Nothing I do with any of my bikes seems to go right lately. Parts I've been gathering to "restore" the homemade mountain bike I built in 1979 don't want to play nice together, and the new Seven Mudhoney I've been grinding away at assembling since last fall, is THIS close but now requires another $100 to solve a stupid problem, so will have to wait a bit longer. Both bikes I thought I'd be riding months ago. But worst of all I scraped the top-tube on my Mercian putting the pedals back on after overhauling them. I managed to whack it with the wrench and now I will never be happy again.
So I was looking forward to mounting some 33mm Challenge Grifo tubular tires I picked up cheap, a job that I thought would go smoothly and give me the sort of satisfaction one gets from doing something well that lots of people find intimidating. I don't ride tubulars much anymore, especially since I've gone off tires narrower than 28mm for roadbikes. But my old Raleigh International has great wheels and lot's of room for big tires, and some of the hardcore 'cross racers I know tend to replace their big fat race tires long before they're worn out, leaving me with a growing little pile of top quality Cyclo-Cross sew-ups. Perfect for this Bike and the dirt and gravel roads in my neighborhood. It should be pretty great on some singletrack too.
So after sweeping the crap from half my bench onto the floor to make room, I soaked the old, red, Clement Mastice Gutta glue off with mineral spirits and wiped the rims clean with an old T-shirt, re-glued them with the Conti cement all the kids are using these days, spread a film on the basetapes, then made myself go make a sandwich for 5 minutes to let the cement "flash"(a term I don't really know the meaning of, but everyone always tells you to go make a sandwich for 5 minutes to let the glue "flash", so that's what I do) Then I slipped the tires on as if I'd done it fifty times before. Which I probably have, but 30 of those times were back in the Reagan administration and most of the others were still 20 years ago. I probably haven't mounted more than 5 or 6 since then. But like a lot of things we learn and then think we've forgotten, it was easy and familiar once I got started and I only had to pick and lift 1 or 2 spots to get everything nice and strait. As nice as I hoped, or better, even.
There have been times I've just made a horrible mess and had to do it over and over again to get something half-way rideable, and then ended up with dirty glue all over the sidewalls, myself and the door of the shop fridge. I used to be pretty good at repairing punctured "tubs" and did lots of them for other people, but was never more than adequate at mounting them. So I was feeling good, and thought I'd just brush a fresh coat of latex onto the sidewalls while things were going so well and really make it look "PRO" like they say now, or "KEEN" like we used to say then.
I shouldn't have bothered. The sidewalls didn't really need it, it's not like they were all dried out or scraped up, but a nice fresh coat of latex seemed like icing on the cake and everything was going "swell" so why not?
I'm not sure how the hair got all over everything but that's what happened. We have two dogs that sublet from us and finding the occasional hair on ones sweater is as familiar to us as a few crumbs on the floor is to them(If not quite as welcome). But we don't live in a house where gauzy clouds of used fur drift by on the breeze either. Honest. But I was barely started before I was picking black and white Border Collie hairs off the tire and trying to wipe it off on my pants. Black and white border collie hairs saturated with liquid latex. Will. Stick. To. A. Fish.
Before I was half done with the first tire there was hair on the rim, hair stuck between the spokes like cobwebs, and hair wrapped around the hub. It was on every finger, my nose, and tangled up with the hair on my knuckles (there's STILL some stuck on my knuckles). Some managed to get inside my wallet(he admits with a weary nod). It was absurd.
Why didn't I just stop? Get a rag and some warm water and clean everything off before it set up, and then try again later. But I persevered and by the time both tires were done I ended up wasting a bunch of latex sealer($38 a quart, retail(half that with my sweet bike shop hook-ups, but still)) and having to spend close to forever cleaning everything up. Even when I was done and convinced I got it all, when I looked closely there turned out to be dried hair spread around the entire circumference of both tires. I think I was just so frustrated with enough other things in my life that I was unwilling to admit that I couldn't do something as simple, yet important to my self-image, as get Sew-Up Tires right. I bet Jobst Brandt never came up from the basement looking like he'd wrapped himself in a rug after mounting tires. If Jan Heine did the same thing he could just say he was testing to see if a Dog-hair/Latex composite could increase sidewall durability without sacrificing suppleness, and we'd all believe him. Me? I just felt like a fraud.
I love cycling and I've been doing it all my life, but I don't really see myself as any kind of "expert rider". Certainly not someone who should be going around giving advice or offering tips. But, I've spent so much time learning about the Bicycle itself, working in shops when I was younger, reading, collecting, repairing frames and building racks and stems and things, that I want to think of myself as some sort of top-level expert. On the lower end of the top-level of course, but gettin' up there. It's easy for guys like me to think we know more than we actually do, so it sucks to come up short, you know? Guys like Jobst(RIP) and Jan on the other hand, inspire and encourage me, and so do lots of other people who think hard about bikes and find ways to move the ball down the field in a better direction. I'll never be a Tom Ritchey, a Charlie Cunningham or a Grant Peterson, but, dang it, I like to think I'm pulling on the same end of the rope as them. After something like the great dog hair disaster I'm not so sure.
But. The next day, after letting the glue cure sufficiently(if you're uncertain that it's been long enough, just go make a sandwich to be sure) I went for a ride and all my dumb disappointment and insecurity evaporated. The old thing rode so well and the feeling of riding really great tires on a bike that allowed you to get the best out of them reminded me what the purpose of messing around with something as fussy as Tubulars really is. It's not to make me feel like an "Expert" or prove how discerning I am, it's to make it more fun.
And later, when I looked closer at the tires after my ride, I saw the neatest thing, brushing at the hairs and trying to drag them off with a tire lever and my fingers had left them in these twirling Paisley swirls and Arabesques that brought to my mind some Aubrey Beardsley type pen-work. It looks intentional if not particularly perfect and I think I like it that way. If I thought I could do it that well on purpose I'd probably try it every time. I just wouldn't leave it parked anywhere Jan Heine could see it.