[This post was written and originally posted June 2, 2005.]
Ah the unexpected things (joys and disappointments alike) about travel… Andy and I are down in the Pyrenees now. His bike has been giving him trouble. Making a strange sound. In our hurry to get over 3 passes yesterday, we found a really well-known bike shop here in Luchon (first thing in the morning) and the owner and chief mechanic, Gerard, put it on the stand… and then went back in his shop like he had all the time in the world. He returned with a pair of garden clippers and snipped a beautiful pink rose for “the lady” — that’s me! — before setting to work. Ah, the priorities of the French…
… 8:30 PM that night and we were still standing there – now with a group of French and Italian and English cyclist onlookers who were all gathered round for the fix-a-bike affair. Gerard chatted and joked, and drank a cup of coffee while he worked — get this picture in your head: not a cup of Starbucks or my personal favorite and best coffee in the world, Peet’s, but one of those eensy-weensy demi-tasse ceramic cups of coffee and a saucer of course from a cafe down the street. (Perhaps we have witnessed the beginning of coffee-to-go in france?) We learned quickly that fixing a bike doesn’t happen in a hurry here. It’s a bonafide social occasion for the mechanic and all who care to pass by.
Also learned that this particular French mechanic and shop owner (and perhaps ALL French mechanics and shop owners?) have a great deal of pride. Our comments and suggestions, like our basic description of the problem to start with and then a more urgent, “Why don’t you get on it and ride it around and you will DEFINITELY hear and feel what we are talking about,” went unheard.
Gerard completely rebuilt the bike, including drilling a few holes in the frame!!! I’m not kidding — the entire bike dismantled, then a new chain, new derailleur, tightened bolts, AND new tubes in the tires (not quite sure how that relates to the crunchy crank problem but he seemed convinced that sometimes weird sounds can come from tube placement in a tire). Oh, and the tape lining the wheel well too. That got replaced with a heavier plastic material. Andy’s gonna love all the extra weight on these climbs over here! Anyway, not even the wheel well tape liner worked, and Andy returned after test ride #9 shaking his head that the problem was still there. Andy and I went to dinner and told Gerard we’d return tomorrow morning.
Lendemain (the next day) Gerard worked enthusiastically to identify and solve the problem — still without ever sitting on the bike, although we continued to gently insist that sitting on the flippin’ bike seat was exactly what he needed to do to understand what was going on. He would make the next “certain repair” until there was nothing left to do, but get on the damn thing!
So, it’s 5 PM the eve of the second day, after hours and hours of work and repairs and practically a new bike, and Gerard finally saddles up. In just a few pedal strokes, there was surprise and understanding in his immediate reaction to the continued crunch of the rotating crank. He let out an acknowledging grunt and hoisted the bike back on the stand. Bad/damaged crank set. The last thing to be replaced.
Not sure what Andy’s price tag ended up coming to, as I went on a solo ride into Spain and back to work off some of the cheese that is settling onto MY frame like a thick coat of mud. It’s nearly 6 PM now, my legs are tired (from something I can barely call a ride), Andy’s wallet is empty and we still have 3 big passes to get over… Dontchya love the way this country or maybe this whole continent, works?
You know, it could have taken Gerard 5 days to fix the bike and I still would have been thinking about that rose…