This Column Does Not Have Flood Insurance | RJS July 2011

There was no saving the heirloom clunker bikes.

The Raleigh three-speed with the rod actuated drum brakes, the Schwinn Jaguar with the gas tank, the J.C. Higgins with the three-speed stick shift, the Elgin Special with the custom rear rack and custom fender-mounted headlight, the Eagle with the wooden rims, the trike, the wobbly wheeler, and the penny-farthing were among the bikes that had to be abandoned while murky flood water began to fill the basement of the bike shop—early in the morning on May 27—as though it were a sinking ship.

The basement is made up of seven main rooms that are all crammed full of everything that isn’t on the sales floor: the heirloom clunkers, customer’s bikes, shiny new bikes, all the skis and ski boots that we didn’t sell last winter (of which there are a lot), car racks, bike parts and accessories, gift boxes, decrepit display racks for products that we don’t sell anymore, a family of green gnomes, and Frank, our head mechanic. It was a race against the clock and there was just too much stuff to save, so our collection of heirloom clunker bikes, the value of which is exclusively sentimental, had to stay put and get wet. Frank, we’re happy to report, made it out unharmed.

Despite the fact that our parking lot was under a lot of water, the water level in the basement never got above waist high, thanks to three very functional sump pumps and quick action by Phlip and Bart, two of my favorite fellow co-workers.

Phlip was the first to arrive at the scene at 3:30 a.m, having received a call from an alert friend who apparently stays up at night monitoring potential disaster situations. Phlip sent a distress call to Bart, who came as quick as a flash flood. The two of them took swift action and it was this early jump that helped prevent a minor disaster situation from turning into a major disaster situation. Phlip, of course, had also sent a distress call to the boss, but the boss didn’t get the message until the morning, after he woke up, when he checked his phone to see if perhaps anyone had called him in the middle of the night regarding a potentially major disaster situation at his bike shop and the imminent need of his help to save it.

The rest of the gang trickled in as soon as they could, joined by an army of loyal customers who came to throw in a hand. By the middle of the day, most of our inventory had been pulled out and carried upstairs and stashed on the sales floor, in the boss’s office, the service area, the break room, bathroom, changing room, storage room, sock room, and any other room where there was a little bit of room. It was a big job, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone who showed up.

Fortunately, we discovered, a little murky water never hurt an heirloom clunker bike, and after a little cleaning off and drying out, and a squirt of chain lube, our collection will be all set to go for our annual Independence Day bike brigade. Traditionally on parade day, we pull the clunkers out of the basement and air up the tires. They then get decorated by exuberant children, ending up covered with crepe paper, pinwheels, balloons, and melted popsicles, so dusting them off is a waste of time. This year, thanks to the flood, they’ll each get a proper tune up, which will include a dusting off and maybe even a polish, so regarding the heirloom clunker bikes, the flood was a good thing. That’s one way to spin it anyway.

Despite our flood-prone location, major flooding generally eludes us, but minor flooding, however, is a regular affair. The building that has housed our shop for 35 years is directly on the river, meaning that for a section of the river, our building is the bank of the river. And the river never sleeps. It is always knocking on the door wanting to come in. Invariably, when the river reaches a precise level, it does come in. This precise water level is indicated by a white line scrawled on the historic supports of the historic bridge on our historic street. History has taught us that when the water rises above that line, it starts to seep in through cracks in the basement floor and forms little pools in particular areas throughout the basement. When this happens, we simply make sure the area around these pools is clear, and we do our best to not step in them. A stream of river water flowing past Frank’s repair stand, which adds a peaceful, relaxing ambiance, is as common as a flat tire. Eventually, usually within a day, the water seeps back out and no harm is done.

Unfortunately though, as we saw last month, flood-related harm becomes a reality every now and then. The last time was in 1992, when high volume spring runoff and warm weather resulted in too much river ice breaking up for the river to handle. A large ice dam eventually formed, preventing all that cold, icy water from moving in the right direction. Instead of flowing downstream, the river flowed downtown. Water rushed in and within an hour, our shop was underwater, along with many other shops, businesses, and unfortunate automobiles. Before the ice dam broke and the water retreated a few hours later, you could have paddled by our cash register in a canoe. It was the year our shop was dubbed Under River Sports.

The clean up after the flood of ’92, like the more recent flood of ’11, required a lot of helping hands from volunteers, and in both cases, volunteers were never in short supply. As the boss always says, there is no better place to have a disaster. On behalf of our shop, we thank you all. Our gratitude runs deeper than any river that has ever flooded a bike shop.

How could we ever repay you? Here’s one idea: If you decide to join us in our Independence Day bike parade, you have dibs on the heirloom clunker bikes.

Ryan James Leclerc

Ryan James Leclerc used to be single and used to work on the sales floor of Onion River Sports. He is now married and works in the office of Onion River Sports. The creative license he procured in a back alley allows him to occasionally narrate from the past as though it were the present.