When The Internet Is Worthless – Wherein The Author Finds His Bearings


Bearings 04

I am going to confess that I have become one of “those people”.  OK, there are a lot of people we could call “those people” – but for today’s purpose “those people” will be one of those who often says “why didn’t you just look online?”  The world of online commerce has been a wonderful thing.  Crucial, even – as in times of, say, a COVID-19 emergency.  But even this far into the 21st Century, sometimes it is simply a fail.

I can remember when things started off with books and music.  “Soon”, they told us, “you will get your groceries this way.”  They are still fine tuning the grocery thing, but the world of e-commerce has become, well, something.

It seems that e-commerce is particularly successful in two fields.  The big one is for small, name-brand or known-quality goods which can be easily shipped.  We all know them.  The other is for the niche business – the place that develops a presence as provider of obscure, specialty items.  This is the kind of place that could never work in a physical store in most places, but can make it with the kind of volume that comes from a nation (or world) wide customer base.  Which brings me to how I lost my bearings.

A good number of years back we bought a piece of exercise equipment – a recumbent bike.  The kind with a relatively comfy low seat and pedals out in front of you – like a Corvette for six year olds.  Being who we are, we bought it used at one of those places that takes advantage of other peoples’ rash New Years resolutions by buying fitness equipment at garage sales and re-selling it after a little spiff and tune.

The bike served us well for quite a long time.  Personally, I have liked it best when I can gaze at it from my family room recliner as I sip on a beer and chomp pretzels as I watch television.  Exercise equipment will last virtually forever with this kind of use, I tell myself.  But then I get on the scale and decide that the exercise bike is going to have to sacrifice itself for awhile so that I can get back in trim.  Or maybe get in trim?  It helps to be optimistic, and is so hard to work up enthusiasm when you are basically healthy.

Sooooo, I finally rolled out of bed and donned my workout duds (which I had dutifully found and placed out the previous evening).  I trudged down to the bike and began my session.  But saw immediately that something was horribly wrong.  The pedals clanked and shifted wildly as they went round and round.  This was not right at all.

I wondered why Mrs. JPC had never said anything.  Did she not notice?  Or did it just not bother her?  Well it bothered me – when something mechanical is not right I cannot be in a proper frame of mind until it is fixed.

Bearings 07

For illustration purposes only. Because you know that you always wanted to see what went on inside of the pedal hub of your bicycle.

The locknuts that hold the bearing must need tightening (said my optimistic self).  My cynical self that would have asked “and why would it need tightening?” must have been too sleepy at the moment.  I took the plastic case off and tightened down the lock nut (which was not loose) so that the play was gone.  “All fixed” I thought, with a great sense of satisfaction.  Until the next morning.

When I began my pedal session the next morning (I was quite proud of going right back the next day, by the way) it was clear that my fix job had solved one problem but highlighted another – there was a terrible friction and unpleasant noises coming from the mechanism.  Another dive into the bowels of the beast was called for.  But not before a few days off from my exercise routine.

Bearings 08

See the one on the left? It looks better than mine did. There is still one of the ball bearings in it.

So last Saturday I went in again.  As I got the locknut loose and looked behind it the problem was evident.  A pair of mangled ball-bearing holders (called cages) makes for a terrible kind of bearing.  Especially after all of the ball bearings had broken free of their little prisons and made a break for the wide-open spaces inside the bike frame.

OK, my exercise bike clearly needed new bearings.  This will be a cinch, I thought.  I immediately went to the internet.  I knew the manufacturer, the model, the serial number.  I began my search.  I soon decided that I had not spent enough money on our little bike because there seemed to be no parts support through the manufacturer.

Surely, I thought, there would be a business in some little place like Tazewell Tennessee or New Glarus, Wisconsin where some enterprising soul had set up a mecca for replacement parts for every kind of exercise equipment known to man.  I found a couple that handled stuff for maybe a dozen major brand names, but nothing like the EveryExerciseBikeBrandKnownToMankind.com I was looking for.

I next expanded my search to bike parts emporiums.  Surely this had to be some kind of standard part.  All I needed was the measurement.  But everything seemed geared to manufacturer again and not towards an easily searchable array of bearing types and sizes so that I could compare what I had to what they had and find a match.

After about an hour or more of this, it was about 2:30 in the afternoon and I was ready to quit.  Then I decided that I would give “old-school” a try.  About ten minutes from my house is an old bicycle dealer that was surely selling new Schwinns in the 1950’s.  I knew they had a first rate service department and decided to try them.

bearings 10

Matthews Bicycles is in an old building in a part of the city that were the suburbs sixty years ago.  I drove around to the back where the service entrance is, and walked in.  “How are you doing?” asked a friendly guy about my age.  “I think you are about to tell me” was my reply.  I dropped the little Ziplock bag containing the remains of my old bearings on the counter.  “Got anything like this?” I asked.  “Absolutely” was the reply.

Bearings 06

Five minutes and $20 later I had a fresh pair of bearings and some free advice on putting them in.  I was so happy that I forgot to ask about some grease, which they would probably have had too.  I figured that I had some in my garage, but I had last fooled with wheel bearings on a car in the 1980’s, and had probably used grease I had bought in the 1970’s, so maybe a fresh can would not be a bad idea.  Another $5.99 at the auto parts store and I was in business.  I read the curious small print (yes, I’m a lawyer) and saw that this grease did not comply with Ford’s grease standard.  Ford uses some special kind of grease?  Really?  But fortunately, neither my bike nor the bearings were made by Ford.

By that evening my bike was back in business, all ready for me to ignore for the rest of the night.  But how odd, I thought, that I had proved the internet to be completely useless.  And how great that an old-school bike shop was there to solve a problem that most would have solved by putting the machine out for the trash.  A win-win.

Except that now I have to get back on the stupid exercise bike.


Photo Credit

Matthews Bicycle Mart – from its website

The bearings – who the heck cares about pictures of bearings.

22 thoughts on “When The Internet Is Worthless – Wherein The Author Finds His Bearings

    • Thank you! I had wondered if I should hold this off and write something about our new normal, but this was probably the better choice. It sounds like there will be plenty of chance for that later.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. There will always be a need for the Matthew’s Bicycle Marts of the world. The guy you talked to likely had the entire parts inventory list in his head. No website can do that!

    Thank you for a slice of normalcy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You remind me that when I was talking to the guy, I said something like “I thought a bike shop may have this.” His reply was great – he smiled and said “the right bike shop, anyway.” Which made me glad I didn’t drive the other direction to the pricier part of the city where there is a much higher likelihood of seeing a Tesla parked out front.


  2. Thanks for my laugh for the day in this time of gloom and doom, and for the reminder to get my bike out of the garage and put some air in the tires as spring is here this morning finally.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good work, and an excellent business to deal with to fix the problem. You probably would have had better luck finding something online if you knew how to describe bicycle bearings?
    I don’t either, since with ball bearings you specify inside diameter, outside diameter, width and seals. But bicycles have fixed races so who knows? Ball diameter and pitch diameter?
    Good work, get back to the exercise. I’m working from home now and walk around the block for my “commute”. Stay safe you guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As an engineer, you will appreciate that these bearings came with new races, which were necessary as the old ones had areas broken out of them (which allowed the little balls to make a run for it.) I should have photographed them, as I have never seen a bearing destroyed so completely as those were. I don’t get it – we just don’t pedal that furiously.

      I am back at home as well. All that effort to set up a home office a little over a year ago is paying off now.


  4. Oh that’s hilarious because I usually have the opposite experience. “I need one of these, do you have one?” (shows part to guy at counter) (guy at counter scratches head) “I think I know what that is and maybe we have one but I don’t know.” (guy rummages around in the back for a half hour) “Sorry, I can’t find anything like that.” Go online and find one in 15 minutes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have gotten to where I start online, unless I need it right now. Maybe that’s the rule – if you need it right now it will only be online. If you are looking for convenience and are willing to wait it’s only in a store. See? The universe makes sense now.


  5. I may be hopping onto my exercise bike if any type of shelter-in-place rules and regs prohibit going to the park for a walk. We had one of those old-time bike shops close up last Fall, which surprised me but they had opened a newer store in another city which was thriving,however the original employees running this one since its inception in 1946, were all way past the age of retirement. I got my exercise bike from there and had it about a year when the pedal strap came apart; I was going quite fast and the strap broke and I nearly flew off the bike. A kindly neighbor helped me install a new pedal strap and he had a devil of a time getting it attached. I’ve never tried one of those recumbent bikes. In one of our larger parks, they block off the roads inside the park to vehicles every Saturday all Summer, so I see a lot of recumbent street bikes there. They look difficult to operate and uncomfortable but the riders clip along at a good pace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes those old shops stay in a location too long, one where old customers drop off and new ones fail to come along. I hope that doesn’t happen here, but it probably will, eventually.

      I hope you don’t have to give up you park walks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The City was upset that Al Petri & Sons moved since it was the original store and took up most of a City block. It now stands vacant. I hope I can continue walking too JP. I usually walk alone so I can’t see there being a problem with doing so.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad to hear you had such good luck with your repair. I have not been as fortunate. We an old one (probably from the ’80s) that lasted quite a few years but the crank had bronze bushings in a plastic housing rather than real bearings like yours. I created a hardware store replacement setup that lasted almost a month. The new replacement bike lasted almost 2 months before a pedal came loose, stripping the threads in the crank. The company would replace it under warranty, but shipping was horrendous, so that one went back to the store it came from. Knock on wood, the 3rd one seems to be working out well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your story was sort of my fear of inexpensive new exercise equipment when we bought ours. I figured that the resale places would avoid buying the really cheap stuff and concentrate on mid-range and up. Plus, I figured that if we failed to use it, the thing would have at least some resale value. I shouldn’t have been quite so hard on my manufacturer, as they did offer an email address for parts support, but no way to buy anything online or even to see what their parts pricing was like.


  7. Great news on your find JP! I find that all too often, places like this are sold, torn down, and a 38 storey shiny condo arises from its ashes in no time flat. Much to everyone’s chagrin. Intensification is the new reality. May shops like this live on for as long as they can!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that there will be no 38 story condos going up in the neighborhood of this bike shop any time soon. Maybe gentrification will eventually get there, but right now much of this area considers itself fortunate when the neighbor is a used car dealer and not an establishment for “exotic dancing”. They probably own the building and have built enough of a clientele over the decades that they can make money doing what they do where they are.


  8. This was great fun, and true to my bad pun affliction, I loved your title. I think my favorite line was your description of most enjoying the bike while looking at it from your recliner, munching on a pretzel.

    Matthews Bicycles reminds me of a store not far from us whose continued existence delights me every time I pass by: Hubcap Joes. I took great pleasure the few times I visited by saying as I entered: “You know what I need?”

    I am hoping that Hubcap Joes, our favorite bagel store, and the purveyors of the best ice cream for miles around will all safely make it through this damn pandemic. And that we will too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We all have our favorite local businesses – I am pulling for the old-style Chinese off-the-menu restaurant and a couple of nearby bakeries. Which make that exercise bike all the more necessary.


  9. I’ve been to New Glarus, it’s about an hour and 15 minutes from the lake house. They have a nice brewery. That’s all I got. 🙂


    • We have been there too, and took the brewery tour. It was some kind of fall festival so it would be nice to try it again when it’s not so busy. Beautiful area.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s