Kraynick’s bike shop on Penn Avenue in Bloomfield/Garfield is a spectacle of awesomeness. It should be a rite of passage for every cyclist to blow a chain out coming up the hill on Penn Avenue, have to haul their fixie or mountain bike or cruiser over to Kraynick’s, and learn a little bit about bike repair.
That is what happened to me on my first bicycle ride in Pittsburgh. I was enjoying a warm but overcast afternoon after a hard morning hitting up the job boards, sending out resume’s and napping with the dog. I rode through Downtown, the Market District, the Riverfront Trail and was on my way towards home when I decided to challenge myself by riding up Penn Avenue. Somewhere around 36th street I tried to shift the chill 7-speed cruiser I was riding into the easiest gear while cursing my arrogance for pushing it in this hilliest of hill cities. That’s when I heard it. The “chunk-a-chunk-a-chuk-chuk” sound made when a chain jumps track.
I’m not a first time rider. I commute regularly and don’t drive often. But when it comes to bike repair I know just enough to be dangerous. I grabbed my handy bike tool, flipped the bike over and took a look. Somehow the chain had jumped to the inside of the crankshaft and maneuvered into a spot that not only could I not get at with my tool, but made it impossible for the rear tire even rotate around. Sonuva! Like a fool, I had left my cell phone at home and could not call for a ride. In the back of my mind I remembered noticing a sign for a bike shop on Penn Avenue earlier in the week, and resigned myself to hauling the now useless bicycle there to get some help.
I put the thing up on my shoulder and started walking. It was farther than I thought. But the walk proved to be it’s own entertainment. Along the way I met an elderly woman with a cane who claimed to ride a bicycle across Europe back in her younger days, and a mom with her teenage daughters who assured me my bright colored tennis shoes were “So hot right now.”
Finally, I made it to Kraynick’s. At first I wasn’t even sure they were open but there was a handwritten note on the door indicating the hours. I pushed the front door open and came face to face with what I can only describe as a episode of hoarders, a bike museum and gruff Oz like proprietor named Jerry who rules this bicycle kingdom. I tried to get my bicycle in the shop but I couldn’t get the door open wide enough to fit the basket on the back thru the door. Still a bit in overwhelmed at the scene I faltered a bit explaining my problem. Jerry just looked at me blankly, jerked a thumb towards the rear of the shop and said, “There’s probably a stand open back there. Should be tools if you need them.” And walked away. I was a bit shell-shocked. What kind of bike shop was this? I looked down the ramp and saw several bike stands with work stations and a few people toiling away with bikes in various states of assembly.
I removed the basket and wiggled myself and the bike into the back room. Up on the stand it didn’t take long to realize I’d need to take the chain off. I haven’t had to take a chain off before. At that same moment a young kid, no more than 11 or 12 finished working on his bmx bike and went to ask Jerry if he could leave. I overheard Jerry ask if he had offered to help the others yet. The young man walked back into the shop and made an announcement, “Does anyone need any help?”
In a last ditch effort to avoid removing my chain completely I asked if he wanted to see if he could maneuver his smaller fingers into my mess of a chain and get it out. He came over looked for a minute. “Nope.” Someone else mentioned they need help adjusting a brake. He grabbed an allen wrench from the stand near me and went over to help. Once done, he grabbed his own bike and headed for the door. What kind of sweatshop was this? After a 10 minute search of the work room I gave up, found Jerry and asked if he had a chain-tool handy. He did. He gave me a quick overview on how to use it (and what not to do) then went back to ignoring me.
Back in front of my bike I took my chain off, unjammed it, and put it back on. I stood back and admired my handiwork with pride. Since I was already covered in sweat, dirt and bike grease, I decided I should check the gears to make sure they were correctly adjusted to avoid a future blow out. I made some minor adjustments but couldn’t get it quite right. Drumming up some courage I asked a guy who seemed to know what he was doing if he could help. We went to work adjusting my gears and then the brakes. After thanking him I asked I could do anything to help him. He said no. “What is this place?” I asked him. “Some sort of amazing Never-Never Land I think,” he responded. I couldn’t have said it better.
A forlorn looking young man appeared in the doorway holding a flat tire. “Can someone help me with this?” he said. I offered right away in hopes of paying forward the kindness just shown me.
Having finished my repairs I went to find Jerry. I asked for some pricing on putting new handlebars on my bike. He rattled off the costs of the bars, tape, new brake lines etc. There was no additional charges for assembly. I’d have to do that myself I imagine. Finally, I asked if I owed anything for the time and the use of his tools. For the first time he smiled at me. “Next time you’re here you help someone else who needs it. That’s how you pay me.” Then he turned to answer a ringing telephone.
I was blown away. Payment by literally paying it forward. I looked at my watch. I had been here for two hours. In that time traveling by I had interacted with three other customers, learned something new about bike repair and had a fixed bike to boot. It was a true experience. At any other shop, I would have given them some money to fix it and then get out as quickly as possible. Here, I could see, was a true community. People helping other people.
I said goodbye to my new friends and co-workers. Wrangled my bike back out into air fresh from a recent rain and set off down the road.
I’ll be back Jerry. I hope there is an open station for me.
Where is it?
Kraynicks Bike Shop
5003 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Is there a website?
Not at the time of posting this.