It was a nice day, blue skies, those little
puffy cumulus clouds that look like cotton balls, and temperatures
in the eighties. A perfect Summer day for kids to be out riding
their bikes. Not that there was that much Summer left! It was
late August and school would be starting soon.
"You guys make it look so easy", yelled Josh.
"Its not so hard once you know how to do it!", Matt yelled. But of course Matt was not letting on that it took too many falls to count and months of sheer work to perfect this rather easy looking move called a rear hop. Not much to look at actually, just a kid on a bike with the front wheel perpendicular to the ground and the rider bouncing around on the rear tire.
Matt and Bobby were not your typical teenagers, although they were both sixteen, they were not into anything that you could call "bad", although girls were definitely part of the picture. They were into bikes, big time. Bobby was a "roady", or more correctly a "tracky". He loved to ride a single speed bike with no brakes around a steeply banked track at the velodrome. The velodrome was in Pennsylvania and was the premier bike track on the East coast. Bobby was five ten and one hundred and forty pounds, with dark hair and dark eyes. He loved everything mechanical and was an ace auto mechanic. School was OK as long as he was in the shop, the rest of it was just there to keep him out of the shop and to get him in trouble when his grades dropped below a B. He was very bright and could do well in all of his classes, just that they did not seem so important.
Matt lived for his mountain bike, he loved single track, when the path in the woods was just wide enough for his handlebars to fit. His greatest fun came when there was an obstacle in his path, to him there was no greater challenge than making it over any log, rock or other solid obstacle cleanly. Matt was a lanky six footer who might tip the scales at one hundred and thirty pounds. He was fair with hazel eyes. He loved all aspects of life, everything was a new adventure, whether going to the climbing gymn, riding or being with his girl Elise.
Although they both went to the same high school, Bobby and Matt really did not meet until they had started to work at "The Bike Shop". Roger, the owner, chief salesman and general manager was living a life long dream. He had been a very successful builder and a life long runner until his knees went out. Roger was an even six foot tall and weighed in at one hundred and seventy pounds. He had a full head of hair and a physique that said athlete. Although he was approaching the half century mark most people would put him in his early forties. Once he tried road riding, he found another love. Soon he was doing more riding than building. When the opportunity came to virtually steal a building in downtown Phillipsburg he made up his mind. He would convert the building into apartments and the downstairs would become his bike shop. After several years of tender loving care the dream had come true.
The biggest problem was being overwhelmed with sales and repairs almost from day one. Roger had really expected the first year to be slow, giving him time to fine tune his mechanical and sales skills. Not fixing flats, and selling bikes simultaneously. Fortunately, Matt had stopped by one day while Roger was still getting the shop set up and asked if there were any jobs. Being a softy, Roger gave him an application and still thanks his lucky stars that he did. It was only a month after opening that he called Matt and offered him a job as a bike assembler and flat fixer.
Another month and Bobby was on board and the two mechanics became fast friends. Matt liked riding on the road to train for mountain bike races and Bobby needed the training time for his track career. One of their favorite things was to get up early, I told you they were not your typical teenagers, and ride the fifteen miles to Roger's house. Then the three of them would see who could break fifty miles per hour down the big hill going from Pen Argyl to Bangor. They would get to the shop in time to clean up, change, grab some breakfast and get to work. Well, one of the boys would be getting paid, as they worked alternate days, but it was not unusual for both to be in the shop.
One working on his own bike or maybe even Roger's or the others, or just watching some great bike videos.
"Come on, its your turn. Remember just pull the front wheel up , not too far or you will go over the back, and then bounce", encouraged Matt.
Josh was a local boy, he was ten, a tall five foot five inches for his age, fair haired with green eyes and a penchant for getting into trouble, that was until he met Matt and Bobby. His family was not wealthy and they lived in a small apartment that Roger, the shop owner was renting to them. Josh never owned a bike until Roger gave him one after weeks of watching Josh sweep the floor, take out the trash and run errands for the guys in the shop, all done voluntarily. He would do anything to be able to hang with the two boys. His bike was his proudest possession, he kept it in his room and polished it whenever he had a spare moment. The guys from the shop were older but they liked him and let him ride with them whenever it was possible.
It was rather comical to watch Josh as he tried to pull the front wheel up just the right height. More than likely he was too timid and the wheel would just come off the ground a few inches and then crash down. After about ten tries in which the front wheel had moved vertically a total distance of about six inches, Matt and Bobby decided that it was time for an easier trick. Anyway, they would have to get to work soon. They actually enjoyed working with the young kids from the neighborhood on Saturday mornings, even though it meant getting up earlier. Their boss had encouraged them and would even spring for breakfast when he got in. Of course, it made sense to Roger. He was trying to run a bike shop in a part of town that was, lets just say, not upscale.
He was a little upset when he came in one Saturday morning to find half a dozen kids digging up the back lot under the supervision of his mechanics. After 3 or 4 weeks the boys had converted a good portion of the lot into a very small BMX track. It had several mounds of dirt to jump and even some burmed turns. Roger's only concern was insurance, although he was not absolutely positive whose land the track was actually on, his or the railroads, so he had never gotten around to asking his insurance agent!
The local police were a help of sorts in that they promised to keep an eye on the track when the shop was closed. I say of sorts, because it was not unusual to find one or two of the police bike squad out there trying out their bikes on the jumps. Of course, their answer was that they needed to be ready for any contingency. Roger knew that they were just having a hell of a lot of fun.
So, in the end the track stayed and now is rather sophisticated with several jumps, including a hill to hill jump if you can get up enough speed.
The bike shop was actually doing very well. The sale of BMX bikes was off the charts, now that the kids had a place to ride that was off the street. They also had a chance to try some of the tricks they saw on the "Extreme Games" or one of the videos that was always running on the TV in the mechanics room. Road bikes were also doing very well, but that was mostly because Roger had been a "Roady" for a long time and his old cronies were all getting ready to upgrade or replace their old steeds.
Matt was upset because of the lack of mountain bike activity. He had been trying to get everybody from the Mountaineers, the mountain bike club that he and his dad belonged to, to come to the shop. But, most of the members were into bikes that were not in the shops inventory and would require special orders. He had a modicum of success talking them into purchasing accessories and they were working on a deal for a new club jersey with the jersey rep, so mountain bikes were making a small if not great contribution.
Matt and Bobby were now the mechanics at the shop, and even without formal training were able to keep up with repairs and assembly of all of the bikes being sold. When things got really sticky they could ask Roger and between him and the books they would solve the problem.
"OK, Josh lets try something a little easier, you keep working on that one during the week and we'll see how you do next week. We'll go over to the track and I'll show you how to do a manual between the bumps" said Matt enthusiastically. He knew that
Josh was getting frustrated and that it was probably too difficult for him at this time. So he would teach him a trick that used some of the same skills.
As they were riding back to the section where there were two hills separated by about six feet, Matt explained what he was going to do. He was going to pull up the front wheel when he hit the first bump and keep it up as he rode through the valley. When he got to the second hill he would lower the front wheel onto the hill and peddle up the second hill. It was a more efficient way to get between the two hills rather than ride up, ride down and then ride up again. Of course you could jump from one hill to the other, but when you were riding trails and you were not sure what was on the other side of the second hill, jumping might not be wise.
As he was executing the move Josh did not even blink. He was tying to see every detail and memorize every little action he saw. Unfortunately there is really not much to see as Matt did exactly what he had said he would do. The whole trick to the maneuver is feel, just knowing how far to pull up and how to hold it.
Josh got on his bike and approached the first hill with plenty of speed. He pulled up the front wheel and as he got to the top of the hill looked good. He was riding on the rear wheel just as Matt had done. It was on the other side of the hill that problems started. the back wheel kept going forward and the front wheel kept going backward and soon the bike was over Josh's head and he was on the ground.
Matt and Bobby knew better than to laugh, although they sure would have enjoyed a good chuckle but they had been there themselves. The only difference was that they had to figure everything out by trial and error, never having anyone to explain what to do. They would watch and rewind the videos Roger had purchased a hundred time just to see how a move was executed.
"Ok, Josh, good beginning, just a little too much pull. You really don't have to pull that hard because the hill will help ", explained Matt.
Josh tried again and this time came down the far side of the first hill on the rear wheel only. The front wheel was not quite high enough to set on the crest of the second so clearing the second hill was a little rough, but he made it.
"See, I told you this was easy, now practice and practice and when you think your an expert practice some more", Matt said with a huge grin on his face. It was hard to tell if he was smiling because of Josh's success or because he sounded like a teacher.
Just then, Roger yelled from the back of the shop and the two mechanics had a wheelie race to the back door. For some reason Matt seemed to prefer riding on the rear wheel of his bike alone with the front wheel high in the air. You might think that this would negate the ability to steer the bike, but he had perfected steering by slight shifts in his lean and his weight. In fact, Matt was something of an expert in wheelies. One of his minor goals in life was to be able to ride a unicycle.
"Don't forget that we are going to ride tomorrow," Matt yelled back to Josh.
As they got to the back door of the shop, Bobby nosed out Matt and made a nice clean entrance into the shop, never touching the threshold as he softly dropped the front wheel then shifted his weight to bring the back wheel up and over.
Matt followed just as cleanly and they both came to a very quick stop in the back room of the shop. As their bikes came to a complete standstill they still did not unclip their peddles but stood there as if frozen, in a perfect track stand.
"Ok hot dogs, so you can track stand, anyone ready for some sticky buns? I saw Josh on the track, he looked pretty good", said Roger, sounding more like a proud parent than the boss.
"Yeah, he really is a quick learner for a ten year old, wish I would have been able to start that young", said Matt.
"Yeah, my dad had been riding on the road but I never liked it until two years ago, he never was into mountain biking like your dad, Matt", chimed in Bobby.
"Well, actually he got into mountain biking because he bought me a mountain bike and wanted to keep in shape" explained Matt.
"To work, as soon as you wash that sticky stuff off your hands. Matt bring up the
bikes on the list I stapled to the basement door and maybe the two of you can set a new record for assembling bikes today, unless we get in a lot of repairs" , said Roger, sounding more like a boss.
The day went quickly as it always does when you are busy. Matt was trying to balance paying attention to the bike he was assembling with thinking about helping Elise with her computer problem. She had been working on a project to see if it was possible to find a pattern from brain waves, and had actually succeeded. She was now writing software to decipher this pattern and he was helping her. Elise was Matt's first love. She was a towering five foot three with a swimmers physique, which made sense as swimming was Elise's passion, that is until she met Matt. Now she was racing her mountain bike and getting ready to move up to the next level, Sport. She and Matt had been friends from the start of high school and now had moved on to the stage where they were a couple.
The hard part was admitting that he actually knew what he was doing with a computer, because that would mean that he had to admit that he had learned from his sister,Liz, and that would surely kill him. He could just hear her now, bragging about how she had taught him how to program and how lucky he was. The actual truth was, she would be correct and that really would hurt.
Back to the problems at hand, first this shifter does not want to stay in registry, than to the software problems.
After two minutes, Bobby figured out that the limits on the derailleur were off so the bike shifted like a dream.
The software problem was not going to be so easy, but without a computer he was not good enough to picture it in his mind, maybe Liz would help! Nah, that would be ridiculous, even if she could she wouldn't, just to prove to him that she could! Whew, that is getting too scary, I'm thinking like her.
Liz was one of Matt's sisters, she was three years older and lets just say they never got along very well. Matt much preferred his older sister Tricia who had always been his best friend. She helped him with school, baseball, girls, everything except mountain biking that is. Liz was as tall as Matt, with dark hair, hazel eyes and the looks of a Greek goddess. She was a first class computer hacker, expert on all types of music and mature beyond her years. Why they had never been able to get along was probably a combination of middle child, and loss of the baby in the family status syndrome. No matter what, Elise had run into a major problem and Liz would most likely be the key to solving it.
Everything was fine as long as Elise was just playing with her theories. The whole thing started when she was trying to build a heart monitor so she could monitor her heart as part of her training regimen. It seemed quite simple just attach some wires to those "stick on" sensors that her mom had from the hospital. Her mother was a nurse and always had a handful in her pocket. She would then input the sensor information into the microphone jack and then use the software that allowed you to record sound. A small modification in the actual software and she could get either a digital or graphic readout. Well, what seemed like a simple project has turned into something that could be bigger than the two of them, in fact, too big for anyone.
Matt decided that he would bite the proverbial bullet and ask Liz if she could help Elise. Liz loved a challenge and she and Elise got along OK, so it was not a bad as asking for help for himself.
Just as if she was reading his mind in walked Elise.
"Hi guys, anyone up for lunch?" she asked.
"Sure, where will it be?" answered Matt.
"Who's turn is it to chose?" Bobby yelled to the group.
"I think that Roger picked the Mercantile yesterday, how about Joe's steak shop? We haven't gone t here for a while", answered Matt.
"Hey, don't I count? After all it was my idea" argued Elise.
"OK, what do you want? Boca burgers, or a veggie platter?" said Matt rather sarcastically.
"Well smartie, they happen to be good for you, and they do taste pretty good, but I was thinking more on the line of pizza", replied Elise.
"Sounds good to me ". answered Bobby.
"Fine by me, and I'll even treat", said Roger.
That of course did it. In a matter of seconds Matt was on the phone ordering two large pizzas, a large bottle of diet coke and a large bottle of Doctor Pepper.
Downtown P'burg was in the midst of a revival, so there were plenty of merchants all vying for business. Roger was part of the new revival so he liked to spread the wealth, so to speak, by buying lunch from different restaurants and fast food places. One of the perks in being a small shop was having deliveries. Because it was not uncommon for Roger to be alone in the shop during the day, while the boys were in school, most of the food places would deliver. This saved Roger the trouble of closing up the shop and leaving. It also gave him the opportunity to keep working. The boys had learned about this and continued to have food delivered through the Summer. Of course, they would not have minded a few minutes away from the shop, but they also knew that if Roger was there he would more than likely pay.
It took about a half an hour for the pizzas to be delivered, and true to form Roger paid.
While they were eating on the floor in the back room where all of the bike assembly and repairs were completed, Matt explained to Elise about his idea to ask Liz for help.
"I think it would be great if she can help. I am really going crazy over this thing. I wonder if it is really just an insane idea. After all why hasn't someone else figured this out if it is so simple". Elise explained.
"Hey, my dad says that you never should assume anything, and something about an ass or donkey, he figures that lots of good ideas are passed by because people have the attitude that it is too simple", said Matt.
"I sure hope you are right, and by the way that goes if you assume it makes an ass out of you and me. You know ass, is the as , you is the letter u".
"OK, ok I get it, now let us get back to work", said Matt, a little embarrassed at the lecture from his sweetheart.
"Thanks, for lunch Roger", Elise yelled as she went out back to get her bike to go home.
After work, Matt stopped at his moms house to see if Liz was home. She was, at least her car was there, so he was in time.
"Hey Liz, got a minute?" he yelled as he opened the front door.
"Just a minute, have to be at work in fifteen minutes, what's up?" replied Liz.
Now that was amazing, no sarcasm or no flat out denial, this was going to be much easier than he thought.
"Elise is having trouble writing some software for a project she is working on, and I told her I would ask you if you would help", explained Matt
"OK, but I'll have to call her tonight or tomorrow morning. What is her project?" said Liz.
"She is converting wave patterns from your brain into colors, letters and different stuff, I think", Matt said, trying to sound like he knew what Elise was really doing.
"Hmm, that does sound a little weird, I definitely would have to know more", Li z answered, with what sounded like curiosity.
The next morning Liz called Elise and the two of them made plans to get together in the afternoon at Liz' s house. Liz and Matt lived with their mom and each had their own rooms and plenty of space to avoid each other. Liz had a pretty good computer, printer, scanner and lots of other things that Matt had no idea what they were used for, not that he would ever have a chance to use them.
When Elise arrived, she explained how she had stumbled on these patterns when she was testing her heart monitor.
What was really weird was that she had been staring at a poster in her room that was bright red, so she could get her heart rate as low as possible. This was going to
be her baseline. When she repeated the same test, she was daydreaming and more or less staring at the monitor, which had a light blue background. When she brought the patterns up on the monitor in graphic form, they were distinctly different. She thought she had made a mistake in recording, so she repeated the test, again looking at the red poster. Sure enough the pattern was the same as the first. It took several trials before she remembered that she had been staring at the monitor. That must be the key she had thought. So, she tried staring at another object, and there was still another pattern. The problem now was to decipher what all of this meant. It was then she focused on the idea that it was the color. A pile of different colored construction paper and a few more tests proved the theory. Today, she brought a few of her discs with the patterns from the various colors and before long the two of them were analyzing the waves and looking for the critical parts that might allow them to decipher them.
Liz decided to use a graphics program to create layers. She thought that maybe there was a lot of noise or something there that was consistent, and this way they could eliminate it and simplify the patterns.
They tried laying the pattern from green over the pattern from red, and then trying other colors and soon realized that there was definitely a part of the pattern that stayed the same and a part that changed. They decided to focus on the parts that were different, if Liz's theory was correct the other stuff was extraneous to the variable they were studying, in this case color. Once this was accomplished it would not take long to write some software that would duplicate the pattern . Then they would develop software that would convert the pattern into the color.
When they were finished they could take a wave and the software would analyze it and immediately produce the color.
It did not take long to write some basic software for the handful of colors they had data for and test their theory.
"Wow, this is like having a mathematical artist" Elise yelled.
"Kind of, I wonder what would happen if we took two colors at the same time?" Liz asked.
"I think that will have to be another day, it is almost seven, and I missed dinner, my mom is going to kill me", Elise explained.
"Didn't you tell her where you were going?" Liz asked.
"My mom wouldn't let me be at Matt's house if she was not positive that your mom was going to be here." Elise said.
"I'll call her, and tell her you were working with me on the computer and that time just flew by". Liz volunteered.
"Thanks, but I really don't think it will help". Elise said.
Liz called and in a few minutes Liz had Mrs. Trainor calmed down. Liz assured her that the work they had been doing was very complex and that without Elise's help she would never have been able to finish. She also told her that she was a college student majoring in computers, so Elise's knowledge of computers was now placed on a much higher plane than Mrs. Trainor had ever realized.
"Thanks for all of your help, especially with my mom. I'll keep in touch and let you know what happens with this project in the future", said Elise as she was leaving.
About five minutes later Matt came flying down the driveway to a screeching front wheel stop in front of the garage door. He then swung the back end of the bike around in one clean motion and came to a stop so the rear tire would rest against the garage wall. This would allow him to open the garage door without having to lay the bike on the ground.
Just as Josh did everything but sleep with his bike, Matt was another bike fanatic. But in this case, Matt was proud of his bike because he had paid for every cent with the money he had made at the shop. Of course, Roger had given him a handsome discount, but this was no ordinary Mountain bike. It was a Bianchi and it had only the best components, all XTR dererailleus and shifters. Avid brakes, although he would much prefer disc brakes, but they would have to wait until next year, and even the seat and seat post were top of the line. Matt would never think of leaving his bike outside.,
which caused some problems when he was at his moms, because the garage was so small. He solved the problem by placing hooks on the ceiling and hanging the bike just clear of the car.
Matt opened the garage door, grabbed a rag and gave the bike a quick dusting, before hanging it on the hooks.
"Hey guy, you just missed Elise", Liz yelled as Matt bounded in the front door.
"Yeah, what was she doing over here so late, working on her computer project? Matt responded.
" Yeah, and we really made some progress. She is really smart. I think she is on to something, although I have no idea what good it would ever be. All I know is that its is fun and gives me a chance to use some of my graphics software" explained Liz.
"Oh well, glad you guys are getting someplace. Elise sure thinks that it's important. I think she wants something to bring to Mr. Krazitz, the computer teacher. She really likes him and wants to get into the advanced computer class", Matt explained.
"I had him last year. He is really tough. You have to know what your doing and definitely no games or fooling around", Liz replied as if this type of conversation was the norm for the two of them.
"I don't think Elise is into computer games, she just wants to learn as much as possible and be the best", Matt replied.
"Well, Mr. Krazitz is the best. At least at the High School. Someone told me that he works for IBM or ATT&T or one of the big computer companies doing research at night", Liz replied.
"Duh, why would he be at the High School if he is that good?" Matt answered a little sarcastically.
"Beats me, maybe it is just a rumor, because he sure doesn't dress like he has money or anything", Liz responded, ignoring her younger brothers sarcasm.
" Probably, just a geek with millions in the bank", Matt replied.
At that Matt went to take a shower. As he was scrubbing the grime from the bike shop off his fingers he thought about the conversation he just had with Liz. Not so much the content but the fact that they actually had a conversation without it ending in a screaming bout. What did it mean? Maybe it was just a fluke and they would be at each others throats tomorrow, whatever the reason, it was nice.