Sunday, 22 September 2019

Refurbishing An Old Bicycle

What is better than immersing oneself in a passionate hobby and physical activity like cycling? Certainly not golf, which is for lazy rich men with 'networking' on their minds.

These days all my spare time is spent watching YouTube videos on techniques, nutrition, technologies and DIY repairs related to cycling.

At my servant's service

One may do without many of the above-mentioned things but not without a good mechanic for a branded bicycle.

Ancient bicycle (not mine)
While spending countless hours upgrading and servicing my mountain bike, I noticed my servant (sorry we do not call them ‘domestic help’) casting sideways glances at his own dilapidated bike. With greater frequency he had also begun to beg me for extra money to get the punctures fixed (sorry, we do not call them 'flats').

King Edward Medical University
Something needed to be done to lessen the intensity of the boy's evil eye, so instead of buying him a new bike I decided to refurbish the old one he had.

Dashing to the Blue Dome

Neela Gumbad is Lahore’s famed bicycle market, so named because once there stood a mosque with a beautiful blue dome. It is outside one of the entrances of the even more famed Anarkali Bazaar (literally: pomegranate blossom).

The drive to Lahore’s city-centre (sorry, we do not call it ‘downtown’) required taking the bike’s front wheel off and packing it in the car’s dickey (sorry, we do not call it ‘boot’ or ‘trunk’).

'Flower-power' of the Psychedelic 60s

We drove down Jail Road and past historic landmark buildings such as the Governor’s House, the zoo, the High Court and the General Post Office. Across the Neela Gumbad square, the famed King Edward Medical University stared at us through the peepal trees. We had an appointment with a bike surgeon who most eagerly awaited to dissect my servant’s locally-made Sohrab bicycle.

But where did the foreigners go?

Hippy cyclists from the 1970s once visited Neela Gumbad where they either had their bikes repaired or sold them off to pay for the ‘want' of marijuana—a produce with which our ‘land of the pure’ is supplied in abundance. Sadly, this ‘stuff’ is now controlled by foreign ‘liberators’ settled in Afghanistan.
The main street of the bicycle market

I went equipped with the weapons of basic Lahori education and advanced training in foreign lands, and was hence gauged by Neela Gumbad's shop-keepers as either ‘someone who had lived abroad’ or a local ‘doctor or engineer’ because only brown foreigners or technically-trained local professionals usually challenged them with smart counter-questions.

“There were giants in the earth in those days…”

To satisfy the readers’ curiosity, I own a Giant ‘C-Rock 1’ mountain bike (MTB for short). Giant is now the world’s top bicycle manufacturer based in Taiwan, with factories in China.

Get ready to lay down your bike (if not your life) 
The day was sunny with 75 percent humidity but 35 Celsius felt like 40 (sorry, we do not use Fahrenheit).

I naturally attempted to find if any Giants existed at Neela Gumbad. I saw three bikes perched atop a display rack, their prices ranging from Rs 75,000 to 150,000. When I asked about spares and repairs, disappointing replies convinced me that I was expected to only buy the bike and never make ridiculous after-sales related queries.

All bikes (like wives) need routine maintenance
When in Rome, do as the Lahoris do

Many were the diseases that my servant’s bike had. The mechanic-doctor swiftly morphed into a 'believing' butcher, threw the 'sacrificial' bicycle sideways on the floor, and prepared to swiftly send its mechanical soul to bike-heaven. Had it been the Eid season, he might have hung the bike upside down and turned her into spicy metal kebabs and rubbery chops.

Not exactly Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan's 'BUM'-factory
Comparing bikes to innocent bakras (goats) is not an insult. Senseless butchery is evident in business, public dealing, and the speedy public 'justice' of Taliban-ISIS-Daesh forms of rogue regimes liberally financed by suited booted ones who wish to rid us of ‘global terrorism’.

Rat-poison, anybody?
It is a local custom not to decide upon the cost of labour prior to commencement of work but rather haggle afterwards, which will often lead to non-academic arguments and utterance of unpleasant words directed at the ladies of one or the other person's family. Exchanging physical blows over trivial matters is regarded as 'askari salahyat' (militancy ability).

Lahoris are like blunt New Yorkers in many ways, and which explains why we cannot wriggle all of Kashmir out of Indian 'clutches'.

Tyres and tubes

I left the mechanic's side for a few minutes and upon returning saw that the bike had been dismantled as if it were blown up.

Muslim stores on Hindu properties

We first needed a pair of tyres (sorry, we are do not spell as 'tires') and tubes. Famous top brands could not be found anywhere. Locally manufactured Servis, Panther and Ghauri tyres were available while a famous Indian brand was suddenly 'in short supply because Pakistan had boycotted Indian products' due to the ‘enemy country’ stopping Kashmiris from freely riding their bicycles up and down the mountains. In retaliation, Pakistan stood accused of supplying to the freedom-fighters mountain bikes in camouflage colour-scheme.

The brand Panther reminded me of the sights and smells of Lahore zoo, while Ghauri triggered memories of Shahabuddin Ghori after whom we named a whole missile of the exploding kind just to counter India's Prithvi missile named after an ancient king Prithviraj Chauhan.
Our ROCK-IT scientist at work

During my school days, Bata’s shoes remained closer to my feet than those manufactured by Servis; this time I decided to patronise Servis.

These Servis 26” road-bike tyres possessed gentlemanly treads as opposed to aggressive knobby ones found on mountain bikes meant for aggressive o
ff-road rides.

If you can guess from the manner of speech, the tubes I purchased came flom a faal-eastan cuntlee, laaa! Instead of the common Woods-Dunlop valves, I preferred Shrader valves in them because the latter allowed inflation at the nearest petrol pump (sorry, we do not use the term ‘gas station’).

With the tyres costing Rs 760 and the tubes Rs 400, the total came to Rs 1,160. Rs 40 went into buying rubber strips that protected the insides of our bike’s mildly rusted rims.

Ball bearings

The servant discarded the old tyres and the tubes but not without first attempting to sell them to the nearest 
blind customer.

Rocket-scientist of a mechanic

Many years ago, I unintentionally ruined the truing (ability of the wheel to spin without wobbling or appearing crooked) of one of my Giant’s wheels. When I enquired after the mechanic who fixed it, the people there told me, "He got into a fight with his business associates and ended up being murdered."
Another roadside ROCK-IT scientist

A bad mechanic is like having a roadside dentist pull out one’s perfectly good tooth—Pakistan having a natural abundance of quacks of all sorts. As the mechanic at hand replaced part after part, I questioned, sometimes challenged, or dissuaded him from speedily getting over with it because ‘other customers were waiting’.

Our man worked on a dirty floor, wore no apron or gloves, lacked proper tools, and used no-name oils and greases. His only excuse was: “Nobody would pay me for such finesse by the roadside.” Despite being aware of his handicaps, he thanked the Creator for allowing him to do ‘super quality work’.

At home I was fortunate enough to have a bike repair-stand on which to hang my bike for easy access to various parts, quality tools, the right de-greasers and lubricants, and decades of experience as the family’s fix-it-all DIY-man. Emotionally-charged, financially stable, I continue to take great pride in being mechanically-inclined.

Axles for an ‘ex’

A bike’s wheels rotate over axles which are metal rods surrounded at both sides 
by ball-bearings. These days anybody found purchasing ball bearings in bulk is reported immediately because this item is used by disillusioned ‘Islamists’ to blow people up with IEDs (improvised explosive devices)—this being a 'guarantee of easy entrance in Jannah (literally, the garden), where seventy-two fair houris (literally, fair maidens) will be assigned to each man'.
Shikanjbeen-wala's chic stall

Work started at noon. When the nearby mosque’s crier announced the afternoon prayers, the mechanic stated, “I always offer ba-jama’at (congregational) prayers”. He then decided to combine the late afternoon prayers with the afternoon one (Zuhr with Asr) because several very young customers begged him to look at their broken bikes but were told, “Wait, because sahib has come from far off.”

Everything but the kitchen-sink

The servant's bike: before surgery

At the lane’s end stood shikanjbeen-wala who sold lemonade with just the right touch of sugar and salt. Street vendors with their tape-recorded cries came and went; one sold rat poison while another offered chopped guava with a sprinkling of black salt. With so much perspiration taking place, the populace was expected to consume things with a pinch of salt.

Sipping chilled 7-Ups was the right thing to do; the drink generated so many bubbles in the gastro-intestinal tract, we lost all desire to have a road-side lunch.

Minutes turned into hours because we ended up replacing:

1) Wheel axles (02)
2) Wheel-spokes x 06
3) Rubber grips for the handlebar
4) Ball-bearings (1/4” x 36 pieces)
The bike on its way to being 'stripped' of old paint
5) Bottom bracket centre-axle and ball-bearings
6) The front sprocket (original 42 teeth; replacement 44 teeth)
7) Brake-set (02 cables, 2 sets of brake-pads and brake-levers)

As the mechanic trued the wheels (tightening the spokes to ensure the wheels did not wobble), he joked, "All that is left to replace now is the bike’s frame!"

33% financing from 'Sahib' Bank Limited

Much before the bike’s surgery commenced, my servant attempted to dispose it off but nobody offered more than Rs 500. He dreamed of purchasing a pre-loved 
bike but the prices varied between Rs 5,000 and 9,000. From Rs 12,000 to 17,000 one could purchase a 'cheapa cheapa' Chinese import.

I was already spending something which was globally in short supply: time. The boy was only being 25%-financed by yours truly; the rest he would pay back in six easy instalments sans mark-up.

I could have easily bought him a new bike but behavioural studies and cultural practises indicate that people tend not to value free things. Servants here consider it the employer’s duty to pay them not only the salaries but also extra money for clothing, food, utility bills, Eidy on festive occasions and even interest-free loans which they sometimes never repay. In all honesty, I wished the boy to care for a refurbished bike he owned.

Centrally located, not centrally air-conditioned

Due to the hot and humid weather, all shopkeepers seemed fed up with life. They all kept themselves seated under the ceiling fans while customers stood like witnesses in a courtesy. In the west a salesperson always attends to customers standing up and this habit alone has caused the decline of the west.

The mechanical replacement parts worth Rs 1,125, the tyres and tube
s worth Rs 1,160, and the mechanic’s Rs 700 labour brought the bill to a whopping Rs 3,025 (equivalent to USD 20).
Preparing a naked bike for a paint-job
I asked my servant if he was happy; he smiled but did not say much. Being a boy of only fifteen, had he come alone to Neela Gumbad, he certainly would have over-spent on parts and come across work of lesser quality.

All said and done, we returned home by 5 p.m. and had a sumptuous well-deserved lunch followed by tea.

Post-delivery blues and return to Neela Gumbad

As we got the bike out of the dickey (there is that word again), I noticed that both the wheels sat loosely on their axles. I immediately called the mechanic who asked me to tighten some nuts but that did not help. For the rest of the evening, I watched a few YouTube videos on the subject and understood where the mechanic had fouled up.

I attempted to contact the mechanic the next day to tell him that I was coming to get the bike re-fixed. True to his rotten core, he ignored the repeated calls.

I then called someone who ran a cycling group. We met at Neela Gumbad but naturally failed to trace the mechanic. It was soon found out that the shop that the mechanic claimed to own was not his property and he was known as someone ‘not that good at fixing bikes’. As they say in local lingo: hamaray saath hand ho gaya tha (literally: we had 
experienced a sleight of hand).
The fun part: painting the bike

This fellow (sorry, I shall not call him a ‘guy’) found us another mechanic who was appalled at the lack of detail in the previous mechanic’s work—typical tactic to make the customer feel very foolish. He took maybe five minutes to install the missing nuts to the shaky wheels, and also fixed a children’s bike that I had brought along.

I liked this roadside mechanic because he was fluid and cheerful, and was assured of becoming very rich very soon doing 
business with me. In all, I paid him a whopping Rs 100 (U.S 64 cents) for the labour and darted towards my car lest he protested on being overpaid.

More accessories

Like a benevolent employer I wanted my boy-employee to also ride in style. I purchased a cheap helmet for Rs 200, a bell for 40, a plastic seat-cover for 30, and a plastic water-bottle cage for 50; all this turned the boy into an ecstatic whirling dervish.

What I left for another day were replacement of the 18-tooth fixed rear-cog (free-wheel), the chain, a set of wheels (Rs 1,200), and the handle-bar (Rs 400).

The finished Ferrari or whatever 

This was one memorable trip full of haggling and watching over the shoulder. On my way out, a shop-owner stopped me to remark: “Your style of speaking reminds me of a very candid TV talk-show host”.

A bit of make-up

All done, the bike still begged to be sent to a beauty parlour; she needed a new paint-job.

My most obedient servant spent two days stripping the bike’s old paint and sanding down the bike frame with 320-grit sandpaper. Since '
Love is Blue', we agreed on blue colour for the bike which I was to paint.

After covering with masking tape, the parts that required no paint, I sprayed two coats, giving twelve hours in between for drying. Proper curing would take 3-6 days, depending upon weather conditions.

After having the paint wet-sanded with 1000-grit sandpaper to even out imperfections and to get smoother surfaces, I sprayed the third coat only on the visible parts of the frame. The option of later applying a coat of clear lacquer was kept in mind.

Once the wheels were cleaned with WD-40 and the pedal cranks were polished with chrome-cleaning polish, our Jack hit the road like a 
satisfied and happy soul.

Read my other articles on cycling:
©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2019

Edits 23-09-19: photo captions, 'Love is Blue', text