Last week I finished up a some wheels for a new customer. He’d been pretty clear about what he wanted: Tune to 32h TB25s. In fact, he wanted two identical sets of these wheels. Both sets would get silver CX Rays and Veloflex Arenbergs. And brass nipples. The interesting thing was that the entire order took place over Twitter, in three neat, 140 character messages.
When we met to hand off the wheels, I noticed that he was wearing a jacket embroidered with the original Silicon Graphics logo. So I asked, “Did you work for them?”
And he was all, “Yeah.”
“Mang, I loved my pizza box Indy.” I said.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “I was on the design team for the Indy and the O2.”
His voice kind of dipped when he said O2. And I knew immediately what he meant. SGI was a high flying, super steezy computer company for a large chunk of the 90s. They produced legitimately top notch, super fast equipment that also happened to look ridonkulous. Even engineers who worked for competitors were known to buy SGIs and use them at home: the signature “electric blue” low, flat cases were as ubiquitous as Aeron chairs and home office Cisco routers among a certain set. But the industry shifted hard towards the end of the decade, and SGI was left flat footed: offering an admittedly well engineered replacement for the Indy in the O2 to a marketplace that no longer existed. It was a huge flop, and the company soon went bust.
We both kind of stood silently for a moment, as he held one of the wheels closely, examining the glue job. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” I asked, conveniently enough, as we were at that moment standing in the middle of Wormhole. He nodded.
“I don’t live in Chicago,” he began. “After SGI, I got a job at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. I’ve been there ever since.”
“How is the riding?”
“Well, aside from the fact that there are actually four seasons, pretty fantastic. I get to ride almost every day.”
“So do you have family here in Chicago?”
“But you didn’t come out here just for these wheels! I would have shipped them had a I known…”
“No, no. I come to Chicago every year. I’m kind of a foodie, so I like to try out the new restaurants… and of course, grab some pizza.”
“…and some nice wheels?”
“Yeah, I’ll be back in the spring, and I should have my new bike done by then. It’s a Bilenky touring rig, so I’ll need some more wheels.”
“Great! Have you thought about what you want yet?”
“Not really, but I’ll tweet you when I decide.”
“This coffee… it’s really good.”
I thought about our interaction later that day. And then for a while that evening, and then some more the next day. I thought about Silicon Graphics. I thought about my shop. I thought about how after surveying my customers all month, I discovered that 80% of their bicycle dollars were being spent online. And these are folks who go out of their way to support small, local businesses… but also have esoteric, impeccable taste. E-commerce is often the last (but only) resort for these folks, I thought. I stared at my shelves containing 35 flavors of embro. I stared at my drawers of Gage+DeSoto t’s, Search & State jackets, and vintage Assos goodies. I stared at the boxes of now-discontinued White Industries H3 hubs I’ve been hoarding, at the Paul Components brake tools, at the Catlike Whispers. Am I looking at SGI Indy pizza boxes? Am I both behind and ahead of the curve? Is the TATI curve actually in its own alternate universe? I thought about the Cherubims on the way. And the Malin+Goetz eucalyptus deodorant, and I thought about Corima.
And then I started working on an entirely new plan.