User:Robyn/Incredibly Crappy Walmart Bicycle

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Robyn has two good bicycles at home, but was stationed in Slave Lake, Alberta for a month with no ground-based vehicle. After a few days of this Robyn tried to buy a second-hand bicycle, but none were advertised as available on short notice, so Robyn bought a bicycle at Wal-Mart, for $99.98. That came to $104, with tax.


The Incredibly Crappy Walmart Bicycle (ICWB) was manufactured in China, by poorly paid Chinese people, and assembled in Slave Lake, not by Walmart employees, but by an outside individual called "the bike builder," who apparently "has his own tools." Walmart employees Bonny and Adel found some passable tools with which I adjusted the seat and handlebars to fit me.

ICWB makes a clunk-clunk-clunk sound when the chain is in on large gears in the back cog, and a whacka-whacka-whacka sound when the smallest gear is selected on the back cog. In fact, if you listen carefully you can probably identify a different undesirable sound for each of ICWB's nominal 18 gears. Second cog on the front to third smallest cog on the back gives the smoothest operation, so Robyn normally rides in that, which would I suppose be 10th gear. Gear selection on the basis of sound may sound strange to those who are accustomed to selecting gears on the basis of pedalling resistance, but you must understand that ICWB is all about pedalling resistance, in every gear. The drive train friction may be impressive, but add into the package the rolling resistance of those big knobby (but apparently not for off-road use) tires, and the wind resistance of mountain bike style upright frame and you have a resistance that could repel the Nazis. Forget about speed hashing, ICWB could not attain the speed limit were it fired out of a cannon, or dropped over a cliff. Both of which are fantasies I have for ICWB.

On the first attempt to geohash with ICWB, the saddle would not stay horizontal. No matter how much I tighten the bolt that is supposed to restrict saddle tilt, the saddle still gradually tips backwards as I ride. I developed a one-handed riding style where the other hand is used to hold the seat straight.

During the second attempt to geohash with ICWB, Robyn found a black bungie cord by the side of the highway and fastened it in a position to restrict seat tilt. The bungie cord can be seen running from the seat to the headtube in the photo above. This makes riding with both hands on the handlebars possible. The seat now stays reasonably horizontal most of the time. It's still wickedly uncomfortable and makes Robyn's nether parts numb and tingly, but it's functional.

On the third geohash expedition with ICWB, Robyn got about 15 km out of town and then turned off the main dirt road onto a side gravel road. It was a fairly good gravel road, but had a few big rocks. ICWB made it about a kilometre up that road, maybe two, before suffering a flat tire. Robyn walked on without it and then returned to push it back to the road. ICWB went home that day in the back of a pickup truck.

What looks like a shadow behind the rim is the tire, completely airless.

ICWB has never actually been to a geohash, but rather waits beside the nearest road it can handle, at the closest approach to the point, while Robyn makes the attempt.

I am trying to put as many kilometres as possible on ICWB before the end of the month, so as to amortise the initial investment. Nevertheless I pray each night for a couch potato, so I can give my poor butt a rest.

September Update[edit]

I left ICWB in Slave Lake in the care of a co-worker and he seems to have passed it on to others who are still using it. He also bought a better bicycle that he was willing to let me use in my new location, but he left it in the airplane when he took it in for service and the replacement pilot didn't think anyone would want a bicycle here, because it's going to snow soon. So I am again bicycleless, but ICWB lives on.

Amazing True Fact - October 26th[edit]

My airplane broke down today, in, of all places, Slave Lake. I wasn't even going there, just stopping for gas, but ended up stuck overnight. Someone else booked us a hotel, but it was the same hotel, and there, chained to the railing in the back parking lot, exactly where I left it, was ICWB. My faithful steed, waiting for me. I'm riding it to the airport tomorrow, and if I can get it in the airplane, I'm taking it with me when the airplane is fixed!

ICWB & Noella - October 27th[edit]

I unlocked ICWB from the rail where it has so faithfully waited for me and pedalled off in the direction of the airport. I got about a hundred metres before the right pedal and shaft fell off. I know from previous experience with this bicycle that the parts aren't attached in the way that normal bicycle parts are, so I wasn't amazed to find that the shaft of the pedal was just a square hole, now slightly rounded, and designed to fit over a square axle. I pushed it back onto the axle and looked for a rock to pound it on with. No rocks were available, so I picked up the entire bicycle and banged it against a fire hydrant. That held for a block or so, but then it fell off again. I could see, now that the first pounding had knocked off the mud, that the end of the axle was threaded. There was supposed to be a retaining nut or something holding the pedal on.

Sitting on the bike and pushing with one foot was still faster than walking, and I had to be at the airport by 8:30, so I kept going. On the airport road the person I was meeting recognized me (or more accurately he recognized my behaviour: "Who would be riding a bicycle this time of year?" he asked himself. And then he remembered the slightly strange pilot who needed his assistance). ICWB and I got a ride in his truck, with a yellow dog, the rest of the way to the airport.

At the airport my efforts were more focused on getting the airplane fixed than searching for a nut. When the airplane was ready I wheeled ICWB up to the airplane but realized that with my passenger and the passengers expensive electronic equipment, the bicycle could not be safely stowed without time-consuming disassembly. Sadly I would have to leave the bike. I wheeled it back over to the office where I had to pay my repair bill. It turned out that the office assistant, Noella, was halfheartedly looking for a bicycle, and didn't mind that it was a very poor quality bicycle that needed to have the pedal put back on. She said she wasn't a very enthusiastic bike rider, so perhaps she will get along with ICWB, which is certainly not a very enthusiastic bicycle. She thought free was a great price, and readily agreed to let me borrow it back if I should return to Slave Lake. (I thought perhaps I should pay her to give it a good home). The fact that she works at a repair shop will certainly come in handy.

ICWB - 5 August 2009 Update[edit]

ICWB's most recent owner Noella no longer works at the airport where I met her. Slave Lake is a fairly small town so I gave my e-mail to her replacement at the company along with a request for any information on ICWB. The new person did not know if the pedal had been refitted.

A Successor[edit]

"Chuck" has found a new owner in Meghan.

Stationed in Red Deer for a couple of weeks, I looked online to see if there were any local bicycle rental places. There were none, but I found a second hand bike belonging to someone who had just cleaned her garage. A four kilometre walk and thirty dollars later it was mine. Photograph to follow. Name suggestions welcome. I hope it will prove a less eventful companion than ICWB for the rest of this month.

This bike took me on one geohashing expedition and to a number of geocaches and other places of interest. It travelled by private airplane to Regina, Yellowknife and Fort Saskatchewan, where I decided to repeat the pattern of finding a good home for a bike that could not continue to travel with me. And this time, the bicycle is going to someone who will be able to continue its story.

ICWB Update May 2011[edit]

The final resting place?

I happened to stop for fuel and a quick overnight in Slave Lake on 12 May, and declared my secondary mission (the primary mission being my job) to be discovering the fate of ICWB. When the fueller rode towards me on a bicycle of approximately the right colour I prepared to be amazed yet again by ICWB's resilience, but the fueller was riding a bicycle that resembled ICWB only in that it was a bicycle and it was in Slave Lake. His worked, for example. I asked him if he had any information on a bicycle of ICWB's description, but he said there was only a blue bicycle back at the shop. He was new and did not know Noella. The fact that ICWB was not at the hangar suggests that either Noella managed to effect sufficient repairs to ride it away--and far enough that it wasn't visible from the hangar--or that it has been hauled away. I did not see it during my short time in the vicinity.

There is a sad codicil to this report and that is that the town of Slave Lake was largely destroyed by fire two days later. I am going to assume that ICWB's final fate was to burn with the contents of someone's garage. No one would be so foolish as to flee a disaster area with or on such a bicycle.