Bicycle Sam sings me a new tune(up)


I bought my bicycle, a Diamond Back Ascent EX, in 1990, paying $195 to a medical student who wanted to build his own bike from custom components. According to the owner’s manual, he’d purchased it from Puck & Pedal, in Lansing, Michigan, on June 16, 1989.

During my ownership, I’ve ridden through the Kjalvegur, or Keel Route, between two massive glaciers in the central highlands of Iceland and over the 11,000-foot pass beside Mulhacén peak, the highest mountain in Spain. My bike and I have covered trails in Michigan, Colorado, and Utah. After moving to California in 2011, I’ve pedaled several times up to White Saddle, which is the summit above Monrovia Canyon Park and involves climbing 2000 feet. The downhill return trip is a scream, although on my very first descent I went too hot into a hairpin turn where water flowed across the trail, and when the front tire skidded on leaves, I very nearly dislocated my right shoulder by landing armpit first, with all my weight on the socket. The bike, of course, was unbloodied.

But hairy adventures aren’t the full extent of it. My bike has also taken me eight blocks away, to Ralph’s, and carried back a $70 grocery order.

In 1996, the Diamond Back conquered the tallest mountain in Spain. But it also can do Ralph’s Market.

Over the years I’ve made various upgrades: new pedals, grips, leather saddle, a rack. A few months ago, though, a brake cable popped loose, and the derailleur needed adjustment anyway, so I left the bike covered up. Back in April I’d been into a shop in Claremont, seen a whole bunch of beautiful new Trek cycles, and started wallowing in a pit of disinterest as far as my Diamond Back was concerned. New bikes have lots of appealing features! Mine is like a donkey: few features and little appeal. But I kept reminding myself of a friend’s remark when shown a photo: “It has character!”

Only this week did I get around to seeing Bicycle Sam for a tuneup. He has a little shop a mile and a half away, so on Monday I loaded the bike into the back of my car and drove down there. I figured this would be a slow time of year in a bike shop. Sam, a slender Asian guy, took a quick look and said it was Diamond Back’s best model twenty-two years ago. Amazing how accurate his model-year assessment was–just a year off!

And my guess about business being slow was right. It would be ready later that afternoon, Sam said. I was busy, though, and only got down there today, Wednesday, to pick it up. After he wheeled out the bike, he couldn’t speak highly enough about its sturdiness—“The best components!”—and predicted I’ll still be riding it twenty-two years from now. I guess Sam thinks I’m made of sturdy stuff, too.

It was a pleasure to pay him $55. Not only did he tune up the bike, but also he administered some attitude adjustment. Encouragement and praise have a way of wrenching one’s perspective around 180 degrees. Now I like my bike better than ever.

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