Mitch Paul, the proprietor of Shaker Cycle in Tremont (he was born and raised in Shaker Heights) has been selling and fixing bikes for decades. Scene caught up with Paul over a truing stand at his shop and, later, over margaritas and vegan tacos at Barrio, where the outspoken but affable bike expert shared cycling tips with an ample serving of his characteristic vitriol.
Want some Payday?
No, I'm all right.
You don't want it? Do you hate candy?
I have real candy.
What is "real candy"?
I have Heggy's. It's made in Canton.
[Customer: I didn't know you could tighten up the pegs of the wheels right there.
What kind of "Tighten Up" are you talking about? Like the original Archie Bell, or like the hip-hop James Brown version? Which way do you like, sir?
What's a mistake people make that annoys you? Biking or otherwise.
Well, most of this stuff really isn't that difficult. If you look at it you can figure it out yourself. If you can't figure it out immediately, just look at it again.
So you're basically saying your job is superfluous?
The most common mistake people make with their bike is that they don't look at it and think about it and then look at it and think about it again. Keep it clean and lubricated, have it adjusted properly one time. Some places say the bike has to be tuned up every year. If you do it right, it shouldn't have to be tuned up every year. Young people expect obsolescence from their gadgets. Our grandparents bought stuff they expected to last forever. Most new bikes are expensive and disposable.
You love Japanese bikes, right? You think they're better?
No, I know Japanese bikes are better. If you're buying a car, do you want an old Pinto? Or do you want an old Toyota?
Where'd you learn to fix bikes?
I worked in a bike shop in Kent in 1973. And there was one guy in the store who knew something and taught me. Among bike mechanics, there is a small subset that can actually fix bikes.
You went to Kent, right?
Yeah, briefly. I was making straight A's. Some of the other letters with the curves, though, were really difficult. What should I put in this drawer?
What do you need to reach for the most?
Maybe I'll put wheel things in there. That would be wheel-y nice. That was a good pun.
Why'd you move from Shaker?
They bought my building and forced me out. You know I ran for mayor?
Do you know about me smashing the mayor's picture?
No. What happened?
Well, they threw me out of council when I complained that they were crooks, and on my way out, the crook that threw me out—I saw his picture and I was overwhelmed. In some cultures that's called iconoclasm and is respected. I was prosecuted.
You found this bike out in the rain?
They should have a protective agency for bikes. A number you can call, like "696-BIKES." People should be punished for abusive behavior. Did they teach you in journalism school how to tell when a man is lying?
When is a man lying?
Usually when their lips move is a good indication.
Speaking of, I think you dropped your Honest Tea.
My New Year's resolution: I gave up antihistamines and antioxidants and antipasto. I'm trying to purge myself of negativity.
Are you observing St. Patrick's Day?
St. Patrick's Day is a fraud. How could he drive snakes out when there are no fossil records of any snakes in Ireland?
Is there anything you don't know how to do?
Well, yeah. Do I ever make stupid mistakes? Yeah. Do good doctors miss the diagnosis? Yeah. Things often mimic other symptoms. I try the most likely thing first, usually.
Let me get you a margarita.
So why are choosing me to do this? Because biking is popular now?
Because biking is popular and I like you.
Put this in there without quoting me: most bike businesses support biking like hunters support wildlife.
You're a vegetarian, right?
I eat low on the food chain. But I eat fish. I'll have a bite of meat every so often if it looks good. All those hormones make people bossy.
How has bike culture changed since you first started out?
Mostly what these companies specialize in now is, "How little bike can I give them for how much money?" It's all about margin. Some people are loyal to different brands, but all the Raleighs are made in Asia now.
Why don't you have an internet presence?
It's creepy to me. I don't like touting myself.
How's your store been since the fire? It caused a lot of damage to the building, right?
Yes, it did. It was tragic. That's not the kind of smoke I like to inhale.
Do you have a beef with fixies?
No. They're perfectly okay on a track. But the accident rate for fixies is probably, per mile ridden, a hundred times as great. That's my guess. It's my feeling that most mothers want their children to have breaks. And you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but mom's pretty smart. I think the same people who have single speed bikes should be consistent and take the gears off their car.
Why are you fidgeting like that?
I'm adjusting. I don't want my crack showing.
Have you ever owned a car?
I always used to have cars. I don't really need one: I commute from upstairs.
What are some lesser-known mechanic tips?
Working outside is good because it's brighter. Also reading glasses can help you work on things, even if you have perfect vision.
Why do you hate Brooks saddles so much?
I don't "hate" them. They're like high heels. Why would you spend over $100 on something uncomfortable? They're subtly deformed. It doesn't enhance the experience.