Mechanics’ Dreams

What the Wrenches Wish You Did

In the service area of bike shops, the constant banter circles around what customers could do to save money… and help out the mechanics. Here’s a short list of easy-to-pull-off home tips that will make your shop, your riding and your pocket book happy.

Oil the chain every 100 miles (or more).

Oiling your chain is simple and takes less than five minutes, but when neglected it is the most common wear and tear on your bike. Lightly oiling your chain and wiping it down afterwards helps your gears and chain last longer, makes it easier to pedal and saves you money.

Clean your rims regularly.

In the Pacific Northwest, our rims break down into a horrible black grime coating. Yes, that grime is actually made up of your corroded rim. When your bike is upside down to oil the chain, hit your rims with a clean dry towel to wipe the grime away. In a few quick swipes you can add another year or more to the life of your wheels (which are the most expensive part of your bike).

Pay attention to your brake pads.

When your brakes aren’t working well, it’s often because your pads are worn down. Pads have wear indicators – little divots in the pad that you can easily see. If your pads are seem worn, make an appointment with the shop before they ruin your rim or destroy your cables from pulling too hard trying to make them work.

Clean your bike before you bring it in.

We all know a bike runs better when clean, but you’ll also get a better repair job when it’s clean, too. A dirty bike is hard to fix and you want mechanics focusing on fixing your bike, not the simple task of cleaning it. A quick rinse with a very light pressure hose and some soapy dish water will go a long way to getting it touched up before you visit a shop. If you take a shower before doctor’s appointments or a massage, treat your mechanic with equal respect and do the same for your bike.

Schedule regular maintenance appointments if you’re riding a lot.

If you’re riding over 2,000 miles a year, put a reminder on your calendar to make an appointment every six months to a year. (To figure out, multiply the number of times on average you ride a week times the average miles times 52. Most folks are surprised how quickly their miles add up). If these are commuter miles, which are a lot rougher on your bike, schedule service every six months. With regular maintenance, parts can be attended to with small adjustments instead of being so far worn down they need to be replaced.

Don’t be offended when they tell you everything that’s wrong with your bike, even if you brought it in for a different problem.

When your mechanic let’s you know all the little bits that are wearing out on your bike, they are not trying to gouge you for more money. Quote the opposite – they’re trying to save you having to come back three times in one month for different problems. You can always refuse a service that’s not absolutely necessary, but the mechanic has done you the favor of letting you know what’s coming down the pipeline and saving you from multiple trips to the shop. If finances are holding you back, ask the mechanic how immediately the repairs are needed and which ones can wait without causing further damage.

Don’t wait until a strange noise gets really bad.

If you notice something strange or out of the norm with your bike, don’t assume it’s “just you” or it will go away on it’s own. This is how little issues get to be big, expensive problems. If you think something is wrong, swing by the shop and have them take a look. Estimates are usually free and can save you bucks down the road.

Don’t come in at 5 minutes before close and expect them to stay late fixing your bike.

Bicycle shops are not restaurants. It’s not a “last table seated before we close” deal. These folks have families at home and dinner to eat, too. If it’s an absolute emergency, most shops will do their best to accommodate you, but keep in mind your “emergency” does not make it theirs. Usually no one’s life will end if your bike isn’t fixed. If you absolutely have no other choice, keep in mind you’re really buggering up someone else’s day. Be grateful and courteous instead of demanding and panicked. Which leads to…

Tip. Tip. Tip.

While it’s not customary, tips are appreciated. Many mechanics are making less than your local bartender or the wait staff at a restaurant – where you probably easily throw a buck for every beer or coffee you order. Your bike mechanic saves your life by making sure your bike is safe to ride; it’s nice to show them you appreciate their expertise.

Money is the best tip you can offer, but take it from this long-time mechanic: beer, wine or home-made cookies are acceptable substitutes for showing your appreciation. And when you swing by for an emergency repair, a six pack of local beer should go hand-in-hand with your request.

Tori Bortman is a bike mechanic, educator, consultant and the owner of Gracie’s Wrench.

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10 Responses to “Mechanics’ Dreams”
  1. eli bishop says:

    seriously? you tip bike mechanics?

    • chaindoggie says:

      Hell Yes, A six pack BEFORE you make the request for that 11th hour Christmas Eve wheel rebuild is the best way to have a chance at some credibility w/ your local wrench spinner. Both of you will actually feel good about the interaction. If you can ask for a favor, you can tip for it.

      • eli bishop says:

        11th hour christmas eve wheel rebuild is a much different sort of favour. this article makes it sounds like you tip for regular service, in which case i “tip” by returning to the mechanic rather than going elsewhere.

    • Matt says:

      I tip them with beer and have never had a problem.

  2. Anon says:

    HECK YES I do. Mechanics have an advanced skillset, yet we pay them nothing compared to car mechanics. I can’t do the work myself. I’ve tried, it takes time to learn, I don’t have all the tools, and after 5 years I gave up trying.

    My mechanics keep me safe and on the road – which is how I want to be and where I want to be. In a pinch, they go the extra mile.

    If’ I’m willing to tip a $1 on a coffee and pastry that required very little skill by the barista, how can I not tip my mechanic? Safety on my bike is way more important to me than latte art.

  3. Terry Nobbe says:

    Oil the chain every 100 miles minimum? Sounds like excess to this bike tech.
    I use Pro Link Chain Lube, my chains look like there’s nothing on them and I lube when the chain gets noisy. If the chain gets really filthy, like from riding several weeks in winter rain in the city, then I clean it and when dry apply more Pro Link lightly, wiping the excess off afterwards.

    Tipping bike mechanics is good mojo, makes for friendly service.

  4. Gaviero says:

    OMG. I can buy parts way cheaper online than at my local bike shop. I thought I was doing well just to pay the extra the bike shop charged.

    I don’t bring online parts to my bike worker.

    I think that would be insulting. But I am not going to “tip” a bike worker for charging more than I can get a part online.

  5. Teener says:

    Absolutely tip the shop folks – either with beer or with a grocery store gift card (the better for them to get the flavor of brew they want, or the soda pop they prefer, AND easier to carry home on the bike they most likely commute with!)
    When I got my bike fit at a local shop, I gave the bike fitter 2 six packs of good local micro brew and felt like it wasn’t enough! I love my bike so much more now!
    But then, I often tip the guy who pumps my gas, too. I don’t, however, tip the barristas at the coffee place with the green sign with the mermaid on it.
    I lube my chain every 100 miles or so (maybe more like 150?) Why not? Chain oil is cheap!

  6. Shelby Filley says:

    Oops! I never thought of tipping the bike mechanic. Okay, next trip in I’ll have to bring some goodies – cookies seem appropriate for catching up with keeping the guys at the shop happy! Thanks…

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