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.