PORTLAND – Chris Porter took hold of a thin cable coming from the derailleur of a Cervelo racing bike and told me he wanted to thread the cable through the bike’s handlebar shifter.

The cable was the thickness of string, and the opening in the shifter was about the size a hatpin might make. We both bent down to look in the hole, and Porter even shone a flashlight in there to allow me to see where the cable was to go.

I couldn’t see a thing.

When Porter, who has been a bike mechanic at CycleMania in Portland for 11 years, began threading the cable, he didn’t find the opening very inviting. He moved the cable slightly from side to side, back and forth, and even twisted it a little.

“This is not the easiest thing to do,” said Porter, 31, who is also service manager at CycleMania. “But it’s normal. I’m not even a little frustrated yet.”

After a few minutes, Porter had threaded the cable through the SRAM brand shifter. Then he handed me a cable and asked me to do the same, on the opposite handle.

So I looked for the opening in the shifter/brake handle mechanism, and saw no daylight. I stuck the cable in anyway and began trying to thread it through. Porter was directing me, pointing me to “negative space” and little twists and turns inside the mechanism, which itself wasn’t much bigger than a tape dispenser. So I couldn’t imagine there was much room for twisting and turning.

I gave up after about five minutes and gave the cable back to Porter. It took him about five minutes, too, but he finally got it.

From spending time with Porter, I found that being a bike mechanic requires a lot of patience, plus a combination of heightened fine-motor skills and, sometimes, brute strength.

At one point, Porter was showing me how to take a tire off a rim, standard procedure for fixing a flat.

When I was a kid and took care of my own bike, the tires could be popped off with just a little bit of hand strength.

Now, Porter told me, tires on racing bikes take 100 to 120 pounds of air pressure, so they’ve got to fit very tight on the rim.

Porter gave me a tire lever, a little plastic tool that looked like a can opener. He told me to pull the tire away from the rim a little, then get that lever in there under a beaded ridge of the tire and use it to pull the tire over the rim.

Once, I got an inch or so of the tire pried from the rim. Porter told me to hold the rim and move the tool, to pry more of the tire loose. I began to do that but realized it took a little more strength than I had. So I tried pulling the tool with all my might.

“But be careful, you might end up getting pinched,” said Porter.

As soon as he said that, the tool slipped out from under the tire and my hand crashed into the wheel’s rim, scraping and drawing blood from two knuckles.

This is why I take my bike to a mechanic, I thought.

Porter and about five other mechanics at CycleMania were busy the day I visited, what with everyone looking for a spring tuneup.

Some years, when warm weather comes earlier, bikes start coming into the shop early. But this year there was snow on the ground in April. So bikes are coming in full force now.

“If somebody brought their bike in for a tuneup today, we probably wouldn’t have it back to them until June,” Porter said Friday.

In a back room, just off the work area, I saw bikes hanging from rafters and lined up on the floor, waiting to be worked on. Then, in several other rooms, including a low-ceilinged upstairs space, I saw hundreds of bikes ready to be sold.

CycleMania caters to a wide variety of bikers, so the bicycles sell for anywhere from $400 to well over $4,000, Porter told me.

In fact, the Cervelo that Porter was working on had a frame that cost more than $4,000. Porter said his own bike, which he rides to work, is probably worth $10,000, though he could never pay that much. It’s custom-built, by a company his brother used to work for.

As I helped Porter work on the Cervelo racing bike — tightening cables, stripping tape off the handlebars, etc. — I noticed that there were foam pads on the floor around the bike stands, where the mechanics spend most of their days. That’s because the mechanics are on their feet all day, Porter and others told me.

I also noticed that Porter’s tools — screwdrivers, cutters, hammers — were all painted pink. That’s so he can tell his tools from the other mechanics’ tools. Every mechanic has his or her own tool color.

Porter started working at bike shops as a teenager and had an older brother who was a bike mechanic. He has an artistic side as well, and attended Maine College of Art to study fine metalsmithing.

“There’s a lot of the same precision in this job. I’ve always loved bikes, the sport,” said Porter. “So I’m lucky to be doing this.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]