Falcon Derailleurs

Before I got into teaching, I worked in a bike shop. It’s usually my job in-between teaching jobs as well. When I get fed up with a place or with the idea of teaching ESL in general, it’s nice to do a stint in the bike shop. I like working on bikes. There’s something that’s extremely rewarding about pinpointing a specific problem, having the tools and knowledge to fix it so that it works properly, and having a finished product that works. Rewards of the bike shop are often the same in the ESL classroom.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the bike shop recently, and whether I’d like it more than what I’m doing now. I work in a private university in Istanbul and I’ve heard that while some private universities are better than others, the myriad problems one faces in the English prep department tend to be the same because 18 year old students in private prep departments are the same. They have no interest in learning the language and can’t be motivated to actually try. They then complain about their poor quiz and exam results. I spend my days teaching students who have no interest in being there and put no effort into learning. Teaching in the English prep department in a private university in Istanbul will be like eternally rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it come crashing down again, regardless of where you are.

This week I’ve been thinking about the bike shop, and whether the worst moments in the bike shop outweigh the worst moments of the Sisyphean existence of a preparatory English program.

One of the worst things about the bike shop is trying to fix things that are not meant to be fixed. Inexpensive bikes, or department store bikes fall into this category. They were inexpensive to begin with, and are usually not worth the labor charge necessary to repair them. One particular lesson I’ve learned is with Falcon derailleurs. (The derailleur is the mechanism that moves the chain from gear to gear, and Falcon is a particular brand which often come on department store bikes.) I recall a few instances of working on these derailleurs in the process of learning my lesson.

Most of these poor quality bikes come in with the complaint that the gears aren’t working. It’s loud, noisy, and doesn’t like shifting. Upon further assessment we realize that the bike wasn’t properly assembled, and is too dangerous to be ridden, so we essentially rebuild it. This usually takes a call to the owners of the bike to confirm the extra labor charge. Then we come to the shifting problems. Derailleur adjustments usually involve adjusting the cable tension, adjusting the limits for how far the derailleur can move up or down, making sure the cable is properly oiled, that the shifter is pulling the cable properly, and that the frame is straight and not bent.

So on a few of these bikes that I recall working on, I spent hours and hours on these relatively small adjustments. A derailleur adjustment should be an easy thing to do, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. Okay, the bike wasn’t crashed because the frame is straight. Cable tension seems to be okay, and the limit screws are set. But it only hits two out of six gears! All right, well spray some lube in there and grease up the cable. Maybe the cable is all gunked up. Okay, the cable seems to be working just fine, what the hell is wrong here? Take apart the shifter and spray degreaser in there, maybe the problem is the shifter isn’t pulling the cable properly. No, shifter’s doing fine, no problems there.

Usually by this point smoke is billowing out of my ears, I’m about to throw the wrench through the window or jump off a bridge, and the manager is either laughing at me or wondering why I’m so stupid that day. I shamefacedly surrender my project to him and watch how he assesses the situation. Dude, with these Falcon derailleurs you can just throw them out and put new ones on. So in most cases, if the bike has a Falcon derailleur, even if it is new, you’re best off throwing it in the trash and putting different model derailleur on. An entry level Shimano derailleur is only $15 or $20 plus the labor to install it, and it will at least hit all of the gears. Falcon is so bad that no matter how you tweak it, no matter how long you spend cursing this stupid piece of metal, it will not work.

So I think the worst possible scenario of working in a bike shop (retail and customers aside, simply repairing bikes) would be if the only bikes there were to work on were bikes with Falcon derailleurs, but you couldn’t throw them out and replace them. Your job is to get the bikes shifting properly, and if they continue to have problems it’s because you’re not a good mechanic, but the fact of the matter is, the only thing you get to work on is Falcon derailleurs day in and day out. Doomed to an existence of repairing what is not meant to be repaired, and coming in the next day and doing it again.