State of the Industry: What Bike Mechanics Make

Bike Mechanic Salaries

Recently a fellow contributor to BikeRumor sent me a link to a beautiful new mountain bike and asked me if it was special enough to post. He’s more of a roadie, just like i’m more of a mountain biker, so it was a valid question. The bike in question retailed for over $10,000 and had carbon everything, plus some custom accents, but if you look through the past several homepages you won’t find it posted. You see somewhere along the way, a carbon frame, wheels, and even sub 500 gram carbon cranks, become rather ubiquitous.

In the mountain bike realm, the acceleration of this trend is due in part to economies of scale but also advancements in technology. Trails that used to be exclusively downhill bike territory are now half lid and trail bike fun. Which ultimately means that enthusiasts can buy one bike that does it all, rather than have two or three bikes for disciplines ranging the gamut from  XC to DH.

So in this brave new world filled with $10k steeds, one thing remains unchanged – the need for bike mechanics. Sure some tasks are simple and can be performed by your average garage mechanic, but many parts must be torqued carefully or require special tools and servicing. So why haven’t the wages of bike mechanics gone up accordingly? Donny Perry of Specialized SBCU has posted a thorough and interesting slideshow on the subject that’s well worth a look through. Drop past the break to flip through it….

So next time you bring your bike by the shop for service, consider bringing your mechanic a beer or two…

Via VitalMTB, Via Don Perry 

Comments

suede - 02/10/14 - 10:41pm

Things that make you say hmm.
I’ve been a bicycle mechanic for 25 years. I do it for the enjoyment, not the money.

Barrett - 02/10/14 - 10:48pm

I think we have to change how Bike Mechanics get paid. Possibly adopting what is done in other service or mechanic type areas. ie: car mechanics, car stereo installers, or similar. I also believe rated should be raised from skill, experience, or schooling of the bike tech. A viable solution can be had, if we look to best practices within other industries.

Chris Ragland - 02/10/14 - 10:52pm

@ suede. Just because you enjoy it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to make money doing it. Yes it’s a community service butt you shouldn’t think of it as a punishment…As bike prices increase, so should your pay to fix them. Further more no good racer can make it without a good wrench. Your love should be rewarded with love….just sayin!

Ajh - 02/10/14 - 10:53pm

I used to be a mechanic from 1993 to 1999 and can attest that I did not have any extra money but the scary thing is I made around this salary 20 years ago inflation should have this around 35,000 at the lowest. I was even higher paid at the end as I was the sole white bros fork service tech and did a lot of overtime, which is the only reason I made more, going to the NORBA races.

The issue is the shops are using service in many cases as a break even and then sell goods for the profit. They also have not raised prices due to competition or special coupons at the busiest part of the year to drive volume.

Perception from the public is also not helping as they think it is “just a bike”.

The industry needs to consolidate and raise pricing together like the auto industry. If all charge more the the cost goes up like everything else.

Chris - 02/10/14 - 10:53pm

I think the first problem is the completely incompetent mechanics that fill most shops botching repairs so badly that people refuse to pay what quality work is worth. The double edged sword here is that to keep quality people you have to be able to pay them what they are worth. It seems in the end, most quality people set on making a career out of the bike world do what they can to work in the industry rather than simply the retail side of the industry. Much better wages, can usually get weekends off to do events again, etc.

You can point some blame on online retailers selling parts at or below wholesale for shops. Retail on most bike goods is already pretty thin margins and now we have customers coming into the shop trying to beat shops down on price already.

Some of that could be improved with manufacturers actually setting strict minimum prices and hold dealers to it, making it possible for brick and mortar shops to at least charge close to retail without looking like they are ripping off customers.

One thing brick and mortar shops have which I think really hurts them is lots and lots of passion, but no real business experience, no real knowledge or retailing, etc. Working on these areas could help shops become more profitable and therefore able to pay better wages.

dude - 02/10/14 - 10:53pm

When guys with $8,000+ bikes got upset at the price of a fork rebuild, my manager would remind them the oil change on a Ferrari is a lot more than on a Honda. Maybe a little bit exaggerated circumstances, but similar. The high-end customer wants that expensive bike to work flawlessly all the time- why not charge a little more to spend extra time getting it perfect?

The question is: how do you charge the right amount to work on the department store trash (which comes in quite regularly)? Most of the people I see riding those out of necessity to get to work do not have extra money to afford the two hours of labor it takes to get one of those to kinda work.

Eddie Cheah - 02/10/14 - 10:57pm

If that’s considered low, then it’s worse being a mechanic in Asia, US$23,013 is about NT$697,613.05 which is about NT$58,134 monthly which is unheard of for a mechanic in Taiwan . . .

suede - 02/10/14 - 11:10pm

@chris ragland. I agree with you, but I knew what I was getting into.
My love of the bicycle has been reciprocated back to me 10 times over.

g-man - 02/10/14 - 11:11pm

just sounds like markets behaving normally to me. supply & demand, people. if wrenches were scarce wages would rise.

ve - 02/10/14 - 11:21pm

Besides avoiding bad mechanics as mentioned by someone else, this is the other reason I do my own work on my bike.

I’d have to be filthy rich for going to a bike mechanic to be financially viable, even at a bike mechanic’s salary.

Lets start with some basic premises:
1) Bike repair is not an business expense, and it is paid for with income after taxes
2) Bike repair costs roughly $60 an hour (going rate at my LBS) because the owner needs a cut and pay the rent
3) It takes 15 minutes and gas to drive your bike to the shop, 15 minutes to drive back, 15 minutes to go back to pick it up and another 15 minutes to go home again.
4) Bike repair isn’t that inherently difficult and any reasonably handy person can do it with some guidance (like Park Tool or Sheldon Brown)

To break even, just on the service rate, you would need to make $60 an hour after taxes. That’s a $124,800 AFTER taxes.

Now lets say you are doing a normal tune up with 2 hours of work. That’s $120 after taxes, plus an hour’s equivalent wages due to driving around. Using some basic algebra, that means you would have to make $120 an hour AFTER taxes. $120 in charge plus $120 in time is the same as 2 hours of your own time at $120.

That’s $249,600 AFTER taxes. That’s pretty much 1%er levels, which is $394,000 before taxes. Those people should be paying around 1/3 or more of their income in just Federal income tax.

Yes, I know you’re going to say a pro mechanic can do it quicker and you would have to buy tools. Look at the numbers. Can a pro mechanic do it THAT much quicker? Is it that much cheaper to not buy your own tools?

The truth of the matter is bike mechanics are either relatively unskilled labor like college students, or they choose to pick a profession in a field they like rather than one that makes good money. I’ve not seen a mechanic forced into a bike job like some people are forced to take menial labor or burger flipping as jobs. They do it because they want to do it. They just want to be paid well to do something they want to do.

Getting work done by a mechanic IF you have the skills to do it yourself is a luxury. It is for convenience, or because you don’t want to do it. It’s like eating out instead of staying at home. Do line cooks and waiters get paid well? It really only makes financial “sense” to people who shouldn’t be trusted with tools or the 1%. Getting pro mechanics to work on your bike is already insanely expensive, if they’re hurting on their end, it really just means it isn’t a financially viable business model.

That’s my two cents. Mechanics don’t get paid well because there is a large supply of potential mechanics, and in an economic sense, they really don’t offer a lot of utility. Supply and demand and such.

Chuck Diller - 02/10/14 - 11:29pm

Because bike owners, no matter how much their bikes cost, are cheap bastards. They buy the top-of-the-line bikes, then get pissed when their fork owner’s manual says the fork must be serviced every 50 hours. Yet, they don’t bat an eye when their BMW 700000iLxtfs goes in for a $1,000 tune-up every 18 minutes. They think a fork still uses elastomers, and a little WD-40 on the chain is the way to go.

ve - 02/10/14 - 11:35pm

Oh, and obviously that slide is using some fishy numbers. Census gives median earning in 2012 not 2003, for high school dropouts as $19,404 and high school graduates as $27,024.

I’m not surprised. Being a bike mechanic isn’t something you need a college degree for. It doesn’t even seem unusual that a dropout could do it. It makes sense for the salary to be somewhere between those two figures.

Who works harder? A bike mechanic or a gardener? A janitor? Who has a less desirable job? A gardener, and a janitor. Then you have to consider there are those who get paid less than minimum wage under the table. I’d say a shoe cobbler has more specialized skills and tools than a bike mechanic too.

Median income in 2012 was $35,160. Now seriously ask yourself if being a bike mechanic is an “average” job.

At the very least, when it comes to the costs of living panel, most bike mechanics I know don’t have that car expense. And those poor souls in those states where they make less than the national average? Guess what. Their living expenses are less than the national average too.

Rent? I could barely afford a studio in NYC. Anyone who has rented in NYC knows about the rent costs there.

As someone who has worked with these kinds of numbers before, I don’t like how they’ve been manipulated.

ve - 02/10/14 - 11:39pm

@Chuck Diller

“Because bike owners, no matter how much their bikes cost, are cheap bastards. They buy the top-of-the-line bikes, then get pissed when their fork owner’s manual says the fork must be serviced every 50 hours. Yet, they don’t bat an eye when their BMW 700000iLxtfs goes in for a $1,000 tune-up every 18 minutes. They think a fork still uses elastomers, and a little WD-40 on the chain is the way to go.”

That just means more chains and cassettes sold for you. More removed and installed as well.

Also BMWs are a royal pain to work on for a home mechanic because of all the expensive proprietary tools.

g-man - 02/10/14 - 11:41pm

don’t blame the customers. customers are market context that shops must compete in. you can try and change the market – create demand for a different service level. but the onus is not on the customer. the whole “customers are wrong/a-holes” attitude is counterproductive and shows a complete lack of business and econ 101 understanding.

nick - 02/10/14 - 11:41pm

@ve. your maths is ALL WRONG. it just isn’t that simple.

happy if you work on your own bike – but please don’t simplify my 15 years of experience in spinning spanners down to a commodity of time.

next time you want THE RIGHT advice about the best solution to your problem…

muf - 02/10/14 - 11:42pm

the thing is, if a mec takes $100 (lets say its $110, 120+ for the customer) per bike for tunes that takes 30+min, and make $20-$25K a year, it just means they don’t get many bikes to fix up a day.

in fact, it means they get about.. one bike to fix per day.

I would hope that they have something else to do in the meantime, or that they aren’t just mecs, because if they don’t get more than that a day.. yes, indeed, its hard to break even.

I also think $100 an hour is reasonable.

As for the ferrari comparisons, i can afford a 10K bike (and for the record, i have a 4K bike which is plenty fine for me), but i can’t afford a 200 or 500K car .. obviously.
Lets say its 1K to tune a 500K ferrari.. if we take the same ratio.. guess what. It’s $200 for a 10k bike… and $80 for a 4K bike.

So even that argument doesn’t hold – the real problem must be elsewhere, such as not enough work, or LBS take a crazy cut, or something like that.

Mike - 02/10/14 - 11:44pm

My car costs $30,000 and a minor service is only $150…

zed - 02/10/14 - 11:45pm

@ve …. Man you consider yourself some classic rocket scientist. Good on you that by mastering a barrel adjuster just made you the next Sheldon Brown. Because of clowns like you bike mechanics make what they make. Best of luck in your online purchases. ;)
Oh, almost forgot you are not paying for JUST a service but the experience. Bike mechanics should make more because they are the living cycling encyclopedia. The guy or girl that has ALL your cycling needs answered.

ve - 02/10/14 - 11:50pm

@nick
No, the math isn’t wrong. The next time I want the right advice, I will go to one of the two sources of information I provided. Park tools or Sheldon Brown. Quite a few bike mechanics are pretty incompetent.

That’s exactly the problem. You refuse to see your service as a commodity and believe you have extremely specialized skills, and hence you deserve more money, when the average joe with a $10 torque wrench and some Park Tools can learn to do any job you learned how to do in your 15 years in a few hours.

I think a gardener, a janitor and a cobbler deserve higher salaries than a bike mechanic. Being a bike mechanic isn’t particularly hard work. I certainly think it’s even easier than being a desk jockey.

ve - 02/10/14 - 11:58pm

@zed
This sort of blaming the customer is exactly why shops get less traffic than they used to. It isn’t just online prices. Your experience isn’t worth a whole lot either when there’s lots to be found on the internet. Lots of mechanics aren’t even that knowledgeable.

Here’s one example off the top of my head. One mechanic told a customer that a shifting problem was because the shifter was broken and had them buy a new Campy ergopower. Now blaming ghost shifting on the shifter was silly in the first place, but what was even more ridiculous was his proof. He pulled on the cable until it shifted to the next to show that the shifter wasn’t holding the cable in place. That was the extent of his expert experience.

This person refused to name names when I told him this mechanic had no idea what he was talking about because all ultra-shift campy shifters do that.

There’s probably a dozen other horror stories I can come up with, but I don’t put a lot of weight into “experience”

Ripnshread - 02/11/14 - 12:04am

The #1 most profitable section of any LBS is service. Go figure. The margins on bikes, accesories and clothing at FULL RETAIL are some of the smallest in the entire retail industry. The problem we have is that its an enthusiast industry at the high end and “just a bike” at the low end. Those two sentiments mix through the middle. Only the top 1% of bike mechanics are making a living wage. And they don’t work at your LBS they get poached by the manufacturers and pro’s. To fix this issue it would need to be profitable to run a brick and mortar bike shop. It’s just not.

zed - 02/11/14 - 12:10am

@ve sounds like you got a bad experience and now you have a chance to BMC (b*itch, moan, complain) about techs. Yesss, I agree there are mechanics that are not worth making even min wage. But to be disrespectfull and put the guys down that make this their carier is not gentlemanly like. Good luck with fixing your own bike(s).

Spencer - 02/11/14 - 12:14am

@ve
If you were so competent; then picking out the incompetent wrenches should be easy.
It is to me, just like the dumb comments are easy to highlight.

Matt - 02/11/14 - 12:17am

ve- the problem with our math is your math…going to a mechanic is not a ‘break even’ argument, presumabely you will make back the $60/hr that your bike is sitting in the shop at your job – yea, your out the hour of travel time but then again you probably waste an hour a day commuting (250 hours), so let’s call that a wash. Additionally, you don’t go to the shop 2000 hours a year, you drop in when your obvious talents didn’t get the result you sought and you needed a higher level of experience. Or put another way, let’s say you are at the National average of ~$40k, or $20/hr…so you bought a $5000 bike (250 hours), you’re telling me it’s not worth 0.02% of your purchase price to have someone do it right the first time?

Pedals - 02/11/14 - 12:17am

People, service is not the profit center you think it is. It certainly could be but the NBDA’s most recent survey clearly shows that it is under utilized.

Mortimer - 02/11/14 - 12:22am

All the good shops out my way have closed up. Now there are mostly department store type shops. They get mechanics in to assemble bikes and do tune up after hours. No wheel repairs – they sell new ones instead of that. None of the managers are bicycle guys/girls. Prices on new bikes are low, items on the floor are all low end and the push is to only sell new items. For a real bike shop one has quite a drive.

Maxx - 02/11/14 - 12:23am

Realistically, to be fair to both shops and mechanics, wages should be two-pronged.

A basic wage + a percentage of value of work accredited to the mechanic in question beyond what is profitably covering the basic wage.

Say US$2000 (commensurate with experience) for up to US$15k (again proportional to basic wage) worth of accredited work. And and 20% of what’s over and above that. ( figures are random at best, but just to illustrate what I think it should work in a healthy environment.

It keeps shops viable and it keeps mechanics motivated to do good value+ extra work.

ve - 02/11/14 - 12:24am

@Spencer
That’s why I don’t use incompetent wrenches. I can’t help it if other people choose to.

@zed
That’s true, my experience with shop mechanics is not all rainbows and sunshine, and I generally know more than they do, and they usually try to sell me stuff I don’t need.

What I’m pointing out is that the business model really isn’t a good one, and it can’t support everyone who wants to be a bike mechanic with a good wage. It’s the same as the pro peloton not being able to support every amateur cyclist who wants a good paying job.

Before blaming (and trying to guilt trip) the customer for a low paying job, you have to ask yourself how much the job is actually contributing and why the compensation is so low. Is it really just because the customer is cheap, or maybe it’s just the services you are trying to sell aren’t worth that much to the customer.

HOWEVER,
More than anything though, what pissed me off is that some bike mechanic had the ego to imply he was needed and better than other types of laborers, and he had the nerve to twist the numbers to make a really bad argument.

Thesteve4761 - 02/11/14 - 12:25am

Sorry, but most “bike mechanics” are hacks. Having worked in and managed 5 different service departments, the stories are endless. The hacks ruin it for everyone else.

Also, How does the purchase price of a product have any real relation to the service prices? The false comparisons here are absurd!

Earn customer trust. Then you can earn real money! The above average mechanics attract above average customers.

In the end, bikes are still simple toys for most. The above slide show is just a grumpy presentation of economic reality. Don’t like your wage? Move up the ladder, or choose a different industry. Just because you love wrenching doesn’t mean you should get paid a shitload.

Spencer - 02/11/14 - 12:28am

@ze
That incompetent mechanic might not be so incompetent. Campy ratchet rings, g-springs and washers wear out Depending on the year and mode,l campy now sells the entire body instead of a few parts that youtube will have many “reasonably handy guys” embarking on something that they will end up taking to an LBS to be “overcharged” for monkey labor.
Whom is incompetent?

jason - 02/11/14 - 12:31am

Saris, if you watched the slide show, you would see that your favorite mechanic needs some cash that he/she can actually pay rent with.

ve - 02/11/14 - 12:33am

@Matt
“ve- the problem with our math is your math…going to a mechanic is not a ‘break even’ argument, presumabely you will make back the $60/hr that your bike is sitting in the shop at your job – yea, your out the hour of travel time but then again you probably waste an hour a day commuting (250 hours), so let’s call that a wash.”
No, going to a bike shop is taking an hour you would not otherwise take unless the bike shop happens to be on the way with your normal car commute and you can fit in the drop off and pick up with that commute. That’s not a wash unless you’re trying to imply that you would drive into work on a sunday to work for 2 extra hours.

“Additionally, you don’t go to the shop 2000 hours a year, you drop in when your obvious talents didn’t get the result you sought and you needed a higher level of experience. ”
That’s a stupid argument that borders the non-sensical, and for the vast majority of things, especially the normal tune up which is the bulk of most people’s repairs, they can learn to do it themselves. It isn’t that hard.

“Or put another way, let’s say you are at the National average of ~$40k, or $20/hr…so you bought a $5000 bike (250 hours), you’re telling me it’s not worth 0.02% of your purchase price to have someone do it right the first time?”
You’re completely ignoring salary before and after taxes. $20/hr AFTER taxes is quite a reasonable salary. That’s not average. You’re also making a dumb argument because hop time isn’t $20 an hour at any bike shop I’ve ever been to. The premise was $60 an hour, which was the cheapest rate out of the 3 closest LBS. 0.02% of $5000 is $1. I can’t get anything done for $1.

The problem with your math is your math.

ve - 02/11/14 - 12:37am

@Spencer
Yes he was a hack. If you have ghost shifting, you don’t look at the shifter first. You also don’t use being able to make the shifter move to the next index position by pulling the cable as proof. It isn’t proof of anything. He was a hack. This would be obvious to anyone who understood the internals of a Campy shifter, which he clearly didn’t. Since he had the customer buy a new shifter I have to assume he wasn’t competent enough to rebuild a shifter either.

ve - 02/11/14 - 12:39am

And @myself. When I say you don’t look at the shifter, I don’t mean the tension adjustment. I mean you don’t blame the internals of the shifter being broken unless they are obviously so.

Pete - 02/11/14 - 12:45am

@ve You’re logic is completely unsound. Comparing the knowledge and skill of a bike mechanic to looking it up on Park or Sheldon Brown is like replacing a doctor with WebMD…

If anything, you should think that you’re OWN time is worth more than the time spent working on your bike.

spencer - 02/11/14 - 12:48am

I won’t say one way or the other; I wasn’t there.
I worked as a mechanic for 13 years and loved every low-paying minute of it.
I am now one year away from a Master’s in Biomed Engineering.
I worked at some shops that treated talented employees as disposable- and lost them.
Replaced by hacks, so I know it happens.
I also worked at shops in SLC and Moab that rewarded their employees in ways other than outright pay. If you are in the industry- you aren’t in it for the money.
I miss the low-wage bike mechanic days.

ve - 02/11/14 - 12:55am

@Pete
No, you are not a doctor. Don’t even try to make a comparison. I did not see you go to bike doctor school for a decade. That’s seriously not even funny. If you want to pretend to be a doctor go get a job at Performance. They call their bike mechanics doctors.

Bicycles are simple machines. They are very simple. Park Tool and Sheldon Brown is good enough. There’s more on there than most bike mechanics know, and certainly enough to get you by on things like the basic tune up, which is what most people do when they go to a bike mechanic. The thing most people mess up on is torque, which can be solved with a $10 torque wrench.

If I compared working an hour on my bike versus trying to get an extra hour of work and sending the bike to a mechanic for a tune up, I would lose less money by working on my bike. I do value my time. I’d have to work several more hours at my current job to afford taking it to a mechanic versus just doing it myself. That makes no sense to me since I am perfectly capable of doing my own work.

Mike Hare - 02/11/14 - 12:58am

I have no doubt where I stand on this. Every competent, career mechanic deserves to make a living wage and bike owners deserve to get repairs done properly. If you own a high end bike and cannot do normal maintenance and repairs you need to bite the bullet and pay a fair price to keep it in good order. Considering an average suburban LBS is paying big rent and has huge inventory costs, $100/hr would be much more in line than the going rate. There are too many factors keeping mechanics’ salaries low to discuss in any detail but unlike 30 years ago, there are many, many places in the world where the middle classes are doing much better than they are in the U.S. Viewing bike mechanic earning or any other single issue with a narrow perspective will not return a useful answer. You’ll need to look to where the money is flowing and decide who is responsible for things being this screwed up.

ve - 02/11/14 - 1:01am

@spencer
And that’s why it doesn’t pay well. There are more than enough people happy to take up work as a bike mechanic for low wages. Or even to be paid something to do something they enjoy. Enough that there’s more bike mechanics out there than are really needed.

Kurt the Mechanic - 02/11/14 - 1:08am

I was once an incompetent underpaid bike mechanic. I worked my way up to a competent underpaid bike mechanic. I then became a competent decently paid overworked race mechanic. I have finally found a shop to work in that pays alright and I keep it to 40 hours a week. I am now moving on to another career where i will make enough money to take care of my family. I will always be a bike nerd and I will always strive to know every possible mechanical aspect to every bike. I will now be able to afford better bikes and parts and I will have weekends off to go to bike events. The bike industry is a hard industry. Much love to the guys that are doing it and doing it well. For the guys who suck, you probably wont be in the industry long.

@ve
You are probably not worth most bike mechanics $10/hr time. Feel free to stay at home and work on your own bike, your LBS does not want you walking through their door. Its one thing to have an opinion but its quite another to be a dick.

ve - 02/11/14 - 1:13am

@Kurt
” Its one thing to have an opinion but its quite another to be a dick.”

Back at you. Can’t help it if bike mechanics feel like entitled know-it-all dicks anymore than you can help it if customers do so.

Plus, the shop isn’t charging me $10/hr. They’re charging $60/hr. If you think you aren’t getting enough of that $60/hr take it up with your boss. More likely than not he’ll fire you and hire someone who will work for $10/hr. The customer is already paying out the nose with a $60/hr rate.

Pete - 02/11/14 - 1:15am

@ve Experience, knowledge, and relating to people makes for both a good bike mechanic or a good doctor.

Good on you that you do your own work. You do you. But, it’s not funny that you deprecate a whole group because you had a bad experience with an individual. That’s ignorance. Also, if it was so simple to fix that ghost shifting, then why didn’t you perform the service yourself? You have the books…

Mark - 02/11/14 - 1:16am

Maybe people should treat bike mechanics like they treat their restaurant servers, if they provide a good service tip them accordingly if they don’t, then don’t tip, it is a service and in the US, even baristas who pour a simple cup of black coffee that is pre-made get a tip. Truth is, you have good mechanics and you have “hacks” as you all like to call them, same as any service provided. Make sure that the good mechanics get what they deserve and the bad ones get, well, nothing. Just appreciate work when its needed and realize that some mechanics do a lot more than just wrench. I personally have had mechanics sit on the phone and go to bat with companies to get me FREE replacement parts and service, things that unless you are a dealer can’t do from your home.

Kurt the Mechanic - 02/11/14 - 1:19am

@ve

I bet you have big issues and strong opinions about a lot of things. Do you find yourself often getting into arguments like this? I am not a know-it-all but I do know a lot about bikes. I also know that a bike shop is more than a place to have your bike worked on. It is usually a local hub for like minded lovers of bicycles. I hope you have a place like that you can go to. Half the fun of riding bikes is riding them with others.

George - 02/11/14 - 1:20am

hi from Denmark.
no matter the country, it is a career. you should be well paid…. if you are good. or else, change job,
hard labour of love pays back

ve - 02/11/14 - 1:26am

@Pete
I never said all mechanics are hacks. I’m pointing out to dumbfounded mechanics who think they deserve more why they aren’t better compensated. Supply and demand.

Demand isn’t there because to the average Joe, getting a bike worked on is really expensive in work-hour equivalency. The shop rate of $120 for a tune up, ignoring time traveled, to a guy who makes $20/hr before taxes. Care to guess how many hours he has to work for a simple tune-up once you consider taxes? Quite a few. The customer base that really needs bike mechanics are unhandy people and 1%ers with bikes. Not a necessity to the average joe.

Supply is there. There are lots of people that love the job even if they don’t love the salary. That means you’re replaceable. That means there’s competition.

Now if you want to compare yourself to a doctor I will call you out on that and say that comparison is complete and utter bull. Don’t even try. Doctors work 10 times harder than you and learned 10 times more than you and have skills that are 10 times more specialized and 10 times more valuable than yours.

“why didn’t you perform the service yourself? ”
Because it wasn’t my bike and the guy had blind faith in the mechanic because he was a pro, but clearly not an expert. I used it as an example because it was most related in my mind to the idea of blind faith in pro mechanics because they have “experience” rather than a typical hack job where they just did something wrong.

ve - 02/11/14 - 1:34am

@Kurt
” Do you find yourself often getting into arguments like this?”
When a guy picks a fight like the guy with the slide show does, yes. Among various jobs, I have worked as a desk jockey in data analysis using some of the same sources he uses. It takes a lot of work to get things right, and it is not well regarded when you fudge the numbers like that to make a point.

And when among various jobs, you have done mechanic work, and landscaping/gardening work, the implication that bike mechanic work deserves more compensation also ticks me off. Being a bike mechanic isn’t even that hard, and it is definitely a cushier job than landscaping which does need quite a bit of know-how to do right. I would take a bike mechanic job over a janitor job any day if they paid the same.

I can go to the bike shop. I don’t have to go get a tune-up once a year at the bike shop. I can just spend that money on something else bike related. Why you think I need to pay the bike mechanic in particular money to do things I can do myself is a mystery.

Pete - 02/11/14 - 1:41am

@ve Having blind faith in anything is not smart.

I’ve done work for doctors and had them commend me for my work I’ve done for them. They pay me to do the work because I have the knowledge and skills to perform the work. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to do bowel surgery… You don’t pay an account just because he knows how to add…

But I get it, you’re always right. No sense in arguing with a wall.

greg - 02/11/14 - 1:41am

i’ll throw this out there since it hasnt been mentioned yet:
lifetime. free. tune-ups. wtf.
i cant think of one true quality shop with true quality mechanics that offers this. talk about devaluing service. who is going to pay $200 for a full clean/tune when some dude that bought his $350 beater gets the same service for FREE, FOREVER? it all started with some twisted logic. service departments make diddly per square foot(if youre just tracking the labor) compared to the sales side of things. so sacrifice the service to do more sales. the negative ramifications are huge.
service departments make the reputation of the store.
fortunately, nobody in my area does the lifetime service thing anymore. $75/hr is our rate, but $100/hr maybe will be done soon. regular tunes are over $100, full cleaning tunes are over $200. the pay is almost reasonable, somewhere between 1.5x to 2.2x what was quoted in this article, although cost of living here is not cheap.
first step for shops that arent on board with this is to give large raises to the ones worth keeping, and fire the slackers. at the same time, raise the service rates. dont be afraid, everyone’s always afraid. i was afraid. turns out that lots of people will gladly pay more for only having to bring it in for that nagging problem once. people will pay more if youre the best. if youre not the best, well, i got nothing for that.
i can understand where ve is coming from. i dont know where he lives, but it’s entirely possible every mechanic in his area really sucks. there are a lot of sucky ones out there. if it isnt evident yet, i am a bike mechanic for life, and i will say it again, a lot of bike mechanics suck. we get “mechanics” and even “service managers” from other stores all the time that dont even pass our bike build test. i dont know what’s up with that.
to sum up this ramble, it’s really up to us, the bike shops, to change what’s been going on for far too long. blaming everyone else isnt going to accomplish anything.

ve - 02/11/14 - 1:51am

@Pete
“I’ve done work for doctors and had them commend me for my work I’ve done for them. ”

And doctors might very well be the 1%ers for whom it does make financial sense to have someone else work on their bike. But imagine if your client base was reduced to 1%ers and klutzes, and the occasional person that really doesn’t have time at the moment. That would support far fewer bike mechanics than there are out there. But those would be the people who would need bike mechanics if mechanics were well paid.

“You wouldn’t ask a plumber to do bowel surgery…”

No, because becoming a surgeon takes a decade of study in that field. I wouldn’t call a plumber for a clogged drain or a leaky faucet either. Neither of those require a decade of study or 15 years of plumber experience.

“You don’t pay an account just because he knows how to add…”

You pay them because they know how to do arithmetic efficiently, and much, much faster than a normal person who can just add at a much slower rate.

“No sense in arguing with a wall.”

Well not if you’re not actually going to refute my argument and just throw out really lame red herrings, strawmen arguments, false equivalencies, non sequiturs, etc.

endurobob - 02/11/14 - 1:55am

@ve

I don’t doubt based on your very steadfast belief that all the mechanics in your area are truly terrible. That being said, there are plenty of good honest mechanics in the world who work hard for what they earn and deserve more than the small $10 an hour wages they get. Ever think of how much it costs to insure a service department? A substantial chunk of that $60 per hour rate goes towards that, and there is nothing most shop owners can do in that situation.

ve - 02/11/14 - 1:59am

@greg
Suck or not, I’m pointing out that even if a mechanic gets paid $10/hr, the shop rate of $60/hr, $75/hr, $100/hr is really expensive for the average joe. If you charge that much you should pretty much expect 1%ers to be your clientele, not normal people. You know, be like a BMW dealership or whatnot. Or some other place that sells luxury goods and services.

There’s too many people willing to take the job for low wages. Supply and demand.

ve - 02/11/14 - 2:09am

@endurobob
You guys need to stop projecting. I never said all mechs are terrible. The primary point is that it doesn’t make financial sense for the average joe to get a plain jane tune up from a pro mech.

Do they deserve more than $10/hr? Not any more than gardeners, janitors and cobblers they’re being compared to. There’s lots of people who love the job, more than what is really needed. It also doesn’t require college or anything. It’s typical. Nothing special. And bike mechanics do not work hard compared to those guys.

A minimum living wage would probably solve those problems. It would mean there would be fewer mechs because there would be fewer people willing to pay the higher prices, but it would weed out the bad mechs, and a mech could make a decent wage. But I don’t think a mech should feel entitled to average joe’s money and get more money when there really isn’t demand to match the supply of bike mechanics.

It’s not my or the customer’s fault that a business model is not financially viable due to insurance reasons. $60/hr is a lot of money. Don’t get mad at average joe not being willing to pay $100/hr. Get mad at the insurance company. There’s not enough dentists in the world to supply every bike mechanic in the world with a good salary.

filibuster cash - 02/11/14 - 2:15am

Mechanic work isn’t hard, per se, as folks have pointed out here. That said, degrading us as a dime a dozen isn’t useful. There is little blame to be had, beyond the manipulated market. The repeated images of bikes over $3000 as “bare minimum” while also repeating “it’s just a bike” pushes us toward absurdity quite effectively. There aren’t simple solutions, as most businesses succeed because they are willing to do what it takes to get by with little consideration to what those actions will do to their competitors and the market as a whole. That is what drives the free market, unfortunately. To those of you who look down on us as “dropouts” (pun intended), maybe reconsider. It still takes a lot of patience and experience to make these silly things work properly, for those who worry about proper performance. I see more bikes than not that haven’t worked as they should for a long time, and the owners of said bikes aren’t all that worried about it. If you want your bike to work well, and can’t or don’t want to do it yourself, we’re here for you. I personally believe that should mean the prices would be higher, but they aren’t. As such, we get the bendover. Speaking for myself, I’d like a bit higher rate, but I don’t expect it any time soon. Mostly, don’t ask for miracles or for a wheel build in ten minutes and I’ll be fine. (Albeit a bit cold in my cardboard bedroom.)

ve - 02/11/14 - 2:31am

@filibuster cash
Like it or not, the reality is that bike mechanics on the low end, the ones doing service in many LBS, are a dime a dozen. If you truly want to understand why the wages are low, before making falsified slideshows or blaming the cheap customer who is hesitant to pay $60/hr, you might want to consider the dime a dozen reality.

Now if a mechanic just want to play the blame game and want free beers from customers like in the original story, I think that falls under guilt tripping and extortion, so I will point out the reality that a typical mechanic is a dime a dozen.

Raising rates would only mean that those people who don’t service frequently would do so even less frequently.

If you realize that bike service is just for people that can’t or won’t do it themselves, or are just plain filthy rich, then you can stop trying to guilt trip normal customers into paying more and using the mechanic more, and taking a minute to think a minute really about how darn expensive bike service is to normal people. You might even want to consider that doing bike work is a convenience or a luxury that not everyone can really afford, and you shouldn’t expect it to be normal that normal people normally come in to have normal work done on their normal bike on a normal schedule.

Scott Hicks - 02/11/14 - 2:46am

I was going to let all this pass without comment, mostly because it’s all been said before, but the remarks by ‘ve’ have touched a nerve. Anonymity in comment sections like this allow all sorts of ignorant, spiteful opinions to reach an audience, and sometimes they deserve a rebuttal.

Where to begin? To start with, labor is not a “commodity”. Although it may certainly be affected by supply and demand, labor rates need to reflect not only the training and experience of the staff, but the shop’s overhead, which will vary by location. The cost of living, and of running a business, is higher in NYC or the SF Bay Area than it is in many other parts of the country. Also, the demand for our services consistently exceeds our capacity. Shouldn’t we then raise our labor rates?

I encourage our customers to learn to do their own repairs. I sell Park Tools and Park Tool ‘how to’ books; I refer many people to sheldonbrown.com. If someone would rather not fix their own bike, why should we charge less than what will allow us to pay our staff a living wage? Why the comparison of bike mechanics to gardeners, janitors and cobblers? I believe that the people working in those professions ALL deserve to be better paid — along with restaurant workers and caregivers and hotel housekeeping staff. The job title “desk jockey” is so vague as to be ridiculous, but most office workers receive paid vacations and sick leave and enjoy holidays and weekends off — not so for most bike mechanics. Just as there are always a few bad apples who shouldn’t be getting paid to turn a wrench, there’s usually plenty of ‘dead wood’ in your typical large corporate office. But why attempt to pit those in one vocation against those in another?

It’s a vicious circle, a ‘Catch 22′: how can a bike shop hire, train, and retain, capable employees when a large number of potential customers denigrate their role and strongly resist paying a fair price for the work that they do?

By the way — a $10 torque wrench is probably worth exactly what you paid for it — not much.

ve - 02/11/14 - 3:00am

@Scott Hicks
“Also, the demand for our services consistently exceeds our capacity. Shouldn’t we then raise our labor rates?”
Then why don’t you?

” If someone would rather not fix their own bike, why should we charge less than what will allow us to pay our staff a living wage?”
Because you can’t get enough revenue from a barely viable business model. Why should the customer be expected to pay more than $60/hr for service? Why should it be expected that it is worth it for them?

” Why the comparison of bike mechanics to gardeners, janitors and cobblers? ”
You ask the guy who made the slideshow. I think they’re more important and vital than bike mechanics and I think every single one of you would be a bike mechanic if they all payed the same. It is demeaning to them to imply that bike mechanics are somehow more important than them.

” I believe that the people working in those professions ALL deserve to be better paid — along with restaurant workers and caregivers and hotel housekeeping staff.”
And I said the same thing. I don’t know why the guy who made the slideshow thinks bike mechanics are better than them.

“The job title “desk jockey” is so vague as to be ridiculous”
Now you’re going off topic. The only relevance to desk jockey is that I have actual experience working with some of the sources for the statistics he used in the slideshow, and I am calling BS on his numbers. They’re misleading and misused in order to be manipulative.

“It’s a vicious circle, a ‘Catch 22′: how can a bike shop hire, train, and retain, capable employees when a large number of potential customers denigrate their role and strongly resist paying a fair price for the work that they do? ”
No, no, no. I 100% disagree with you. I pointed out $60/hr is not a fair price FOR THE CUSTOMER TO PAY, for the work a mechanic does. A normal person can buy his own tools and spend twice the time and still come out ahead. The gap between the $60/hr the customer pays and the $10/hr the mechanic gets is NOT THE CUSTOMER’S FAULT. It doesn’t matter how hard someone works if they can not effectively turn their work into utility.

What if I bike full time, all day every day, sweating in the heat day in and day out? You’d say I was working hard? Is that merit for me to get paid? NO.

Stop blaming the customer.

“By the way — a $10 torque wrench is probably worth exactly what you paid for it — not much.”
It’s enough to ball park and works better than a mechanic’s torque wrenchless arm. It’s not like you get major stripping from being 10% off. Tell me when your arm is tuned within 10% torque accuracy.

BIKELEPTIC - 02/11/14 - 3:40am

Part of the problem is the mechanics and businesses themselves. Here in Portland, OR where biz is pretty cutthroat. (I can only speak for PDX since this is where I’m stationed) You have shops undercutting each other – how can a shop charge $60 for a tune-up when every place else is charging $100 – $120?? If market rate is a set price they should be working together to keep it at that. They’re not doing themselves any favors by low-balling the market. What they’re doing is taking money out of their own pockets and other businesses pockets at the same time. In addition to a cyclist and my day job, I’m also a musician and I understand all too well the biz of bidding for a gig. It’s a delicate process of setting your price – too low and you’re deemed unprofessional and green in the scene; too high and you’re bourgeois and only catering to a certain “type” of person.

What helps is buying local – not just working with your LBS, but also shopping for quality handbuilt local frames and parts – which keeps the $$ local. (I mean obviously brakes and hubs aren’t going to be coming from Burley, ID or Sante Fe, NM) But you can work with wheel builders instead of just getting that Trek off the rack at the big bike retailer.

greg - 02/11/14 - 3:55am

@ve,
there aren’t too many people willing to do the job for low wages. there arent enough people willing to do the job -correctly- for double the low wage. we’re almost always hiring. a “normal person” cannot spend twice the time and come out ahead. if you can truly do that, youre not a “normal person”, youre quite above average, i commend you. just as you are underestimating what a good bike mechanic can do, youre overestimating what a “normal person” is capable of.
i still say it’s up to the shops. there’s that saying- if you pay peanuts, all youre gonna have working for you is a bunch of monkeys.
ve is a product of bad shop experiences, his own high skill level, and/or low personal standards of his bikes’ function.
a $10 torque wrench could be adequate, but it can very well fail at an inopportune time. the internal spring can sag quickly, giving lower and lower readings until that one time you think youre torquing to 5Nm when it’s really 3Nm, you hit a bump and the bars slip, and all of a sudden your chest is resting on the stem and youre headed for a busy intersection. or the click is no longer audible, you dont notice it reaching its setting, and you happily crush your fancy carbon doodad. that all said, a $30 beam-type torque wrench from a reputable brand is darn reliable, and all youre really giving up with that is convenience. you have to be able to look at the gauge while turning the wrench, that’s all. that is often hard to do in some awkward reach under the hood of a car, but on a bike it’s usually no problem…
it really does blow my mind that bike mechanics are still paid so little in places. i have to believe the pay listed in this article is skewed by bike builders and other seasonal apprentice-type staff.
by the way, if youre one of the underpaid high quality mechanics, you think youre truly very, very good, and you dont mind moving, mention it here. i will get a hold of you somehow. :)

ve - 02/11/14 - 4:30am

@greg
“a “normal person” cannot spend twice the time and come out ahead. if you can truly do that, youre not a “normal person”, youre quite above average, i commend you.”

I’ve done the math. Shop time is expensive. I really don’t care how much the shop hand gets paid, but on the customer end you’re looking at rates of $60/hr+. I honestly don’t get why mechanics don’t see this when they write up the bill and ring people up. People are paying 4-6 times as much as the low wage you guys complain about. You can’t keep trying to bleed normal customers dry because your wage is too low unless your clientele is 99% dentists.

Median earnings is $35,160 (2012) for the nation. If that’s full time work, that’s $17 and hour. $4827 in just federal income taxes. That works out to more like $15 per hour. Not even including other state taxes. That means at a $60 shop rate, average joe has to work 4 hours at his job for 1 hour of work at the shop. A full day’s labor for a 2 hour tune-up. Are you telling me average joe is so mechanically incompetent that he couldn’t tune a bike in one full work day?

Compared to a $120 shop charge, plus $15 in wasted time taking the bike there, going home, going to the shop to pick up, and home again, that’s $135. Even if average joe spends $50 after taxes on a tool kit, he has $85 in time left to break even. That’s 5.7 hours. If he takes twice the time, and takes 4 hours, he comes out 1.7 hours ahead or $25 ahead. He could spend another hour or buy $20 more tools and still come out ahead. And I think 4 hours is reasonable for the first time and it gets much shorter after that.

If you’re 50%th percentile and barely mechancially competent you’re coming out way ahead. You have to be kidding yourself if you really think average joe can “afford” $60/hr after taxes which is way different than the $10/hr before taxes you see on your paycheck.

“you hit a bump and the bars slip, and all of a sudden your chest is resting on the stem and youre headed for a busy intersection.”
That doesn’t happen. They will slip, but not that catastrophically. Obviously the best to to test it is give the bars a good push to see if they’re tight. Even when tightened to spec, some stems are not as tight. And don’t try to use scare tactics. You’ve got lots of hack mechs that will do it wrong to. Paying someone is no guarantee that the work is done right or that they’ll take responsibility for any damaged. It is still better than mechanics who do everything by feel, and pretty much has nothing to do with anything that will show up in a normal tune up.

“just as you are underestimating what a good bike mechanic can do”
If you can do a tune up in much less than 2 hours, why do you charge 2 hours shop time? 2 hours is based on the charge.

” youre overestimating what a “normal person” is capable of.”
I’m really not. I think you are underestimating what a normal person can do. There are some helpless people that shouldn’t be touching tools, but they aren’t normal.

ve - 02/11/14 - 4:47am

I dare any bike mechanic to stare a non-dentist, average joe customer, in the eye, and tell them that one hour of your skills and your work are worth five hours of theirs.

Do it.

“You should pay more than the equivalent of 5 hours labor for me to do 1 hour of work”

Because normal customers are paying that much. Coming to the store and paying the tune up fee, that’s how much in work-hours they’re giving up for you to work on their bike. They aren’t paying you $10/hr. They’re paying $60/hr out of pocket. You might only be getting $10 of that $60, but stop one minute to think about how much they’re paying. You think about that for a minute before you decide customers are being too cheap and don’t pay you enough or that they should bring you free beer. You stop and take one minute to think “Is the service I’m providing really worth that much to the customer?” Do that before you wonder “Why am I not getting paid enough?”

Craig - 02/11/14 - 5:11am

The standard multiplier on labour is 2.5, meaning if you’re paying your mechanic $11/hour you should be billing out at $27.50/hour (that’s what the bike mechanic averages in the article works out to). The auto shop charging $75/hour is paying their mechanic $30/hour. The plumber that shows up at your house for $90/hour is getting paid $36/hour. Or thereabouts, on average. So if your bike shop is charging you $60/hour service rate, the mechanic should be getting paid $24/hour. 8 years ago when I had a shop I was paying my guys $18/hour. It’s embarrassing that shops pay less than that 8 years later. But that’s also why when you walk into a “pro” shop and show the guy behind the counter a road caliper brake mounting bolt they will respond with, “what’s that?” The cycling industry is, sadly, an embarrassment.

Dave - 02/11/14 - 6:11am

-ve.

I was wondering what you do for a living?

Oliver - 02/11/14 - 6:13am

Hi! You are aware that mechanics rarely set the hourly rate? I work in a BIG store and our hourly rate is £60, I get around £6.50 an hour. The hourly rate could go up and it could go down but it’ll make no difference to my pay at all. I’m a fully qualified, experienced mechanic and I’m good at what I do but the reality is even my boss considers mechanicing something anyone can ‘have a go at’ and we have some mechanics who I would not trust to open a tin can let alone service a bike – they get paid the same wage as is qualified, skilled mechanics. Not sure what my point is really except
That if you want to make a decent living as a bike mechanic, you cannot do it in a retail environment. Go solo, set up something niche, work at tesco.

EJP - 02/11/14 - 7:19am

It’s easy for VE to sit on his high horse and put down others. He has only a few bikes to maintain. My personal bikes are always in great shape because I have worked on them a a lot and know them well. It really is not rocket science and he does have some valid points about grumpy bike mechanics and shops. I can see he has been burned before. Notice though he hasn’t talked about the types of bikes he has or the components. Says a lot about a man what he rides. But the second you become pious, shallow and look poorly on someone’s profession because you “looked it up” on the internet them any point you make is no longer valid. I know customers that buy 8000 bikes and it’s all about service and managing customer expectations. If that fork needs to be serviced that often YOU NEED TO TELL THEM up front on the sales side. If a product is not working to their satisfaction call the manufacturer and don’t stop till you get a new one or a replacement. Most of the time we work on hybrids, kids bikes and treks from 1985 that are barely holding on by the welds. It’s hard work because of the workload demanded on us and random folks walking in the door. But it sure beats the hell out of 9-5 sitting on a computer all day runnin my mouth. So my question to you VE is what bikes do you have and what components are on them?

jason - 02/11/14 - 7:41am

VE, +1 to you brother. I love mountain biking and bikes, but bike mechanics are not essential for a society to thrive. Thanks for putting my thoughts into words. You hit the nail on the head.

Wrecchhhh - 02/11/14 - 8:01am

The kicker here is that most of ya’ll posting here about how you should just fix your own bike because mechanics are too expensive don’t know S##t and your bikes don’t work.

Ve your a d***. I’d tell any customer to his/her face that my labor is worth $60 an hour. Don’t devalue my trade because you’re a cheap bastard. I’ve put in my time at shops and in formal classes/education. I am more than competent at my job and that $60 an hour is still a bargain compared to almost any other trade. Eat it.

GPM - 02/11/14 - 8:11am

Just do what I do. Try to fix bike myself, break bike further, order part online, break that part trying to fix it again myself, go to LBS buy the part again and let them fix it. I support the entire industry every time my bike breaks.

Roadrash - 02/11/14 - 8:13am

The problem is a bicycle should not cost 8k, especially the carbon one that is crazy cheap for the bike company. I can buy a full motorcycle for 8k, a bicycle should never cost what a motorcycle does. Not saying a mechanic should not be paid a little more, but a bike should not cost these crazy over inflated prices.

Matt - 02/11/14 - 8:16am

“Why can’t we be friends..”

file - 02/11/14 - 8:26am

This article should be quoting median incomes, not average incomes. It may seem like a pointless nerdy distinction but it isn’t. Quick googling pulled up some somewhat recent stats: The “Median Income” for the the US in 2004 is $43,389 while the “Mean Income” is at $60,528 which is about 40% higher.

That %40 difference does not exist for bike mechanics is not that variable, meaning that difference might be just 5%. Yet for the rest of the workforce the average is skewed by business owners and other reaaaally high income people. Thus, comparing average income of just one profession against the average income of a wider group of people is completely misleading.

Thus, while I agree that bike mechanics do not earn much money, there are many other people that earn even less. Tip them all! (not just bike mechanics)

Mike - 02/11/14 - 8:35am

Interesting discussion. Part of the disconnect is where people place the skills of bike mechanics in society. Mechanics look at their experience as equating to value and feel they are at a similar level as say car mechanics, plumbers and electricians. Ok fine. These service professionals maintain state licensure and many complete 3-5 years of apprentice work. Many are also unionized. The professionals may laugh at us regulars who mess up a brake job and end up paying to have it done right, but the reality is that many of us regulars can fix their own pipes, wires and cars.

The reason mechanic wages are so low is because there are so many bike enthusiasts willing to work in the shop for $10/hr and/or fix it themselves at home. The shop owner doesn’t see their value because so many guys are willing to take their place.

So if bike mechanics want significantly higher wages I would recommend they lobby their legislature to put licensing requirements in place, organize aprecticeships and consider unionization. Oh and be ready for the weekend warriors to do their own repairs.

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