20 December 2011

This is probably why I'm a bike mechanic

Sometimes people ask me why I'm a bike mechanic, or how I got involved in working on bikes, or some other permutation of "why do you spend all day poking at dirty, greasy things for significantly less money than you could have made had you gone and pursued a 'real job' with your degree?"

First of all, something I've gradually come to realize over the past year or two: this is a real job. I take it seriously, I put in a whole lot of above and beyond effort, and I take a whole hell of a lot of pride in what I do. Just because it's not in an office, and I don't file reports and get stock options and whatever other things that I was led to believe qualified a job as "real" it doesn't make it any less real. Looking at it as some kind of extension of youth just because you're working with something you enjoy skirts the dangerous territory of viewing bicycles as toys for adults. If your bike is your real vehicle, then I'm a real mechanic. The quicker we can all get that figured out, the happier we can all be. This topic is probably a whole other post worth of blabber, so let's get on with this one.

The question about how I got started working on bikes is very simply answered, though. I started riding bikes, and in my family we just plain don't get other people to fix our stuff. Why? Because my dad is in our family.

In my 28 years of life, I think I can count on one hand the number of times that we've sent something away to be fixed that wasn't obviously defective, and refundable, from the moment it came home. This isn't limited to our own family, either, as my dad is basically the repair man for everyone my family knows. Bass head doesn't work? No problem. Old stereo that you don't even need has a blown transformer and parts aren't available? Hey, I'll just dig around and find one that works and/or make one. Faucet blew up and is spewing water all over your house - again? Easy.

From a very young age, my dad was very eager to teach me all the benefits of knowing "how to work with your hands." My first memory of this was repeatedly taking apart and reassembling a clock radio, possibly before I even knew how to read. The main lesson, to paraphrase, was that this was a skill set that was extremely important, because once you get the feel for how to work on things you can basically put that ability to work on almost anything and figure it out.

I realize now that this whole post is in grave danger of going astray, so I'll leave the origin stories for another day. The whole point of this is that I went on a short ride on my new bike (finally) the other day, and stopped in at my parents' house. At my parents' house, in the yard, my dad has a shed in which he stores and works on his motorcycle. It gets cold in the shed, and to combat this cold, he has an electric heater. Apparently it has been getting particularly cold in the shed, this being December and all, and because the electric heater now takes forever to heat the room, my dad decided to come up with a better solution.

Now, normally the solution would just be something along the lines of a bigger electric heater, or going out and buying something other such warmth-producing device. Not for my dad, though. Instead, he grabbed an old gas furnace he had been sitting on since his days selling boat heaters, an old fuel pump he had been sitting on since I don't know when, some other bits that he had laying around the basement, and made this:

The bike is currently undergoing its annual "my dad is bored" winter disassembly.
Apparently this thing heats the room up right quick, at which point he shuts it down and uses the electric heater to maintain the temperature. You can see the red fuel pump on the floor to the right, the battery for the ignition on the floor directly below the air intake, the fuel in the red jug, and the charger for the battery up on the desk with the wire leading up to it. My mom claims that you can hear the thing start up from inside the house.

The central grey furnace unit was left over from years ago, when it was apparently installed in his car because the stock heater sucked, the thought of which is hilarious in its own right. He rigged everything up using various items that were laying around the basement, such as the brown thing, which is part of a muffler from a Porche 914 (no, my father has never owned a Porche, but had a Dasher that apparently needed a replacement at some point). 

I think this is about 2 seconds before he explained what the brown thing was, and I nearly fell over laughing.
The red fuel pump up there has previously been used as an air compressor for an airbrush, or something like that, though I'm sure that's not even remotely what it was made for. I vaguely remember once being told that the motor was originally from a refrigerator, but I can't confirm that. Could be anything.

I've seen that heat sink around the house for ages. I swear it is part of some of my earliest memories.
That, up there, is apparently a charger for the battery. Electronics is basically magic to me, despite my dad's best efforts to explain it, so who knows. I've been told it's a battery charger, though, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. 

I'm sure this all seems pretty bizarre, linking a weird home-made furnace to my being a bike mechanic, but to me this makes absolute perfect sense. Part of what is so brilliant about bicycles is that there is very little magic going on there, and yet there is so much magic going on there. If you have a decent head for that stuff, a good skill set, and something approximating the right tools, you can basically do anything with a bike; from simple repairs and maintenance to all kinds of incredible customization and creation. At the heart of it, I see Italian steel racers, vintage French Constructeur bikes, my horrible brown bike, tall bikes, and a million other things as all coming from the same place as this weird furnace thing. 

Bikes seem to be one of the greatest strongholds of DIY today, and I think that's why I've ended up here, doing this for my "real job." If everything is pointing you towards something, at some point maybe it makes sense to stop fighting against a thing that you actually want to do, and just buckle down and get serious about it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment