By Katy Andrews
“Hi Kates, it’s Dad. I found a great deal on a RockShox. It’s not quite the right size, but I think I can make it work. Give me a call back when you get this message. OK, love ya hun. Bye.” Beep! ‘You have no more messages.’
For as long as I can remember, my dad has been the most imaginative and tenacious person I know. Problems are projects and obstacles are opportunities. My dad can get anything to work. Years ago he bought an orange 1971 Porsche 911 Carrera that ran perfectly, but the dashboard clock did not. This wasn’t your standard car clock with glowing digital numbers. This was a black analog clock face with white numbers and hour/minute hands. I could just imagine my dad sitting in the cockpit for hours with a furrowed brow, the Porsche repair manual, and a screwdriver; trying to figure out the gentlest way to remove the broken clock. Once that was out, I’m sure he spent another several hours determining how to rig the new clock into the dash. How much of the dash panel did he need to shave off? What should he use to fill in the gap at the top? How would he secure the new clock into the dash? All of these questions would have been moot had he just bought the exact clock he needed from one of the many Porsche restoration catalogs scattered about the house, but my dad had a better idea. Why buy an over-priced Porsche clock when he could get a perfectly good clock at Target with glow-in-the-dark numbers and everything? It was round, just like the original, but wasn’t quite the same diameter and wasn’t quite the same depth. I don’t know how long it took, but he got that clock mounted in there and it worked perfectly. Maybe he didn’t use the most conventional or straightforward process, but he loved every minute of thinking through the problem, coming up with his own creative solution, and enjoying the validation of his inspired plan as the best one all along. My dad has always been a true Rube Goldberg.
My dad built and maintained all of the bicycles of my childhood. My first blue and white two-wheeler with the sparkly blue banana seat on which Dad taught me to ride; the red 10-speed road bike with shifters on the down tube that got me home just before dark on summer nights; the silver and blue bike that I had to share with my brother (now how was that a good idea?). My parents sent me away to college with a shiny black 10-speed that my dad put together from components that came off of the various bikes that had been in and out of the garage for the last 18 years and, according to Dad, were still perfectly good. My graduation present was a beautiful red and black mountain bike that my dad built from scratch. And this time all the components were new and intended just for this bike. When my family arrived at my apartment during graduation weekend I gave them hurried hugs and kisses and strained to look behind them for the bike. Dad rolled it through the front door and I grabbed the handlebars with one hand and put my other hand on the saddle. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I pushed my way through my family gathered at the front door, rolled the bike back out, and took it for its maiden voyage.
I rode that bike all over for a year or so and the more I rode, the more I desired what everyone else seemed to have on their mountain bikes, but I did not: a suspension fork. But a highly technical component like that was expensive and I worked two minimum wage jobs in Jackson Hole. I shared my woes with the best bike whiz in the world: my dad. I don’t think I knew consciously, but deep down I knew that Dad would solve this problem.
When not poring through Porsche restoration catalogs, my dad would pore through bicycle component catalogs. His keen sense for great deals was nothing short of amazing and this time was no exception. He called to tell me that he found a RockShox suspension fork on super clearance, but there was one tiny problem: the steer tube diameter of the fork was 1 1/8 inches and the head tube of my bike was 1 ¼ inches. When he told me this, my head hung towards my chest and I let out a little sigh into the mouthpiece of the phone.
“But I’ve been thinking about this and I’m pretty sure that I can cut off the steer tube of your current fork and then slide it over the smaller steer tube of the RockShox. I will just add a few rivet pins and the whole assembly should fit perfectly into the head tube of your bike.”
Well, of course! There is always a solution! This was too good of a deal to pass up and there was no way a 1 ¼ inch suspension fork would ever be this cheap. He cut the steer tube from my old fork and slid it over the RockShox steer tube, but the fit wasn’t tight enough, so he shimmed them together with a strip of aluminum from a Coke can. He fixed the two steer tubes together with a few rivet pins and attempted to slide the whole assembly into the head tube of my bike. But the rivets were getting caught on the inside of the head tube, so he shaved down the rivet heads so that they were almost flush with the outer steer tube. Maybe this compromised the rivets and maybe it didn’t, but I’ll be damned if that steer tube didn’t slide right into the head tube.
I spent another few months riding that bike with my totally sweet suspension fork. When my dad came out for a visit, he meticulously inspected the fork assembly and when he finished, he looked up at me with a twinkle in his eyes and a toothy smile and said, “Let’s go to Moab!”
So off we went to Mecca and road up and down the slickrock. After the ride I noticed that my fork seemed loose in the head tube. Dad tightened the head set, rode it around the trailhead parking lot, tweaked some other parts, rode it again, and begrudgingly said, “We should probably go to the bike shop.” The whole world seemed to screech to a halt when I heard that. I don’t think I had ever heard my dad say that. He looked slightly dejected and I wasn’t sure if that was what he really wanted. I wasn’t sure if that was what I really wanted. I mean, how could it be that my dad was not able to fix this bike? He could fix all my other bikes, but not this one?!
The bell tinkled as we opened the front door of the shop. I wheeled my bike through the cluster of new mountain bikes, clothing, and water bottles to the mechanic in the back. He was intent on adjusting the derailleur of a bike up on the stand, but as we approached he looked up, wiped his greasy hands on a rag, and greeted us with a smile. My dad proceeded to tell him the whole story of how he assembled the pieces of my RockShox so that it would fit on my bike. By the time my dad was finished explaining the situation, the mechanic stood there with his mouth part-way open just staring at my dad with unblinking eyes.
“So, I think one of the rivets might be loose. Is there any way you could put another rivet in there?” asked my dad.
“Sir, I wouldn’t touch that fork with a ten-foot pole.” The mechanic went on to explain that if he did any work on my dad’s crazy invention, it would be a liability for him and there was no way he would send someone out on a contraption as dangerous as the one we just brought in to him. Dangerous?! It never occurred to me that my Rube Goldberg Fork Job could be dangerous! I mean, I had been riding with it for months without any issues!
“But,” he held up a finger and turned to the shelf behind him. He lifted up a silver suspension fork and laid it on the counter between us, “I do have this used Manitou fork with a 1 ¼ inch steer tube that I’ll sell you for fifty bucks.”
I turned and looked at my dad to see what he wanted to do. He shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and glanced at the floor with a look of a defeat. I knew in my heart that what he really wanted was to fix it. With enough time and tools, he could concoct something amazing and ingenious. But what did I want to do? Would I be in defiance of my dad if I bought the fork from the shop? I hesitated for a few moments and then turned away from my dad and towards the mechanic.
Later that evening at the campground I was chopping vegetables for dinner. Dad’s walk to the van to get us beers was taking forever, so I wiped my hands on the dishtowel and walked towards the van. As I walked behind it, there was Dad with his back turned towards me, drinking his beer, and gazing at my bike with its brand new fork. As I approached from behind he turned to me with a smile. “Oh, hi Kates!” He scurried over to the cooler and popped open a bottle for me to. He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a big sideways hug as we clinked our bottlenecks.
Katy Andrews lives in Salt Lake City and has graduated from her first mountain bike, but still uses it as a commuter ride around town.