February 8th, 2013
Bikes fixed: 5
Bikes/Day Avg: 1.6
I last left off with a general description of the experience of being here, and especially the presence of bicycles, the traffic, and the food.
I forgot to mention last post that while on a ride with the local cycling group I had to go around an elephant. He was just being ridden down the side of the road… I also saw some monkeys. Oh, and today I had to wait for a monkey family to cross the road on my way to work. I mean, it’s India, so waiting is just a suggestion… but anyways.
At some point on the ride that morning, Prabhat said to me, “Left! Left!” What I thought he meant was “turn left,” which was confusing, because there wasn’t a turn to make. What he actually meant was that there was a car coming and I had instinctively pulled to the right side of the road — wrong. So, there are still some things I’m getting used to. That was day 2; on day 3 (today) I don’t think I once passed someone on the wrong side. People will give you a second to figure out what you want to do, and I have used that second quite a bit. But I don’t think I passed anyone on the right. Awesome.
View from the shop.
I mentioned in my last post that I learned a lot, that the main bicycle of India has components they don’t even mention in American mechanics’ school, and that I didn’t even know their type of brake existed.
In the US, the vast majority of wheels are machine-made. When building bicycles for sale, they come mostly assembled, and the wheels need only minor adjustment. Building wheels from scratch is considered an art form reserved for only the most experienced mechanics. Hand-built wheels are revered, not to mention extremely expensive. As the head mechanic builds them everybody else in the shop oohs and ahhs and takes notes on his technique. In fact, the ability to build a quality wheel is very much the benchmark of someone’s skill as a bicycle mechanic
In the type of shop I work in, none of the wheels are machine built. I got to work the first day and not only was I to build a bicycle of a type I’d never seen before, but I was to start by building the wheels for it. Granted, these are pretty basic wheels — the kind a head mechanic at a bike shop in the US wouldn’t care to spit on — but building a wheel of any quality still takes skill (some would argue building wheels with low quality parts takes more skill, because the thing compensating for the low quality… is you).
I knew what I was doing, but seeing the mechanic at this shop whip through a wheel build in half the time it took me was very humbling.
Coworkers: Mechanic on the left; the three little helpers to his right, who lace wheels just as fast as I do.
While I have learned a lot, I have also taught a lot, too. I don’t want to start making suggestions for at least a few weeks, but sometimes I’m just plain asked how I might do something. As soon as I opened my tool bag, there was endless oo-ing and ahh-ing and “How much does this cost?” and “Can you get us a wholesale account with Park Tool” (you guys really should have sponsored me, BTW)? All in broken English, of course. I can’t overestimate how much of our communication is gestures. The mechanic can count to eight, the manager speaks broken English, and the kids just speak to me in Hindi.
I keep hoping I’ll “talk pretty one day” — re: David Sedaris’s story where he learns French by not hearing any English. I do get to use English now and then — mostly at home and sometimes with the manager at the shop — but 80% of my communication is gestures and asking people to repeat things. Hindi is nothing like English though, so it is hard. For starters, it’s not a Latin language (I now realize why I so easily picked up French and Spanish. Perhaps our early schooling should not teach us just any foreign language, but one without Latin roots?). On top of that, it’s written in script, so no dictionary can help me learn it unless I first learn the script (that is, looking up any word yields a set of symbols, which I can’t possibly pronounce nor rewrite with any justice). I’m working on learning the symbols, as they are the sounds of the language. I’ve got a few down but still have a long way to go.
Anyways. Technology barriers. Language barriers. It’s all part of the fun.
Oh, and here’s a bike I built today:
Okay, mostly it was an excuse to photograph the kids, but I did build that bike.
And yea, it’s a kid’s bike — building every bike in the shop before you do anything else is sort of a rite of passage in the bike world.
Also today, I was putting a bike together and couldn’t figure out how to get the chain guard on (a chain guard is a piece of plastic or metal covering the top of the chain, both to protect the chain from the elements and to protect one’s clothes from the chain). I tried a few different things and was feeling quite flustered, since it’s something I’d done a million times before on different bikes. Anyways, at some point I called over the manager. He took a look at it, had me try a few different things, then called over the mechanic. They chatted for a while in Hindi, then the mechanic looked at me and said something relating to “Indian parts,” for which we all laughed. He took the part to the neighbor (a picture framer) and used his circular saw to cut off the part I was having trouble with. Go figure.