There is a profound difference between assembling a bike and building a bike.
It is a level of nuance and perfection that goes completely unnoticed by the untrained eye but is deeply appreciated by those who know.
To handle the rebirth of his new Colnago (parts 1 and 2 are here and here), Matt turned to Mike Kalenda of Golden Saddle Cyclery, located just across the Los Angeles River from swrve’s World Headquarters.
If you ride a bike and have an Instagram account, there’s a good chance Golden Saddle Cyclery has appeared on your radar at one time or another. In only a few short years, Kyle and the gang have established GSC as a vital hub for the Los Angeles cycling community and they’ve led the charge in convincing the rest of the of the world that #lasucksforcycling is only a myth.
In the dojo that is the service area of any bike shop, a “pro build” is a task reserved for the highest ranking black belt on staff. In cycling circles, “pro mechanics” are always spoken of in revered tones by a loyal client base that never forgets their favorite beer or exactly how they take their coffee, because they know to respect the importance the cycling gods place upon paying proper tribute. To achieve this level means you have arrived as a wrench.
Among the realm of master mechanics, Mike is on the young side. He broke into the bike industry when he bluffed his way into a job at Incycle in San Dimas, a suburb about 30 miles due east from Golden Saddle’s front door. It was 1999 and he was a BMX riding high school kid who needed gas money. Instead of throwing him out the door after a flailing attempt at assembling a basic kid’s bike, the Incycle crew took him under their wing. After a few months of honing his assembly skills, he was awarded a yellow belt in bike mechanics and allowed to fix flat tires (and nothing else) on customer’s bikes.
As Mike recounted this story, the year 1999 really stuck in my head. I was in college back then and working part-time at a bike shop to help supplement a mountain biking addiction that wasn’t fully covered by student loan refund checks. A BMX riding high school kid with dreadlocks named Brent worked in the back as a mechanic. If he hadn’t strayed from bikes to become a science teacher, he’d probably right where Mike is today.
Having an understanding of a journey that included running the service department at Incycle Pasadena and getting the shop at Pedaler’s Fork up and running made me appreciate watching Mike’s build process even more.
When a mechanic does a pro build there are always tricks. Some have been passed down from mechanic to mechanic while others are learned. A favorite of Mike’s is one I’d never heard before: “Set your bar and shifters before you run your cables and housing. Otherwise it could look like a tumbleweed blowing down the road.”
Instantly, Mike’s comment for added emphasis had me mentally kicking myself for all those times I’d struggled to make adjustments after the fact.
Mike’s progression through the build was methodical and caring. He might as well have been at home working on his own bike on a Sunday afternoon as he made his way from back to front, a consistency makes it easier for him to remember exactly where he left off should he be interrupted.
The interruptions that afternoon were minimal. A couple curious looky-loos and a few random questions that were outnumbered by laughs and smiles.
“To make it work well and look good there’s extra steps you gotta take,” he explained as I watched him take an entire extra staircase all the way down to lining up the logos on handlebar tape that are impossible to even see from five feet away.
While bikes serve as vessels for escape and adventure they are also wonderful outlets for OCD.
And when a bike is built exactly correct, you’ll always want to go for a ride.