Coming to a Crossroad

Apr 24, 2023 by Barry Eisenberg

It all began with a small spot, a bit of missing paint barely an inch wide. I’m not sure how or when it happened, but a quarter-sized circle of paint had been scraped off the frame of my bicycle.

I have been bike riding regularly for many years. I love it. And while this blemish didn’t interfere with anything mechanical, I thought I would get it touched up, just for aesthetic sake. I assumed a $5 tube of paint and 5 minutes of work was all it would take to have it looking like new. Well close to new, anyway.  

I’ve been a loyal customer at the bike store I’ve been going to for years. The owner, Dave, never pushes products or services on customers that we don’t need. Each year, when I bring the bike for a tune up, I’ll ask him to check if it needs anything else, like a new chain or new brakes. And every year, without fail, when I pick up the bike, Dave assures me it needed none of those things. Plus, the charge for the tune up is less than what it costs for an average dinner out. Dave is way more a purist than an entrepreneur.  

“So, what do you think?” I asked. “Do you have a color match for the paint?”

“Oh.” Dave replied, giving the bike a thorough once over. “You can’t just touch up the paint. For a bike like this, you should really have it done professionally.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. The term professionally threw cold water onto my expectations of a $5 remedy.  

“The guy who does the best paint job is in Pittsburgh. He does the painting for all the professional riders.”

“What? Pittsburgh? Dave, I’m not a professional rider.”

“Yeah, I hear you, but it’s not about the rider. It’s about the bike,” Dave explained. “You’ve got a high-end road bike. You may as well do it the right way, treat the bike with respect.”

“Dave, a guy who paints bikes for pros isn’t going to be cheap. How much would this cost?

“About $750.”

“$750?” I gulped, as I felt my heart drop. “That’s $745 more than I thought this would be!”

“Yeah, I know it’s expensive, but there’s a lot involved.”

“A lot involved? It’s touch up paint! Could anything be less involved?”

“Actually, it is a lot more than touch up paint,” Dave explained, attempting to be reassuring. “He first has to strip all the paint off—”

“It’s a square inch of paint. Why strip all the paint off?”

“To do the job right, all the paint has to come off. The undercoating as well. Then he treats the frame with a special primer which takes about a week to settle. The first coat of paint is then applied. He uses a special lightweight formula so it doesn’t add to the weight of the bike.”

“Dave, before you go on, I have to make sure I didn’t cross over into a parallel universe. This is light years away from what I was thinking. And come to think of it, how does he paint the areas that are under the components?"

“Good question!” A little praise softened me. “We send him just the frame. So first we need to remove all the components – everything, the cables, brakes, gears, handlebar, you name it.”

“We? By we do you mean you?”

“Yup, I do that part,” Dave said.

“And the charge for that is…?”

“The disassembly fee is $250, but that includes shipping the frame and reassembling when I get the frame back.”

“So, now we’re up to $1,000!”

“Yes, but I have an idea,” Dave said, his eyes lighting up as he became giddy. “I know you had been thinking about upgrading the components on the bike, especially a new gear shift. Since we’re already removing the old components, this would be the time to do that upgrade. It would be a big savings on the labor.”

“And what’s the cost for the new components?” I asked. My hands were shaking.

“The set you were looking at last year went up by about 10%. But you’re a good customer, so I could give it to you for last year’s price. Roughly $1,600.”

“So, with the paint job, we’re up to $2,600.” I said, almost to myself.

“Which leads me to another thought,” Dave offered.

I perked up! A solution? I was all ears.

“If you’re going to spend that much, why not look into that custom bike you were thinking about a few years ago?”

“You mean the Seven Axiom?” I asked, quickly realizing that was not exactly the solution I was hoping for but intrigued all the same.

“That’s the one!” Dave said, grinning.

“But they start at $8,000.”

“Look at this way. You’re saving $2,600 by not having your bike painted and upgraded. So, it’d be like you’re deducting that from the cost of the new bike. An $8,000 Seven would really be costing you only $5,400. A Seven for under six? A bargain,” he said, so pleased with himself for coming up with the favor he thinks he’s doing for me. He smiled broadly.

“Ultimately, though, I’d still be writing a check for $8,000.”

“I suppose you could look at it that way. But this may be the best chance to get that bike you’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

“Hmmmm, maybe, possibly,” I muttered, for the first time facing the realization that the Seven Axiom was probably more a fantasy than a real thing. More fun to think about than actually buying. I glanced over at my bike. In my mind’s eye, the scrape grew wider and wider, taking over the whole bike. I still have many years and miles left to ride, I thought. Maybe I should consider the upgrade to that premier bike.   

“The chip isn’t so big, so maybe none of this is necessary. But you’ve been talking about a new bike every time you’ve come in for the past few years. so I thought this might be the excuse you need to get you over the hump,” Dave said, as though reading my thoughts.

“Well, If I did want to move forward, what would be the next step?”

“We’d set up a two-hour session for you to be fitted. It would be very thorough.”

“Very tempting! Let me think about it.”

As I wheeled my newly tuned-up bike out of the store, I looked at it again. I have been riding this bike for 25 years. But now that I was toying with the idea of actually getting a new bike, I felt as though I was seeing it in a different light. I had flashes of countless rides we have taken. 

It carried me on six New York City Five Borough Tours, a 44-mile ride, alongside 30,000 cycling enthusiasts that’s held annually on the first Sunday each May.

The start of the NYC Five Borough Bike Tour

On that bike, I traversed Vermont multiple times, trudging up steep hills in anticipation of the exhilaration of careening down the other side at almost 40 miles per hour.

A Vermont hill

I was on that bike when my friends and I took a guided bicycle tour through the Gettysburg battlefield – twice!  And it was on one of those trips that we took an impromptu excursion south into Maryland.

Together, my bike and I traveled through all corners of New York State. We shared many peaceful rides through the rolling Amish farmlands in Pennsylvania, along the serene Maryland coast, and on a tour of the grandiose mansions from the gilded age in Newport, Rhode Island.

Not to mention all the summer weekend rides exploring myriad backroads throughout New Jersey, my home state, from crossing the George Washington Bridge up north to cruising through the shore communities from Asbury Park down to the light house at Cape May at the southern end of the state. And everything in between.

This wasn’t just a bike I was now looking at. It was my long-time close companion with whom I’ve shared thousands of miles and decades of adventures.

Touch up paint? To conceal the tiny symbol of our long journey as a team? No way! A new bike? Not a chance!

All I needed was another day of riding. I couldn’t wait to get back on the saddle.