the trailing edges of the pads touch the rims first when the brakes are squeezed lightly.

bicycle disk brake

And then we have disk brakes. These are easier to keep adjusted than caliper brakes. Because the rotor is small and near the center of the wheel, it is less likely to get bent. The overall weight is low compared to other kinds of brakes.

bike disk brake

Many disk brakes are controlled with ordinary Bowden cables. That’s the technical name for the kind of cable used for bicycle brakes and shifters. Other disk brakes are controlled with a hydraulic system. There is a piston in the brake handlever that squeezes oil through a hose to a piston in the brake assembly which presses a brake pad against the disk. The piston in the handlever is much like a doctor’s syringe. When you let go of the lever, a spring in the brake assembly retracts the brake pad, and forces the fluid back to the handlever.

bicycle disk brake

bicycle disk brake


Bits and Pieces

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a Few Modern Components

sondelux
via Hauptseite

bicycle handlebar end grip
via Ukxpat

bicycle cog freewheel sprockets
via KMJ

bicycle hybrid handlebar
via AndrewDressel

And a few old ones:

bicycle skip link inch-pitch chain
via Wp-0001

When chains and sprockets were first used with bicycles, they were adapted from farm and industrial machinery. At the time, skip-link also known as inch-pitch chain was common.

bicycle sew-up tubular tire
via tetedelacourse

Sew-up tires, also known as “tubulars” are far less common today than they were until the early 1980s. These are made like an American football. They have an inner tube that is completely surrounded by the tire. The tire is sewn together with heavy stitches along the inside edge. You can inflate a sew-up off a wheel, and it will look like a giant, thin donut. They were very popular for road and track racing, since they can hold a very high pressure, and are thin and light. These are glued or fastened to the rims with double-sided tape. Tourists also liked sew-ups since the rider could fix a puncture in two minutes. The tourist would have a spare tire folded up and carried under the seat or in a pack. Sew-ups take up less space than a water bottle when folded. Upon getting a flat, the rider would tear the old tire off the rim, and stretch the new tire into position using the old tape or glue. The rider would inflate the tire with a portable pump, fold the punctured tire under the seat, and ride away.

When the rider came home with a punctured tire, approximately six inches (15 cm) of the stitching along the inside edge could be cut, and the inner tube would be patched in the usual way. Then the rider would replace the stitching, and have a good spare.

The sew-up is a simple tire compared to the modern kind, called a clincher.

cross section of a bicycle wheel
Crosssection of a typical bicycle wheel
via Deerwood

In the picture above:

1. The metal wheel rim.

2. The rim strip. This is a rubber, cloth or plastic strip that protects the inner tube from punctures caused by contact with the spoke heads.

3. The side of the rim where a caliper brake can be used.

4. Inside the edges of the tire are steel cables. Without these, when pressurized, the tire would stretch and blow off the rim.

5. The inner tube. Because of the small volume of air in a bicycle tire, the smallest leak would cause it to deflate quickly. Since bicycle rims usually have to accommodate spokes, it would be difficult to seal the spoke holes. Therefore, it is not practical to make a tubeless tire, such as cars use. The inner tube makes it possible to have a system that is not microscopically precise, yet is air tight.

6. The tire casing is made of cloth, and has sufficient strength and flexibility to withstand the air pressure and bumps and cracks in the road surface.

7. The tread of the tire is usually rubber impregnated with carbon. That’s why most tires are black. The carbon keeps the rubber from wearing out immediately. Without carbon, instead of 2,000 miles (3,000 km) per pair of tires, they might last 10 miles (15 km).

dangerous bicycle axle wingnut
Wingnut

For a short while in the 1970s, wingnuts were popular. The idea is that riders would not have to use a wrench to remove and replace wheels. Even though hollow axles with quick release skewers were available then, they were somewhat more expensive.

The problem with wingnuts is that it was hard to get them tight enough. The rear wheel would typically pull to one side on a hard hill climb, so the rider would have to stop and reposition the wheel, then attempt to tighten the wingnut sufficiently. Sometimes the wings would break off. Worse, wingnuts on the front wheel could come loose by simply parking against a bush or bumping a wingnut with a shoe.


Seats or Saddles

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bicycle seat saddle
via Ralf Roletschek

Serious cyclists call seats “saddles.”

Serious cyclists call seatposts “seat pillars.”

Go figure!

bike seat
via AndrewDressel

bicycle seat

bike saddle
A “banana” seat from a stingray bike of the late 1960s
via AndrewDressel

Brooks bicycle leather seat saddle
A sprung leather saddle
via Suleyman Habib

Brooks Professional Pro bicycle saddle
The Brooks Professional, a top of the line leather seat
via The Javelina

Leather seats were common for a long time in bicycle history. Before plastics were readily available, they made the best compromise between comfortable softness and reasonable weight. The leather saddle started out hard as a rock. The rider was supposed to “work it in” which could mean anything from applying neatsfoot oil and beating it with a hammer, to just riding it for a long time until it naturally softened from wear. If it became too soft, there was a screw under the nose that could be adjusted to lengthen, and therefore tighten the saddle.

Easyseat
via Hutschi

New riders are advised to limit the length of their rides until they get used to their saddles. Until a rider is quite experienced, most saddles are uncomfortable. For that reason, inventors have been working since the beginning of bicycling to come up with better alternatives.


Bicycle Safety

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Three out of every four fatal bike accidents are due to a head injury. 97 percent of the people who died in bike accidents were not wearing helmets. It has been said that helmets are 85% effective in preventing head injury.

During the fifteen years between 1990 and 2005 in the United States, only one person riding a bike in a marked bicycle lane had a fatal accident.

In 2009, the latest year for which there are US national statistics, 618 people died in bicycle related accidents. Interestingly, 87% were male, and the average age was 41. Your author was quite surprised, figuring it would be mostly children who die in bike accidents. 52,000 people were injured, 80% were male, the average age of people injured on bikes was 31.

humorous bicycle crash scene

So, wouldn’t it be great to make money teaching bicycle safety?

The venues and ways to get paid for teaching bicycle safety are unlimited. For instance, you can get paid by schools and universities to perform at assemblies. If you can make an amusing show of some sort, perhaps demonstrating BMX freestyle skills, that also teaches some basics of bicycle safety, well, you’d be doing everyone a favor! The show has to be interesting so the audience will pay attention, they will remember, and maybe even tell their friends some of the important points.

You might like to focus some attention on aspects of bicycle safety that don’t get mentioned often enough. That’s because many safety programs miss the point. They teach kids to use hand signals, when they really ought to teach children – and adults – what really happens in a bike accident. How bad it can be. If a child breaks an arm at the beginning of summer, that kid will not be able to have nearly as much fun for the rest of the summer. If an adult breaks an arm, he may miss out on a promotion, lose his job, and pay considerable out-of-pocket expenses.

Many people don’t understand why riding on the wrong side of the road is so risky. What creative way could you come up with to illustrate that point? Teach what happens to visibility in wet weather. Don’t just tell people they need lights and reflectors. Explain why. Explain that the reflections on wet streets are confusing to drivers, and camouflage bicyclists. You get the idea.

Or, in case you don’t: Kids, and way too many adults, do not think much about their vulnerability. They think bad things can only happen to other people, not to themselves. They take risks because they haven’t learned to adequately weigh the possible outcomes. Perhaps you are the one who can teach them bicycle safety in a way that sinks in. They aren’t going to think about hospitals, bike accident attorneys, time out of work, lost money. So, you have to give them good reasons not to ride a bike while impaired, or without thinking defensively.

You can be sponsored by local businesses to perform at their company picnics, paid to present in after-school programs, or even street perform. Have you ever seen a juggler or magician doing an entertaining show and then passing the hat? You’d be surprised how much the experienced ones can make. But wouldn’t it be great if they had a message in their show? Maybe something about bike safety? Or, maybe you’re a musician who can write humorous lyrics. . .

Then, there are ideas such as putting together a free video for YouTube. If it is popular enough, if it goes viral, you can make a fine living just from the co-advertising dollars that it will bring in. The same goes for a website. You can make a free website, but better, and focused to the actual riders, and include some advertising on the side.

This next proposal is for people who are somewhat mechanically inclined:

I have been told that seven out ten bicycle accidents don’t involve cars. One out of eight bikes has a serious, often hidden, mechanical problem that could cause injury or even death. If you are mechanically inclined, I’d like to suggest that you could perform safety tune-ups on bikes where you live, and maybe even make a business of it.

As the former owner of two bike shops, founding author of BikeWebSite, and having repaired more than 15,000 bikes, I have written up some ideas for the safety tune-up business. You are free to take what I have learned, set up your business, and keep perhaps 100 people out of the hospital this year. I’d like to encourage everyone who reads this to consider the bicycle safety tune-up business.

Here are all the details. Good luck, and enjoy your new, meaningful, profitable business!

I was recently walking through a neighborhood because I was a few minutes early for a meeting, and saw something I really did not want to see. However, it changed my life, and may change your life, causing us both to help prevent something similar from happening to hundreds or maybe even thousands of other children and adults.

I watched in horror as an eleven-year-old boy came rushing down a hill on an out-of-control bicycle. He barreled through an intersection at about 30 miles per hour. Fortunately, there were no cars there just then. But, he was not out of danger yet. He hit a curb on the far side of the intersection, and with a bang of escaping air, his front wheel was instantly destroyed. At that point, the boy and the bike became separated. He airborne flight was abruptly halted when he hit a chain-link fence face first. He was taken to a hospital. I believe his injuries were minor, but it certainly could have been worse, and is worse, for many riders.

I came back a while later due to a professional curiosity. The broken bike had been forgotten at the accident scene. I tried the brakes. No go. There was no front brake cable. The back brake cable was so rusted that a grown man could not have squeezed the lever sufficiently to slow that bike.

So, it got me to thinking: What if I could have had a chance to fix that bike before the boy rode it? Of course, the accident wouldn’t have happened. But what if I could fix other bikes? There are several ways I could perform safety tune-ups and get paid. I could probably fix more than 20 bikes a day. Since one out of eight bikes have serious but hidden problems, and since seventy percent of bicycle accidents requiring hospitalization don’t involve cars, that means in the course of season, I might be able to keep up to 450 people out of the hospital. That number may be exaggerated because not all bicycle safety problems necessarily result in a serious accident. But still, if I could keep some people safe, I’d be happy.

Then, I got to thinking about a larger picture: What if I could leverage my knowledge, and show many people how to do the same thing? I would be quite happy if I could encourage someone in every community to make their living by keeping bikes safe, ultimately preventing hundreds or thousands of injuries.

Be the first in your city to make a profit while performing bicycle safety tune-ups, and keep hundreds of your friends and neighbors, and their children out of the hospital.

You don’t need years of experience. Get a good book on bicycle repair, and practice on some old garage sale or thrift store bikes. Follow the step-by-step procedure described below, and you can literally save lives. However, before you actually start out, you should be well-practiced, and I’d like to recommend you pay a professional bike mechanic to observe you while you tune up a bike, and offer commentary. Obviously, we want to be sure that you working on bikes is safe, since you want to make them safe.

If you really don’t feel mechanically inclined at all, you might consider a partnership with someone who is a good bike mechanic. You can line up venues, take care of scheduling, payments, and all the business activities. For that matter, if you don’t feel like much of a business person, you can leverage your mechanical skill with a good business partner.

Next, I’ll present the step-by-step procedure. Later, I’ll offer all sorts of business advice that will save/make you thousands more dollars.

The Tune-Up Procedure

You may feel inclined to modify this step-by-step procedure, but if you do, keep in mind that every aspect has been designed after 15,000 bikes experience, to prevent accidents. If you change anything, you really ought to have a good reason, and consider the consequences. Here it is:

1. With the bike on the ground, hold the front wheel between your knees, and turn the handlebar from side to side. It should be firmly attached. If it turns easily, then you’ll need to tighten the stem. If it is the type with a single bolt on the top, try tightening the bolt. If that doesn’t work, you may need to loosen the bolt several turns, tap it with a mallet (soft hammer), which releases a wedge inside the fork steering tube, lift the stem out, lubricate the wedge, reinsert and tighten the stem. While you’re at it, see that the stem is sufficiently inserted. Many people like having their handlebar higher. But if you exceed the limit of stem extension, the stem or fork steering tube could fail. And like many such failures, it will generally let go in a most critical time when bearing a lot of weight. Most stems of the single-bolt-on-top variety have a line molded into the side and a statement stamped into the metal to the effect: “Insert to hide this line.” That line and text must not be visible.

2. Check that the seat clamp and seatpost are tight, and that the seatpost is inserted in the frame at least two inches. Many seatposts have a line stamped in the metal, and sometimes text that says, “Insert beyond this line.”

3. Suspend the bike and check the tire seating, and then air pressures. Tires can be badly seated such that there is a place where the inner tube could bulge out, and suddenly explode. If you find a place where the tire is not seated properly, you can often reduce the air pressure to almost nothing, manually force the tire into position, and then reinflate. Sometimes it is a bit more of a struggle, since the bad seating can be due to a portion of inner tube caught under the bead of the tire, a misplaced or broken rimstrip (layer of material that prevents the top of the spokes from puncturing the inner tube), or damaged or poorly manufactured tire.

Except for serious off-road riding, the tires should be inflated to the maximum amount imprinted on the sides of the tires. Low pressures are generally more of a maintenance issue than a safety issue, or are they? When pressures are low, there is greater risk of puncture, or blow-out when hitting a curb or pothole, and therefore losing control. Furthermore, with low pressures, rims can become kinked when hitting potholes and so on, which causes caliper (rim-squeezing) brakes to work poorly.

4. Check the bearings: headset, bottom bracket set (crank), pedals, and front and rear hubs. If you find excessive grinding, tightness or wobbliness, you have at least a maintenance issue, and possibly a safety issue. Repair of these problems is more than I can cover here. You might charge additional money to fix bearing problems that you encounter, or simply tell the bike’s owner to take it to a shop for deeper repairs.

When you find a bearing mildly out of adjustment, it’s not a safety issue. If it’s a slow day, or if it’s your policy to do more than a safety tune-up, you can adjust the bearing. That can be a big plus for customer relations.

5. See if the wheels are true (round). Adjust with a spoke wrench if slightly out of true. Recommend or perform bigger repairs as needed. In the case of rim-squeezing brakes (caliper brakes), run your fingers over the rims to see if there are any kinks or outward bends. Bend them back with gentle hammer strokes or squeezing with pliers while protecting the rim with a piece of cloth. If the rims are made from aluminum alloy, only a small degree of bending is possible. Aluminum rims should be checked for fractures. If spokes are loose or broken, additional repairs will be needed. When you have more than one spoke broken where they bend and enter the hub, fatigue is likely. When spokes fatigue, they all start to break at the hub, and should all be replaced.

6. Now that the wheels have been taken care of, you can adjust the brakes. This is where you should really know what you are doing. If you have little experience with brakes, consult several bike repair manuals, get lots of practice, and maybe even have a professional bike mechanic check your work on several models of brakes. The hand levers should be secure on the handlebar.

For the remainder of this discussion, we’ll assume that you’re working on bikes with cable-operated caliper brakes. For coaster brakes, hydraulic disk brakes and so on, you must know what you are doing, or simply decline tuning up that particular bike. Fortunately, most bikes, especially the ones that are most often unsafe, have standard caliper brakes.

Look in the handlevers just past where the cable attaches. This is where cables most often start to fail. If even one strand is broken, the cable must be replaced. As each strand breaks, the cable becomes weaker, so with even one broken strand, the cable is much weaker than a new one. Keep in mind that when a cable breaks, it would be when it is at maximum tension in a panic stop, not the time you’d want it to break.

Look at the far end of the cable when it attaches at the brake caliper. You may find a broken strand just at the anchor bolt. If so, the cable needs to be replaced. The brake should open easily. If when the handlever is released, it opens lazily or not fully, the handlever pivot, brake pivot, or cable may be sticking. If you detach the cable, you can find out what’s sticky by squeezing the brake caliper and operating the handlever. If neither of those are stiff, then the cable is the culprit.

The brake pads must hit the rim at the proper height. Too high and they’ll grind through the tire. Too low, and they could suddenly slip lower, jam in the spokes, and cause a horrendous accident. Look for fractured aluminum components. Look for improper cable attachments.

The brakes should open wide enough to allow the wheels to spin freely, yet should adequately stop the bike with lots of room left over for cable stretch and brake pad wear. If you can’t achieve both, then it’s better to have the brakes rub the rims a bit, compared to too-loose brakes.

One of the best things you can do for lower-quality (most) bikes, is replace the brake pads with ones better than original equipment. These are available at all bike stores. A common brand is Cool-Stop. Oddly, many bikes, especially ones with chrome-plated steel rims, have brake pads that don’t work at all when wet. This must be attended to. Whereas most bicyclists don’t intend to ride in the rain, it can happen. Yet, it is such a rare occasion, the rider may not know that the brakes won’t work when wet.

So many brakes have been designed so poorly over the years that I have always been amazed that the bike manufacturers haven’t been sued over and over again because of this issue.

What do you do when you get a bike on which the brakes can’t be tuned adequately? You must not pass that bike. You must tell the user there’s a problem that’s beyond your ability to repair. Remember, it’s not your fault if you can’t fix it. You didn’t make the bike! (If you did, the brakes would have been better quality.) You may not be able to charge the full price for the tune up when you reject a bike as unsafe, but you must reject it. That’s your job. You’re a safety inspector first and foremost, and a repair technician after that.

7. Take a look at the chain. It’s not your responsibility to clean it. But you need to see it. You’re looking for cracked, warped, or otherwise defective links. Most of the time you can see them by looking at the chain from above while slowly pedaling backward. Just watch the chain go by from one spot. A link that’s on the verge of failure will often look swollen compared to the others, as one side plate is starting to come detached. Or, you may see that a pin is starting to drift sideways. With practice, you can easily spot a pin that’s out of position compared to the others. You should also look to one side and the other for one revolution of the chain for each side, looking for cracks in the side plates, or missing portions of a side plate. These conditions are less common, but a huge safety issue. Also consider stiff links. While not a safety issue, they can usually be easily fixed with a bit of oil, and moderate side-to-side (lateral) flexing.

8. You can now turn your attention to the gearing system. If you’re working on a typical derailleur-equipped bike, your foremost concern is the condition known as overshift. That’s when a derailleur guides a chain beyond the largest or smallest sprocket. The chain then falls off, which can quite seriously confound the rider. The general idea is while ignoring the index shifting (clicking from one distinct position to another), you can tighten the limit screws (two on each derailleur) until the chain quits shifting smoothly into the largest or smallest sprockets, then back the limit screw off. This doesn’t tell the whole story however. Many conditions such as worn chain and sprockets, badly positioned front derailleur, weak or broken derailleur springs, and bent sprockets can cause the chain to fall off even when adjusted to the best of your ability. You can study and practice such repairs, or simply refer the bike’s owner to a fully-equipped bike shop.

Time permitting, you can adjust the index shifting so the bike works as elegantly as possible. This is not officially a part of a safety tune-up, but will score you big points in terms of reputation and can sometimes be accomplished in less than a minute.

9. One of the major parts of the safety tune-up is to check all the nuts and bolts for tightness. Start at the handlebar, checking handlevers, shifters, any accessories that may be attached, and then the handlebar stem. Cruiser style and highrise handlebars should be checked to be sure they won’t shift position. Check the seat clamp and seat post bolts.

Check that the front wheel is properly attached. Check the rear wheel the same way. Check the cranks (which often come loose and while not a safety issue, can cause an expensive mechanical failure), pedals, and chainwheel bolts. Check the brakes – every single nut and bolt should be checked on the braking system. Check all fasteners associated with the shifting system. Check all accessories.

See if the bike is properly equipped with reflectors. If not, an artistic application of reflective tape is a good idea, and fairly inexpensive, lightweight, durable, and effective. Suggest proper lighting equipment to the bike’s owner.

10. Test ride the bike. You’re looking for squeaky brakes, improper shifting, and anything idiosyncratic in the ride/steering/handling characteristics. It is common for bike mechanics to baby the bike on the tune-up, in case something goes wrong. That’s not what you want to do. You want to make a fool of yourself if necessary. It is better to look like a ‘bad’ mechanic than to let a safety problem go unresolved. Squeeze those brake levers hard, shift all the way from low to high in one swoop. If something does indeed go wrong, it’s better to happen now, when you can do something about it! Compared to your client’s safety, your own pride is not important!

11. Finally, check that the rider fits the bike properly, is using a helmet, wearing fluorescent or bright clothing, not riding at night unless properly equipped and experienced, knows defensive riding techniques, and ask whether the rider would be willing to talk with others about bike safety.

The Business of This Business

Now, let’s look at some ways to make money with bicycle safety tune-ups.

Probably the first and easiest way is to charge a fixed amount for house calls. This requires the least expense to set up, since all you need are some basic tools and transportation – a car or bike.

Using the standard methods of putting advertising flyers on local bulletin boards, newspaper classified ads, and business cards, you can establish a business in which people call to set up appointments. Once you start getting enough appointments, you can arrange your days for a minimum of time spent on the road. For instance, you can schedule everyone on the east side of town on Wednesdays, the west side on Thursdays, South County on Fridays, and so on. You really want to encourage people to bring all their family’s and friends’ bikes. Once you’re at a location and set-up, you can knock out safety tune-ups every few minutes. When you establish the appointment, you’ll want to know the approximate number of bikes you’ll be expected to tune.

One way to set it up is to work on a donation basis. All safety tune-ups are free. However, you can accept cash donations to continue your work, you can accept old unwanted bikes that you can fix up and sell (or sell the parts on eBay), books that you can sell on Amazon, and so on. This would be somewhat like an old-time country doctor, who would fix people up, and accept chickens, baskets of corn, and such as payment. By going with the all-donation paradigm, you are able to bring equal safety to all, not just those who can afford to be safe. Interestingly, you may get more in donations than you would have charged. For instance, you may have decided $38 is the right price for a safety tune-up. However, many people may give you $40, $50 or even more.

You can also offer additional services. For instance, to fix a flat tire would be $10 extra. You can offer full tune-ups, including derailleur adjustment, more advanced wheel alignment, and bearing adjustment for an additional charge.

You can set up in a local park if you are working on a donation basis only. This is good advertising, because many people will see you and talk about you. Being seen, and talked about is much better than advertising in local newspapers, for instance. If you set up in a park, and want to charge money, it is best to check with the local police first since there is often a local ordinance against doing something in which money changes hands in public areas. More than likely, when you tell them what you are doing, the police will go all out to support your work.

Taking the donation idea a big step further, you may want to look for a benefactor, sponsor, or a government grant, so you can devote 100% of your time to tune-ups, and not have to pursue money.

Another version of the park idea would be to set up in a cafe or similar venue. Imagine: The cafe benefits because you’ve created a brand new stream of patrons, many of whom may not have visited the cafe before, but they may like it and develop a habit of visiting again frequently. Plus, during the ten minutes you’re tuning a bike, the customer will most likely purchase some food. Book-cafes may work in just the same way, with the added benefit that people will browse and buy books while waiting. The cafe venue is good for you also. It’s a place to work out of the sun and rain, in which you don’t have to pay any rent.

Flea markets and farmer’s markets can be gold mines, especially if you have a lot of local people walking their bikes through the market.

You can go a step further and rent your own commercial space. If you have 1,000 square feet or so, you’d have room to accept donated bikes (or buy used bikes), fix them up, display, and sell them. You could evolve into a full-service bike shop, selling parts, accessories and new bikes.

Or, maybe you already have a bike shop. What would happen in your community if you offered free safety tune-ups during the off-season?

If you are planning to sell used (or new) bikes, and if Craigslist operates in your area, you’ll find advertising on Craigs works very well! Here are some tips for working with Craigslist:

1. Due to a recent change, you can post an ad only once every couple of days. But, you can post as many different ads as you want. You’d be primarily interested in the bicycling section. Initially, once every other day, you renew your basic ad for bicycle safety tune-ups. If you’re doing this as a free (or donation) service, you can post another ad selling the same free service in the ‘free’ section of Craigslist, as long as you change all the wording. You can also create up to seven different versions of your ad for each section (bicycling and free), so you can renew one everyday, and stay near the top of the listings. Saturating craigslist to this degree may be technically possible, but it is not a neighborly thing to do. You’ll start getting complaints or getting flagged (ad removed) from people who have seen too much of your advertising.

You can also consider shifting into different categories on Craigs from time to time. You might spend a week in “services” and you could post something relevant in “items wanted” from time to time (like, “donate you unwanted bikes to provide free safety tune-ups”). Of course posting in off-topic areas is best leveraged by making sure your posting also states your primary function: bicycle safety tune-ups and how the readers can find out more.

home bike shop bicycles for sale

2. If you sell used bikes out of your garage or backyard, this is a big opportunity on craigslist, because you can post a separate ad for each bike (within reason).

Don’t forget to delete your ads as soon as the specific bikes sell.

3. If you have more than a half-dozen bikes available most of the time, you’ll probably want to make your own website. You can register an easy-to-remember, and easy-to-type domain name at Godaddy for as little as $3/year. Most ISPs (your Internet service provider) give you free space to build websites. For instance, Comcast gives you 10 megabytes of contiguous space. This is plenty for a website that sells used bikes. Or, you can do it blogger-style for free.

artistic view of bicycles for sale in a bike shop

I’d recommend a home page with basic information at the top, such as your name or your business name, phone number and email address. Then a sentence that explains what you do, maybe something like this: “Call or write to schedule your free bicycle safety tune-up. We accept donated used bikes, fix them up, and sell them here to support our program.” Also, invite people to bookmark your website, and tell everyone they know about it. Oddly enough, this invitation brings quite a bit more business.

Then start right in with a table of available bikes. Each can have a thumbnail image, small description and price. The thumbnails can be clicked on to see larger pictures. You’ll probably want to limit your larger pictures to 800 x 600 pixels so people using smartphones and small tablets can see the whole bike at once, and so the download times on slow connections will be reasonable. Thumbnails work well when they are around 200 x 150 pixels.

Now, all you need to do is get people to see your website. Each bike you advertise on Craigslist should have a link to your website. That way, if the bike they see on Craigs isn’t quite right, they’ll find one that is. You might add in the text at the bottom of each craigslist ad: “More like and unlike this bike at xyz.com.”

If you don’t have craigslist in your area, you can do the usual thing: yellow pages ad (expensive, and not required), small newspaper ads (classifieds almost always work better than bigger, more expensive display ads), business cards, and flyers on local bulletin boards. After a while, word-of-mouth will do the work for you.

If you can manage to do something content-rich or eccentric in a positive way on your website, it will soon advertise itself. Everyone will tell everyone else what you have, and they’ll all click on over and take a look. It can have a cascading effect that could literally result in millions of hits. Imagine: Let’s say ten people come to your site, and they’re all fascinated. They each tell 5 others who come take a look. So now you have had 60 visitors. They all tell 5 others, and so then you have 360 visitors – and it just keeps growing. It generally takes considerable thinking and experimentation to build this effect, but it’s well worth the effort. I have often explained this to website owners, and they just don’t get it. Eccentric doesn’t mean paint a bike purple and take its picture. Who’s going to care about that? It doesn’t mean filling a car with sand and inviting the local disk jockeys to a press conference. It means something truly eccentric. Something that strikes a chord in the visitors – enough so that they’d want to take a minute to email their friends about your website. For instance, I once posted some shocking news: I declared a certain road that was a favorite weekend ride as unsafe, and went on to explain why (because it was heavily driven, curvy and narrow without places to safely drive around bikes). That got a lot of attention. No doubt you can come up with something better than that, however.

What if you don’t have any experience or interest in building a website, doing publicity, arranging advertising, or that sort of stuff? This is where a partner can be invaluable. You can offer a portion of your profits to someone who is willing to do the things you don’t want to do. However, when you set up a partnership, make sure there is an easy and amicable way to break it up later on, should the need arise. You’d be amazed how often partnerships end for one reason or another. You want to insure right up front, with honest communication (and written communication) that you can save your brilliant business if you can no longer function well with your partner.

To advertise without a website, the most cost-effective ways are to put up flyers on local bulletin boards (the natural food store in your neighborhood is probably the very best place), and hand out lots of business cards. You should also makes a sign you can place on the ground if you’re working out of a park or flea market-like setting, and signs on your bike trailer, car, or truck. Don’t be surprised if during a house call, you get one or more neighbors who’d like you to work on their bikes, too, if you have such signs.

I’d like to recommend considering complete tune-ups as well as, or instead of just safety tune-ups, especially if you are doing house calls. It seems to me that the perceived value of a safety tune-up is between $15-$25, while a full tune-up is valued as high as $80 (more typically $45 – $60). So, in your advertising, you could say something like, “While I’m there to do a safety tune-up, I might as well give you a full tune up, including wheel alignment, bearing adjustment, and adjustment of the derailleurs,” and of course you can then charge more money for a more complete job. But, the few minutes extra the extra work requires is well more than made up for by the fact you can charge twice as much money.


Random Bicycle Facts

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In 1903, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright finally got their invention to work. It was the world’s first airplane. They had to calculate and build everything themselves. They even made the engine, casting the crankcase, piston and all the parts themselves. Their first carburetor was just a valve that let gasoline drip on the side of the engine, being vaporized as it was sucked into the air intake. Since it was a prototype, they didn’t provide any cooling system. They could have flown longer than eight minutes that first day, but the engine became red-hot and quit working. How is that they were able to succeed? What was their background, that they had the mechanical skills to do all that? They were bike mechanics. They owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio.

The word “bicycle” was not invented until 1860.

In 1934, Fred Birchmore, of Athens, Georgia, who was 22 years old at the time, took a 40,000 mile (64,000 kilometer) mile trip. 15,000 of the miles were water crossings, but the remaining 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) were by bicycle, as he circumnavigated the globe. This was in an era before 24-speed mountain bikes. He had a heavy single-speed machine. The entire trip wore out 14 tires. He called his bike, “Bucephalus,” named after the horse ridden by Alexander the Great. During one of his water crossings, he earned his passage by piloting the ship himself, because the sailors were on strike at the time. Although he earned a degree in law, he worked as a English professor and Dean at Southern Georgia College, and later became a realtor and succeeded as an author. The book he wrote about his trip is “Around the World on a Bicycle.” Mr. Birchmore passed away in 2012, at the age of 100. He was known as an adventurer. Among his other feats, he also walked down the steps of the Washington Monument on his hands. For his honeymoon, he and his wife Willa Deane rode all around Central America on a tandem bike. They remained married for 72 years until his death. He says he was a sickly child, until he joined the YMCA, where he remained an active member for 90 years.

Fred Birchmore, enterprising bicycle rider

Every year, 100 million bikes are built. Lined up tire to tire, they’d circle the globe four times. If you could ride along that line of bicycles at a typical bicycling speed, it would take six and a half months, riding 24 hours a day.

For every time an American rides a bike, 100 Americans take a car. In Italy the average is five bike trips per hundred car trips, and in the Netherlands, thirty percent of travel is by bicycle.

A bicycle has over 1,000 parts, although more than half (typically 512) of
these are in the chain.

The longest “bicycle-built-for-two” actually seats 35 riders and is sixty feet (twenty meters) long.

In the space it takes to park a car, you can park fifteen bicycles.

More than 25 percent of the time when people drive their cars, the distance traveled is less than 6,500 feet (2 kilometers). Fifty percent of the time, the distance is less than five kilometers (3.1 miles). In the first two miles (three kilometers) the car’s engine is cold and inefficient, so it has to use considerably more fuel. Wouldn’t a bicycle make more sense for these little commutes?

You can cut your chances of heart attack or stroke in half by riding your bike 20 miles (30 kilometers) per week.

The typical commuter can save $300 per year (or 300 Euros per year, where higher gasoline prices roughly equate to the diference between dollars and Euros) by using a bicycle. Eliminating the automobile altogether can save well over a thousand dollars per year, considering the cost of car payments, maintenance and insurance.

Maintaining a car costs twenty times as much as a bicycle.

Someone figured out that if there were three times more bike riders on the streets, car-bike accidents would be reduced by half. That would be because motorists would become more conscious of bicyclists.

Mountain bikes did not exist until 1977.

Most roads have a bit of a curve toward the edges so rain water will run off. You can aim your bike, or the front wheel of your bike uphill, utilizing this curve if you are not on a hill. Then, you can alternately press forward with the pedals so the bike advances an inch or two (a few centimeters), then let off the pressure so the bike rolls back. By rocking back and forth in this manner, you can maintain your position while keeping both feet on the pedals. This is called a “track stand.” Someone who is practiced in this can do it without hands. It helps to press one thigh or shin against the bike’s toptube, to maintain better control. If you have no hill or curvature to take advantage of, you can put a hand on the front tire, and manually force the wheel back and forth to maintain balance.

The track stand was perfected by pursuit racers. They race a short distance on a track, and what’s important is to be the second one to start, to utilize the draft (parting of the wind) of the first rider. So, pursuits often started not only slowly, but with no forward progress at all.

Tsugunobu Mitsuishi from Japan holds the record for a track stand at five hours and twenty-five minutes.

One out of every ten workers in the New York City area commute by bicycle.

Bicycle commuters save 238 million gallons (more than a billion liters) of fuel per year.

Leonardo da Vinci was on the right track: He drew sketches of a machine that was more or less a bicycle, but it wasn’t until more than 300 years later that anyone made a real bicycle.

An adolescent who rides a bike is 48 percent less likely to become an overweight adult.

In 2009, the latest year for which there are statistics, $5.6 billion was spent in the US on bicycling. That’s an average of $18.66 for every American man, woman and child.

In America, three times more bicycles are sold than cars.

Real estate near a bike path has a slightly higher value.

According to The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors:

26 percent of Americans say they ride primarily for “recreation.”

23.6 percent ride “for exercise or health.”

14.2 percent ride “to go home.”

13.9 percent ride “for personal errands.”

10.1 percent ride “to visit a friend or relative.”

5.0 percent commute “to school or work.”

2.3 percent ride “just to ride.”

And 4.9 percent listed “other” as their reason to ride.

72 percent of all bicycles are made in China. 85 percent of the bikes being imported into America come from China.

60 percent of all bicycle trips are less than one mile.

The average US person who rides a bike regularly has an income of $60,000.

“Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.” – Susan B. Anthony

The riders on a tandem bike have specific names, the “captain” in front, and the “stoker” is the rear rider.

Much of the technology that was necessary to create cars was first used in bicycles. This includes ball bearings, air-filled tires, and self-centering steering (fork rake).

At one time in Manhattan, there were eighty bike shops within one square mile (2.5 sq km).

For a while, the US Patent Office was divided into two buildings. One building was for everything having to do with bicycles. The other building was for everything else.

The energy equivalent of gasoline works out to 2,577 miles per gallon (1,037 km per liter) when you ride a bicycle.

The average regular bicyclist is as fit as a non-bicyclist who is ten years younger.

You weigh six times more than your bike. Your car weighs twenty times more than you.

Your car uses more energy just to power its lights than you do going the same distance on a bike.

For the same amount of energy expended in walking, a bicycle propels you four times faster.

In the early days of the automobile, one had to be mechanically inclined, since the cars broke down so often.

With bicycles, it is still a bit like that today. Bikes are not as reliable as washing machines. You can buy a washing machine, never do a thing to maintain it, yet it will work reliably for twenty years. A bicycle, on the other hand, needs to be tuned up once or twice a year, and tends to need repairs from time to time. The reasons for the difference are two:

It doesn’t matter how much a washing machine weighs. The bicycle has to be lightweight so it is responsive and easy to take up hills. The washing machine doesn’t need to crash through potholes, get covered with dirt from the road, and work in all kinds of weather.

We could have bicycles that are as reliable as washing machines. But, like washing machines, they’d weight 200 pounds (100 kilos).

Most people don’t know the difference between a spindle and an axle. The axle spins with a component, and a spindle does not. So, the wheels have spindles, and pedals have spindles. The “bottom bracket spindle” is actually an axle.

Many people also confuse screws and bolts. A bolt screws into something that has matching threads, such as a nut, or a components that has been drilled and tapped with threads. The screw makes its own threads as it is installed, such as wood screws and drywall screws. Most of the fasteners you’ll find on a bike are bolts.

“On a bicycle you are faster, friendlier and and more free than any other vehicle in city traffic.” – Bicycle Recycling Network

Trips up to three miles (five kilometers) in length average less time on a bicycle than in a car when you factor in the time necessary for parking and walking to and from the parking place.

In nearly one out of four bike-car accidents, the bicycle rider was on the wrong side of the road.

3.2 million Americans biked to work at least once a week during the past year. That’s roughly one out of every hundred.

In Seattle, like many cities, bicyclists can put their bikes on racks on city buses. It is estimated that more than 300,000 put their bikes on these bus racks last year. 353 people forgot to take their bikes off the racks.

In Seattle, where wearing a bicycle helmet for adults is optional, 89 percent of adults do wear helmets.

There are 45 times more paved road miles in Seattle than bike paths.

Have you ever grumbled about how long it takes to lock your bike? That’s generally a minute or less. To park a car and walk from the parking lot typically takes more than five minutes.

The average bicycle commuter rides 1,992 miles (3,205 kilometers) per year.

Cities with extensive networks of bike lanes have three times the number of bicycle commuters as other cities. Do you suppose that’s because the lanes created more bike commuters, or that the larger number of bicycle commuters justified the lanes?

Supporting roadway for cars costs taxpayers twenty times as much as supporting roadway for bicycles.

In Portland, Oregon, at least two attempts have been made to distribute free-use bicycles. Called the “Yellow Bike” program, the idea was to put bikes, all painted yellow, in the streets for anyone to use, free of charge. The bikes were donated, fixed up by volunteers – at-risk children learning bicycle repair skills under supervision – and equipped with signs saying “Free Community Bike, Use at Own Risk.” To improve reliability, bikes with derailleurs were converted into single-speed coaster brake bikes.

At the high point, a fleet of two hundred bikes was in operation. Unfortunately, so many bikes were vandalized and stolen that the organizers could never bring the number up to what they called the “critical mass” of 1,000 bikes. They figured with 1,000 yellow bikes in the city, people would feel no need to steal them, since there’d always be one ready to use nearby. As recently as 2007, the City of Portland itself has discussed ways to reimplement the program more successfully. One idea is to copy the systems used in Toronto, Canada and Lyon, France, in which the bikes are equipped with sophisticated electronics that monitor their locations, and report repair issues automatically. Another idea is to build a stronger financial base for the program by selling advertising space on signs on the bikes.

The original program was sponsored (with assistance from the city) by individuals with few assets, so they had no fear of lawsuits. Insuring such a free use bike operation may be difficult.

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bike bus

Advanced Bicycle Repair

117 Advanced Bicycle Repair Tips, Tricks and Techniques

Copyright 2018, Jeff Napier



Tools

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In this section you’ll discover tools you can buy, tools you can make, best practices, and unexpected way to use tools.

The drill press becomes especially versatile with a cross-slide vise like the one pictured below that you can get from MSC Direct for $60 at the time this book was written. Cross slide vises can be had for as little as $35.

With this, you have a shaper, vertical mill, even a lathe. To use this rig as a lathe, rotate the work piece in the drill press chuck, and press a cutting tool against it with the vise. To get tricky, you can mount the vise sideways, so you can cut along the axis of the workpiece. You may also need to get inventive to make adapters to hold your workpiece in the chuck.

When looking at purchasing a drill press, you want a tall work area so you’ll have room for large work pieces or a cross slide vise. You’ll want extremely variable speeds, especially slow ones. Finally, you’ll want a sturdy press, to eliminate chatter or flex that could reduce your precision.


An oxy-acetylene welding set is a good investment. The gas welding rig is generally less costly than shielded electric welding equipment, and much more versatile, especially since heating and brazing are often a big part of bicycle work.

You’ll want thin hoses and a small handset to do the precision work that bicycles require. Tank size can also be small, saving cost, since in the bicycle business, small quantities of oxygen and acetylene can last a long time.

You may find that the gas welding equipment is far more versatile than expected. Not only can you do actual welding and brazing, you can make your own tools, and you can heat and cut bicycle parts. Stuck bolts, pedals and cranks often respond well to heat. A bent Ashtabula crank can be impossible to remove. Cutting off the left side with a torch takes only a matter of seconds.

Gas welding can be dangerous in untrained or unthinking hands. The heat from the flame can set things on fire even two feet (60 cm) away, including humans. Dirty rags and puddles of lubricant, which are often found in bike shops, are easy to set on fire. Make sure only trained personnel use the welding equipment, and that you have adequate fire suppression equipment nearby.


You might also like to invest in a 4″ also known as 4-1/2″ disk grinder, and sometimes called an “angle grinder,” like the one pictured below. This one is from Harbor Freight, currently being sold for $15.

This is another one of those tools that you’ll use daily to do things like reprofile sprocket teeth, remove locks, and repair your tools.

You may believe that a power tool for $15 is going to be inadequate. I have used one of these very cheap tools for years, and it works fine. One could spend much more for the same thing with a name brand, and end up with a tool that’s not noticeably better.

This is also true of plug-in electric drills. Of course you’ll want one that can accommodate bits up to 3/8″ (10mm), and variable speed reversible. These can be had for under $30, and work just fine.

Cordless drills in the very inexpensive range tend to be low-powered, and have short battery lives, but for many bicycle repair operations, they’re completely useable. Furthermore, you’ll find that the time spent dealing with something that has to be plugged in is wasteful.

Don’t be afraid to stretch the use of your drill. You’ll find a wide variety of accessories makes life easy such as buffing wheels, mounted grinding points, and sideways cutting bits. You’ll even find an accessory for sharpening drill bits.

Perhaps one of the best places to spend more than the minimum amount for a tool is in a good set of drill bits. A set ranging from the smallest size you can imagine up to 1/2-inch (12 or 13 mm) will do nicely. Inexpensive bits not only don’t cut well right from the start, making it impossible to drill through anything but the mildest steel, but they dull quickly. Some even snap or chip at the slightest provocation.

When drilling, you’ll find that certain techniques help.

Except for small diameter holes, a slower drill speed than you might like will generally cut faster, and save the bit from overheating.

Press firmly and steadily. Place your body over the top of the drill when possible, so your eyesight is aligned and you can know you’re drilling straight.

If the bit isn’t cutting, don’t press harder. Sharpen it instead.

Drill a small hole first, then follow up with the full size you want.

If your small ‘pilot’ hole is off center, drill sideways to straighten it out right at the beginning. If you try to straighten it out once you’ve attained some depth, it will be much harder to guide it to where you want.

Speed up the drill when the bit is about to cut through, and press very lightly, so the bit doesn’t jam on the last bit of metal. Although it can be tough on a drill bit, you can reverse the drill for the last little bit before you break through. That will keep it from jamming.

Use a centerpunch to start your hole. This is a small, hardened, chisel-like tool that makes a conical depression. The drill bit won’t wander out of the depression. If you don’t have a centerpunch, a nail will do just as well except in hard steel.

When drilling steel, you might find a drop of cutting oil useful. This spreads the generated heat, protecting the bit from overheating, and lubricates the cutting action.

When drilling plastic, experiment with differing speeds, generally slow ones, to prevent the chips from melting and freezing, which can cause problems ranging from eccentric holes to frozen and even broken drill bits.


Whereas a bench grinder is also a good workshop tool, and serves different purposes, you’ll find the disk grinder more useful. The bench grinder is good for sharpening and modifying your tools, for quickly creating tool modifications, as well as making some bike parts fit that are otherwise too tight.

This bench grinder, from Harbor Freight is currently being sold for $50.

Through experience, I have discovered that an eight-inch bench grinder gets things done significantly more quickly than a six-inch version, generally having more power.

Some bench grinders come equipped with small holders for water or oil so pieces can be frequently quenched to avoid building up too much heat. Since any old can or jar will do, this is not a feature worth spending money for. On the other hand, you’ll want good quality guards and tool rests. Keep your toolrests as close to the stones as possible. You don’t want your workpiece to suddenly slip between the toolrest and the stone.

Mechanics over the years have often injured themselves by not holding small workpieces adequately while using a bench grinder. You may find the heat suddenly transfers to your fingers or thumb, resulting in a blister. Worse, the piece may fly out of your grasp, once around the wheel and its enclosing guard and then right toward your face at 100 miles per hour (160 kph). So, hold workpieces suitably, such as in Visegrips, and work slowly and carefully. This is even more the case when using brushes rather than grinding stones.

If you have ever dropped or chipped a grinding wheel, discard it immediately. If one of these flies apart in use, it can cause a major injury.

Old wire brushes mounted in your bench grinder may start throwing bristles after a while. These don’t generally cause injury unless you’re not wearing eye protection, but they will make you cuss.

Speaking of injury, many bicycle mechanics don’t realize how inconvenient a small chip flown into an eye, or a burned finger can be until they experience it for themselves. Take my word for it. Always use ear, eye and skin protection.

One of the smallest investments you can make is a circular spoke wrench. This little gem saves you the time of finding the right spoke wrench for the wheel you’re currently working on, although almost all bicycle spokes have 15 gauge or 14 gauge nipples. It has enough heft, and is of the right ergonomic shape that once you get used to it, you’ll find this becomes one of your favorite tools. You may want to grind notches in the edge to quickly identify the 15ga and 14ga slots by feel.

Are you one of those people who feel using a ‘crescent’ wrench, more properly called ‘adjustable’ wrench is ‘unprofessional?’ You may want to rethink that philosophy. Here’s why: You can leave your thumb on the thumbwheel most of the time you use the wrench, and every time you place the tool around a nut or bolt, you can with a simple flick, close the wrench for a perfect fit. Then, at the end of the stroke, you flip the wheel the other way, and the wrench opens, making it easy to quickly reposition. With just a little practice, this becomes second-nature and very rapid. Ultimately, you have an open-end wrench that fits better than specific-sized wrenches. Furthermore, it is always directly available. You don’t have to search for that 9mm wrench. Hmmm, now where did I put that?

The ideal size for bicycle repair is 6-inch or 15-cm. Your author made a loop on his belt, and carried an adjustable wrench in that loop for years, saving what turned out to be countless hours that would have otherwise been spent finding the ‘right’ wrench.


The adjustable wrench isn’t a complete replacement for wrenches. You’ll still want box-end wrenches for particularly tight, or hard-to-reach nuts and bolts. But that gets back to the problem of keeping track. During a busy workday, you’ll find your wrenches don’t always spend their time neatly organized on a pegboard. Often, you know that you want a 10mm wrench, but it is hard to see whether one you’re looking at on the bench is a 9 or 11 mm. The answer: Color coding!

Most people do this quickly and easily with colored electrical tape, like this kit you can buy from Ace Hardware for $4.

Your author labeled his wrenches and sockets from 8mm to 19 mm for years with the following four repeated colors, but of course, you can use any colors you want:

8mm red

9mm yellow

10mm blue

11mm green

12mm red

13mm yellow

14mm blue

15mm green

16mm red

17mm yellow

19mm green


Cone channellocks: First, I have to explain my poor terminology. “Channellocks” are a specific brand of tongue and groove pliers. However, many people today refer to any tongue and groove pliers as ‘channellocks.’ This is similar to the way that Crescent, who first made the style of adjustable wrench we call ‘crescent wrenches,’ became the common usage name of the tool.

Anyway, what I’m talking about is taking any medium size quality tongue and groove plier and applying it to your bench grinder until the jaws are as thin as cone wrenches. You’ll find this is a quick and dirty tool for adjusting hub bearing cones. You’ll also find it useful for many other operations around the shop.


Another place to spend more than the minimum is with screwdrivers. You’ll want all the standard sizes and types, with the most common being a #2 Philips. This screwdriver may seem large for bicycle applications, but oddly, with the Philips design, the fit isn’t so much about size as the shape. Cheap screwdrivers don’t hold up well. As the tips become worn or misshapen, they’ll slip, and even sometimes ruin bolt and screw heads. Better quality screwdrivers also have better quality handles that won’t hurt your hands as you try to work with a frozen screw.

Just in case the need ever arises, you may want to purchase the largest variety of 1/4-inch hexagonal screwdriver tips you can find. For various bicycle applications, as well as other things that may happen in your shop, such as upgrading your computer, you may want a full range of Torx, Allen, and other configurations.

The hacksaw finds frequent use in a bike shop. Getting a good frame is essential, since the cheap ones allow the blades to slip and wiggle, which makes clean sawing difficult.

Even more important than the frame is blades. The cheap ones shatter or lose teeth, or simply can’t cut well. Not only is a shattered blade annoying, it can be downright dangerous. Make sure to get 12-inch blades. You’ll find that lends to a natural cutting rhythm that the 10-inch blades are too short for. Press lightly down on the forward stroke only, and use as much of the blade as you can. The inexperienced sawyer takes short rapid strokes, becoming tired quickly, and wearing out the blade too soon.


By the way, you may be like most people in that you don’t know the difference between a screw and a bolt. “Wait,” you say, “Of course I do. A screw is turned with a screwdriver and a bolt is turned with a wrench. Right?”

Sorry, wrong! A screw cuts its own threads in the thing to which it attaches. Screws are generally used with wood, plastics and sheetmetal. Bolts, on the other hand, have matching threads in the item to which they attach, such as a nut or a pre-threaded hole in a metal component.


There’s not much more satisfying than taking powerful, effective strokes with a 14-inch flat file, sometimes also known as a rasp. You’ll find yourself using this tool frequently in the bicycle business, especially if you do custom work. Trying to do the same thing with a little 10-inch or 12-inch file would be frustrating.

You may also enjoy a large rat-tail file for removing metal in non-flat situations. Finally, a few smaller files will find occasional use.


Having a large vise fastened to a sturdy workbench that is bolted to the floor is a great asset in a bike shop. Ideally, the table will be lower than a typical workbench, to accommodate the height of the vise itself.

Your author rigged up a vise with a longer handle, a thumb set screw that would allow the handle to be locked in the middle, and large steel balls at either end. The center lock, and the weight of the balls allowed for spinning the handle, to quickly close or open the vise.


An air compressor is also valuable. It is not essential to a bike shop, and may be one of the later things you’d invest in. First, you want customers, then you want inventory. Only then should you focus on tools you can do without. However, when the time comes, your author recommends a compressor capable of at least 150 PSI (pounds per square inch). That’s the maximum pressure the compressor will reach. Because the compressor cycles between a lower pressure and the max pressure, you’ll want a maximum pressure in excess of any tires you’ll be filling, so that when the compressor is at the low end of its cycle, there’ll still be the pressure you need. Volume is less important. That’s how many cubic feet per second (CFPS) that your compressor can deliver. That’s because most bike shop operations do not use great amounts of pressure. That’s more for painting, sandblasting and filling motor vehicle tires. However, if you do painting, a bigger compressor will be needed.

Unless you can hide your compressor in a basement, another room, or outside the building, you’ll want to make sure it is a fairly quiet one.


Many bike mechanics use workstands, also known an ‘repair stands.’ The most common ones are made by Park Tool Company. The quality and cost vary considerably. You’ll want one that’s sturdy enough and with a big enough base that it won’t wobble or fall over. You may want to bolt it to the floor.

An interesting alternative is ropes, chains or cables hung from the ceiling. At the lower end of the ropes are padded hooks. The ropes should be attached to the ceiling about eight feet apart.

You normally hang a bike by putting one hook around the handlebar stem, and the other under the seat. Ideally your ropes will be easily adjustable, so you can vary the height of the bike to suit your preferences.

The disadvantage with ropes is that the bike is not solidly held. It can swing back and forth. This is easy to get used to, and soon the problem is entirely forgotten. The advantages, besides much lower cost, are that you can access the bike from both sides, and are very unlikely to damage the bike.

Workstand clamps can easily damage paint. Some can even squish frame tubes.

If you do use a workstand, the best bet is to mark, then raise the seat pillar so the bike can be held by that, rather than a fragile, painted frame tube. Don’t forget to lower the seat back down to your mark when finished, or you’ll get some surprising comments from your customers!

Your author had five workstands in his first bike shop that were practically deadly. Manufactured by park many years age, these things had pneumatic jaws. When the mechanic stepped on a pedal, the jaws would close around a seat pillar. These things were very convenient, since you didn’t have to adjust the jaws with one hand while holding the bike with the other. But they had two problems.

If a tool as small as an 8mm wrench dropped onto the pedal on the floor, the bike could be released. Your author once did just that and discovering that the bike was falling, he quickly reached out to catch the bike, grabbing it, unfortunately, by the chainring, which punctured his hand in a neat row of holes spaced a half-inch apart.

The other problem is that if a mechanic were to get a hand pinched in the jaws, which would be easy to do, it could be crushed. Fortunately, that never happened. It is easy to understand why Park discontinued these workstands.


Dremel Tool: This is also known as a 1/8″ grinder, or sometimes “die grinder.” You probably won’t use it often, and when you do, you may find the tool cuts too slowly. On the other hand, a 1/4-inch die grinder can be quite useful. These are available as air-powered or electric tools. The air-driven ones are much less energy efficient, but light in the hand and therefore easy to control. The electric ones have a heavy rotating armature that creates so much gyroscopic force that precision control is difficult. 1/4-inch die grinders usually have a chuck accessory so they can be used with 1/8″ Dremel and other accessories. Mounted stones, burrs, brushes and burnishers of all descriptions can be had to accomplish anything from polishing to engraving.

One use to which die grinders have been put is to remove the chrome plating from screws that have a layer of brass underneath, making decorative gold bolt heads. An old classic centerpull brake by Mafac called the “Racer” had such bolts. The bike mechanic with time on his or her hands might engrave the handles of a pocket knife or other items with bicycle logos.


Cleaning parts is a big part of bicycle repair. At its simplest, you can get some non-toxic, non-flammible parts washing fluid, pour it into a shallow pan, then go to work with a brush.

On the other extreme, you can rent a big parts cleaning system from a company such as Safety-Kleen. Their system involves a metal sink that sits on top of a barrel of environmentally-friendly solvent. It has a pump that pours a never-ending stream solvent through a flexible pipe. Periodically, a Safety-Kleen representative changes the barrel of solvent, so your system is always reasonably clean. They have a small machine that barely fits a full-size bicycle wheel. They also have a larger machine in which you can place most of a bicycle. So, for a quick and dirty washing, you can just set the whole bike on the sink, then wash the chain, rear derailleur and sprockets in one messy but efficient operation. The rent for the larger machine is only slightly higher, well worth the difference. Because the sink is larger, it is easy to keep yourself cleaner in the process.

You don’t need to rent from Safety-Kleen. You can get your own sink and solvent. This is a mistake! Cleaning the machine and maintaining the solvent turns out to be time-consuming and undesirable work.

While the machine itself is nice, the process is greatly enhanced with a simple hollow brush at the end of a hose that you can get from Machine Mart, like the one pictured below.

In the past, most mechanics didn’t wear gloves. They spent considerable time trying to get their hands clean at the end of the day, often ending up still dirty, and with chapped skin. Now, most mechanics wear gloves.

You can get by with the very thin gloves such as you can buy at a drugstore. But, you’ll be much happier with gloves that are 9 mil thick that you can get from hardware and tool supply stores. These thicker gloves seldom tear, and can be reused many times.

Your author removes them quickly by turning them inside out. Then, he partially inverts them, places his mouth over the opening, blowing air in, to restore the gloves to their original shape, ready to wear again.

Techniques

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Brazing

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For many years, all the top bikes were made from steel alloys and brazed. Brazing is a process that you might think of as hot gluing, very hot. But not so hot that it crystalizes the steel, and so can be stronger than actual welding.

Even today, a thin springy steel frame is considered by many as superior to aluminum alloy or various composite fiber frames because it returns almost all the energy you put into flexing the frame. Compared to steel, aluminum creates heat and returns less energy when flexed. So, if you want to build or work on steel bikes, brazing is usually the way to go.

The biggest trick in brazing is to keep the temperature of the steel low enough to maintain its strength. Steel melts around 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, but brass, the alloy most often used in brazing, melts at 1,600 degrees.

Another option, used in the finest lugged frames, is silver brazing, also known sometimes as ‘silver soldering.’ This melts at 1,200 degrees, so is less likely to overheat the steel, but doesn’t have as much strength.

The brazing technique most commonly used in bicycle shops to augment, repair or create steel alloy frames involves an ordinary oxy-acetylene welding set. A slightly larger tip than would be used for welding is used, with a neutral or very mildly oxygenizing flame. Some people use a rosebud tip, which has several smaller flames, to spread the heat.

The frame intersection is brought up to the temperature at which brass will melt, then a stick of brass, called a “rod,” is introduced at an edge. As the stick melts, capillary action sucks it into the gap between the lug and the frame tubing.

Because the brass will not flow over, and will not stick to an oxidized surface, the parts are cleaned just before brazing, and flux is used. Flux is a material that smokes at brazing temperatures. The smoke is harmless to the brazing but keeps the oxygen from the atmosphere away. Flux can be applied in paste form to the pieces to be brazed, as well as a coating on the brazing rods.

Brazing is at its best when flowed between two surfaces. A sandwich of steel, brass, steel is remarkably strong. The ideal gap between the two pieces is 0.020 inch (1/2 millimeter).

Second best is fillet brazing. This is more of a welding process, but done at a temperature below which the steel would melt. You control and build a molten puddle where two steel parts are to be joined. Once cooled, you have a large area of contact built around intersections. With grinders or rat tail files, this can be smoothed to look very appealing, like a vintage Schwinn bicycle.

You can build a very nice and strong lugless frame by starting with pieces that fit well together. The tubes should be mitered nearly perfectly. These can then be flow brazed, so that wherever they are tangent is fastened. That, by itself, would not be sufficient to hold a bike together, so you then build fillet brazing over the flowed brazing for much more area of contact.

Going lugless is the ideal solution for when lugs are not available, such as a bike with unusual components or angles.

This process works well for much more than bicycle frames. It can be used for bicycle trailers, circus bikes, human-powered machines, unicycles, and even bike repair tools.

In making your own tools, ordinary welding is often sufficient. But there are times when brazing is superior, such as when joining hardened metals. If you weld a socket, bit of hex wrench, or knife blade to a handle, welding could kill it. However, when brazed, the steel will not lose its strength.

You’ll find a trick when lighting your torch, and another when shutting it off avoids a big mess. If you light a pure acetylene flame, big fluffy flakes of carbon are formed that float around. When they land, they are hard to clean up.

So, don’t do what so many welders do, which is to open the acetylene valve and light the torch, then add oxygen. Add some oxygen right from the start. Start with what’s called a ‘carburizing’ flame, one that’s mostly acetylene, but the bit of oxygen will eliminate the carbon output.

When shutting your torch off, the same is true. Don’t close the oxygen valve first. Instead, reduce the oxygen, then shut off the acetylene. With practice, you can learn to make a remarkably loud pop when turning off your torch. The pop has a function. It keeps your torch tip clean.

Do not close your torch valves more firmly than necessary. If you do, you can grind ridges in the valves, which makes it hard to adjust the flame.

Mitering

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If you are working with cylindrical tubing, as is often the case in bicycle technology, quality mitering becomes important. If you have a lathe, you can get cutters of the same diameter as the the tubes you want to fit a miter to. Set a tube you want to miter on the tool post, and use the compound rest to set the proper angle. Then just push the tube against the rotating cutter.

You may not have the money to buy large diameter milling-type cutters, let alone a lathe.

An in-between approach is to mount a proper diameter cutter in a drill press, and mount the tube you want to cut on the press’s table.

Better yet, you might enjoy manual mitering. You can take some six-inch sections of soft wood, and cut groves into them, so that you can sandwich them around a tube, and gently squeeze the whole works in a vise.

Then, using the largest rat-tail file you can find, you’ll find you can quickly learn to miter tubes quite accurately. Don’t be afraid to check your work often to make sure you don’t cut too much material.

Frame Alignment

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A bent frame can cause steering, stability, and chain alignment problems. You can perform the following frame alignment checks:

1. Stand so you can see the head tube and seat tube at the same time. They should be exactly parallel.

2. Tie a string from one dropout around the head tube, and down to the other dropout as pictured. The measurement from the string to the seat tube should be the same on both sides. Most frames can be cold set, which means ‘bent,’ so that the dropouts are properly aligned. Bend one side in or out, then the other. Suddenly, a bike that was difficult to ride without hands becomes easy.

In the photos, this is shown on a frame with no components. The test can be done equally well on a fully-equipped bike.

3. You can lay a straight edge against the sides of the bottom bracket, and measure the distances to the seat tube and down tube. An alignment problem here is not easy to repair and can cause driveline miseries. Fortunately, this type of alignment problem is rare.

A quicker version of the test can be done with the crank arms themselves, by measuring their distances to the tubes near the center and again at the outer ends.

Bent Back Headtube

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If you have a bicycle that’s been in a collision that bent the headtube back, the best bet is to replace the frame. However, some people experiment with bending the headtube back. This can be done by placing a long steel bar in the head tube and applying pressure without heating the frame, called ‘cold setting.’ To avoid distorting the headtube where pressure is applied by the bar, leave the headset cups in the headtube. If it is a type that doesn’t use conventional headset cups, and if the diameter is correct, you can insert temporary headset cups, or create some tight-fitting flanges on a lathe for the purpose.

You may wonder where to get a bar sufficient for this procedure. One common bar is used in conventional freeweight lifting. Another candidate is an axle from a rear-wheel drive car.

The concern with repairing a bike that has a bent-back headtube is that the frame will fracture, generally right at the intersections. Sometimes the fracture is small and you won’t see it. Then, after a hundred or a thousand miles, the frame may fail, possibly injuring the rider.

A brass sleeve can be built around the areas that are weakened. This is done by building up brazing material, keeping the temperature low enough to avoid significant weakening of the steel, but hight enough to get good adhesion. Then, using die grinders or rat tail files, you can optionally file it down, ending up with a smooth look, as you’ll see in the old Schwinn bicycles.

Dropout Alignment

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When dropouts are out of alignment, the wheel bearings suffer. Dropout alignment can also affect steering, riding efficiency and cause driveline problems. Fortunately, dropouts are easily checked and repaired. In the pictures below, you’ll see dropout alignment gauges being used. This tool is not necessary. The test can be done equally well with nuts, bolts and flat washers.

Fork Alignment

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A slightly bent fork can make a bike nearly impossible to ride without hands. It will also cause undue waste of energy as the rider works to maintain stability.
You can check a fork for alignment with the following tests:

1. Lay the fork on a flat table with the dropout touching the surface. Lay a straight edge across the back of the fork crown. The straight edge should be parallel to the table.

2. Draw a straight line on a surface. Lay the fork on the surface so that the steering tube is perfectly aligned on the line. The distance from the line to each dropout should be the same.

3. Lay a straight edge against the steering tube. You should not see a gap. Look especially at the front side, where a bend is most likely to be seen.

Bent Wheel

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Many bike mechanics try to align a bent wheel entirely by tensioning some spokes and loosening others. This is useful only for slight bends. Anything more, and the tight spokes are sure to pop before long. Furthermore, a wheel that’s pulling hard against a warped rim is weaker.

You can repair a remarkably bent wheel if you follow these steps:

1. Loosen all the spokes a few turns. Go around the wheel a few times, loosening each spoke only a turn at a time. Start at the valve hole, so you know where to finish.

2. Once all the spokes are loose, find the most bent area, and do your best to assess where the bend starts and ends along the perimeter of the wheel. Put soft blocks under the rim where the bend starts and ends, then step on the bent area, pressing it back into shape. You’ll have to press it beyond the correct amount, since it is likely to mostly spring back. Once the wheel is nearly true, tighten and adjust the spokes.

Keep in mind that most aluminum alloy rims are prone to work hardening. This means that when the metal is bent, it crystalizes, and after being bent severely or a few times, it is likely to fracture, a very dangerous situation in the case of bike wheels.

This is a good technique to know when out on the road, where a bent wheel could otherwise end a ride.

Flat Spot

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Flat spots are common and annoying, but often repairable. So, don’t throw that flat wheel away!

Keep in mind that most aluminum alloy rims are prone to work hardening. This means that when the metal is bent, it crystalizes, and after being bent severely or a few times, it is likely to fracture, a very dangerous situation in the case of bike wheels.

A mild flat spot can be fixed by loosening the spokes in the area of the flat spot, and tightening all the others.

More severe cases require more severe treatment.

1. Disconnect all the spokes in the area of the flat spot.

2. While holding the wheel in one hand, bang on it hard with a soft mallet held in the other hand, until the flat area now protrudes outward a millimeter or two too much.

3. Reconnect the spokes, and true the wheel in the normal way.

Kinked Rims

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When a bicyclist hits a curb or a pothole with under-inflated tires, or without balancing on the pedals, but instead sitting with full weight on the seat, a rim can become kinked. The repair is so simple you’d think there must be more to it. All you do is hit the kink with a hammer to bend it back into position.

There are a couple of caveats.

Most modern rims are made from an alloy of aluminum. Too much bending of this material can cause a fracture, which in the case of a bicycle wheel can result in a serious letdown.

You can also use large pliers to squeeze the kink back into shape. If you do this, make sure to pay attention to the other side of the rim, so you don’t squeeze it also, resulting in a pressed in area, the opposite of a kink. One way is to offset the pliers so that the pliers press against the bottom bend of the non-kinked side. Another is to place a cloth covered piece of wood under the jaw of the pliers. This is good too, to prevent leaving plier jaw marks on the rim.

Spokes

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Overlong spokes that stick through the top of the spoke nipples will cause punctures. Var and other companies make tools to slice off the top of spokes. These usually don’t work as well as you’d like. A better approach is to use your 4-inch disk grinder on these spoke protrusions. Another approach is to knock them off with a small chisel and hammer.

Hozan, Var and others make spoke threaders. These tools will turn a long straight-gauge spoke into the length you need. The threads are pressed out from the spoke, much like extruding a shape with modeling clay. The tool is too slow and inaccurate to make a full set of spokes, but is good to manufacture one spoke in a pinch.


Two roadside repairs for spokes are worth mentioning:

1. If you need to replace a broken spoke, but don’t have one of the right length, you can use a longer one by bending an l-shape in it, like pictured below. This will work as well as a spoke with a proper head.

2. You can hook a spoke into a nearby crossing to help support a rim.

You may find that spokes start breaking on the right, freewheel, side of a rear wheel. This indicates fatigued spokes. Those that have not broken will soon, so all spokes in that wheel should be replaced.


A quick way to diagnose wheel problems is a pinch spoke check. Turn the wheel around and with one hand on each side, squeeze each outermost spoke crossing. The spokes should all be about equally flexible. This will quickly identify loose and broken spokes. The experienced technician can also feel overly-tight spokes.

More than once, your author has seen beginning bike mechanics make a big production out of truing a wheel. The mechanic will remove the wheel from the bike, remove the tire and tube, then place it in a truing stand. This is not necessary for minor adjustments, as long as you trust that the rim strip is in good order. Simply leave the wheel on the bike, and use the brake pads, or a cable tie temporarily applied to a fork blade or seat stay as an indicator showing where the wheel needs to be trued.


Using tire levers, you run the risk of puncturing the inner tube. In most cases, there is no need to use tire levers. Instead, after removing all the air from the wheel, step on the wheel with both feet as shown in the picture. The valve can be anywhere but at the top of the wheel. Lift up on the tire and tube at the top, then press sideways over the edge of the rim. With mountain bike tires, this is very quick and easy. With some of the thinner wheels, this process is more difficult. With practice it is amazingly easy.

Installation without tire levers is even easier. Put just enough air in the inner tube for it to take its donut-like shape. Feel around the inside of the tire in case a puncturing object is still stuck in the rubber. Do this carefully, so you don’t puncture your fingers if you find something.

Lay the tube into the tire, then insert the valve stem partially into the valve hole in the rim. Slip the far side of the tire entirely onto the rim with your thumbs or fingers, starting at the valve, and working with both hands to the opposite side. The tire should slip over the edge of the rim more easily than you’d expect.

Repeat the process for the close side of the tire. Make sure you haven’t put too much air in the tube.

Push the valve down into the tire momentarily to make sure a fold of inner tube isn’t caught under an edge of the tire. Then pull the valve out of the hole to its full extension.

Put only a small amount of air in the tire, then inspect the tire all the way around, on both sides, to make sure it is all seated properly. Bring the tire up to its full rated pressure, as shown in vulcanized print on the side of the tire.


While there are new glueless patch kits on the market, most don’t work as traditional cold contact cement patch kits. Even fifty years after they have existed, many people don’t know how to use these properly. They try to light the glue on fire. It doesn’t work that way. Others will apply the patch before the glue is dry. That makes sense, since that’s the way most glues work. But not patch glue. It is a contact cement. It sticks best when fully dry.

So, find the puncture. Remove the oxidized outer layer of rubber with sand paper, not the metal scraper included with many patch kits. That thing can cause more holes. Apply glue over an area larger than the patch will cover. Let it dry fully. Then remove the backing from the patch, being careful not to touch the surface, which would contaminate it. Apply the patch over the hole, and press it on firmly. Voila, you’re done!


You don’t see many sew-up tires, also known as ‘tubulars’ these days. They are still incredibly light and efficient. These tires don’t clinch onto the rims. Instead, they are glued on. The inner tube is sewn entirely inside.

Some sew-ups can be incredibly tight when new, being almost impossible to stretch onto a rim. You can step on these, then pull up to stretch them several times before installation.

Sew-ups can be patched much like ordinary inner tubes. First you must identify the location of the hole. Inflate the tire, and set it in a bucket of water if you don’t hear where the air is coming out.

Peel away a portion of the tape on the inner side of the tire covering the course threading that binds the edges together around the inner tube. Cut these coarse threads with a small pair of scissors. Cut only enough to access the puncture. Apply a patch as described above, then using thick canvas thread, re-sew the tire around the tube. With practice, you’ll know how tight to make the stitching. Too loose, and the tube could bulge between the threads and wear a new puncture. Too tight, and the tire will be narrower in that area. You’ll find an ordinary needle, even a large one, is hard to push through the original holes in the tire casing. You’ll find that a triangular needle works better. Rather than pushing the needle through with your fingers, or even with a thimble, grasp the needle with pliers.

Derailleurs

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For best results, adjust derailleurs in this sequence:

1. Shift the chain onto the largest front sprocket.

2. Shift the rear derailleur to the smallest sprocket. Check the cable tension. If it is loose enough that you can flex the cable back and forth in the open stretch along the down tube more than 1/2-inch, loosen the anchor bolt, pull the slack out of the cable, then retighten the anchor bolt.

2. Turn in the limit screw on the rear derailleur until it can no longer shift onto the largest sprocket. Back off the screw, to just where shifting into the large sprocket is quick and easy.

3. Adjust the high gear limit screw so that the derailleur no longer shifts onto the smallest sprocket. Then back off until it shifts into high gear easily.

4. Repeat the process for the front derailleur. Keep in mind that the outer edge of the front derailleur should be a few millimeters above the largest chainring, and that the front derailleur cage should be parallel with the chainrings.

5. Adjust the index shifting with an adjusting barrel at the shifter or the derailleur until the shifting is as clean and correct as you can manage.

6 Test ride the bike to be sure your settings are correct under the pressure of actual riding.

If shifting isn’t clean, you might first check that the cables are working freely. If shifting is still not good, it may be because the chain or sprockets are worn. Other possible causes are a bent dropout, bent derailleur or loose pivots. If any of these are the case, then all the adjusting in the world won’t help. Furthermore, if you actually get a worn or damaged system to shift properly, it will probably fail in short order. So, parts replacement is usually required to get things working right again.

However, there are some things you can do. You can bend the tips of the front derailleur cage inward to more closely focus the position of the chain. You can bend the middle portion of the cage outward to prevent rubbing.

If a chain wants to fall off a chainring or the largest rear derailleur sprocket, you can spin the sprocket against your disk grinder, or a large flat file held at an angle, reshaping the teeth to an angle that’s more likely to hold the chain. This takes practice, and is not recommended unless you have replacement sprockets handy.

If the chain falls between chainrings, they are bent, the spacing is too wide, or one is install backward. Bent chainrings can be bent back with judicious hits with a hard mallet. Be careful not to hit the teeth.

Chains

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If a chain skips, the diagnosis is surprisingly easy:

If it happens once per revolution of the chain, you have a stiff or damaged link.

If it happens once per revolution of the chainwheel, you have a problem there. This is rare.

If it happens once per revolution of the rear wheel, you have foreign matter stuck between the sprockets, or a defective sprocket tooth.

Most chain skipping is random. This is usually caused by a worn chain and smallest rear sprockets. They wear together. As the chain lengthens, great pressure is applied to the sprocket teeth, since the chain no longer contacts them all concurrently. Now, all the load is applied to one tooth at a time, and so the sprocket will wear to match the chain. However, the chain will continue to lengthen as the pins and bushings in the links wear.

You can measure a chain for wear. The links have to be exactly 1/2-inch apart. It is hard to see this wear in one link, but twenty four links should be exactly one foot long. Anything visibly beyond that, and the chain is worn out.

On some modern bikes, the sprockets are made of such durable steel that wear is slight, so only the chain needs to be replaced. On many bikes, when you replace a chain for wear, you have to replace the freewheel, or at least its smallest sprockets as well, or the problem only gets worse.

The good news is that the chain wear problem progresses slowly, and is only noticeable when pulling hard against the smallest rear sprockets.

Chains should be periodically checked for damage. They usually break only when under the greatest load, such as pulling hard up a hill. This can be a serious let down for a rider who is not expecting a sudden loss of resistance.

Ideally, you can clean a chain, then visually inspect both sides of every link. This is not easy, so a quicker inspection may suffice. Looking at the top of the chain as you turn the crank backward, watch the chain go by. You should not see any link pins sticking out one side or the other farther than the others. If you do see such a link, consider replacing the whole chain. It is likely that whatever caused the slipping pin will happen to other links as well.

Cranks

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The three most common types of cranks are cotterless, Ashtabula, also known as ‘American,’ and cottered.

You seldom see cottered cranks any more unless you work on antique bikes.


Photo by Flyingdutchman63 [CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These used round pegs, called ‘cotters’ with flat sides that wedged against a flat in the spindle (axle) surface. With time, the crank cotters, which are made from a soft steel could become corroded or distorted. The first effort at removing a cotter should try to preserve it.

1. Loosen the nut, then tap the cotter sharply with a small hammer. Ideally, it will pop loose. You can remove the nut, and the cotter will fall out.

2. If that doesn’t work, try tapping directly, but gently, on the threaded end, knowing the threads and therefore the cotter will be destroyed. If it is important to preserve the cotter, you might try penetrating oil, and wait a day or a week.

3. Failing that, use an air impact hammer, described in the next section about seat pillars, or drill a small hole entirely through the cotter. Then follow that with a larger hole, so that a small impact will cause the cotter to collapse inward, and become free. It is important to make sure your hole is drilled through the center of the cotter. If it goes sideways, you could damage the crank or the spindle.

Ashtabula cranks are one piece in the shape of a dog leg. They are made from steel, and so are rather heavy, but inexpensive and common on American-made bikes. Normally, they are removed by disassembling the bearings from the left side. The bearing cone and locknut are left-threaded.

However, these cranks are easily bent when the bike falls over. It is possible that a crank will become so bent that when the bearings are disassembled, the crank will not come out of the bottom bracket shell.

If you believe a crank is too bent, you can remove the pedal, put a long, strong pipe on the crank, and bend it back outward. Since the metal is fracture prone, consider the crank a lost cause, and replace it with a new one.

Another approach is to simply cut the crank off just outside the bearings, with a cutting torch. If heated quickly, and cut smoothly, no damage will occur to the bearings or the bike’s paint.

The most common type is a ‘cotterless’ crank. These, like the cottered cranks, consist of three pieces, two cranks on a central spindle. (Note that automotive terminology has reversed the usage of ‘axle’ and ‘spindle,’ as used in bicycle nomenclature.)

To remove cotterless cranks, you use a ‘cotterless crank remover,’ also known as a ‘crank puller,’ or ‘crank extractor,’ such as this one by Park Tool Company that you can buy from Walmart.

This tool has a hollow outer threaded nut that engages fine threads in the center of a crank. The threads seem to be there merely to hold a dust cap, but their main purpose is to support the cotterless crank remover. Remove the nut or bolt found under a dustcap that locks the crank to the axle. Once engaged, this outer threaded nut has an inner screw that presses against the spindle. When the inner screw is turned, it presses the crank off the spindle. Ideally. When using a crank remover, make sure the outer nut is fully engaged in the threads so they won’t be stripped.

Sometimes, the threads are too damaged to accept the crank remover. Sometimes, despite your best effort, the crank remover cannot do the job.

If the threads haven’t already been damaged, heat the crank quickly with a large torch flame, being careful not to affect the paint on the bike, then try the tool again. The crank may almost fall off, since heat expands the crank including the tapered opening in the crank where it meets the spindle.

How much heat is right? You want enough to cause the crank to expand, but not so much as to melt the aluminum alloy. Put a dab of grease or oil on the crank periodically as you are heating it. When the lubricant smokes, you are at the right temperature.

A special tool can be purchased that looks like a tapered fork. This tool is applied between the bottom bracket assembly and the crank. It is hit with a hammer and may force the crank off the spindle. When used at room temperature, it often doesn’t work, is awkward to use, and can cause damage to the bearings.

The thing to do is to heat the crank rapidly with a torch, then apply the tool. If you don’t have the special fork tool, you can simply tap on the outside of the crank with a mallet or hammer.

Pedals

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The left pedal is left-threaded, meaning you turn it clockwise as you are facing the bike to remove it.

At first, you might think that pedal threads are traditionally wrong. If a pedal becomes loose, it will naturally unscrew while riding. That’s dangerous. However, if it were the other way, especially if you had foot restraining devices such as toe clips, and the pedal’s bearings were to jam, the pedal wouldn’t unscrew. Instead, your foot would be subjected to tremendous force and you could be injured.

Normally, pedals are tight in the cranks, but a good solid application with a wrench will break them free. If that’s not sufficient, you might tap on the end of the wrench with a hammer. Failing that, a day or longer soaking with penetrating oil if you have it, or a thin oil such as WD-40, may free up the corrosion.

If not, you can heat the end of the crank to expand it, including the threaded hole, then the pedal should unscrew easily. In the case of aluminum cranks, overheating and melting the metal is possible. So, use a torch with a large flame to heat it rapidly, but test by putting a drop of oil on the crank periodically. When the oil smokes, you have reached the maximum safe temperature.

More than once a bicyclist has stripped the pedal threads by letting a pedal come loose, or by trying to put a left pedal on the right side or vice versa. There is a repair kit for this called the Eldi Pedal Tap/Bushing Set, available from Universal Cycles.

This kit contains thin steel sleeves threaded on the inside and outside. It also has some taps, drillbit-like-things, that expand the hole, clearing out the damaged threads, and then rethread the hole to a larger diameter. You then thread a pedal into a bushing, then thread that into the crank, and you have a repair that’s stronger than new. Unless you have a good slow-turning and easy to manage power tool, the best bet is to turn the taps manually. It will be slow going until the threaded portion engages the crank.

These threaded sleeves are sometimes incorrectly called ‘helicoils’ named after the manufacturer of similar threaded sleeves for machine and automotive use.

Accessories

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Aluminum kickstands are usually secured with a steel bolt. Due to its low location and large size, it is prone to water and contamination. By applying grease to this bolt upon installation, you’ll avoid the stuck kickstand bolt problem that is very common in older bikes.

Most aluminum kickstands are universal. They are extra long, needing to be cut to the right length to fit each bike. You’ll find that the amount to remove is fairly consistent with most ordinary bikes.

You could be gentlemanly (or gentlewomanly) and saw it off nicely with a hacksaw. Or, you can clamp the kickstand in a vise, with just the portion you want to remove sticking up above the jaws. Give it a good whack with a hammer to break it off, and your kickstand is adjusted.

One of the best, although not necessarily elegant ways to secure lighting or cyclometer wires, or brake and derailleur cables is with ordinary cable ties. These can be had in a variety of sizes and colors such as these that you can buy from Del City.

You’ll be asked more than once to remove a lock with a forgotten combination or lost key. You might try the big bolt cutters, but cables often fray in their jaws, and some of the bar locks are just too tough. The answer is your handy 4-inch disk grinder. It will quickly remove locks, as well as other large and bulky accessories.

Handlebar grips can be frustrating to remove unless you use one of these two techniques:

1. Blow compressed air against the inside edge of the grip. The air gets between the grip and the handlebar, and the grip will slip off strangely easily. It might even blow off without being touched.

2. Using your cone channellocks or a pedal wrench, lay the tool against the inside edge of a grip, then bang on the tool with a mallet. Make sure to avoid leaving scrapes on the handlebar.

Many chrome-plated accessories, as well as any chrome components can be de-rusted with dry steel wool. Use a fairly coarse grade, and wear gloves. You’ll find that unless the rust is quite thick, it wipes away quite easily, and entirely.

Seat Post

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Removing a stuck seat pillar, more commonly known as ‘seatpost,’ can be frustrating if you don’t know these tricks:

1. Soak the accessible area with penetrating oil. Lacking that specific oil, using a thin oil, such as WD-40 will often work. Patience is also helpful. If you can wait as long as a week, the oil may work surprisingly well. You might think that the seat pillar is stuck all the way down, and the oil couldn’t possibly reach the worst area. Actually, the bulk of corrosion happens near the top, where the oil will penetrate.

2. Depending on the design at the top of the seat pillar, and assuming the reason it’s stuck isn’t because the seat pillar was too large in diameter for the seat tube, you might try tapping it down with a hammer first. A mild impact at the top won’t hurt most seat pillars, yet it may break the bonds of corrosion. Then, you can reinstall the saddle, and twist and pull the seat pillar out.

3. Use an air impact hammer. These things, also known as ‘muffler cutters,’ can be had for as little as $10 at Harbor Freight.

The tool is used most often for cutting through sheet metal, but many attachments are available. There is a moving weight inside the tool that rapidly hits an attachment. Some of the attachments are chisels. Others have blunt ends. You’d use a blunt-end tool against the top of the seat pillar to remove it. If the seat pillar is still resistant, or if there is no expanded top, you can use a chisel attachment to cut partially into the pillar, so you can then get a bite on it with a blunt tool. This will ruin the pillar, but save the bike. Your author has never seen a seat pillar in over 15,000 bikes that was so stuck an air impact hammer couldn’t remove it.

The air hammer is great for removing other stuck things as well. For instance, the cotters in old-fashioned cottered cranks were often so corroded, or sometimes physically distorted that the only way to remove them besides drilling, which took too long, was to blast them with an air hammer.

Drilling a Seat

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You have probably seen those solid plastic saddles that are the bare minimum bicycle seat. They are usually a bit too hard to be comfortable. Some of those seats can be drilled with large holes, typically 1/2-inch (13mm) in diameter in a pattern. The edges of the holes can then be chamfered (rounded) with a countersinking bit, Dremel tool, or otherwise. For best results, drill only the wide portion of the saddle. Too meany holes near the horn may cause the saddle to fracture. When you’re done, you have a nice-looking seat that weighs less than any other seat money can buy.

Bearings

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More and more, bicycles are using sealed bearings, self-contained units that are press fitted into hubs, bottom brackets, headsets, and even sometimes derailleur pulleys.

The older cone-and-cup style bearings should be manually overhauled periodically to clean out tired lubricant and inspect for damage. This is true even if they are ‘sealed’ since the seals on this type of bearing are less than ideal. The most frequent place you’ll find damage is on the bearing cones. They are case-hardened, so that the outer surface is very durable. However, the outer surface can break away, revealing softer metal underneath. Bearing components in this condition only get worse with time, eventually leaving the rider stranded.

Many components containing these bearings use thin metal cages than rotate with the balls in a group. The cage imparts very little friction, and is there only to make assembly easy. Other cone-and-cup bearing assemblies use loose steel balls. You’d find it frustrating to keep these balls in position while reassembling the device. Therefore, grease is used to hold the bearings in place during assembly. Many mechanics like white lithium grease not only because the lithium particles make a good lubricant, but because the grease is white, it is easy to see that the balls are properly positioned.

All the older style freewheels used what seemed like a thousand 1/8-inch steel balls as bearings. Most actually had 78 balls. These, like bearings elsewhere, should be cleaned and lubricated from time to time. To disassemble an old-style freewheel, bang gently on one of the holes on the top of the core with a small blunt punch and hammer. These holes will turn a plate that is left-threaded, so your goal is to turn it clockwise to remove.

Do this over a rag, as all the bearings will fall out. Clean, then reassemble, sticking the bearings into their races retained by grease. Leave space for one or two balls in each race. Take care of very thin metal shims in the core of the freewheel because they are easily damaged. The freewheel, which normally doesn’t need bearing adjustment, is adjusted by adding or removing shims. In some models, the pawls (flippers) need to be held down with a thread during assembly. The thread is then pulled out. Finally, screw the top cover back on, and set it tight by banging gently with a blunt punch and hammer.

Most rear derailleurs use simple sleeve bearings for the pulleys. These should also be disassembled, cleaned and lubed now and then.

Rapid Diagnosis

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Many bike mechanics have to work with the public when it comes time to assess a bicycle for repair. Some of the mechanics worry about how to handle the situation. They may not know exactly what to look for, and how to present what they find. In many cases, the mechanics miss noticing important problems that the customer should know about before leaving the bike for repair. For instance, if the shop sells a tune-up, without realizing a wheel is so bent that it cannot be repaired, the customer may balk, and you have a ‘situation’ on your hands. So, do this:

1. Apply the front brake, and rock the bike back and forth? Is the headset loose?

2. Lift the front wheel a couple of inches. Does it flop to one side? If not, the headset is too tight.

3. Spin the front wheel and see if it is true. Notice whether the brake drags.

4. Stop the wheel, and see whether it is loose enough that the heaviest part will swing to the bottom. Wiggle the wheel sideways by holding the tire, and see if the bearings are loose.
5. Examine the tires for wear, sidewall bulging, and seating issues.

6. Spin the rear wheel and see it it is true. Notice whether the brake drags.

7. See whether the rear wheel spins freely, and whether the bearings are loose. Very loose bearings may indicate a broken axle. If it’s not a quick release wheel, try spreading the dropouts apart with your thumb. With a broken axle, they’ll flex outward.

8. Squeeze all the spoke crossings on the rear wheel. If a spoke is broken, it will be evident.

9. Spin the chainwheel backward while observing the chain. Are any pins sticking out of links?
10. Move the shifters just enough to see if the derailleur cables are working correctly.

11. Squeeze the brake levers, looking for too much travel, slow or weak return, and other brake problems. Examine bridge wires if equipped for broken strands. Examine the brake cables at the anchor bolts and at the break levers for broken strands.

12. Suggest accessories as appropriate.

As you make discoveries, write them down with the customer watching and available to ask questions. If several adjustments are needed, suggest a tune-up. Quite often, a customer will come in for a single repair, such as a flat tire or a bent wheel, and end up with much more repair work. If the customer is informed and consents up-front, everyone ends up happy.

Or, you can do it the way it is done in many bike shops. When the customer comes in for something like a broken brake cable, the mechanic or salesperson fails to look at anything else on that bike. During the brake cable replacement, the mechanic notices that the wheel is out of true because it has broken spokes. The customer is called, and suddenly a $15 repair becomes $50. The customer is not happy, but agrees to pay the extra. When the customer picks up the bike and takes it for a ride around the block, s/he discovers that the derailleurs are out of adjustment and the chain falls off. This is not a happy customer. Furthermore, this process can turn a bicycle enthusiast into someone who owns a bike but never rides it.

This bicycle examination may sound like a complex operation, but with just a bit of practice, you’ll remember the steps, and become able to do the whole thing within two minutes.

Fast, Full Tune-Up

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Many bike shops charge $50 or $60, and sometimes even more for a tune-up. Then, they barely make a profit. That’s because the mechanic spends a whole lot of time going back and forth, not quite knowing a good sequence, and even misses noticing some things that need adjustment. I’d like to suggest learning this step-by-step process to speed your tune-up time, and make sure you catch every detail. With a tune-up procedure like this, your shop can charge $30 per bike, making a large profit, and end up with a zillion customers bringing their bikes in for service. Keep in mind, too, that you can sell tires, additional repairs and accessories to almost every tune-up customer.

1. Adjust the headset if it is an adjustable headset. (This is done first, because it is best done before the bike is mounted in the workstand.)

2. Adjust the bottom bracket set if it is adjustable.

3. Adjust the front wheel bearings if adjustable.

4. Adjust the rear wheel bearings if adjustable.

5. Adjust the rear brake, check spoke tensions, and true the rear wheel on the bike.
(I consider adjusting the brake and aligning the wheel a single procedure, since a bent wheel prevents good brake adjustment, and you can use a properly adjusted brake to witness wheel condition. During this process, I typically keep a spoke wrench and an adjustable wrench in my hand.)

6. Adjust the front brake, check spoke tensions, and true the rear wheel on the bike.

7. With the chain engaged on the largest chainring, adjust the rear derailleur.

8. Shift to the smallest front chainring, and check rear derailleur adjustment.

9. With the chain engaged on the largest rear sprocket, adjust the front derailleur.

10. With the chain engaged on the smallest rear sprocket, check the front derailleur adjustment.

11. Check all the nuts and bolts on the entire bike, especially accessories. Make sure to check brake pivot bolts, the bolt that mounts the rear derailleur if equipped, the derailleur tension pulley bolt, the front derailleur cage closing bolt, cotterless crank mounting bolts or nuts, pedals, cable anchor bolts, and handlebar stem.

12. Adjust the air pressures.

13. Test ride the bike. You’ll be amazed at what you can miss, even if you’ve tuned thousands of bikes.

14. Spend just a few minutes cleaning the bike. With a rag, you can quickly attend to the spaces between spokes. With a rag and a bit of furniture polish – or your choice of mild chemical treatment – you can quickly rub down all the major frame tubes. A bit of coarse, dry steel wool can work rapid magic on rusty chrome surfaces.

What an unexpectedly cleaned bike can do for customer satisfaction is remarkable. Cleaning bikes that are in for service is one of the best ways to make your bike shop go viral.

People who perceive that you’ve done something wrong will tell their friends, and that, of course, is bad for business.

People who are merely satisfied with your work won’t tell their friends.

But people who get an unexpected pleasant surprise will tell everyone, and you can end up with much more repair work.

Your author used to go one extra step, and that’s probably why his bike shops grew rapidly and were quite profitable. When a bike came in missing a water bottle, I’d put one in their bottle rack. It didn’t matter if they already had a bottle at home, or didn’t like the color. They loved the thought. Sometimes, I’d add a tire pump, new grips, handlebar tape, reflectors, whatever I thought the customer would appreciate. Sure, this cost a few dollars per bike, but it was cheaper than advertising, and way more effective!

Inventory And Supplies

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In most of the United States as well as the rest of the world, the owner of a bicycle shop gets a sales tax number, often called a ‘resale certificate.’ This authorizes you to collect sales tax. Now, that’s probably not something that excites you, but the flip side is that you can contact wholesale bicycle suppliers and get inventory and supplies for much less money. Generally, an item that sells for $20 will cost you $10. It’s a sliding scale. An item that sells for a dollar will cost you fifteen cents. An item that sells for $500, will cost you $400.

You may not be in a position to get a resale certificate. You may not have a commercial building, instead working out of your house, or running a mobile bicycle repair business. You might not be in business at all, but wouldn’t mind getting your hands on wholesale prices.

Due to eBay and other online venues, it is becoming easier to convince wholesalers that you are a ‘legitimate’ buyer. Some will require a genuine retail store. Some even have protected dealerships, meaning if someone sells the same brand within a certain distance, you cannot sell the same brand. Others are loosey-goosey. Some only require that you spend $50 or more at a time.

You don’t always need to deal with wholesalers to get good prices. You’ll find many good deals on not only new, but also interesting used and even collectible bicycle parts on eBay.

For general repair work, you’ll find adequate cables, brake pads, inner tubes, tires, and a few other common replacement parts at stores like Walmart and Target. Interestingly, these parts can be as inexpensive as wholesale in small quantities.

For more specialized parts, you might want to visit your local bike shops. If you are running a small repair business, tell them. Most will be supportive, offering a small discount, so they’ll get all your business. To the average bike shop, it is well worthwhile to give ten or twenty percent discounts to regular customers.

Lubrication

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The reason pedals, seat pillars, cranks, and nuts and bolts often become stuck in bicycles is corrosion. There is also an effect called ‘electrolytic action’ in which electrons of dissimilar metals trade orbits. So, when you put a steel bolt into an aluminum component, they almost weld together over time.

A tiny layer of lubrication stops electrolytic action and corrosion in their tracks. So, it is recommended when you reassemble cranks, install seat pillars, put on pedals, or assemble nuts and bolts, that you always use a tiny bit of oil or grease. Years later, you’ll be glad you did.

You may find that a bit of grease when assembling brake and derailleur cables makes a world of difference in smoothness, ease of use, and long life.

You’d think after all these years, someone would have invented the perfect chain lube by now. They haven’t. Every oil this author has tried either gathers dirt, or doesn’t lubricate well.

An interesting aside: Years ago, your author read a book on bicycle repair by an American author. He recommended using paraffin wax as a chain lubricant, going so far as to describe how you could melt the wax in a coffee can, then soak the chain in it. Your author considered this absurd, but thought it might be worth a try, just in case it was for real. It quickly became evident the author made the whole thing up. My chain was so stiff with wax that it almost couldn’t be put on the bike. Then, when the bike was ridden a hundred meters, all the wax chipped off, leaving no lubrication at all.

In time, this author figured out what happened with that author. He had read an English book on bicycle repair that suggested cleaning a bicycle chain with paraffin, which in England can mean kerosene. Figuring the original English author had probably said “cleaning” when he meant “lubricating” he went ahead and wrote up a procedure the he never actually tried.

No doubt, I too, have made some errors in this book, although my goal is accuracy. It helps that I have some experience, having repaired or customized more than 15,000 bikes over a 15-year period, while owning and operating three bicycle shops.

Enjoy, experiment carefully, and keep the world’s bikes running! – Jeff

Five Years In The Bike Shop

Copyright 2013, John Flaherty

There was once a little bicycle shop, ordinary in every way, except for the people associated with it. Brian the owner, the employees, and many of the customers were the most interesting and eccentric people I have ever met. That’s what this book is about. I have changed the location and the names to protect those involved. Everything else is true, exactly as it happened. The bike shop lasted five years before it came to a strange end. Welcome to the story of the shop and it’s people. Continue reading “Five Years In The Bike Shop”