After a full year in the bike shop, I can confidently say I am more than competent in the area of bike repair. After eight years of brain-damage and self-analysis, I think I know my way around human behaviour and psychology as well. Both of these notions, however, were almost undone by a most unsuspecting customer and his BMX.
The other day, a mother and her son, who appeared to about 7 years old came into the shop. He had ridden over some glass, his mother explained, so the rear tire was, “as flat as flat can be.”
“No problem,” said I, “Give me ten minutes and the tire will be good as new.”
After a couple attempts at mentally re-arranging her itinerary, the mother decided it would be best to send her son to pick up the bike later. “How much will it cost?” she asked.
“With tax, sixteen dollars and eighty cents.” I responded expertly.
“OK, he’ll come pick it up in a little while.”
“Sure, sounds good.”
“Thank you!” piped in the seven-year-old. The two of them left while I got down to work. I quickly had the tire off the bike, removed the old tube, blew out the tire with the compressor to ensure no glass crumbs remained, installed a new tube, and pumped the tire to the recommended air pressure – easy, peasy, not too greasy.
In order to rein-in my fierce intolerance of poorly adjusted bikes and limit how much time I spend on a bike, I’m limited to a ten minute window where I can let loose and tweak anything else that needs repairing, after resolving the reported problem. Without this edict, I would end up doing much more work than was paid for, and while this is good for business, it’s also bad for business. After fixing the boy’s flat tire, I checked my watch to note when my ten minutes started and immediately found the shifter didn’t work at all.
“Hey Jon, you know what’s funny?” I said, eyes still on the bike. “When someone brings their bike in for a flat repair yet fails to mention that none of the gears work. Look at this!” Jon came over as I twisted the 5-speed grip shift back and forth, producing lots of clicking but not moving the chain at all. “All right,” I continued, “Let’s see how much better I can get this in 10 minutes.” With no time to replace housing or cables, I had the derailleur semi-functioning, but to really fix it, I’d need more time and that would cost more. Oh well, I thought, the kid’s got more gears now than he had.
Shortly after, the young boy was back, waving to us as he walked in. Nice kid. With his bike helmet on, he looked like he was designed by Norman Rockwell and Pixar, with freckles and everything. With utmost courtesy, he eagerly paid for the flat repair with warm change from his pocket. “Did you notice anything wrong with the gears?” I asked, curious as to how the lack of gears was missed.
“No, they were pretty good.” He replied.
A little confused, I responded simply, “Well they work better now…”
The boy waved again and left, while I remarked to Jon how polite and proper the boy was. We agreed that while they are generally nice customers, polite, well-spoken, young, but mature kids are almost creepy because they sound so much older than they are. We first recognized this eerie characteristic in another customer, a young girl whose manners were impeccable and who carried herself with the air of an aristocratic dame. It was unnerving, especially on the phone when we couldn’t tell if we were speaking with her or her mom. Our conversation was interrupted by the freckled boy wonder himself, walking his bike into the store, greeting us with his salutary wave. “Can you put the gears back to how they were?” he asked. “I only have three gears now – one, three. and five.”
A little confused as to how his gears were before, exactly, yet somewhat relieved to fix the shifting properly, I put his bike in the stand and got to work.
“Do you have an estimate of how much time you’ll need?” I kid you not, that’s what he said.
“Yeah, give me ten minutes.” I replied cheerfully. My initial optimism at a quick but effective repair job began to fade, however, as nothing seemed to work. I set the derailleur limits, adjusted cable tension, tweaked the barrel adjusters, lubed the chain, the derailleur pivot points – everything. I was running out of ideas so I double-checked with the little fella again, “So this was running perfectly before you got the flat?” I asked, hoping not to come across too incredulously.
“Yes, absolutely.” He courtly replied, looking all cute and junk. Creepy kid. I returned to work only to hear the young do-gooder pipe up once again.
“May I borrow the phone?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
While the young saint called his mom to tell her he would be late, that being the responsible thing to do of course, I was cursing his BMX under my breath. I simply could not get the bike to shift gears smoothly. As stated earlier, I’m not easily stumped when it comes to bike repair, but I was losing this round, and about to be TKO’d. The derailleur was old, along with the cables and housing, and under any other circumstances I’d replace it all and be done with it, but the kid said that is was working perfectly before, perfectly! How could this be?!? This is what I get for trying to do an extra service, I thought to myself. I thought I was doing him a favour by making his single-speed a three-speed, but instead he thinks I’ve wrecked the gears, and I’m on the hook now to get it working smoothly once again.
With all my efforts extinguished, and nothing to show for it, I called Jon in for backup. I apologized to the young paragon who was unsurprisingly gracious and patient, and whom I now suspected had lied about his “absolutely perfect BMX.” As Jon and I studied the bike, I threw quick glances in the boy’s direction, half-expecting to see him smiling mischievously, enjoying our frantic efforts to do the impossible. He remained in character however, the epitome of innocence, trust, and hope. Sick, sadistic kid.
Jon managed to get some level of consistency, but nowhere near the perfect shifting the boy claimed it was at before. At this point we had spent far too much time on this so Jon explained the situation to the boy who just smiled knowingly, thanked us for our work, waved, and left.
“What just happened there?” I blurted out as soon as the boy was outside, “There is no way that shifter was working, right?!? I didn’t make that up, did I?”
“No!” Jon replied emphatically, “You shifted all the way back and forth a few times and it didn’t move at all!!”
“That’s what I thought!” I was freaking out now, “But he said it was working perfectly!! That cute little punk had me second-guessing everything! I thought maybe I had just imagined the broken derailleur!” I had to trust the kid at his word, but doing so had me doubting everything else. Was I hallucinating? Maybe I wasn’t getting enough fluids. Was I getting this bike mixed up with another angelic child’s BMX? I had no explanation, I was stunned. “What happened?” I exclaimed again, “Did that kid just mentally school us? Did he just scheme his way into a free fix on his derailleur?”
There were two explanations for what had just gone down: 1) I missed something when inspecting the shifter and that it was indeed working fine or 2) My inspection was accurate and that the kid had just jedi mind-tricked both Jon and I with his cherubic looks and insidious mind.
Dejected and defeated, I conceded, “That kid is going to be a powerful, powerful man.”
Jon agreed, “Holy-“