Sunday, April 30, 2006

First dirt

This is just a post about a bike ride. Friday’s post was actually important, so if you haven’t done so already, read it first. Buckwheat needs you more than I do.

Folks up in the Mad-Zoo Valley had their spring gear swap and mountain bike festival on Saturday, complete with an afternoon group ride guided by Fat Bikes builder Mark Gronewald. The trails were soupy, but we managed to pull off a mellow-but-fun little cruise on some durable double-track with a nice little section of dry singletrack.

Mountain bike tires actually rolling on dirt in April, in Alaska. Not bad. I don’t usually touch a trail until late May.

It was a fun crowd of new faces, and a few familiar ones. Adam showed up with his wife, Jo-Ann. Alan was there. DaveIT shared the ride up in my 4Runner, and Leonard was there being ... well, Leonard. Sticking his face in my photos, sharing his stash of chocolate, trying to mess with my shifters and teaching me all sorts of names for disturbingly unmentionable sexual practices.

Some people read serious articles in The New Yorker and grab a dictionary when they come across words they don’t recognize. I ride with Leonard and then go home and use Google to look up the names of acts that are probably illegal in most states, and probably not recommended in most relationships that last more than one night.

OK, so Leonard's no Malcolm Gladwell. At least he has better hair.

And the bike-blogging world got a tiny bit smaller Saturday when I got to meet Michelle from Chain Driven. She’s still recovering from shoulder surgery, but finally got some slop on that sweet new Santa Cruz Juliana she had built this winter.

Shiny stuff with a splash of mud.

That’s a good combination.

Friday, April 28, 2006


PLEASE NOTE: If you have linked directly to this blog post from another site, please read Buckwheat's brief story here and a full magazine feature about him on his website. Then please consider donating to the Dahl Memorial Clinic, which is the focus of his yearlong effort. It's a worthy cause led by a good man for a fine little town.

Then come back and read the rest of my damned blog.

I reached my goal tonight with the effort to raise money to pay for his stolen bike, so I'm no longer taking donations. Thanks to everyone who contributed. —Tim 5/3/06

It took walking across North American to show my friend Buckwheat the beauty of the bicycle. You can (and should) read his story online, but I’ll give you the abridged version here. Carlin “Buckwheat” Donahue—one of the nicest and funniest guys on the planet—lives in the little town of Skagway. More than two years ago, he suffered congestive heart failure while visiting Juneau, which was a good place to have a bad thing happen. The little clinic in Skagway isn’t equipped for that kind of emergency, and he might have died if he’d been there at the time.

Long story short, Buckwheat decided to change his life. He lost weight, and started walking long distances to rebuild his heart. He amazed doctors with his recovery. Last October, on the second anniversary of his heart failure, he left Miami, Fla., to walk across North America in an effort to raise money to improve the Skagway clinic for the benefit of everyone in town. He has until the end of September to complete the trip before he has to return to work as Skagway's tourism director or lose his job and health insurance.

Diabetes-related foot problems plagued the early weeks, and he fell behind schedule. His feet improved and he’s been trucking along ever since, and even got back on schedule thanks to a borrowed bicycle, which he pedaled across parts of Manitoba and Alberta over the past few weeks.

He called me on Thursday from the highway outside Fort St. John, British Columbia, and expressed his joy at being so close to Alaska. He still has five months to go and the Yukon River to float on his way toward Nome, but he knows he’s back in home territory. The bike, he said, was amazing. He marveled at the miles he could cover each day. He said it “felt sinful” to travel so easily. He’s ready for more.

Unfortunately, he forgot to lock up before entering the Fort St. John public library. Even little towns in British Columbia have bike-stealing scum. Now the man who has gone without a paycheck for seven months and spent pretty much all of his money in an effort to help his town has to come up with $1,200 to cover the borrowed mountain bike.

I don’t like asking people for money, but for Buckwheat I’m willing to make an exception. I’ve put a PayPal button on this blog and I’d love to be able to call Buckwheat’s cell phone as he crosses the Yukon Territory and tell him that his fellow cyclists are welcoming him to the tribe by paying off at least a portion of the bike.

If you can spare $5, $10, or anything else, I’ll use all the money to pay down his bike debt. If by some miracle I manage to raise more than $1,200 through my blogging and e-mail drive, I’ll send any leftover money to the Skagway clinic fund in the name of all the bicyclists who read this blog.

Donations can also be made directly into a special account at any branch of Alaska USA Federal Credit Union. If you wish to do it that way, send an e-mail to me via the link on the right side of your screen, and I can provide the account information.

Spread the word. Post a link on your own blog or tell a couple of friends.

Let’s help a brother out.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why do I do this to myself?

During each of the past two summers, there has come a night when I told myself I wouldn’t sign up for another 24 Hours of Kincaid. It happens in the wee hours when I'm cold, stiff and searching for the energy to push my flabby ass through another lap. Dodging moose and porcupines while beating myself up in the woods just loses its allure at 3 a.m.

Once the sun returns from its brief dip below the horizon, my mood picks up and I start thinking the whole thing is fun again. With good teammates, humor overrules torment. Within a few days of the race, I already have in the back of my head that I’ll probably do the next one. Looks like it’ll happen again this year.

Frigid Bits star DaveIT is roundin’ up a team, and Scott, a great teammate of mine from the 2004 race, wants in on the action. All we have to do is draft one more rider into this bloody madness. I’m hoping for a fellow geezer. Otherwise, I’m screwed. I’ll be clocking the slowest times on the team and callin’ everyone else “sonny boy.”

It’s time to get serious about this “training” crap. Time to ride with a purpose. That’s part of the reason I sign up for these crazy ideas—to motivate myself. My bold goal: A level of fitness high enough to avoid humiliation. Oh, yeah. I set the bar high, baby.

I might get started this weekend at the spring mountain bike festival put on by the Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers up at Kepler-Bradley State Park in the Mad-Zoo Valley. Their turf dries out earlier than our Anchorage trails, so I'm lookin' at driving up with Dave for the afternoon group ride.

If you’re local and looking for the particulars, here’s the post on the forum.

Today's photo is of Team JAWS near the end of last year's 24 Hours of Kincaid. That's "A" gettin' a pre-lap massage from "J" and "W" while "S" was out on the course destroying people.

Those freakin' mutants. Twenty-three hours of racing and they look like they just got out of their cars and set up camp.

Me? I could barely raise my arms to shoot the picture.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sorry, we're full

Because I make my living as an editor, my name appears in the masthead of each issue of the publication that (so far) continues to employ me. Few people bother to read the masthead. It’s interesting only if you’re really, really bored and you’ve read everything else five times.

Prison inmates have a lot of time on their hands.

Occasionally, an envelope will arrive with my name on it and inside will be a letter from some guy down south who says he’s doing 10 or 20 years for some vague thing like “property crimes,” or my all-time favorite, “traffic offenses.”

State prison for traffic offenses? Like what? You ran a stop sign five times while continuously backing up and pulling forward to run over a hooker?

Anyway, these guys are pretty much all looking for the same thing. They want tips on how to land a job in Alaska after they get out of the joint. They all figure they can come up here and work in a fish cannery or run a trapline. Maybe pack meat for a hunting guide. Any job that’s as far as possible from civilization, ex-wives, unwanted children and unwelcome investigators.

They always mention that they were experienced outdoorsmen before checking into the Graybar Hotel, as if that’s supposed to make be believe they’re just Alaskans trapped in Lower-48 bodies.

What they never explain is The Big Why: Why in the hell would I want to help an ex-con move to my state? Do they think we’re short of criminals and end-of-the-roaders? Trust me, plenty of them have already found their way up here. Sorry, we just don't have any current openings for people who want to beat women, rob houses, steal cars or sign up for public-assistance programs.

Besides, I’m a straight man who spends his free time pedaling through the woods in Lycra pants, goddammit. The last thing I need is more knife-wielding, shotgun-toting, sex-starved “outdoorsmen” wandering around the wilderness.

The only thing I want to hear squealing like a pig is my poorly adjusted brakes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bush inflicts himself on nature

"The president spent Saturday morning with a small pack of riders in this foggy redwood forest about 90 minutes north of San Francisco. He relished the swampy conditions in the remote state-owned tract, returning repeatedly to huge puddles and streams running high after weeks of rain." —San Jose Mercury News

He hasn’t demonstrated the capacity to learn from his mistakes yet, so I suppose there’s no chance of teaching Asshole One about responsible use of trails.

Thanks for the link, George. (No, not that George. This is a good George.)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mmm, baby

When I was a kid—maybe 12 or 13 years old—my family was camping north of Steamboat, Colo., one chilly summer night when my mother opened a can and heated up dinner, giving me my first taste of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Steam rose from my bowl into the cold, Rocky Mountain air as I slurped down that delicious, fat- and sodium-laden gruel. It was nirvana.

I made Mom promise to buy more when we got home, so a couple of weeks later we opened another can and I learned how something that tastes great in the woods can be absolutely inedible in the comfort of your own home. To this day, I won't touch Dinty Moore stew.

Unless I'm camping, that is.

I still occasionally toss a can into the food box for a trip. I once even fired up a campstove a 9:30 p.m. outside a cabin in Yellowstone National Park because I needed a bedtime snack and we were heading toward home the next morning. I had carried a can of that shit all the way from New Mexico just to eat it in Yellowstone and, goddammit, I was gonna eat it in Yellowstone. Mmm hmm, it was good.

Food is strange like that. Crappy in one setting, wonderful in another. I sometimes think about that when I'm riding my bike and catch a whiff of food from a restaurant that otherwise might not interest me. Nothing else makes food smell as good as it does when you smell it from the saddle of a bicycle.

I used to ride from the north side of Anchorage to the south side in the middle of the night after finishing my shift at the newspaper. My route took me by two doughnut joints that were usually making a fresh batch for the morning customers. I'd ride through clouds of doughnut aroma that would almost suck me right off the bike and into the shops.

The food doesn't have to be good. It can be McDonald's. Sometimes it's Chinese food. Or Mexican. (If the smell of margaritas could drift into the street, I'd be in real trouble.)

As I left my office one afternoon last week, it was French fries. Across the street from my office is a Red Robin, where the food and atmosphere are in constant competition for which can suck the worst. Didn't matter. For a few seconds, those fries smelled gooood.

Fortunately, the combination of carrying little cash and having someplace to go (like home for dinner) keeps me from stopping and walking into a restaurant every time a tempting aroma catches my attention.

Also saving me from ruin is the fact that Anchorage doesn't have a single Krispy Kreme franchise.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Warm and fuzzy thought of the day

May anyone who breaks bottles on bike trails
spend eternity riding Huffys in Hell.

Other than that deep thought, I'm just gonna pass along a couple of links today. I'm always flattered when I see hits coming from other blogs that have linked to Bicycles and Icicles. I try to return the favor, so I recently added Chico Gino to my links list. Gino's a California rider when he's not busy with the other two-thirds of triathlon life. That'd be a nice little sport if not for all that swimming and running.

I've had a bunch of hits recently from Blue Collar Mountain Biking, which has also been added to my pile o' links. Interesting stuff over there. Check it out.

There's also the simply but aptly named Bikeblog, which is written by Michael Green in Brooklyn. He rides the pavement of the Big Apple each day, while my world is the ice and dirt of Alaska. I guess blogging gives each of us a chance to visit a whole other world for a few minutes at a time.

Several people have e-mailed me recently to ask for links, which must mean more people are reading this blog. Some of their sites are worth reading, if you're in the mood for what they do, but I have a few unwritten guidelines about my links, and this blog in general.

This is my tiny sliver of the online bike world. I don't write about the little dramas in my life or at work, what color I'm going to paint the bathroom, or what I ate for dinner last night. I try to avoid politics and I don't bore you with details about anything else in my life that isn't at least somewhat bike-related. Other people can write about their relationships or the new shoes they bought last weekend. That's not why I do this. So I don't post links to blogs that aren't about bike life. Don't even ask.

That's the cool thing about blogs. We all get to be dictators in our little niches of the blogosphere.

I'm the decider.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Music to my ears

CNN is running this photo on its website today with the caption, "Some are choosing to pump air rather than gas."

It's about time.

Hey, I'm sorry things are tense in Nigeria and that Iran is being run by a crazy man with a nuke program, but is everything really so bad? After all, our country's also being run by a wingnut, and we already have nukes.

Besides, there are upsides to $75-a-barrel oil. Alaska will make more money from North Slope crude, for one. That means the goofballs in Juneau will have more spending to keep them busy and distract them from all that crazy talk of a sales tax. And more money in the Alaska Permanent Fund means fatter dividend checks down the road. Cha-ching!

But best of all, a few more gas hogs will get parked. A few cheapskates will finally be nudged into pedaling a bike, stepping onto a bus or joining a carpool this summer. A few more owners of Escalades, Hummers and Excursions will feel the pain. Burn, baby, burn.

I'll feel the pinch, too. I drive. But I strive to limit my driving and reduce my consumption. I'll be glad to see a few more riders on my way to work this year. Not many will permanently change their ways, I know. But a few here, a few there; it all adds up.

The last word

I was accused one time (OK, a couple of thousand times) of trying to get in the last word. I've finally managed to do it. (The final paragraph)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Old man

An 80-year old man goes to the doctor for a checkup.

The doctor is amazed at what good shape the guy is in and asks,”How do you stay in such great physical condition?”

“I’m a cyclist,” says the old guy, “and that’s why I’m in such good shape. I’m up well before daylight and out and ride my bicycle.”

“Well,” says the doctor, “I’m sure that helps, but there’s got to be more to it. How old was your dad when he died?”

“Who said my dad’s dead?”

The doctor is amazed. “You mean you’re 80 years old and your dad’s still alive. How old is he?”

“He’s 100 years old,” says the old cyclist. “In fact he rode with me this morning, and that’s why he’s still alive . . . he’s a cyclist too.”

“Well,” the doctor says, “that’s great, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. How about your dad’s dad? How old was he when he died?”

“Who said my grandpa’s dead?”

Stunned, the doctor asks, “You mean you’re 80 years old and your grandfather is still living! Incredible; how old is he?”

“He’s 118 years old,” says the old cyclist.

The doctor is getting frustrated at this point, “So, I guess he went bike riding with you this morning too?”

“No. Grandpa couldn’t go this morning because he’s getting married today.”

At this point the doctor is close to losing it.

“Getting married!! Why would a 118 year-old guy want to get married?”

“Who said he wanted to?”

Via the folks at Velorution

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Just call me Dr. Tim

I recently went out for breakfast and sat at a table near two women in their 50s. One did most of the talking as she described her recent vacation to Italy, and another trip to some sort of retreat that specializes in helping people get in touch with their "inner children."

It was one of those conversations that is very annoying to overhear. Annoying because you can't avoid overhearing it, and annoying because you have to bite your tongue to avoid butting into call someone a dumbass.

This woman kept talking happily about how she and someone else let their inner children "play together." And she described a session in which the retreat participants sat in a treehouse and read children's stories to one another.

Look, I'm a pretty liberal and tolerant guy when it comes to other people's thrills. As long as everyone's a willing participant, no minors (or other species) are involved and nobody's getting hurt, I don't really care what you're into. But if you're 50 years old and sitting in a treehouse reading "Winnie the Pooh" to a bunch of other adults, I'm sorry, you need a kick in the ass.

Stay away from the self-help section of the bookstore. Forget weirdo seminars and charlatan gurus.

Get on a bike and coast down a hill with a huge smile on your face. Ride through a big puddle without caring how dirty your clothes get. Crank up some good speed and lock up the rear brake for a long skid.

Hell, go sky-diving. Or surfing. Go to the pool and do a cannon ball. Borrow the neighbor kid's skateboard and take a few turns down the hill at the end of the street. Whatever blows your dress up, just do it.

Have some real fun, not the kind that some crystal-wearing wingnut tells you to have after you write him a check

See how it works out. If it makes you feel better, we can pretend this is some revolutionary form of therapy. I'll set up a PayPal button and you can send me some money.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Timing is everything

The wall on one side of my office is mostly glass. Whenever I start changing out of (or in to) my bike clothes, I routinely check over my shoulder to make sure I remembered to close the vertical blinds.

Everybody's had at least one of those dreams in which you go to work or school naked or in your underwear, right? In the same vein, I always have that fraction of a second of panic in which I think, “Oh, crap! Am I mooning co-workers?”

I rode to work Friday for the first time in a few weeks. I wasn’t back in my routine yet, but I remembered to close the blinds. I peeled off my shirt and started checking e-mails, etc., while I continued to cool down.

After a few minutes, I stripped off the rest of my stuff, and then dressed in my work clothes, stashed a few things under my desk and got up to open my office door . . . which was standing open several inches.


I stepped out in the hallway and looked around. The office lights were still off. I listened. No sounds of anyone settling in for the day.

I got lucky. And so did everyone else.

Gotta love those Friday mornings when everyone else runs late.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Do the bunny hop

A little mountain-bike fun in honor of Easter.

Now make like Tina, you fat lard, and go get some dinner.
(Thanks to Lee Likes Bikes for the graphic.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Worn out

Home, sweet home. Finally back in Anchorage after seven days in Southeast. Catchin' up on sleep and laundry, and gettin' all my stuff stowed away. Also got my truck washed and posted for sale. Time to switch to a 4Runner. The beloved Tacoma's gonna need a new home.

Time to start working off the physical trauma of a week of travel. Too much restaurant food. Too little exercise. Too many places. Too much done in too little time. I need to decompress for a day or two, then get my diet and my workouts back on track.

Anchorage riders, if you haven't already heard, ABC's annual spring bike swap will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday at O'Malley Elementary School. Best of all, board members will be distributing free helmets to needy kids. Good effort on the club's part. If you know a kid who needs help getting a helmet, send him to the bike swap.

Today's photo is a hard-working old Raleigh outside the White Elephant thrift store in downtown Sitka. Chances are, if you see a bike in that town, it's a Raleigh or a Specialized. There's only one shop in town, so brand options are limited.

Monday, April 10, 2006


I bailed on the shop ride Sunday morning. And it wasn't even the damp Southeast weather that did me in. I was short of time for the list of things I need to accomplish while I'm in town. The decision was made a little easier, though, by the fact I'm spoiled.

My bikes at home are dialed-in and set up just the way I like 'em. This rented Rockhopper just doesn't cut it for a real ride. The stem's too short, the saddle's too forward, the tires are obese pigs, and I never bothered to replace the cheap-ass platform pedals with my beloved Egg Beaters, even though I've carted those suckers and my Sidi shoes all over the damned place for the past few days. The flat pedals make more sense for the utilitarian purpose the bike is serving while I'm here.

I've always liked the Rockhopper. It's a venerable model and a good, solid hardtail. Nothing fancy, but a reliable rig a person can ride for many years if they have it set up the way they like it. But a rental that doesn't quite fit right is a great reminder of why I own a bike case for mountain-biking trips. There's nothing like riding your own bike.

While pedaling through town on Sunday, I saw this Raleigh parked outside a seafood-processing plant next to Sitka Sound.

This is a set of homemade fenders.

This is a set of homemade fenders on steroids.

Any questions?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Alaska's most coordinated teenager

Sitka is not only rich in beauty and history. It's the home of Nathan, a 16-year-old unicyclist who learned to juggle a few days ago. Naturally, he realized this was a talent that should be combined with unicycling. I came across him as he was practicing on a bike path beside Jamestown Bay.

Kids this talented don't limit themselves to mere physical skills. He's also a Trombone Player With A Plan. There's going to be a parade in town this summer and he'll be playing in it. But not in a marching band.

Yeah. You got it. He's gonna play while riding the unicycle.

A one, and a two, and a ...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Adrift and bikeless (for now)

Sorry, no bike stuff for this post. The picture above shows my home for the past couple of days as I traveled from Juneau to Haines with a team of archaeologists surveying shipwreck sites in Lynn Canal.

I don’t dive. I write. In this case, I’ll be writing an article about the work these guys are doing—diving in 41-degree water to document the remains of old wrecks, as well as the environmental conditions and marine life around them.
We spent Friday afternoon anchored off Eldred Rock lighthouse, which was built a few years after the Clara Nevada either ran aground or exploded here in 1898. Nobody knows exactly what happened. A fireball was seen on a February night when the wind was blowing 80 mph and no help was coming. All that was found later was wreckage and bodies.

Tomorrow I’ll move to Sitka, where a bike awaits. If the weather holds, I hope to join the Sunday morning shop ride with the folks from Yellow Jersey Cycles. I need the exercise to work off tonight’s mountain of halibut, which I washed down with a Haines Eldred Rock Amber.

Why not end this post on a high note? Here’s the funniest warning label I found aboard the Curlew. It was on the hydraulic crane we used to lift an 18-foot skiff on and off the forward deck. I thought the warning looked like something you’d see on “The Simpsons.”Whir. Crunch. Thud.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Flaccid and unloved

Walking through downtown Juneau today reminded me of that old TV Christmas special in which Rudolph runs away and ends up on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Apparently, Juneau is the City of Misfit Bikes. I walked by several racks loaded with abandoned bikes that were rotting away. Rusted chains, flat and cracked tires, old plastic bags wedged under the wheels where they were blown by the wind. It was obvious that many sat unused all winter.

Given that there were so many only steps away from popular shops in the heart of downtown, I assume that many of them were left behind last year when summer workers scattered to the four winds at the end of tourist season. Probably easier to dump a cheap bike than to figure a way to get it on a plane, especially if you're running a couple of days behind schedule and classes are about to start at some school somewhere. Or if you're hung over from an end-of-the-season bash, and the ferry is about to pull away.

Juneau's a cruise-ship town. Stores are already stocking their shelves in preparation for the rush of summer tourists, so "Alaska" souvenirs are arriving in cardboard boxes stamped with "Made in China." That means the usual horde of summer workers will be arriving in a few weeks.

Maybe some of these bikes will be put back into use, if their locks can be opened. They're not all junk. Sure, most are the cheap, big-box-store variety that are easy to use and then dump the next morning. They don't expect you to call or write after you've had your thrills. But there are some "real" bikes in the bunch. The kind of rides that cost a few hundred bucks in a bike shop.

Bikes should never be left on the street and forgotten. Even the cheap and trashy ones deserve to be treated better than that.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Last time I was in Moab's Rim Cyclery they were selling a bumper sticker printed with a knobby tire track and the words “Your sport sucks.”

Those words always mean more at the beginning of baseball season. I often have at least two or three co-workers who show up wearing team jackets or shirts, and they hunker down in their offices all afternoon with radios tuned into games.

Opening day of baseball season? It’s the opening day for a season of boring office conversations about the previous day’s game. I’ve got news for ya: Yesterday’s game was the same as today’s. And tomorrow’s. And next week’s.

I’ve watched baseball. I’ve also watched paint dry. I’ll take the paint.

Where does a bicyclist get off calling baseball dull? Hey, I don’t pretend that bike racing is a fun sport to watch. Riding a bike is great. Watching somebody else ride is dull, especially if it’s mountain bike racing. Even road races are pretty tedious until there’s a great attack in the mountains or a sprint finish. Big crashes count too, of course.

I’m not a good spectator. I rarely watch any sport. But when I do, it has to be faster-paced than baseball. I mean, this is a game that consists mainly of people failing to hit the ball. Hell, games often go into extra innings because nobody scored in the first nine. And people waste perfectly good summer afternoons on this. Afternoons they could spend riding trails.

A baseball game is 10 minutes of action packed into three hours.

Sorry, baseball fans. Your sport sucks.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Brighter days

I managed to forget the whole time-change thing Saturday night, so I was a little bummed to realize Sunday morning that I got up an hour later than I thought. But then something cool happened: When I climbed on the indoor trainer for a 90-minute spin, my bike’s computer was showing the correct time for the first time since last fall. Cool.

Anchorage is still a sloppy mess. An inch or two of snow Saturday night didn’t help. But by mid-day, with the sun blazing and the temperature shooting up, I was loving the sound of water flowing through gutters and downspouts. I leave this week for a few days in Juneau, Haines and Sitka, and I’m hoping to come back to halfway decent riding conditions if the weather stays good.

Spring fever’s busting out in people who haven’t touched a bike all winter. You can see it in the handful of people pedaling around with muddy stripes up their backs.

When I stopped by Costco this afternoon, I watched a little boy excitedly choosing a new bike helmet. A few minutes later, I saw him and his parents again as the dad held the rear wheel of a new bike a few inches off the ground and tried to get the wheel to turn. They were already near the cash registers before they noticed the problem. The piece-of-crap bike was assembled so poorly that the brake pads were clamped down on the rim.

I resisted the temptation to say something, even though I wanted to encourage them to go to a real shop for a decent bike. They didn't exactly look affluent. The kid was probably lucky to end up with a new bike at all. It didn't seem right to butt in. Who wants a perfect stranger telling them they chose a bad product? Maybe it was a big family moment for all of them. Maybe that bike was the most they could afford and they didn't need some know-it-all snob making them feel bad about it.

And the happy kid knew he was only a few feet away from the registers—the promised land that would make the bike his. To have his parents put it back and leave without a bike would have broken his heart.

The dad looked like a guy who works with his hands. He looked like he was already working the problem, trying to figure out what it was so he could fix it. I hope so.

Because his little boy had a serious buzz on over his new stuff.

And that kind of buzz should last all summer.