If you were stuck on a sinking boat in the middle of nowhere with only chewing gum, four feet of wire and a claw hammer, and could choose one companion, you could do no better than Dave Nauss. He could do anything. What he has done is fight fires and repair bicycles.
Dave's dad Jack opened Nauss Bicycle Shop on Robie Street in 1969; it moved to Agricola Street, between Smith's Bakery and Carlos Auto Services, around amalgamation. Jack was loved by the bike community, and in his last years, as his health declined, he sat behind the counter saying hi to folks, his glass eye wandering a bit. Dave has been in the shop for 41 years. He's 61 now and like a silverback gorilla: fearsome but actually gentle.
On a recent Friday morning there's a steady stream into Nauss Bicycle Shop. It's an old school place with worn wood floors and low-tech displays, exactly what bike forums mean when they talk about an LBS---Local Bike Shop. There's an internet connection and Facebook page, but no website or email address.
Brent Halverson is working on a murdered Opus bike. Mitchell Melanson is truing a wheel. Dave is moving between the robin-egg Arashi Trail Blazer he's working on and the Opus.
Mitchell is tall and slim, mostly into road bikes. He has on skinny leg black jeans turned up pirate height, lime-and-black Adidas and a Pinarello cycling cap with the brim folded up. He has a bunch of keys attached to a belt loop with a fuchsia carabiner. He's smart as a whip.
As he goes out from the workshop to the front of the store to grab the phone, Mitchell says, "Brent, you're looking very nice today." Brent has on an olive vest and flat cloth slip-ons topped by hockey socks. He sighs, and explains: "At least once a day all week he's been saying that to me." Brent's ensemble is topped by a black EC Lips ball cap which cannot contain his wild hair. "Eek lips," says Brent. "Geddit? Eclipse."
Dave chimes in. "We love the English language here," he says. "We brutalize it every day." And then mostly to himself, "It's cool to have fun with it."
Dave is wearing a loose olive fleece sweatshirt, baggy blue pants and white Nikes. He has a profound knowledge of bikes, and something more: muscle memory. Dave is a sturdy man, but he moves with economy and grace, pivoting between the bike and work bench, reaching for parts and tools.
The back room is a wonder, high-ceilinged and stuffed. Boxes spewing flailing cables. Drawers---small medium large, metal and wood. Boxes. Bins of garbage. Layers of grime. Plastic bins once white, grubbed milk crates. Mysterious labels: Dad; Jap One Piece; Old CCM Not for Sale ask Dave; Joy-Tech 36 holes. Walls jammed all the way up with rows of rims, tires, forks, derailleurs and whatnot. Country music on the radio. The cynosure of all of this is Dave's work station, an unholy mess of tools, detritus and a giant squat blue plastic coffee travel mug.
Every time someone wheels in their ride, Dave stops whatever he's doing, hangs the bike up on hooks, looks it over, gives a lecture on some arcane bit of bike knowledge and scrawls details about the work order onto a manila tag he attaches to the handle bars. The bike is put off to the side and Dave goes back to doing what he was doing before. Over and over again.
Matthew Lumley comes straight into the back room like he owns the place, as many regulars do. It's a great thing---like having a backstage pass---to feel able to do this. Dave hangs up Lumley's bike, a lovely black Trek 7.5 FX. Dave launches into it with Lumley, about the bike's racing wheels with 28 holes in the front and 24 on the rear. "I'm telling you," Dave says in his forte way, "not to put weight on it. I'm suggesting that you don't. I've seen people put weight on wheels like these and blow the nipples out." The discussion goes on, about quick release levers and Allen keys. One of the great things about getting into it with Dave about bikes is that he doesn't hold back much; he doesn't dumb it down. He shares his knowledge constantly. Dave talks to everybody like they know more than they do; folks pay rapt attention because otherwise they'll lose their grip on the conversation. It's a great learning experience to get into it with Dave, who ends his lecture at Lumley with admiration. "It's a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful bicycle."
Someone asks about using WD-40 as a lubricant. Brent says, "No, no, no." Dave just shudders violently. He reaches to a bench and hands over a can of Fluid Film. "You can get it at Canadian Tire," he says. "Fifteen bucks and environmentally friendly. You can spray it in your mouth."
David Gibbing comes in with a broken derailleur cable. Dave says, "Got a minute?" When Gibbing says yes, his bike is up on the hooks in a flash. It's an old Supercycle with ancient City of Halifax registration stickers. Gibbing says it was his mother's. It's a faded green, and he and Dave decide it's avocado green. "It's funny," say Dave, getting into it. "Red bikes seem to fade the most, and when a black bicycle fades, it turns brown." Dave starts to talk about the measurement between the centres of two bolts, and veers off into the variations of side pull brakes. In a few minutes Gibbing is gone, having paid $10.24 for a new cable installation and mini-continuing education course.
Dave, Brent and Mitchell form a tight community. This is a small space and interactions are constant--- jokes, the advice from Dave, the discussions of everything under the sun---but after six years Brent is leaving. He's been feeling stagnant and has a chance to buy a general store in Earltown. The new guy has been hired, Zach. Nobody knows Zach's last name. Brent says, "he goes by Zach Hattack." Dave doesn't know. "I got a piece of paper," he says, "he's going to sign it and then I'll know. I'll call him Brent for a million years anyway."
When he was a young pup Dave wanted to have a gun so he applied to become a member of the Harbour Ward police. "I was just out of school," he says. "I had no work experience." The Chief of Fire Prevention was the father of his fiancee. "I got married on November 10, 1973 and two months later I had a job." Dave kept working in the shop. "I've loved two jobs and if you said I had to give one up, I wouldn't know what to do."
Dave says that, but he retired from fire fighting after 35 years and he's still in the shop. The talk used to be that Dave's daughter Jamie would take over the shop, but she has a good job at Michelin up in the Valley, and she's a lieutenant with the Kingston Fire Department. "I don't know if that'll ever happen," Dave sighs. "I think it was more my wish."
Jack Nauss stayed at the shop until one day behind the counter he had a stroke. Dave says he's not going to do the same thing. "I'm the only one in my family who hasn't blown a gasket," he says. "I drink too much. I smoke too much." He shakes his head. "I don't eat right."
All of his siblings have had strokes or heart attacks. "I'm working on my heart attack---way better than a stroke." Dave is pragmatic. "My New Year's Eve resolution for the past five years has been I-don't-know-and-I-don't-give-a-fuck." He wants to do more trout fishing. Standing on the front stoop for a smoke he says, "if you've got the money, I'm out of here."
A bike named Dave
There's more to a custom ride than meets the road.
In 2004 I turn 50, get a bike and ride to the Carolinas. Dave builds the bike. It's a beaut, and to salute Dave I cut his name in curvy script out of purple vinyl with an exacto blade and put it on the top tube. A few years later the bike is stolen from a backyard on Fuller Terrace.
It takes me years to get the spirit and money together to get another bike, and I go back to Dave for it. He offers me a frame he's been saving for himself, but moved as I am by this, I have fallen in love online, with a bike called Surly Long Haul Trucker. It's an exquisite tank---harking back to the first bike a lot of us had. Nauss Bicycle Shop cannot order it in, so I buy the frame from a place in Montreal and ship it down. I want Nauss Bicycle Shop to do the rest.
Of course Dave's name is going to be on it again, but I want to up my game---to have it look as sweet as the rest of the bike, and better than what I can do. I call up eyecandy signs and babble to the woman who answers, Allison Moz, the story of me, the old bike, the new bike and Dave. How much might it cost to get "Dave Nauss" about one inch high, two copies, one for each side of the bike? Oh, and I am going to commemorate Brent, Mitchell and Jack too, in tiny letters.
Moz says she'll do it for free. And it's so gorgeous, like the rest of the bike. —JK