“Hey Parker, we could totally shoot porn down here.”
Unfortunately, this wonderment in conversation between Luke and Parker happened at the exact moment I needed to ask whether or not I was supposed to lubricate my brake cable before sliding it into the housing. Turns out, the answer to this innuendo-laden question was a definitive “no.” In winter, over-lubricated cables pick up salt, sand and tears, slowing the braking action and ensuring you’ll be back doing the same job in May, when they finally scrub the salt off the roads.
Luke is my bicycle mechanic over at Laughing Dog. Parker owns the place, and there’s a revolving door of mechanics working the busy season (a door I can’t even consider opening until I can replace housing without asking questions). In ’84, Parker was part-owner of Bicycle World 2, the sister shop of Bicycle World in Greenfield. When Parker bought it out in ’98, his dog (named Max, not kidding) was the perfect namesake for Laughing Dog Bicycles. The shop is as much a part of the culture of Amherst as any bicycle shop could hope to be.
I started hanging onto the coattails of Luke and Parker when I first moved to Amherst last September. With all I’ve learned in the last four months, the shop is becoming my garage, shopping mall, confessional, watering hole, and potentially, my adult film studio.
The store spans the front and back of a facade in the heart of Amherst Center, right next to La Veracruzana’s Mexican cuisine on South Pleasant Street. The front of the shop has eight stands, and Luke regularly hosts bike mechanic crash courses where I like to ridicule myself in front of other cyclists. These Thursday evening wrench sessions quickly became the highlight of my week. Amid graduate classes, teaching assistantships, homework, gainful employment and tidal waves of deadlines, the wrench gig keeps me sane.
Unfortunately, Laughing Dog’s mascot Max passed on before I could scratch behind his ears. There’s a few other dogs that hang in the shop occasionally. Laughing Dog also has a cyclocross team, and the crew tore it up at some of the Northeastern events this season. If you’re a regular, you already heard about Tyler’s singlespeeding.
Making friends with the locals at your bike shop is probably the best investment you can make in your bicycle. Most shops are filled with hardworking mechanics that are genuinely passionate about cycling, not profits. Tap into that by hanging around to talk shop, asking good questions, bringing in the occasional six-pack, and bringing your friends’ bikes in for tune-ups. Since I’ve started hanging around the shop, I’ve definitely spent more on bike parts and tools, but I’m saving money by doing things myself and investing in the right parts that last longer, rather than always risking it on an uneducated eBay purchase or tossing money into the dark maw of online retailers.
This past Thursday was new cable and housing day. With god-awful commuting conditions over the past few weeks, I decided to swap out my housing early on my Surly, just to get ahead of any ride-ending wear. The bonus was an upgrade to Jagwire’s compressionless brake housing, the best $40 you can spend on your bike in terms of performance (in my often-voiced opinion). With better brake actuation, I’m a safer rider on the icy, unplowed streets between my house and Amherst Coffee.
You already have compressionless housing on your bicycle right now, unless you’re riding singlespeed. Derailleur housing is compressionless, as illustrated below in a great image from Cyclocross Magazine:
The lower of the two housings in this picture, compressionless derailleur housing, is filled with bunched wires running parallel, which prevents the housing from compressing under force. This is perfect for quick, precise shifting.
The spiral housing, shown on top, is brake housing. The spongy feeling in your brakes when you fully compress them is the housing distorting slightly, which decreases the amount of force applied to your brake pads. Compressionless brake housing features a traditional spiral brake housing wrapped in an outer layer of parallel derailleur-style wire, which prevents compression in the brake cable, giving you an (almost) too-powerful stop every time.
Jagwire also produces some great colors. Nothing says ‘erotica’ quite like metallic gold housing and pink zip-ties.
I did the cabling job, making this the fourth time I’ve successfully replaced brake housing and cables myself. The feeling of pride you get after installing a significant portion of your bike’s mechanical workings yourself is difficult to put to words with enough evocation to do it justice. Personally, it makes me feel like I’ve stepped into the shoes of my father, bravely attempting to re-wire a light switch and successfully completing the project perfectly (with only 20 hours of labor!).
And, thanks to the cycling brainiacs at Laughing Dog Bicycles, my bikes are making me smile as wide as ever.
Keep riding! I don’t care how cold it is.
Find Laughing Dog Bicycles online at www.laughingdogbicycles.com, or just stop in sometime.