A Day in the Life of a Bike Mechanic
A Day in the Life of a Bike Mechanic
As many of you already know, I spend my days turning wrenches in a bike shop. Now some of you are probably curious as to what happens behind the scenes of a bike shop and the black magic involved in keeping your bikes running smoothly. So I’m going to pull back the curtain on the not-so-glamorous life of a bike mechanic and give you a look at what an average Monday looks like.
Most days I arrive at the shop 10 or 15 minutes before opening. Unlock the doors. Turn off the alarm. And go to the back to change out of my riding gear since I bike to work basically everyday of the year. Some days there are already people waiting to get in the shop so sometimes I have to open a little early. But most days I get to wait till 10 to turn on the “Open” sign and the lights while I wait for my co-workers to show up and make a coffee (but no coffee this morning).
Mondays normally follow a similar pattern. First thing I have to do is clean up the mess left behind by my underlings from Sunday. I have Sunday off and it always looks like it was a crazy day based on the pile of tools and other stuff left on my work bench. So once I have finished digging through the pile of stuff on my work bench, I normally find a couple notes about something that needs to be fixed or straightened out.
This process normally takes a good 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how big of a mess and what sort of jobs they left behind. For example, this morning I had to clean up a pile of pedals used for test rides by zip tying the pairs together and throwing them in the proper bins. I also had to reorganize all my tools and hunt down the ones that migrated across the shop.
This is normally followed up by making a bunch of phone calls to clean up some messes from the weekend. First, I had to call our KHS distributor in order to order a derailleur hanger for a fat bike for Parks Canada (your tax dollars at work) and follow up on some warranty parts. After that, I had to make my first of two calls to Shimano to try and sort out some shipping mistakes and warranty issues. I than tracked down some parts and called customers with some quotes.
Normally Mondays are a strange day. Its a lot of catching up with things that we didn’t have time to do on the weekend. The phone always seems to be ringing and there are plenty of tire kickers meaning you it is often difficult to get stuff down. This Monday was not really different but luckily (unfortunately) the weekend’s bad weather meant the service queue wasn’t overwhelming and there was nothing to get behind on.
When I finally do get to start on the pile of bikes needing my attention not every bike I get to work on is some high end wonder bike, in fact those are a rare treat. The majority of bikes I work on are worth less than $1000 and far too many of them are crappy department store bikes that hardly deserve the amount of work they require. Having to deal with these crappy bikes it what turns bike mechanics into those grouches you are used to.
Most bikes are just in for a tune up which involves just adjusting the gears and brakes, truing the wheels, checking all the bearing points for play, and checking all the bolts on the bikes. Sometimes you also give the bike a bit of a wipe down. And of course you finish things up by inflating the tires.
Occasionally you get a bike that needs more attention which can range from installing a new drivetrain or bleeding brakes to building wheels or doing internal cable routing and everything inbetween. Sometimes a bike requires a little ingenuity or extra violence to get a job done. You’d be surprised how often a hammer is the tool for the job.
One thing that I started doing that has really sped up the time it takes to perform a tune up is using the W/M method. Basically you go over the bike in an M or W shape. I start at the front axle, go up to the handle bars, down the the cranks, up again to the rear brake and back to the rear axle. The systematic approach means I know I have gone over everything. There’s your tip for the day.
Thankfully all the bikes I worked on today were pretty straight forward despite their quality. A stubborn or real mess of a bike can really ruin a day. Since everything was pretty straight forward I was able to make a good dent into the weekly service queue despite all of the distractions in the day and being the only mechanic in the shop.
As the day started to wind down, I grabbed a coffee, ate some oatmeal, and scribbled down some notes about how I envision my new service area to look like once our renovation is finished. I then finished off a couple other simple jobs, wrote some instructions for my underlings for tomorrow, and did some thumb twiddling to pass the time.
10 hour days can really drag on, but eventually it came to an end. I prepped up one of the demo bikes for a ride tomorrow morning, and headed home after we locked up the shop. Thankfully this could be described as one of the good days, not one of those days where everything seemed to go wrong. But the cool air felt nice as I started my ride home finally getting to relax after a long day in the life of a bike mechanic.