The mailman snitched me out. I don’t necessarily blame him. He had his reasons, and they were legitimate. I see the cringe and his hesitation every time he is forced to make the walk towards the front alcove of my home. He knows what is waiting for him in the picture window. My faithful, sweet, ultra-protective dog knows the sound of his little mail truck, and perhaps that should have been my wake up call.
My adopted pound mutt can identify the particular sounds of a mail truck. My dog has become so adept at identifying package delivery services that she now perks up for UPS and FedEx as well. She knows that particular-sounding engine means the guy in the blue shorts, or the purple, or the brown, is going to make the walk towards my front door. She is ready. At the sound, she approaches the window; she verifies the target and tenses, waiting for the delivery guy to hit the sidewalk. At that precise moment, she snaps, attacking the window with gusto, perhaps even enjoying the fear she imposes on the man in blue. God forbid a signature is needed… and maybe that’s why the mailman exposed me to my wife and kids.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: You jumped into mountain biking, you fell in love with the sport, and this led you to that inevitable place: you began needing more stuff. It didn’t stop there: you had to have better stuff. You needed–nay, you were forced–to upgrade every single item you had already purchased to the highest-end materials you learned about. Thus began your association with the mailman, the UPS guy, and the FedEx driver. Which is not to say you were not supporting the local bike shop also. No, no, no, heavens no. This was on top of the local purchases and work you were having done. But that endless selection of items on the internet machine, all the colors, sleeve options, varieties of rubber compounds, older models that just “have to go,” and of course: free shipping if you spend “X” amount of dollars. Have I mentioned favorable international exchange rates?
It is a natural progression most of us go through. That first used 26”-wheeled bike, which was great in its day, but now it leaves parts on the trail like breadcrumbs to guide you back to the trailhead and demands upgrades. We love that word: “upgrades!” A new set of aggressive tires as a start, followed by a beefy new fork with at least 40mm of increased travel, head tube angle be damned! A smaller–yet more comfortable–saddle, and smaller–yet more reliable–rear derailleur (with a clutch would be nice). Speaking of derailleurs, that front one has to go! Place the order for the single ring narrow-wide! And just when it is becoming like Christmas morning several days a week… you need the bigger wheels we all crave. That upgraded 26” bike is replaced with a new 27.5″ or 29er, and your spouse says, “a bike costs that much?”
The new bike did not end your need for re-supply, though. No, the international logistics industry is not off the hook simply because you upgraded to a $3,500 27.5″ bike with a mostly XT build. You still watch UPS tracking numbers, which reveal that your new hitch-mounted bike rack has departed Wisconsin and is at that very moment being transferred to an eastbound freight train in… Memphis. We love logistics–check back in the morning!
The new rack is on a southbound freight in Jacksonville. Your bike rack is literally living an Allman Brothers song. Up early? Your replacement for that old trunk-mounted rack is “out for delivery!” Cue up the dog.
I don’t remember whether the mailman broke at the initial “upgrade” phase, or the “upgrade the upgrades” phase, but he broke–that much is clear. As my wife stood with the door slightly open, barely restraining the dog by her collar, he asked what may have appeared to be an innocuous question: “We were wondering over at the post office, are you guys running a business out of the home?”
The “we” makes it that much worse, as if clusters of blue suits over at the post office have independently come to the shared conclusion that you must be running an eBay business out of your home, based solely on volume.
My wife, with said dog in hand, innocently answered, “no, why?”
The mailman must have taken great joy in his next statement, this exposing of the fact that her household is the topic of coffee break discussions over at the local zip code: “because we all noticed the number of packages you receive. We usually only see that volume with people running a business.”
My wife, with an embarrassed sigh, “no… that is my husband.” Which is not to say I am running a business out of the home. No, her answer was the resigned admission that her husband has a bike problem involving lots of packages.
Of course, the kids heard it all go down: the commotion at the door was too much to pass up. When I got home the kids smiled at me with their knowing grin, the “you’re in trouble” smile. My wife was waiting for me.
“We have to talk….”
Now, there are many ways to respond to this unfortunate situation, and not buying new, sweet, MTB shorts that were on sale is not one of them. Nor is not buying new rubber when your own Ardent Race is worn, and for goodness sakes–it’s free shipping! And that bike rack you tracked from Wisconsin? Well, a tray-style hitch rack is really what you need: more secure, easier to load and unload, and… on sale! Upgrade! What needs to change are- package receipt methods, of course!
The Intercept Method
There are several techniques my riding companions and I have come up with to throw off the familial package inquisition. The first, and most commonly-used method, is “the intercept.” This strategy is exactly what it sounds like: intercept the mailman before he gets to the front door and secret the mountain bike package away. Online tracking data informs you of exactly the day you will need to be ready to spring into action.
The intercept works like a charm. One of the guys in our riding group has perfected it, and even sent a photo to the rest of us of the mail truck about to arrive at his mailbox with the message: “my new riding gloves are about to arrive!” We love package tracking data!
This riding companion has it made: he works from home, and typically uses his garage as his office. With the garage door open, he can see the mail truck’s approach route and can use his online package tracking data to know there is something in said truck for him. If you don’t work from home, though, the intercept is much more difficult.
There are also risks with the intercept that must be acknowledged. The first is packaging. One of our riding companions mounted a successful package intercept (he also works from home) and assembled his new bottom bracket-mounted bike stand prior to his wife arriving at the familial homestead. It was his evidence trail that tripped him up. She commented on his new bike stand being nice, and asked when he got it. Not recognizing that a trap was being set, he answered that he had gotten it some time ago.
“I saw the box in the trash.” She answered. Like a sharp punch to the gut or a hard endo–it happens. It was an intercept gone bad.
The “delayed intercept” is a similar method that requires you to beat your spouse home from work to intercept the package that your tracking data indicates has already been delivered. This is a method that can work, but beware of kids who get home from school and bring the package in with them. Even if you successfully get home prior to your spouse, a talky child makes a bad witness. Bribery of said child may be in order.
The Ecosystem Method
The second method has seen more widespread success, and we refer to it as the slow introduction into the “ecosystem.” It works like this: have the bike-related package shipped to the office where there are no witnesses and the packaging can be disposed of without becoming evidence against you. The trick to this method is the slow introduction of the new item into the home ecosystem. Like a fish being introduced to its new tank, the new mountain bike item must be cautiously introduced into the home, because your spouse and kids know more about what you have, and what you wear on these bike rides, than you realize.
Slowly introduce the item into the ecosystem, and for goodness sake–do your own post-ride laundry! At the very least, when confronted sometime later, you can say with the utmost honesty, “that water bottle? Oh, I’ve had that for a while.”
The problem with the ecosystem introduction is the big items. You may choose to make the attempt, but you are destined to crash upon the rocks. I recently obtained a Norco Bikes box to ship a bike to a relative and used it to play a trick on my riding companions. I took a photo of the box in my car and texted it to my buddies with the message, “I went in to get a chain and just had to have this.” The first response was, “how are you going to introduce that into the ecosystem?” Ultimately, it was a ruse (and we now term all ruses a “Norco box”), but big-ticket items cannot be introduced via the ecosystem method.
The Awesome-Spouse-Wear-Down Method
Finally, there is the awesome-spouse-wear-down method. An awesome spouse knows that mountain biking brings great joy to your life, and that you are really trying to be fiscally responsible. With that in mind, when I called my wife to tell her I wanted to get the Kuat hitch rack for the car, she responded, “you know you’re just going to get it sooner or later, so get it while it is on sale.”
Honesty—it may not be as much fun as intercepts and ecosystems for riding group laughs, but it absolutely pays the most dividends. It also beats hiding that new bike rack in your buddy’s garage, sweating out details of how to explain the expensive purchase you made to your loved ones….
Of course, as mountain bikers, there is always an upgrade or a new technology that you must have. And with free shipping and post-Christmas sales? Carbon, anyone?
Release the hound!