Blast From The Past: Diminished Capacity Adventures

In: BLAST FROM THE PAST, In Print By: Dirt Rag Contributor On: August 10, 2015

The road to hell is paved with good intentions—such as working on your best girl's bike the night before her big race.


Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #61, published in October 1997. Words and art by John Hinderliter.

Sit right back and hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful slip.
It started with a hacksaw blade,
and almost made me flip.
Almost made me flip.

Like most guys who are the insignificant others of racer chicks, I do a lot of race-prep work on my girl’s bike. Now, the correct way to do this, as all the magazine articles will tell you, is to do any adjusting, tightening or parts changing about a week before the race. That way the bike can be ridden a few times to find any problems you may have caused. That is the correct way for the home mechanic to cover his ass.

Now here is what I did. The night before my gal’s Big Race I remembered that she had asked me to lower her stem. It was so high that she couldn’t keep the front wheel on the ground when climbing. No problem, and off to the basement I went.

There I was, Saturday night, 10 p.m., in the basement with her bike securely clamped in the workstand. I had a fresh beer in hand (a porter if I recall correctly) and was eying up the situation. Now, granted, I’d had a couple-six-eight beers, but I really don’t think they had that much to do with what happened next.

The first thing I saw was that the stem was as low as it could go. It was a quill stem and was bottomed out on the headset locknut. The basis of the stem height problem was the stack of spacer washers between the headset locknut and the headset. A few months previous, when I had installed her Manitou fork, I had placed the washers there instead of cutting the steerer tube to the proper length. Lazy? I think not. I was planning ahead for the day when I might need that extra steerer tube length. No, I didn’t know when that might be.

By this time I needed another beer, so up to the kitchen I went. While rooting in the fridge for another German Gatorade my Racer Chick asked how things were going down in the Cave. I told her what I’d found and that I should be done in a half hour. Back down to the bike.

First, off came the stem, then the locknut and spacer washers, and I made a careful measurement of the threaded steerer. I needed to cut off three-eights of an inch. The front wheel and brake cable were removed, then I pulled the fork out and clamped it in the vise. I measured the tube, cut it with my new hacksaw and filed it clean. Right on schedule. I packed the headset full of fresh grease and slapped the fork back into the frame. Screwing the headset nut down, things didn’t look quite right. They looked a little, uh, short.

OHSWEETMOTHEROFGOD! I’d cut the steerer tube too damn short! Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. Sweat starts pouring down my forehead and my gut starts churning. Of course, my first thought is, “How can I fix this without her finding out I screwed up?”

Measuring the cut-off piece I found I’d removed three-quarters of an inch instead of three-eighths. Now, suddenly stone cold sober, I had to think. Think, think, think. What if … what if I grind the headset nut down? I could use The Miracle Grinder that my folks had sent me for my birthday to make the headset nut thinner. Thin enough so that by eliminating the washer between it and the locknut, there just might be enough threads to get the job done. Sounded like a plan.

Insert “Mission Impossible” music here. It was now midnight, and she-who-must-be-obeyed was wise enough to know that the sound of power tools coming from the basement at midnight is rarely a good thing. “Hey! What the hell is going on down there?!” I hear through the heating duct. “Nothing, Honey. Everything’s under control!” I yell as the whine of the grinder fades out. “Don’t come down! I’ll be done in a minute.” Yeah, that sounds convincing.

Fit the fork into the frame. OK. Thread on the thinned-down headset nut. Okay. Still a few threads showing, screw down the locknut. Okay. Looks good. Now, take the headset wrenches and, DOH!, the headset wrench is now TOO THICK to fit between the headset and the locknut! There was only one thing to do—grind the wrench thinner.

Back out came the drill and grinding wheel. I knew the odds were that I’d get busted if I used the grinder again. No way she’d ignore the noise of power tools at this hour. But she did. Or maybe she was afraid to find out the truth. Either way, all I heard from upstairs was a disgusted groan as the metal dust settled to the workbench.

Finally, everything was set. Snug down the headset with the still-glowing wrench, insert the stem/handlebar, hook up the brakes and install the front wheel. Done. And it was only 1:30 a.m.

Of course, the potentially worst part was still to come—getting to bed without catching the third degree. Luck was with me. Racer Chick was asleep by the time I got cleaned up and snuck into bed. All I got was a mumbled “Wha wa da noise?” Mr. Smooth replied with “Noise? What noise? Everything went fine.” I could finally stop sweating.

I meant to tell her after The Race the next day, I swear, but she rode the bike like that for two months before I got a new crown and steerer tube. Of course, then she nabbed me installing the new parts and I had to fess up. Never, ever fess up. She’ll use it on you till you die. You’ll never cross-thread a nut again without hearing about it.

So, to recap, when working on your bike, limit your drinking. When working on your girl’s bike, don’t drink at all. And if you screw up, fix it quick—and for God’s sake, keep your mouth shut and take it to your grave.

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