So You Wanna Be a Pro Bike Wrench?

Author : Harv

From the “Milk Crate Bikes” Blog:

mike c Says:

“Thanks Harv for the reply. if I could bother you about one more thing. I recently became interested in becoming a bike mechanic and perhaps making a small living out of it. (of course if making a living is impossible then I can always do this as a hobbie and find other forms of employment.) I was wondering if you could give me any suggestions/leads on how to go about it? Thank you. (and also my apologies if this particular blog is suppose to be only for milk crate talk? i’m not so savvy with computers and web sites)”

Good question. I decided to start with a fresh Blog to address this topic. First a disclaimer; the following is my opinion and my experience on this subject. I am not, nor have I ever been, a professional bicycle mechanic. Hopefully, maybe one or more pro bike mechanics will jump in with their wisdom.

You say that you are interested in making a small living through bicycle mechanics. I take this to mean that you don’t want to immediately become a full-time employee in a pro bike shop. With the superheated used bike market evidenced today in large cities, I would say the best way to do this is to refurbish used bikes for resale in this lucrative market. This approach has two large benefits; you get to learn the business of wrenching on bikes, and you find out if this is really what you like to do. You can make pretty good money, and you can work only as much as you want to, or quit any time. One of our L.A. Bike Oven regulars is doing this and she sometimes makes ten times her investment for certain bikes. This requires a lot of scouting around the thrift shops, garage sales, etc. looking for bargains.

Let’s charge ahead and look at professional bike wrenching at a local bike shop. This is an entirely different story. You would be involved in working on new bikes and servicing/repairing mostly (if not only) modern bikes. You would be expected to be highly productive. In another word: Fast. I would not make a good pro bike mechanic. I work too slowly. I spend most of my wrenching time cleaning, inspecting, analyzing, optimizing, and experimenting. The most difficult thing for me is figuring out all the diverse standards used by different bicycle manufacturers. Just learning all the possible thread forms used over the years, and how to recognize them, would take an extended investigation. To illustrate, over the years I have had to accumulate three sizes of wrenches: metric, U.S., and Whitworth. Five sizes of threading tools: metric, SAE, USS, Whitworth, and British Standard Cycle. There are even more extant, but beyond the scope of this blog.

Modern LBSs don’t have these problems as much as someone who tinkers with bikes made from the 1950s on. Modern bikes are actually easier to work on. Cassettes and cartridges are easier (and faster) to deal with than the multi-standard freewheels, cups, cones, and spindles of yesteryear. Pretty much everything now takes a metric tool and uses a metric thread. Although some English threads persist. That is why refurbishing old bikes will provide the best training ground.

The world is going to be needing more bicycle mechanics and they have to come from somewhere. It might as well be from the pool of enthusiasts who got started by tinkering with their own bikes. Then tinkering with other’s bikes. Pretty soon you have accumulated a decent collection of tools, perfected the techniques, compiled a knowledge database, and figured out whether bike wrenching is for you. It does not take too much of an initial investment for tools and equipment, you can work at your own pace in a relatively small space, and the required technical details are readily available.

Go for it.

Author : Harv