Saturday, March 28, 2009

Monson Swap Meet

My mission to find a fork for the Motobecane continues. When that's done, I'm going to roll up the details of that odyssey into a single post, but I wanted to share one recent experience along the path.

eBay usually has listed 6 or 7 of something I need at any given time, but it hasn't done me much good in finding a 27" fork. There have been a few listed in the past month, but they haven't been quite right. Either the steerer has been too short, or they've been painted instead of chromed, or they've been crappy or they've had canti studs. So last Sunday, I hit the road early and headed west to the swap meet in Monson, MA. My mission: Find a fork.

I hit the road by 6:00 or so, getting out early so I'd be able to get there before everything had been snapped up, and back so I could help my friend get a family heirloom bike ready for spring. This heirloom is a mid-70's Motobecane Mirage. Not a high end bike, falling somewhere between my own Motobecane and my Raleigh in quality of frame tubing and components. But as I said, it's an heirloom. The bike was his aunt's -- a gift purchased new from her father (my friend's grandfather) as she went off to college. Sadly, she was murdered too soon thereafter by a serial killer. Keeping the bike rolling is my friend's way of reclaiming good from that family tragedy. It deserves a more thorough overhaul than it received that afternoon, but we'll circle back to that, I'm sure.

I didn't know any of that history before laying a wrench to the bike, so none of that was on my mind as I headed west to the swap meet. I'd never been to this kind of event, so I was mostly curious as to what it'd be like, and what I'd find there. I'd never been to Monson, either, so didn't know what to expect from the setting. It turns out Monson is a pretty neat town. The main drag is full of beautiful antique buildings, including a couple of "Addams Family" style Victorian mansions. Had I known what to expect from the event or the location, I'd have brought a camera, but I didn't think to. So there won't be any photos to accompany this post.

The swap meet was in Memorial Hall, a massive granite building with an almost medieval feel to it on a cloudy, late-winter morning. Scattered around the lawn outside the building were a bunch of vendors and their wares. Over here was a guy bundled up in woolens standing next to a row of rusted, dilapidated things that used to be balloon-tired heavyweight bicycles. Over there was a similarly bundled-up family sitting behind a table with an array of ancient accessories and components, and a bunch of bike-boom road bikes for sale leaning nearby. Elsewhere was a tarp covered in parts, sold for a flat rate per piece.

It was cold and overcast, and I'm not generally very gregarious, so I didn't stop to chat. It'd have been interesting to hear what drives these folks to hunt for this stuff, then turn up at a swap meet at 6:00 in the morning with it. A love of bikes? A compulsion to collect? To hunt for relics? A desire to monetize the cast-offs of suburban life? The latter isn't much different than my desire to sell off the contents of my parts box, so I get that. But this was really a whole different level of commitment, and it's a side of hobbying I haven't really seen before. I'm sure there are some interesting stories, there.

From the lawn, I stepped through a massive oak door into the foyer of the hall, and found a bunch of interesting old bikes lined up and for sale. OK, this was more like what I expected. I came for a nice fork, and seeing these bikes, I felt much more likely to find one than looking at the stuff out on the lawn. Inside were tables covered with much higher-end stuff -- groupsets and fenders and freewheels and brakesets and the like. As an example, Peter Weigle was there, with a table full of Frame Saver cans and a handful of beautiful old bikes, including a Paramount and a Rene Herse.

At another table, I found Scott, from Scott's Cyclery in Willimantic, CT. Scott's a talker, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He had a few copies of a really neat book I'd never seen before, perhaps because I'd never thought to look for it: 100 Years of Bicycle Component and Accessory Design, by Noguchi-san. The jacket of the copy I bought has a bunch of greasy smudges on it from being handled by folks who've been messing with bikes, but that almost makes it even cooler. Just by way of example of its contents, some of the drawings used by Velo-Orange on its E-Store look as though they were taken from this book (or maybe the book also collected the same drawings). The book is absolutely full of sketches like these, and it's fascinating to sit down and thumb through it.

Most of the folks inside were pretty helpful, though there were definitely bike snobs there. One guy I asked for a 27" fork sort of dismissed the very notion, and when I asked about 7-speed freewheels he seemed a little offended at the idea of putting one of his beautiful $100 aluminum freewheels on a 27"-wheeled bike. Which wasn't my intention (I was asking for my friend's Bertoni, which we've upgraded from 6- to 7-speed 600 shifters), but his reaction pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn't buy anything from him that day. In truth, I wouldn't put aluminum cogs on any of my bikes, because I'm neither a weight weenie nor interested in replacing $100 clusters on a regular basis. I'm sure he sized me up as such.

I didn't find a fork, though Scott said he had some at his shop, and I haven't followed-up with him yet. A week later, I'm kicking myself that I didn't think to look for a Suntour bar-end shifter to replace the shifter I cobbled together for the trailer bike (a 600 downtube shifter bolted to an Ultegra bar-end mount). I'd like to be able to reassemble and ultimately offload the Ultegra set, and have been sort of passively looking for a replacement -- too passively, it seems. I'm also still kicking myself for not bringing a camera (a little, anyway). The visuals from the day were pretty strong, from the Victorian buildings to the junk piles to the bikes. So I walked away nearly empty handed, but more informed than disappointed. For the next one, I'll know what to expect and will think about a list of stuff to look for ahead of time.

And I'll bring a camera.

All for now,


No comments: