Thursday, January 12, 2012

The bored bike mechanic

While I was in the garage tonight building my road bike up I was reminiscing back on the days when I was wrenching on bikes full time in shops and the fun I had traveling around the country as a race mechanic.
There is never a shortage of laughter in the back of a bike shop since the customers keep the scenarios coming through the door. There are several reasons most bike shop employees are smiling when they greet a customer because there was probably a huge helping of shenanigans served just before the customer walked in.

These shop stunts can range from the simple yet effective to the elaborate and dangerous. Some of the simpler pranks are usually used a couple times a year and are ineffective on seasoned mechanics such as inflating a bike tube to the point of explosion or the hiding of tools. These are the starter pranks deployed on the new guy to gauge his ability to handle the future onslaught of jovial hijinks.

During the slow times in a bike shop there is a myriad of engineering feats conducted that would rival post grads at MIT. If you give a couple of bike mechanics an hour alone in a bike shop you will have a compressed air spoke gun that through trial and error that will have the range of a sniper rifle and possibly penetrate a solid block wall. There will also be several other attachments developed to fire other random parts in the shop or out the back door at small woodland creatures such as valve stem caps, spoke nipples, chain pins, cable caps, ball bearings and a ton more.

Some of the other pranks include but are not limited to covertly greasing common handles in the unsuspecting mechanics work area, gluing tools down to work surfaces,

These are what I would call the “bike shop basics”, These are the average and plain pranks that are currently being deployed in every bike shop. But the true artisans of bike shop pranks are far and few in between. These are usually the guys that are quiet and methodical and take weeks to plan and prep for the final tactics to execute on the unexpecting recipient. Most time these fine purveyors of pranks are the shop managers or owners. There were only a select few that I would consider greats in this category and I feel I have truly learned from the best across the country. Since most bike shop employees have bikes or commute on bikes there is always a prime employee target bike leaned up against a wall in the shop or hanging in the back that may be unattended for hours or possibly days.

These can range from the simple “time bomb” anchovy down the seat tube to the multiday operation of adding weight to ones commuter bike. The bet part of these advanced time release pranks is silently and un suspectingly watching the recipients realize something is wrong and start to diagnose the problem. One of my favorites is buying several of those small (half inch or smaller) bells, the kind that are usually on cat toys or Christmas decorations and placing these in very hard to find places on ones bike. The rider will usually notice noise right off the bat and start to find out where it is coming from. But if you put several of them on in the bike at one treatment they will find one and think the problem has been solved and continue riding only to find the noise is still prominent. I will usually drop one down the seat tube, one down the headtube (captured inbetween starnuts) one in the handle bars, one in the bottom bracket, one in the stem, one in the down tube (if possible) and even to the extent of inserting one in each tube and patching said tube and installing back on the bike. This prank is very time and labor intensive but very worth it.

Another prank of the same magnitude is slowly adding weight to ones bike. Starting with lead shot in the handle bars and other areas and eventually filling the tubes with water and re inflating. If the additions are made gradually the rider won’t suspect a thing over time and will eventually be riding a 60 pound commuter bike. I usually will also get everyone to throw in certain comments that will dwell on the physiological aspect of the rider such as, “are you losing weight?” “You look like your getting sick” or possibly “you seem to be getting weaker on your rides”. These comments with the additional weight on the bike will wage war in the head.

Some of the other simpler tricks are swapping the shifter cables or the brake lines/cables or even both at the same time, incrementally changing the bikes geometry like lowering the seat a little each day or possibly staggering gears on the cassette, I have seen guys during group rides re align brake pads so it would eventually rub through the tire to cause a blowout and even change a crank arm 90 degrees or even swapping a crank arm out for one that is 5mm shorter. Changing out the 39t inner ring of a road crank for a 42t can be humiliating on a group ride. also replacing 4 gears with several 16 tooth gears in the rear cassette makes for some funny reactions when they keep shifting and shifting with nothing happening then they will go from a 16t to a 12t or 13t

I would go on with this list but I have to save the best for myself because I truly love a good prank war and I have a lot of great secrets.


  1. Being in direct proximity to Ft Campbell has inspired our pranks to be a bit more incendiary. Obviously, WD-40+Bic lighter= blowtorch, a great alternative when a fly swatter just won't do. Here's another favorite: loosely thread a nipple on to a spoke,(optional:bend the spoke into the shape of your favorite gun) pack the nipple tightly with scrapings from several match heads, finish it off with a tiny ball of aluminum foil stuffed into the end. Heat the nipple up with whatever; propane torch, soldering gun, etc. Watch as your as your workmates dodge the tiny caliber bullet!

  2. I wonder is a prank named after you - Mr Miller?