Category Archives: Columns

Life In a Bike Shop – Cycling Takes All Types

Thurston Howell

The most awesome thing about biking is just how many people regardless of level of brokenness still have an opportunity to enjoy the sport. The filthy rich shop with us, as do the plain ol’ filthy. It’s all good.

I was helping out a gentleman the other day who looked like the kind of fella that never leaves the house without at least 2 g’s in his Vucana wool lined pockets. That said his tires pop just as easily as mine do. The cycling gods don’t give two fucks about who you are or who you think you may be. He tells me that he’s off on his way to the Hamptons and he needs a few tubes just in case. He became a whole lot less snooty. He was prepared to roll up the sleeves on his Givenchy to do a flat repair. Self made man possibly? I don’t know, but the conversation steered its way towards alcohol with me sitting in the captain’s chair.

I tell him that a beer is in my future. He shares with me that he was never a beer guy and that wine was more his fare. More beer for me more wine for him.

The Body Builder

It’s customary to offer to carry out a customers bike. It’s chivalrous in some cases and in other cases quite useless.

A woman comes in to purchase a bike. Someone else has down the heavy lifting of finding her ideal new partner. I help set her saddle and congratulate her on her purchase. As she is preparing to leave her partner walks in the door. His shoulders clear the door frame but not by much. His muscles weighed more than me. The Crusher!!!! Some people live for the gym and others live in it. I’m sure in that gym on the walls hung a sign that stated, “Cardio is Fags” or “Get Ripped or Get Lost”

I offer stupidly and out of habit to bring her bike out to their car. He looks back at me muscles glistening and shit and tells me that he’s got this. I don’t even bother to hold in my gut.

Firm Handshake Man

A lot of shit has changed over time. It’s totally acceptable for gangsters to wear skinny jeans, a cup of coffee to cost $3.00 and biblical movies to be trendy. Side Note: I think its fucking awesome that studios need big name stars to sell movies about biblical happenings. It’s the bible! The star power is in the book.

I had sold a guy on a rack for his car. The deal wasn’t complete to him until we shook on it. Sounds good. A nice throwback. Our first flesh-press was firm but not the kind this magnate was accustomed to. He asked for a do-over. I obliged. We took all of one anothers hands and strongly shook them. He made a man of me. The only thing we neglected to do was spit in our hands first. In another time without the saliva the agreement would not have been ironclad. Different times indeed…

Saddle Sores, Torro, Fake Ass Cubans

I was riding today. Its hot as this is Jersey in July. You see a lotta stuff when your rambling through the different townships. Tiny little slices of America.

One gentleman caught my eye. Average schlubby white guy. I pass by dozens on any given day. When I’m riding and my chamois isn’t quite fitting right, my senses divert my attention from the imminent saddles sores and onto whatever else outwardly has value. When those seams find a weakness, no crotch is safe.

The guy in question was mowing his lawn. Nothing strange there. I looked at his face and saw that he was puffing on a cigar while doing his chore. I’ve seen this before but never really thought too much of it. Guys doing chores with cigars in tow. Ok…What was he trying to convey? He is still a force to be reckoned with? I’m a rebel with or without my Toro?

Regardless of reason, my ass still hurts and is now in intensive care, the guys lawn is mowed and everyone in the neighborhood knows that his lawn was mowed but on his terms…

Chocolate Outrage


I was getting ready to leave work and decided that I needed a few supplements for a training ride in the morning. I thumbed through all of the usual suspects: powerbar gels, hammer gels and cliff bar shot blocks. Crack for athletes. Amphetamines got a nasty reputation from half the inductees in the Baseball Hall of Fame, so selling it on our shelves is a no-no. Also bad aftertaste. Shout out to Pete Rose. Let him in!

Gu gels had a flavor that caught my eye, “chocolate outrage”. I wondered for a second if this were marketed towards black endurance athletes or if it were merely a clueless execs attempt at wordplay? Maybe Chocolate Outrage was a hero in DC Comics, “Justice League” that died in Mississippi on his first day on the job from a gamma ray infused noose? Our consolation was Black Vulcan, a friendly sort of subjugated hero that looked like pre-shit going down, OJ Simpson.

How do you mix economic depravity, racism, police abuse, exploitation at-large, etc… and get it in one tiny little foil packet? It doesn’t even sound appeasing to the palate.

That’s almost as bad as a flavor called, Vanilla Power; “superior energy that will last a thousand years, metaphorically speaking of course”. I wish these companies would run their ideas past a more diverse board of marketeers. Maybe “chocolate outrage” would have drawn a flag. Maybe it did and the company looked at their core base and said, “fuck it, blacks make up 2% of our sales anyway”. I doubt it went down like that, by why even give that quandary a breath of life?

Life Outside of a Bike Store

My neighbor pulls me aside last night to talk to me. I had no clue as to what he wanted to share, but the look on his face was concerning. I steadied myself for whatever was coming next be it family, house, work, etc…. I was kicking myself for not having had that pint before going outside. In dramatic fashion he told me that the drive train on his mountain bike was skipping. It was really bothering him and sapping his performance. I’m looking at him bewildered. It’s 8pm and not only am I off the clock, but completely sober. I give my probable diagnosis and as quickly as he had gotten my attention he was gone into the night.

Some reasons to not get down on yourself over your winter Strava stats

  • You won’t be putting on the regular miles that you do while the weather is warm so your baseline will be lower
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of all that winter gear
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of perspiration and/or precipitation soaked into all of that extra winter gear
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of your winter bike (you do have a winter beater, right?)
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of Thanksgiving on you (hopefully not, but you know…)
  • You’ll be riding with the extra resistance that good windproof gear brings
  • You’ll be burning extra calories just to stay warm

Speaking of which, I would recommend choosing shorter routes so that you aren’t tempted to stop for hot chocolate once you’re out. Once soggy you finally gets moving into that cold, winter wind you will immediately regret it, followed by getting hypothermia and dying. Happy riding!

What to Wear When It’s 40 Degrees And Raining

Maybe you paid for the ride in advance. Maybe it just so happens that mother nature decides to dump on your one window of opportunity to ride all week. Whatever, it’s 40 and raining and you’re going to get on that horse and ride it. Here is what I wear in these conditions:


1, 2: Base Layers

Since you will be using a good outer shell or two you can go a little light on the base layers. I choose a heavy (though not fleece lined) long-sleeved Under Armor shirt and a regular short sleeved jersey. Should the clouds break you’ll appreciate being able to let your arms breathe a little if you remove your outer jacket.

3: Winter Vest

A good windproof, fleece lined vest is an important layer because it won’t be too warm under a rain jacket BUT will be warm enough if the rain subsides.

4: Rain Jacket

When its cold enough that its almost snowing you don’t need to bother with gore-tex or anything super high-zoot, but you should consider something cycling-specific. The Capo pictured has a little ventilation under the arms, has an extended back side and most importantly, is clear so your club kit shows through! ;-)

5,6: Windproof tights, Bibs

Even when wet your leg muscles are going to generate plenty of heat. Rainproof pants will be too much for a training ride–stick with two layers of good lycra and you’ll be fine. Avoid thicker fleece as that will just soak up water.

7,8,9: Shoes, wool socks, rainproof shoe covers

I probably shouldn’t have grouped these together but I did. Here is the bottom line: Unless you have rain-specific gore-tex-lined shoes you’re going to get wet so you might as well prepare for it. The Perl Izumi Barrier Pro shoe covers pictured lasted about 50 minutes in a steady drizzle before I could feel that the dampness was more rain than sweat, which brings me to the second point:

Use the right weight of WOOL sock. Too light and you’ll get cold. Too heavy and your feet will feel like they are wringing out sponges with every pedal stroke. You just want a little light insulation. Wool, as you know, will keep you warm even when wet.

10: Cold Water Scuba Diving Gloves

Following the same theme as the shoes you should also know that your hands are going to get wet as well. Bummer. Lucky for you they can remain comfortable. I have an entire writeup on the use of cold water diving gloves for cycling use. They’re pretty good and really the only thing that will work. I just took these babies out for 2.5 hours of non-stop rain and only had wrinkly fingertips as a result.

11, 12: Helmet, cycling cap

I like using a cycling cap in the rain as it helps to keep the rain out of my eyes. Glasses are utterly useless so I leave those at home.

PRO TIP: DRY OUT YOUR SHOES QUICKLY UPON RETURNING. Use a space heater or a hair dryer. Once you start growing stuff in your shoes you will NEVER get the smell out. Believe me. The shoes pictured have been washed, bleached, soaked in baking soda, and more. The faint smell of wrong still lingers.

Life in a Bike Store


Slavery is an ugly smear on this countries soul. Slavery sucks period. Being related to the formerly oppressed, this is my view. I guess over time, most groups have been some other groups bitch. A gentleman came into the store and the conversation went from the rolling attributes of a 29 inch wheel to African Americans not being allowed to marry. The bike shop turned into the barber shop within a few short minutes. This gentleman tried to come at me about my knowledge of black history. Dude, I’m not entertaining that shit. In the bike shop, I answer questions about the sport to the best of my abilities. I love to learn about the different people we have come through our doors, but dude, I ain’t touching that. I don’t talk shit about the holocaust or the goings-on’s in the middle east either. I can, but politics are touchy subjects and touchy subjects can turn a pleasant visit into a pointless envoy between two peoples that were cool, but now dislike one another. Also bad for sales…Whatever repressed shit you have going doesn’t involve me.

Grimy Hands After Closing

Certain unfortunate circumstances come with any trade. If you’re a cop there’s a chance you could get shot, if you’re a bartender there’s a chance you could become an alcoholic and if you’re a professional athlete you could be penniless long before the pressure in your urethra dips from a “force of nature” to “farce of nature”. I work in the sales part of the store. I smile pretty, provide my wisdom’s and try to streamline a consumers needs. I work with machinery in the form of bicycles, hence the title of this piece. Grimy shit comes with the territory. During the hours of my shift, I don’t care as it is expected. I try to avoid an overly icky bike. People have a little respect. Wipe that shit off. Road grime is to be expected, but cobwebs and god knows what else? Ick!

After my shift is done and my sights refocus to family and beer. Keep it simple and hoppy. I don’t want any grime. Customers trickle in at all times. Before we open, after we close, probably on the days we are closed as well. I been that guy that gets to a store right as they are closing and the asshole points to the closed sign. That’s a real dick move, but hours are hours. Because of that guy, I open the door and explain that we are closed. If someone needs a quick fix and looks pathetic enough, I soil my hands. Again, I’ve had that same pathetic look. The price is dirty hands after hours. Just a peeve I guess.

Made in America

I love to hear people ask me where a bike is manufactured. Its an asshole question honestly. We both know that more than half the shit in this country is not of this country. Check your portfolios. Like the results your company is delivering to you? If they produce anything, guess where it’s being made? What’s better is when they follow that asshole question with pulling up information off their Samsung. I play along. I like games…

So a bike is made in a country that we bombed the shit out of. Is their revenge, a challenging shift in its Tiagra line? We raped and pillaged did other ill stuff in another country. Is their revenge a boss that’s not machined right? Americans make shitty stuff too. Wherever the hell a product is made, as long as there’s pride in it and at 50mph the thing doesn’t disintegrate between my legs, keep cranking em out. Any company worth their weight in carbon warranty their stuff. Any shop that values their customers will do everything in their power to make their experience as pleasant as humanly possible, which means selling quality product.

Life In A Bike Shop

Boy Meets Girl Bike

It’s rare when I see it happen, but I always feel as though that kids going to be alright. A boy that finds a bike that captures his eye. Apart from what other people might think, he finds a bike that speaks to him. I guess we’re sorta like a no-kill shelter but for bikes. All of our babies are house-broken with up to date immunization records. We are not a bike mill. For some choosing a bike is a matter of utility, others a union that may last a lifetime and still others that purchase according to the planetary alignments. 

I also like the progressive parents that allow their children to go with their guts. If you have parents that have your back, you almost have everything you need short of a few bucks for pot. 

Side Note: If your little girl loves pink, so be it. Get her a pink bike. There aren’t too many grown women walking around in princess gowns. Let them be the princess they are. Just make sure they still know who the king and queen/ king and king/queen and queen are. 

I Remember When…

People come in the store all the time and share stories about their workhorses. Bikes older than me and apparently in better shape. “I remember when…..” is a common line. People tend to think that cycling is in some sort of weird vortex where technology shant enter. The Atari 2600 was rad and innovative 30 years ago, but shit happens. Technologies change. I love to show these individuals our personal data base called, “the internet”. 

Saturday Turnarounds And Other Childhood Fables

Generally there is no busier a day in the bike shop than Saturday. Think you’re getting that bottom bracket overhaul, brake bleed and wheel true today? Not without beer. Really good beer. If I can twist the top off, you’re not getting your shit til Tuesday. 

We try to accommodate our customers. No body in the bike shop business could refute this. I mean, we aren’t selling infant formula, pacemakers or Schaefers. If you don’t have a bike, you’ll live. Same goes for formula, but if you screw with a man’s beer the consequences could be fatal. Same can be said for pacemakers. Saturday’s are generally reserved for quick turns and sales. Time draining operations are reserved for quieter times. 

Smart customers bring offerings. Food is cool as is beer. Dead food that is. No livestock please. We never get virgins either. This makes a few of us sad. We are a first world shop of course. We don’t do trade-ins and don’t barter in virgins. We survived pretty well steering clear of that sort of business. Virginity was cool, but carbon is better.


It’s hard enough trying to convince a new consumer of the value of upgrading from Shimano Tiagra to Shimano 105 and beyond. I can explain the weight differences between the components, the shift quality and the addition of an extra gear or two, but for most; it comes down to cost. The monies saved are rarely thought about when the road pitches up to 15% and you find yourself a gear or two short. Don’t walk darling. Tough it out!

A guy came in the shop bleeding from several different wounds. He was the victim of a paceline gone wrong. He was 20 miles out from home when he went down and still managed to get himself onto our sales floor open wounds and all. Like a true roadie he came to us to get stuff for his next ride. I bandaged his wounds between sips of my coffee. Adrenaline is a fucker post trauma. My goal was to tend to his wounds. That was my human side. The sales guy side of me wanted him the fuck out of the store. Promoting cycling as a healthier alternative to sitting on the couch drinking beer and watching athletes can get a little tricky when a guy still in his lycra is bleeding out right in front of you.

Used Bike Purchase:

That’s a tricky one. Just because the price was right and the decals were still in tact, doesn’t mean that the bike is right for you. I know you like the color and the tales of valor that came with the package, but that doesn’t equate a decent fit for you. It is however my job to make it work for you the best I can. I am not a technical fitter. I don’t ask you about your favorite Redford film or your favorite sexual position. There are algorithms for everything, so I’m sure that information could be helpful to a true fit specialist. I eyeball it, watch you pedal, ask about what you want to get in your experience, health problems and make tweaks based off that information. I prefer free weights and encyclopedia’s as well.


We do repairs. We sell stuff, fix stuff and occasionally ride. Not as much as we would like, but baby needs a new pair of shoes and banks tend not to give a shit about your Strava rankings.

I love X-Files. Bikes that either come in with ghastly issues and the owner having no idea how a flesh eating disease affixed itself to his rear derailleur. Rusty chains are neat too. “Yeah, I think its going to take a little more than a few spritzes of Wet Lube to reincarnate that chain. Store your bike in the creek, expect a few complications. Take that baby to service!

I also like the gal who thinks that she only needs air in her tires and I see at least 5 reasons why riding that machine would be detrimental to the health and safety to not only herself, but others. If I were in the mortuary services business, I wouldn’t have a problem telling them that their bike was A-OK, but I pride myself on people enjoying their ride outside of a hearse. That tire holding air would be a very bad thing at this stage. All I can do is provide them with my opinions and hope that they heed them.

Life in A Bike Shop

Life in a bike shop isn’t always pretty, but have you looked around lately? The world is going bat shit or at least returning to the ways of old. Brutality back in the days of Sodom involved hearing your side of the story and then killing you anyway.

We may not have your perfect bike, but I can guarantee you that we will not sever your head. It’s not written into our general policy mind you, but we are pretty good about not participating in that sort of activity. I can’t necessarily say the same of our competitors. I’m not saying that beheading is part of their sales strategy, but then I can’t unequivocally say that it isn’t.


“I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” Children are also the cornerstone’s of any bike shop. They don’t have the cash, but they have access to those that do.

There was a little boy in the store today running his mouth. He wasn’t being bratty or obscene, homeboy just had a lot to say. After his dad who was clearly tiring of his mouth was ready to check out, they came up to me. I was impressed that “Busta Rhymes” hadn’t taken a noticeable breath since stepping up to the counter. His dad remarked that he was talking a lot and then asked him not so discreetly if he had taken his meds today. To my surprise his answer was yes. The little boy had then said that without them he gets crazy. I stepped into their conversation. Being an aging father and avid recreational cyclist allows me the luxury of adding my 2 cents to all of life’s situations. Sorta like the old drunks that hung out on my stoop in San Francisco with all the answers in the world save for how they could get the fuck up from in front of my doorstep. I don’t just pee wherever. That would also distinguish me. I told that little boy that he was not crazy and not to let anyone say that to him. If the words from an aging recreational cyclist ever were to stick, I hope those would. At the Montclair Bikery we care

Charter Fishing

Closing sales can be a sticky proposition. You don’t want to be aggressive and you don’t want to be passive. Present the customer with the information that she or he seeks and then watch them walk out the door a better informed consumer into the next bike shop. This is the circle of life in a bike shop. This also happens in our favor. Again, the circle of life.

Tough customers can be equated to marlins. You cast your line with a healthy piece of mackerel on it and wait for a nibble. At the Bikery my bait is Specialized, Trek, Felt and Pinnarello. Less messy than mackerel, but every once in awhile, I think I would have better results with fish. The tough customer typically see’s the bike that he likes and then wants to be reaffirmed of his findings.

“I need a bike to get around town on. Tell me more about the Tarmac.”

I don’t lie to customers or not purposely. I’m not selling snake oil. You don’t believe me…Take a ride on it and then not believe me. Your superior intelligence is validated while my beer continues to chill in the fridge. Seems like a win-win to me. I love the customer that takes out 3 similar bikes. Make an informed choice. I am technically letting the fish run. While my line starts to heat up I cool it off with my coffee that has long cooled over this fight for a sale. I then lock the line and start reeling.

“So that’s a heck of a bike. Am I right? Lance Armstrong himself wind and field tested that hybrid. The information he derived from that bike helped him sorta win 7 Tour De France titles. What do you think it’ll do for you tooling around your neighborhood?”

That pitch worked a whole lot better before his intimate interview with Oprah. The common American has no idea who Alberto Contador is, so I just can’t switch out stars. No one’s buying shit off of Tejay van Garderen’s name. Great racer, no star power.

Price haggling is always fun. “So what’s your profit on this bike? Can’t we make something work for the both of us?” Easy answer is, “no”. Park the Range Rover around the corner before fighting me over a $500 bike. The consumer, like the marlin fights for its way of life. Then comes the heavy lifting. Strap on the harness, crack open a Miller and start pulling.

“The price stands on this particular bike. You want a decent bike, pay a decent price. That’s literally what it comes down too.”

Marlins are renown for their athleticism when it comes down to not wanting to be eaten, mounted or held up for an unauthorized selfie with a fat guy. The consumer is no different. Maybe I should start sweetening the deal with a little smoked mackerel. Whatever it takes…