At the Bench: Pranking

Whether it goes without saying or not, I’m going to say it: The bike industry does not always attract the most professional of individuals. During my time I heard any number of people say they were getting out of the bike biz because of the lack of professionalism. This was largely a bike shop phenomenon.

And I can’t really defend bike shop professionalism. Sometimes it’s there and carved in stone and sometimes it’s more like recess with some tasks thrown in and a paycheck not much better than an allowance.

I can say this because when I was in college I worked in a shop where we routinely pranked each other; fraternities could have learned something from our ingenuity. From locking coworkers in the bathroom to hiding specially ordered parts that coworkers had requested for their own use, we weren’t against losing 10 minutes here or there to mess with someone.

A favorite target of mine (yes, I’m absolutely guilty of instigating) was a skinny, red-headed triathlete named Cory Horton. He worked in the front of the shop, merchandising, putting price tags on everything and generally making the shop looked less like a bunch of cavemen worked there.

Cory worked up front because he had the mechanical ability of a bird dog. We had to make sure he didn’t take in repairs because his ability to diagnose a problem was not unlike my ability to diagnose cancer.

Because Cory was up front and his bike was in back with us (my memory says Cory didn’t drive), we had what I’ll call ample opportunity to make the mischiefs.

For a while in the late 1980s Raleigh put grips on their mountain bikes that were spongy to the point of absorbent. One day, we took the Dawn dishwashing liquid we used for more functions than just cleaning stuff and spread a liberal amount over his grips. We’d squeeze the grips to absorb as much soap as possible and once we were convinced they held as much as we could manage, we took a wet rag and wiped them clean. The next time he rode in the rain his grips foamed. They also slid off the bar. Oops.

Once, our chief mechanic found a box of loose ball bearings in a size he said we didn’t need anymore. At the time, I believed him, but I never checked his statement and I can’t be certain he was telling the truth, in retrospect. He concluded that because we no longer needed that size, we could appropriate them to other uses.

Out came the seatpost from Cory’s tri bike and in went every last ball bearing from that box. It had to be a pound in loose balls. In the afternoon, he rode off and the next day came in complaining about how the bike handled and the fact that it was rattling like a species of poisonous snake. Cory couldn’t figure out what was up with his bike, so we had to tell him. We put his bike in a stand, pulled out the seatpost and then turned it upside down with one of us cupping our hands below the seat collar.

At the time, none of us considered the possibility that not all of the balls dropped out. That was a mistake on our part. For the next several months, balls that stuck to the the grease in the seat tube would be vibrated free and then would clatter around his bottom bracket. As this was a steel frame (see: 1980s), the rattle was noticeable. I removed his bottom bracket more than once to extricate errant balls.

He may not have been all that pleased with us.

The only prank that I can claim as wholly mine was the time I decided that turning his toe clips around backward would be a good idea. We unbolted them, unthreaded the toe straps and then turned them upside down so that the only way a foot was going in those toe clips was if you sat on the handlebar.

What I didn’t know was that Cory had an appointment after his shift was over. He walked back to the shop, grabbed his bike and when he went to roll out, he couldn’t flip the pedal over and get his foot in. He kept trying, utterly baffled by what was happening, or not happening as the case unfolded. He tried his right foot, then his left foot. He tried flipping the pedal up with his hand and then slipping his foot in, only to realize he was going to be pedaling on the toe clip, not the pedal. His incomprehension—”Why is this not working!”—had us all snickering. Then he cried out that he had an appointment somewhere and wasn’t sure how he was going to make it there in time because his bike didn’t work.

That would be when we (I) realized that the timing of a practical joke makes a difference. I had not timed this well, or even acceptably. I and two other mechanics put the bike in the stand and triple-teamed the change back. Cory was as easy-going a person as you might meet; a gentle soul. That afternoon was the only time I ever saw him mad. And he was over it by the next day.

Brad Devaney, an engineer for American Bicycle Group, and the guy who designed the Litespeeds that some French pros were re-badging in their sponsor’s colors back in the 1990s, worked with us at the shop and was Cory’s best friend. In 2006 I saw Brad at the Interbike trade show and asked him if he’d talked to Cory lately. It was only then that he realized I hadn’t heard that a few years before Cory had been hit by a car while out training.

If I am to cry on the floor of a trade show, it deserves to be for someone as decent as Cory.

Image courtesy Brad Devaney.

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  1. Jeff vdD says

    I know that you know this, Patrick, and that your phrasing was an oversight … Cory was killed by a driver, not hit by a car.

    Great story, sad ending, well told, and a fitting tribute to Cory.

  2. schlem says


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