Thursday, August 7, 2008

For want of a taller quill stem

It's about bicycles.

Several years ago, I completed my first century, a 100-mile trip through the rolling hills of the Shenandoah. When I got to the parking lot, a couple of fully-outfitted roadies (skinny tires, skinny arms, buff legs, lycra this way and that) said to me, what distance did you ride- And I said, the hundred. And they said in unison, ON THAT (my beloved hybrid bike)- And so was born my quest for a road bike. There's a long and emotional story that I should tell about how I finally ended up with my lovely Bianchi Imola, but today's story is more mechanical than emotional.

Over time, I have decided that what I really need on this roadbike with the rams-horn handlebars is a way to get the handlebars a little higher. I've talked it over with Dr. Bike on Coquimbo, in Santiago and we agreed that I needed "a longer stem," or in his parlance "un T mas larga." The problem is that the way handlebars are put into bikes has changed over recent years, so I now need a part that is hardish to find. I could order it online, sure. But I'd never be sure I was getting the right thing, and vaguely enjoy the cold and hostile reception you can get at bike shops.

So off I went, here in New York, the city of my youth. I traced a sloppy zigzaggy circle around lower Manhattan, collecting bikepart terminology as I went.

I started on the west side (22nd and 6thish), first visiting A Bicycle Shop where visions of a whole free day danced in my head, and I believed, I really did, that they would have the part I was looking for and would send me happily on my way. Alas, it was not to be.

Then I went to Sid's bikes, where I was treated with only a modicum of disdain, disbelief and disrespect, and was told that I had said "shorter stem" when in fact, I had said "longer stem." Here I learned that actually what I wanted was a "taller stem" and that it's called a quill. Score: 0 for customer service, 10 for new terminology. It was suggested from here that I go to Busy Bee, down on 6th Street between 1st and Ave. A.

On the way I stepped into and quickly out of Metro Bicycles on 6th avenue. They were busy, not moving very fast, and looked to be mostly in the "install your water bottle cage" mode, and not in the mood to listen to tales of woe of a semi-hard-to-find replacement part.

Off to the Busy Bee, where the owner, in a cachureo(junktique)-filled shop beseeched me to leave him to find the piece I was looking for, as he had last seen it two days ago. I came back an hour later, having eaten soft tacos from Benny's Burritos on Ave. A, just like I did when I was in high school. Back to the bikeshop, where I was told, after a blank look of "who is this girl" that there was no part to be found. But I also learned that a black sleeve that fits into the bike also exists, and that this adapter could be used to lengthen (sorry guy from Sid's, I mean TALLEN my stem). Here I also kibbitzed with a wrench (mechanic) from Guyana, a nice guy with diamond studs in each ear who told me about a three-day bike trip from Georgetown (Guyana) to the border with Brazil. Duly noted! Here I was told to hoof it over to 12th and Avenue B, for the fifth shop of the day.

And off I went to what would be the final stop of my 80 degrees and humid wanderings. Continuum Cycles was only a little bit uptown from where I was, and I got to hop skip and jump through Tomkins Square Park, the site of police-squatter violence in the 80s, now a lovely spot to watch some chess or walk your tiny dog.

I walked into the shop, with my sparkling and discipline-appropriate vocabulary, somewhat resigned to never finding what I was looking for. Fritz, newly returned from a long stint as a photojournalist in the Middle East, talked to me about what I need, why I needed it, etc. He wanted to measure the stem, and started towards the door with a measuring tape. I told him he was going to have to throw it really far if he wanted to measure the bike, as it was in Santiago. We chitted and chatted and discussed expatlandia and leaving it, and in the end, he sold me this:



I also bought a fabulous new bike bell which I promised not to put on my road bike, and ran into Justin, the good friend of Jaime, aka "El Divino Boy" who's about two concentric circles away from my inner circle of friends in Santiago.

It was a long day, involving a lot of posturing and pointing and wild hand gesticulations and learning the difference between tall and long, a quill stem and an unthreaded stem, enjoying the brother and sisterhood of cycling with people who are not jerks, eating tasty mexicali food, and meeting a friend-of-a-friend or so. Also, I got some decals from Continuum cycles, which will only improve my street cred.

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