I’ve sold two bikes today – two bikes! Bonus on Friday. Please, boss, – I’m good, make sure you show your appreciation.
John, who also sells bikes here, has not done so well this week. It’s an unspoken agreement: he fields the women who come into this shop. I get the men and they’re mostly wearing Ron Fawcett skin-tight, with their hard thighs and bums sticking out. Bums but no brain. That’s the secret of my success. I can out-think a bum any day.
John, who turns up on Monday with torn nails and multiple bruises. He doesn’t talk a lot. His sales pitch is about numbers and technical stuff. I really should try that. Outside of this he has no conversation. Like there is nothing else to him. But he does smell of WD-40 and that is the sexiest perfume ever.
Almost closing time. So good. John is getting his bike ready for the off, and snapping reflective strips to his trousers.
Holding the door keys and wanting to turn the sign from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’ I see an old bloke lean his bike against the window and go through an elaborate chain/lock/security procedure involving the drainpipe outside.
Tongue-tied John is doing something with oil brakes and testing them. Rubber squeaks on the floor. He leaves out the back. A clatter of bike and door incidents. As branch manager I am left to lock up.
I’m all about ‘Go away, old bloke’. I want to close this shop. Then I see his bike. Shit! he’s leaning an original Muddy Fox against the window. WTF? That bike should be in a museum, on a altar, on top of a monument.
Instead, it’s leaning on a humble bike-shop’s window. Torn original grips? Yes, really torn.
I’ve never actually seen the real, hand-made, thing. Muddy Fox … Saracen … these are a part of history. Companies bought them up and their name is not worth much to me now. But…
A bike plastered with mud, grass and heather… There is probably blood on it too.
The old bloke slips his rucksack onto his back and opens the shop door. He fights the straps of the rucksack as they catch in the hinges.
I get a waft of bog, heather and blood.
He says, “Hello, you know those plastic things that go on valves…?” And lets it finish there.
I’m on automatic pilot here. “Valve-caps? Yes. We sell them in packets of four.” Is that all? Piss off, old bloke. Life is too short – and you’re wasting my time.
“Four? that will keep me going for ages.” He looks around, not seeming to take anything in. What? doesn’t he see the bikes in their pristine rows? He turns to me again. “Sorry, were you about to close? I came down the pass; thought it would save time. But there was this sheep stuck in peat…”
I could sell another bike today: I really could. I’m not going to let this opportunity pass. “I see you have an old bike. Let’s take a look at some of the new things we have.”
He looks at me. Rubs his beard. Bits of dried peat fall. “It’s not old. It’s only half my age.”
“Bikes need to be replaced at least every three years.”
“Who says? People that sell bikes?” There is a glint of humour and challenge in his eyes.
On shifting sand. I don’t need this. It’s only Thursday; I have a day and a half more to cope with. Then I’m free.
I say, “Look at this.” I grab the handle-bar of a bike. “Affordable – easily. It has everything yours doesn’t. Look, all-round suspension, disk brakes, gel saddle, a choice of gear-sift systems…” I’ve lost this one: I can just feel it. “Internal systems … titanium frame if you want to upgrade…”
“Like I care?” He says, and pauses, looking at me hard. Shit, he does hard looks. I wish I’d closed the shop.
He glances out the window. “My bike…” His eyes widen and focus on something I can’t see. “My bike has, let me think, hundreds – possibly thousands of miles off-road. It won two downhills and two mountain-marathons. It’s been to so many countries … hundreds of hills and mountains.” He pauses, still looking into infinity. “Then there was that thing over Queensberry … that mad incredible race. Oh, and how I taught my children to cycle. All the times I cycled with my wife, children, nephews and best friends. So many beautiful moments – so many. My bike has been on the Burren, up Blackcraig so often, rain, storms and snow. This bike has been cycled up Suilven…” He laughs and nods at the bike I’m holding. “Tell me about what this bike has.”
So, the sand shifted and I’m sodding drowning. I love this guy. But … hang on… “Did you just say cycled up? … Suilven?”
“I did. It’s not all vertical, and the ridge is a scream. Those were the very earliest days of mountain biking. Some of us took to this brilliant idea. The whole concept was new. We didn’t really know what these bikes could do.” He grins and looks into the distance again. “So we just took them on the same routes we used for mountaineering. What stunned everyone was not finding out what mountain bikes could do but finding that there’s very little they cannot do. When the Crane brothers cycled up Kilimanjaro…”
I put a hand up to stop him. “Who did what? What did you just say? No, don’t answer that yet. I’m closing the shop and putting the kettle on. We’re going to drink tea – we do have coffee here but it’s crap. Tell me about the Queensberry thing.”
He’s all relaxed and happy. “About how I hit a hidden gully, went arse over tit and still went on – not realising I had broken bones?”
I’m not a fool. Sometimes moments happen and I’m not going to miss a single one. Life’s too short.
©Gary Bonn, 2017
Reference: Bicycles Up Kilimanjaro (Richard Crane and Nicholas Crane)