State of the Industry: What Bike Mechanics Make

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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  Donny Perry

Speaking of bikes hops, big thanks to my friend Mike at West Chester Cyclery for helping us recover these posts from internet oblivion! In case you’re wondering, when we lost the story the first time, it took the original comments with it. The following are all the comments that got deleted with the original story. We can’t add them back to the comment section, but we can paste them here. Feel free to continue the dialog in the new comment section.

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.

Comments

Zach Overholt - 02/11/14 - 12:03pm

@g, there are no comments because a back up plug in for the site glitched out and we lost everything in the past day and a half. We were able to recover the stories, but not the comments.

Dick - 02/11/14 - 12:08pm

As a full time, but seasonal mechanic, my thought is that most customers are too cheap to pay for quality work. I’m currently retired, on S.S. and I do it for love not money. Having said that, I fully understand the customer who hardly rides their bike, but $85 once every five years for a tune up is not spending much money on an annualized basis.

Dan - 02/11/14 - 12:16pm

Those salaries are really bad if you are talking about full time mechanics with at least a couple of years of experience. I would like to see where the original data came from and see if the wage report included part-timers, high school kids putting $300 bikes together after school or other less experienced mechanics. I wonder what the average salary is for a bike mechanic who has made it a career, with years of experience and can do all the highest skilled jobs such as frame alignment, suspension fork overhaul, disk brake setup etc. dan at love2pedal.com

Colin - 02/11/14 - 12:28pm

It certainly seems that people are unwilling to pay for the labor. I am constantly having customers respond that we are charging too much for our tunes and that they can’t afford our prices, but they are not the highest in the area, not by a long shot. When I get told that it’s “outrageous” how much it costs for us to mount a tubular, I think to myself “how much are your front teeth worth to you?”

Joel - 02/11/14 - 12:37pm

If anyone is unhappy with their pay – go do something else. No one is holding a gun to your head to stay at your current job. This country has a thing called “employment at will”.

Zach Overholt - 02/11/14 - 12:40pm

Thanks Dave, we must have been copy and pasting at the same time. I cut your comment short for brevity since the comments are now in the body of the post.

Jimmie - 02/11/14 - 12:47pm

As a mechanic of 20+ years, I will be the first to say that we have done this to ourselves. When a customer comes in, we offer tune ups, we sell tools, we sell books on how to fix your own bike, we teach the customer how to fix their own bike. Do you want to know what car mechanics don’t do? They don’t sell their customers books, tools and teach them how to work on their own cars. Chefs don’t send customer’s home with the recipe to their signature dish why should we?

The Guy - 02/11/14 - 12:50pm

(deleted)

Average Joe - 02/11/14 - 12:54pm

The market has spoken and this is what the job must be worth. There are a lot of other jobs as well with the same pay. How about a pre-school teacher?

The cost for a repair doesn’t scale with the price of the bike. A $10,000 bike has carbon everything. How much does the labor cost to recable it? the same as labor recabling a $1500 bike. How much does does the labor cost to swap the cassette? same story. What about installing a new carbon stem and carbon bar that cost $2000? the same as installing the cheap stem and bar that cost $49.95.

By the way, a mechanic may think their labor is worth $60/hour, but they are overvaluing their work. $60/hr is pretty close to $120,000/year. (assuming you had enough business to do a 40 hour work week) Does a mechanic really think they’re occupation is worth $120,000/year?

There is nothing unique about the bike mechanic as a career compared to other careers that don’t pay enough to live.

Shawn Moore - 02/11/14 - 1:07pm

This is an interesting discussion (except for the back and forth arguments, and outright attacks on other commenters). A step in the right direction is continuing education programs like Shimano’s S-TEC, which provides hours of online education and assessment and is beginning to provide certifications for mechanics that complete courses in different disciplines. I think this helps the customer (and shop owner) see the mechanic as a tradesman who strives to stay abreast of new technologies and techniques, while maintaining a strong depth of experience. It would be great for other companies to adopt this online education approach to encourage mechanics to be able to present themselves as professionals. I don’t know what effect that will have on salaries, but sometimes respect goes a long way (as evidenced by the numbers of professional mechanics taking offense at comments regarding working on your own bike).

drider - 02/11/14 - 1:10pm

I blame the LBS. They basically give the labor away just so they can make money off of over-priced consumables like tires.

falserider - 02/11/14 - 1:17pm

ve/jason,

Bicycle mechanics build wheels, service/rebuild/tune suspension, service and bleed all types of brakes (all have different bleed tools and methods), service bearings, cut/tap threads, face metal surfaces, install and tune 100′s of different components, do electrical work, do accurate bike fits, and then there is sales.

Most mechanics also have to do double duty learning multiple manufacturers models, sizing, and spec to be an adept salesman. Which can often time delay and distract from your other job, being a mechanic. Even if you are strictly a mechanic you still have to interact with the public more often than most other service industry jobs due to the retail nature.

When you consider that the average salary for an auto mechanic is 39000 and a car salesman is 53000 I could argue a bicycle mechanic should make 92000 a year. But that would be ridiculous.

Just consider that the skill set for a quality mechanic is as demanding as much higher paying jobs. And if pay would increase for mechanics the turnover rate would decrease, producing more experienced mechanics.

Chances are that, for every youngster hired wrenching, there is a much more qualified mechanic/manager/owner on the other side of that repair stand making sure everything is done right. And as that kid becomes an expert his pay should rise accordingly.

To argue that you can do work on bikes your self is pointless. Most people in the world have multiple skill sets. I know accountants who work on cars, doctors that repair windows, and bartenders that cut hair. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be auto mechanics, contractors and barbers just because other people can do a part of someone else’s job…

P.S.

You said it The Guy!

Nick - 02/11/14 - 1:20pm

I don’t want ve in my store, regardless of the dough he wants to throw at me.

I love my job, and I get paid well doing it. Sue me!

Seraph - 02/11/14 - 1:53pm

One thing that you armchair/home mechanics are missing is that if you choose to work on your own bike and you make a mistake, or your bike fails down the road as a result of something you did wrong then it’s entirely your fault. There is no insurance, no release of liability with home mechanics. When I’m on the clock and working on a customer’s bike, if I install a part and it later fails, it’s covered by the manufacturer’s warranty with no questions asked because I am a trained bike mechanic. If you take the time to read the warranties for various products, you will notice that a lot of them require that they be installed by a professional mechanic. For instance the most obvious one is a bike. If you order a bike online from a retailer (i.e. bikesdirect) and assemble it yourself, odds are that it will hold no warranty, or at least a very simple and short-term one. Which is largely why most major manufacturers don’t sell their bikes online. Part of the draw for them is that if you buy their bike in a retail store, you get their lifetime frame warranty. So do us a favor and please try to value our work a little more because we are professionals and our work is guaranteed.

cw - 02/11/14 - 1:59pm

ve- You repeatedly mention the 60/hr. x 2 as the price you pay for a tune up. I would be disgruntled if I had to pay $120 every time I brought my bike in to the shop too! Just out of curiosity, do you live in Orange County California or Greenwich Connecticut perhaps?

I wouldn’t be able to look my customers in the face and tell them their bikes required $120 worth of work every time they came in for service.

ParkFools - 02/11/14 - 1:59pm

Thank goodness ‘ve’ never uses bike shops, he/she sounds like a nightmare customer. We’ve all had to deal with the know-it-all who looks down on us but is just jealous that they also can’t afford to sacrifice a decent wage for enjoying their work.

I think its perhaps a more skilled job than ve gives credit for. I was a home mechanic and short of doing hydraulic disc brakes and sus forks (not an MTBer) I’d done it all at home. Doing it in a shop is worlds apart. You’ve got way more pressure and you have to work much much faster and if you get it wrong… well you can’t basically. Plus they keep changing stuff so you have to keep abreast of the latest developments (people will ask about it, even if they don’t own it).

I quit being a mechanic due to the low wages. I got to my mid 30s and decided I actually liked to be able to heat my house in the winter and not eat the cheapest food possible. I actually earn less now than I did but I’m retraining in a field that will pay better at some stage. Its not as much fun by a long shot though and I do miss my days spannering.

IMO it’ll get worse before/if it gets better. Business owners just don’t value that skill set when sales is more tangiable to them.

BTW at my peak I was on 2/3rds of the NATIONAL average despite living in one of the worlds most expensive cities (London). For my area my salary was 54% of the local average.

Champs - 02/11/14 - 2:08pm

ve isn’t wrong, per se.

So long as anyone can be a “mechanic” without certification or a full time schedule, those numbers aren’t going to change a whole bunch.

There needs to be a clear separation between commodity shop labor and skilled, professional mechanics. Customers wanting a “tune up” mean they just want brake and derailleur adjustments that are the equivalent of an oil change/fluids service visit. People don’t visit Jiffy Lube to ask about the weird noises their car makes, they go to a mechanic. Bikes shouldn’t work any differently. Many shops already do this to some extent, but could be more transparent about what you get at various service levels.

Bike shops also need to stop scaring customers away with that “you want it when LOL” attitude for tune ups. That’s an easy up-sell from what they really want or even need. Fix your service backlog!

Colin - 02/11/14 - 2:21pm

@champs, we can’t afford to “fix our backlog” there is no way to keep that many people on staff. Unlike the auto industry, ours is a seasonal one. If your auto shop had to hire back the half of it’s staff it layed off back in november just because it’s the first sunny saturday in spring, their backlogs would be 2 weeks + as well.

here’s a novel, bring your bike in for a tune in the dead of winter, keep a mechanic employed, you’ll be treated like a hero, get your bike back in a day, get awesome service, and probably get some free labor just because they have extra time.

dontpanic - 02/11/14 - 2:23pm

@ve – Thoroughly enjoyed your comments. You are pretty much 100% correct. I haven’t seen a single retort that holds water. Good on you for calmly addressing them all.

FWIW, the folks accusing ve of jerkishness are plain wrong. He/she hasn’t demeaned anybody’s profession or called anybody names. He/she has merely attempted to put the market’s actions into words. Ve, You’ll have to forgive them, they’re just lashing out. I think having it so clearly explained that their chosen profession has a fairly low ceiling has them a bit sore.

S - 02/11/14 - 2:28pm

Should people pay more for service because there bike is more expensive, NO.

I am not sure what the answer is but I don’t think it is the consumer’s responsibility to raise the pay of bike mechanics. I know the shop owner has to pay their expenses, I understand that, but it would be interesting to know what percentage of a repair bill goes into the mechanics pocket.

Also how much money goes in the shop owner’s pocket when they sell a $400 set of cranks? What is the breakdown in profit for all involved Manufacturer, Distributor, Shop? I think for shops to be healthier financially (employees included) the distribution of profit needs to tip in the shops favor.

The inflation in bike parts over the last 10 years has been kind of crazy compared to general inflation. During this period how has this increase been distributed?

Honestly who pays MSRP? The real question is how can all these brands better protect prices?

G-Man - 02/11/14 - 2:29pm

Microeconomics 101, people.

Bill - 02/11/14 - 2:34pm

There always seems to be two camps when this topic comes up, and a slide show does little to change that.

Camp 1 – I am a human being and I work hard and my work involves experience, and specialized skills so I should be paid accordingly.

Camp 2 – You are all overpaid, and inflating your abilities.

The problem is, there’s a third point of view here people keep missing. (though I think someone touched on it in the 50 odd posts of comments before):

The pool of people that value the skill enough are typically also interested in it enough to have taught themselves – via trial by error, or many of the available resources on the internet – how to do it themselves.

I think to myself often “this isn’t that hard, why the fuss?”, and then I think of the few people I ride with also in tech fields, and while many of them are quite literally scientists, perhaps they didn’t grow up working with tools, learning how not to strip bolts, when it’s appropriate to apply force in which direction.. those fine motor skills that don’t necessarily come with classic brain power. Or maybe the reverse, in some cases.

Point being that, it is hard for a lot of people, and many of my friends who are mechanics for a living happen to be in the top tier of “classic smart” as well as “good with things” smart. The question then becomes, why are they working a job that pays crap? Most of them truly love it, and those that don’t.. well, there’s always someone in line who does, and doesn’t need to make a living wage doing it.

This is a sad reality of the world we live in. I absolutely LOVE working on bikes. I make my own wheels, have made frames, and fix/upgrade most of my friends’ bikes for nothing. I am also the definition of a sellout. I know what I can make in software development, and I do that instead of what I’d love to do, which is hang out in a shop all day working on bikes, and educating people on how they can do a lot of this themselves.

As far as I’m concerned, if you want to count on this as a career, like many other careers, you’ve got to have something more to offer than your average Joe Mechanic. People that do this for a real living are race mechanics, work for component makers, etc, and that’s still likely barely scraping by because it’s one of the few stepping stones available to a shop mech. It’s just not a field that is in demand enough to justify more than the sad salaries it makes. Add to that the in general consumers want to be able to do this themselves, want to be able to adjust almost everything with a 4 and 5mm allen wrench, and don’t want to spend top dollar on top products just to move them around. Look at Campy! They have always been the definition of “you need special tools and experience to work on this”, and now where are they? The bottom of the big three, and likely on their way to falling behind MicroShift and FSA/Metron/whatever in the OEM world as well.

Remember also, people pay for something in the high end often because there’s an implication that it’s going to last a long time, and be relatively worry free. So don’t equate something being more expensive with “should cost more to maintain”, in fact many consumers – many of my friends – make decisions on parts based on “is this going to last”, not “is this the hottest thing out there”

Also like many fields, gone are the days when someone would spend 20 years hoarding knowledge and just “return something fixed” to a perplexed customer who is thinking they’ve paid too much. For every one of those people that are out there, there are two others who enjoy teaching others how to do things, and those people, people like me, will always enjoy the satisfaction of empowering others more than they feel an obligation to support an industry trying to survive on a model that doesn’t fit it’s product.

It’s the same in my field. Countless web sites are out there trying to teach people how to code, build things, do things for themselves. You either embrace that, and move to a model where training and public education is at your core, or you hold onto the old model, of being closed knowledge holders, and die.

One final note – can we please kill the “dentist” crap? Most dentists I know (and that work on my teeth) are incredibly skilled with fine motor movements – much more than myself. We have a group of people who are aside from surgeons some of the finest and most practiced at miniscule movements, understanding pressures, pieces fitting together, as well as having to have close to a medical degree in terms of understanding biology, pathology, etc., and the bike industry uses them as pariahs why? Because they have money, and choose to spend it? Someone who appreciates ultra-precision, and high quality of work, and you do nothing but make fun of them, while telling those that don’t appreciate it to appreciate it more?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The problem with the bike industry, is the bike industry.

Colin - 02/11/14 - 2:42pm

Ok, that’s it…

Who wants to start a national bike mechanics’ union? Lets all walk off the job for a higher paying profession and see how long people like G-Man, dontpanic, Jason and ve last with youtube

it really just comes down to respect for a fellow man. quit shitting on people who make the choice to work customer service jobs

The Guy - 02/11/14 - 2:47pm

@dontpanic: No. VE is not 100% correct. Maybe VE hasn’t come outright and called anyone names, but VE is definitely making a lot of assumptions and implying quite a lot towards LBS mechanics. We take offense to this.

VE could stand to be a little more thankful towards the service industry, it seems. I bet VE is the prick who tips like crap on a hefty bill – at his local Chili’s.

Now, I understand I am making assumptions, but since this guy seems to want to try and wear the daddy pants in the big boy room, I’m gonna come out and say, he needs a gigantic poon-kick, and cannot wear said daddy pants. VE’s argument is invalid.

In a nutshell – what I am trying to say, is VE loses all credibility by acting like a know-it-all-peen-head and being super disrespectful towards us mechanics – whether highly skilled or not.

(deleted)

Colin - 02/11/14 - 2:50pm

@The Guy, I need to find out who you are so I can buy you a half rack or something. Thank you for making me laugh.

alex - 02/11/14 - 2:51pm

Thank you, The Guy. I’m surprised his comment made it past the censors though.

Jason Spiker - 02/11/14 - 2:56pm

What if you’ve been racing since 1980 and you have worked as a mechanic yourself? Where does that opinion fit in? This is honestly a load of bullshit coming from the mechanic side in these comments. Are you gonna cunt punt me the guy? I doubt it, really doubt it. I bet you were’nt even in diapers yet when I was racing BMX on tracks that are long long gone.Anyone can learn this stuff, it’s just a simple fact. Whether it’s wheel building via one of two or three great books out there, or facing a bb shell, it’s not rocket science guys, sorry. Just like with anything else, trial and error experience is the best teacher. If you’ve been doing the work yourself for at least a few years and fork out for the best tools, care for the tools, consistently maintain the bikes, build and repair your own wheels, service your own bearings, etc. then you can do it all yourself, period.

dontpanic - 02/11/14 - 3:00pm

@Colin – Wouldn’t make a bit of difference to me. I think that’s the point.

There’s also no lack of respect here. At least not on my part.

The Guy - 02/11/14 - 3:06pm

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jason. Take a ‘chill pill’. Y’all were saying that back in 1980, right?

You have NO CLUE how old I am. I might very well cunt-punt you for acting like the washed-up QB jock still going to the high school parties.

As to your ‘argument’, you actually make a good point. Sure, guys like you can totally do this yourself. Are you one of the lucky people who have a super nice workstand, wheel truing stand, all the tools, presses, etc, and whatnot to do your own thing? Sure. GREAT.

But are you going to LBS’s and spewing your angry vitriolic BS like our great friend VE? Doubt it. You seem like a good ol’ BMX-racin’ guy.

Sometimes it is rocket science. I doubt VE has ever pulled a siezed carbon seatpost out of a titanium frame without scratching either of the two. Doubt VE has ever extracted a stuck BB either. Doubt VE could do some equations to figure out the correct chainline on a bike. WAIT. Maybe VE could SINCE HE’S SO GOOD AT MATH.

By the way. Trial and error only goes so far, or until you run out of money. Sometimes it’s best to take your bike to someone like me, Alex, or Colin to get the job done right – the first time – for a nominal fee.

Good day to you sir.

G-Man - 02/11/14 - 3:10pm

Anyone spewing violent hatred loses respect amongst rational humans on this site. What shop do you work for, The Guy?

Ranting and raving doesn’t form an argument against the basic point: well established market forces keep wages down in the industry and especially in shop labor.

I’ve been a wrench, worked on the supply side of the industry, and finally left for better pay. Strike away, and power to you. A licensing or certification requirement would add an outside force to raise wages, it would also force up prices and reduce the number of customers in the market. That may or may not help overall.

Haters can hate, but we’re all participants in a free market. If you’re not considering the supply & demand component you’re misunderstanding the basic context for all the emploer & consumer behaviors described.

dontpanic - 02/11/14 - 3:19pm

@The guy – you’ll love this. I found multiple youtube videos for all the sh!t you equated with rocket science. None of them were more than 5 minutes long. Tried to find something on launching satellites into low-Earth orbit, but..no dice. That’s OK though cuz I’m willing to pay for that.

The Guy - 02/11/14 - 3:25pm

@dontpanic… what is a YouTube?

Good for you. Glad you found videos. Now. Go forth and execute, perfectly.

Spencer - 02/11/14 - 3:27pm

Consider a subsidy that all bike and component manufacturers must pay if they want a shop to carry their stuff. It could be a fixed percent based on amount of product carried, or overall worth of the total product carried, or whatever. It would go to the mechanics and help pay their salary. Happier mechanics = happier customers.

dontpanic - 02/11/14 - 3:28pm

@The Guy – Just for you, I’m going to have the 8 year old across the street do it instead. Perfectly.

ht - 02/11/14 - 3:29pm

@The Guy,

I bet that kind of p**n-kick attitude is why @ve doesn’t want to support his local lbs.

Rather than assuming things about him and telling him how wrong he is, maybe you should try to work him with and see how you can make him happy. The bike industry, is as you say, a service industry, where customers are/used to be, king. Making customers happy is how you stay in business, and maybe one day, get paid more through repeat business.

I don’t have a problem with paying my mechanic for things I can’t do (like building wheels, servicing forks, removing seized things like you mentioned). I do have a problem with paying for sub par work, while I’m getting talked down to and getting laughed and p**n-kicked out the door. I also have a problem with getting GREAT WORK, while still getting talked down to and getting laughed and p**n-kicked out the door.

There are some good guys out there who I’d gladly pay for the convenience of not getting grease under my fingernails, but for 90% of bike chores, I’d rather save myself the frustration of being unhappy after swiping my card at the store.

@The Guy, you’re probably good at your job, otherwise you wouldn’t be getting so wound up, but what you do is in fact not rocket science. Most people can learn 90% of what you can do with some elbow grease, trial and error, and by not being dumb, for the cost of a few bike tune ups. And most people will probably get somewhat good at it if they keep working on their own bikes subsequently. For the remaining 10% it’s up to you to make the customer feel good about paying you and you should unionize

Aaron - 02/11/14 - 3:37pm

I think the going rate for a general tune up could possibly be too high for the average consumer, simple adjustments of brakes and gears are not that difficult, problem solving and more complex jobs however, require a more in depth knowledge that will come from working on bikes for a long time.

The consistency of bike mechanics is a problem, staff do need training too ensure a high quality of service, a mechanic needs to be well trained which takes time and will cost a shop owner money. A GOOD bike mechanic I think represents good value.

In any labour based business a company will charge more than twice the employees hourly rate. If the customer earns a daily rate the same as a service their employer will charge much more than they get paid as well.

People will pay more for a GOOD job, I think there needs to be some differentiation between a quick check through and a proper in depth service.

Yoseph - 02/11/14 - 3:41pm

I’ve always personally been weirded out when mechanics aren’t allowed to accept cash and/or weed tips. All mechanics should have huge, artistically decorated tip jars from now on, making it obvious that all bike mechanics enjoy receiving good tips. I hated working in a bicycle shop for the (2 weeks I lasted) at $10 an hour w/o tips. It’s way too much info (bullshit knowledge) that has to be stored up in ones brain to get the work done efficiently, and that deserves a raise! …or at least some good tips, dammit!

Pete - 02/11/14 - 3:47pm

@ve and @dontpanic

Just because “markets dictate pay” doesn’t make it right. Look at women’s pay gap. They are doing the same job and getting paid less (77¢ less) because of discrimination. By your “logic” if you do the same job, then you should be paid the same whether you’re a man or woman… and that’s just not the case.

justin - 02/11/14 - 3:50pm

Sucks that VE’s comments from last night are missing. This whole comment thread reminds me of arguing with my girlfriend – one of us argues with logic, the other with emotion.

goridebikes - 02/11/14 - 3:50pm

Just because there is a 5 minute video on youtube, or a 2 page article with 3 pictures on ParkTool does not make it easy. Nor does it make it not worth a living wage.

VE and many others are arguing the basis of what a shop charges ($60/hr) to a customer, when the article is about WHAT A MECHANIC ACTUALLY GETS PAID.
Which is NOT NOT NOT $60/hr.

Please, if you are going to argue, understand at least the basis of the statement which you are disputing.
Mechanics are underpaid. They are.
So are gardeners, janitors, etc.

We all do jobs that either others do not want to do, or cannot do.

Trust me, VE, and all the other “do-it-yourselfers” – there are tools you don’t have or can’t afford, and things that you think you are doing correctly that you aren’t.

For every 10 terrible mechanics there is 1 good one who deserves his pay. And if you refuse to pay the shop’s rate, how can they afford to keep the good one and fire the bad ones?

Again, the DIY customers get 50% right, and another 50% WAY wrong… Just because you knew how to fix bikes and glue tubies in the 60s doesn’t mean shit about today. Every year things change and there’s some major difference that makes last year’s know-how obsolete.

G-Man - 02/11/14 - 4:18pm

Wage discrimination on the basis of gender is unfair. Discrimination on the basis of job type is not (gardener vs janitor vs mechanic). The market has valued the average shop wage at $10 or so – by definition that’s then what you are worth. If you can perform a service that the market values higher and you can charge more than that then you should do so. Maybe convince your shop to have a two tiered rate – one for basic grunt work like changing cables, one for a master mechanic’s time that does more specialized, higher value work. Business isn’t rocket science either.

Marek - 02/11/14 - 4:20pm

Hi,
Im working as a pro mechanic in bike shop and for some racers for a while, so I think I have some valid points.
@dontpanic – of course you can do most of the bike maintenance at home, but it just wont be as good as pro mechanic would do it. Yeah, you can change bearings in your hubs just with hammer and screwdriver, but it is much better to use Bearing Press & Extraction Tool which I guess you dont have, or Professional Wheel Truing Stand with Spoke Tensiometer or Bottom Bracket Tapping & Facing tool or Nitrogen pump for Shocks etc.
So I guess if the OK job is enough for you, or you want to spend tens of thousands of dollars for proper tools, you dont need bicycle mechanics, but many people wont their bike to be in perfect shape.
BTW: I dont know how it works in United States but in Europe you cant buy most of spare parts, and also you will lose your warranty.

Pete - 02/11/14 - 4:22pm

@G-Man

Good point

Russell - 02/11/14 - 4:40pm

@ve sounds just like the customer every bike mechanic wants to kick right in the f’ing junk.

MikeC - 02/11/14 - 4:49pm

There will always be business for bike mechanics. Maybe not high-paying work, but there will always be demand. While some people — especially those who are bike-nerd enough to stay current on BikeRumor — can do their own work, many don’t. I bet those who think nothing of a complete tear down overhaul of their bike would really be astounded to find out how many customers come in to a shop to have a flat tire fixed.

And learning how to do work on your own bike is one thing; learning how to work on every or certainly most bikes is another. You don’t have the tools to do everything on every bike; if you do, you have wasted vast amounts of money as a home mechanic.

As a home mechanic, I went to a shop to have stuff like BBs faced/chased and headtubes installed because, for the amount of times I needed to have that stuff done, it would be decades before tool investment for such services paid off, if at all. I could do it myself, but it just wasn’t worth it.

The biggest surprise about becoming a shop mechanic was finding out how much I did not know. I think that would surprise most, but especially those who denigrate shop mechanics as a profession.

Whomp Whomp - 02/11/14 - 4:51pm

ITT everyone is a math & economics professor, and no one gets along.

Ben - 02/11/14 - 5:12pm

Wow.

At first I was just a little depressed by the slideshow, and how it perfectly lays out the information that I knew to be true and felt personally throughout the bulk of my 20 years as a mechanic. Something that anyone who knows me will agree that I worked VERY hard at and took great pride in. I still do.

Now after reading the comments, both previous and current, I feel like I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Forget the pay scale, what sucks is feeling COMPLETELY devalued by the public.

I also started out being absolutely dumbfounded by ve’s logic, but now I just wonder how much that person made during the period of time that they wrote all those comments at their job. I guess we’ve all got to make a living somehow…

Smokestack - 02/11/14 - 5:15pm

$60/hr covers a lot of things. Look at your bill from your fav auto mech the next time you get the car back from em. You have hourly rate, materials cost, and miscellaneous charges for disposal and what nots. In each case, that hourly covers wages, lights, insurance, material costs, and yes (ideally) profits too. If you don’t want to spend the coin, don’t. But that don’t also means don’t ask for advice, don’t ask for help, don’t ask for price matching, don’t ask for warranty assistance. Just don’t do anything through the shop. I know my background, I know my skill sets, and I charge accordingly. Best? People pay because there are only a few that can do what I can in my area, because I invested in training and in tools. I don’t work for beer. I work to earn a living. Maybe a good bottle of Irish or Scotch gets you a bit off, but don’t think I don’t know the difference.
If you don’t need my skill sets, good on ya and god speed. If you find yourself at a loss or forgot which order the internals for your Alfine came out, I will charge you that $60/hr and not wince. If you need the damper for your fork or shock tuned, I will charge you that $60/hr because I can do it. Di need resetting? Far out, I have the unit for that. Don’t quite know how to get that seized BB out of the frame without jacking the frame up? Guess who does? Good on ya for having some basic skills. Serious. A bike can be silly simple to work on. Enjoyable too. But as soon as you get over your head, I will lock eyes with you and say yep, $60/hr. If you balk, you can walk and try to find someone else who’ll do it cheaper and actually be able to. I know the other two guys here who can. And we don’t play that way.

dontpanic - 02/11/14 - 5:27pm

@Pete –

This is irrelevant to the discussion, and I’m sure The Guy will make an empty threat to kick me in the taint for it, but it bears saying anyway. Women aren’t getting paid “77 cents less” than men for doing the same job. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, they’re making 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

That said, are you trying to say that the existence of gender pay inequality invalidates the concept of market-driven compensation? Sounds like the Chewbacca defense.

@goridebikes –

“Just because there is a 5 minute video on youtube, or a 2 page article with 3 pictures on ParkTool does not make it easy. Nor does it make it not worth a living wage.” It sure doesn’t help grow your customer base. Which is kinda what you need to make a living wage.

“there are tools you don’t have or can’t afford”
There aren’t any bike tools I can’t afford. I have a job that people are willing to pay for. Unless you geniuses are laying up your own carbon nowadays. My wife would probably get p!ssed if I ordered that sh!t on Amazon. Sorry, that was mean. I have a very supportive wife.

“and things that you think you are doing correctly that you aren’t”
Almost certainly true, but nothing life-threatening. See, I can admit that despite the fact that I’ve been doing it for 30 years. It’s a hobby, you see. And generally speaking, if you can call something a hobby, there are precious few people on the planet who can make a living wage doing it.

“DIY customers get 50% right and another 50% WAY wrong”? It’s that black and white, huh?

“For every 10 terrible mechanics there is 1 good one who deserves his pay.” OK, all good mechanics please take 1 step forward. All bad mechanics please take 1 step backwards. I want to see if this is true.

“Every year things change and there’s some major difference that makes last year’s know-how obsolete.” So what? It’s different so you should make an a$$load of money to maintain it?

jason - 02/11/14 - 5:30pm

I worked for many more as a bicycle mechanic, I think maybe the model we need to adopt is that of tattoo artists where service preformed by jr. tattoo artist (jr tech) is one rate and work preformed by senior artist (tech) is charged at a higher rate.

That way joe blow can get his 92 huffy fixed at a reasonable price and the local semi pro can get quality work at a price that reflects the amount of work that goes into high end bikes.

Bill - 02/11/14 - 5:48pm

Another thought, with the comparison to auto mechanics floating around… How many people take their car into a dealer for service? Is it not the most expensive place (unless under warranty) one can get a car repaired at, typically?

This is a huge problem with the whole LBS model. You’re trying to combine repair, sales, and accessory sales into one place, and that’s the expectation when a consumer walks in.

The more “professional” a shop looks, high end flooring, fancy fitting equipment, high end names on the bikes, the lower their margins MUST be on sales, all things being equal. Which is why they’re often straight MSRP shops, and have through the roof service prices. Those service prices (which pay the mechanics just as poorly) are subsidizing the rest of that sales experience. At best they attract the triathlon crowd, which mindbogglingly seems to immediate connect that experience to quality. As worst they put off even the fix-a-flat crowd, but at most common, they just go out of business in a few years and blame the internet.

The funny thing is, any place trying to break that model gets flamed for doing so:

A mechanic-based repair only shop? “I can’t take my Cervelo there, they don’t know Cervelo.”

A bike only shop? “But I have to have my Cervelo warranty recall done at my purchased shop”

Clothing/Accessories only shop? Well that rarely works in any retail space, but it works quite well on the internet.. “You’re killing the LBS if you buy from there”

What’s the solution? I have no idea. Maybe if we’re going to stick to the “full service with everything” model, it needs to be more like the actual car dealership in the analogy – and be one brand, one licensed service center, like a big flagship Trek store, or specialized store. If I’m not mistaken, in the auto mechanic world, those guys who work at the dealership receive more model specific training and get paid in general better than the guy at the local mom and pop repair-anything auto shop.

As long as the shop is competing with itself internally – be it tools vs. mechanics/brand x vs brand y, it’s cutting it’s own margins somewhere. It’s unfortunate, but is there really an alternative? The argument when I’ve tried to discuss it in the past always seem to circle back to someone angrily saying “Then they shouldn’t be in business!” and then even that lower wage mechanic job is gone.

bikejedi - 02/11/14 - 5:59pm

after reading alot of the comments, its obvious that there are some real mechanics and there are the idiot do-it-yourselfers that think a couple tools and youtube videos is all you need to service your ride. Ive been a bike mechanic for 12 years now and have seen the quality and the hacks. unfortunately, yes, most shop mechanics are catalogue mechanics or hacks these days. The problem here is that the bicycle industry has no recognized certification or union similar to the auto industry. To use an anology: a highly skilled bicycle mechanic has to know how to service EVERY MAKE, MODEL, and COMPONENT from EVERY YEAR…it would be like a car mechanic that knows how to service every make and model from every year of car thats ever been manufactured. Thats what a real mechanic brings to the table. To say you can duplicate that type of knowledge and experience with a couple videos is f..ing stupid. Bike shop owners are under this illusion that a bike mechanic is a fixture of a shop like shelving or lighting or something. Some shops can make a viable go of it with a couple hacks, some catalogues, and deep pockets…so they charge you $60 for a tune up and give the mechanic like $15…sure there is slight wear on tools as well as use of facilities but to make a $40 profit off of a skilled mechanics back is as wrong as the guy that thinks anybody can fix a bike. The problem is the disparity between shop owner and mechanic, they can only charge big $ for labour when a good mechanic does the work, so its the mechanics skill that allows the shop owner to charge whatever for labour but we are only paid a fraction of what the shop charges-its greedy shop owners that see the mechanic as a commodity that they are continually trying to decrease overhead and increase profit. I love bikes and they have always and will always be a part of my life, but when your good at something, why do it for cheap. If you bought a ferrari, and your not a trained ferrari mechanic, would you not take your dream machine to someone that has the knowledge and experience to service something so hi end and specialized…I sure would. For those that dont know and instead call out us mechanics that have been in the trenches putting up with cheap, pissy know it all customers like you, i hate to break it to you, but most bicycles and components are not standardized, so having a wide array of knowledge and experience is the ONLY way that your piece of shit is going to be back on the road. There are pros and cons in any industry, but this is the only industry in my mind that is continually held up by skill, craftsmanship, knowledge and experience and constantly devalued by retail owners and end users that see the bike as just a bike and your just a bike mechanic, how hard can it be. The other thing that occurs in the industry is that some longtime mechanics make the transition to frame builder-designer…but how hard can it be…its just a bike
A couple of bike mechanics invented the airplane…how hard can it be
Without quality, experienced bike mechanics, shops are just importers and exporters. Do I think mechanics are paid enough…absolutely not. The only way to change that is for us mechanics to form a union similar to that of the automotive industries. Then shop owners will have to pay to play…I doubt that the result would be higher labour rates to the customer…most likely shop owners wont make as much money off us, but it would allow the skilled mechanic to stay in the shop as opposed to taking the knowledge and experience with them when they leave to go elsewhere to make a viable living

Anonymous - 02/11/14 - 6:04pm

@ev

It’s not what you make that determines whether it is worth it to have a mechanic do the work for you. You have grossly mistaken what someone makes, for what they value their leisure time for.

Additionally, it is a bit rude to say that we (yes I am a professional mechanic) all are not worth what we make. Sure every industry has its poor employees. Everyone encounters someone in an industry that is a poor worker. Don’t group me or others you do not know into a general term for the industry.

I personally make roughly 60k depending on the year, but I am a professional and spend a ton of time personally educating my customers on and off the clock. During the summer I work around 80 hours a week even though I get paid a salary based on 40; because I know it is what makes my service better than anyone else’s. I prefer to get every detail of what the customer wants, and then work on it after we close so I am 100% uninterrupted. I have been to numerous professional certification courses and study every new component that comes out. I do whatever it takes to make every bike I work on absolute perfection because that is what brings the word of mouth referrals I love. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, there would be hundreds of cyclists crying in my area.

What I am trying to say is, don’t group me and my fellow professionals into a group based on your poor experiences. I do not know who you are, what you do, or how good you do it so I will not say what you are worth. But I am worth 100% of what I am paid, and you are extremely ignorant to group me into someone who you had a bad experience with!

Sure you can read park tool books and the late Sheldon Brown’s material, but every industry has their books and Sheldon Browns… Did you build your house? Bake your bread? Get your own chickens to lay your eggs? Drill your well? Build your car?

I could build my house for a lot less than what hiring the labor would cost. And if you follow building code it literally spells out how to build a house, but I bet you didn’t build your house?

chasejj - 02/11/14 - 6:25pm

Well….I have no doubt my comments will be immediately censored as always.

But VE has point and it is curious why he would waste so much valuable time with this nonsense.

I was a shop mechanic while in Engineering school. Awesome job and I loved it for the Pro-deals and discounts. Pay was secondary and I always considered it to be a fun stepping stone to a real career.
The ones who stayed just got bitter and sad. It is like airline flight attendants. It is not intended to be a career, it is a fun job while you have the freedom from responsibility and youth.
You are supposed to leave for a real job. The problem is all the pseudo slackers and hopeless adolescents who pretend this is a carreer. Newsflash, only the owner of the store has a real career.

Kanadian - 02/11/14 - 6:25pm

I’ve been a bike mechanic for 20 years this April. I’ve never left the workshop, and have no plans of leaving at 34 years of age. I get paid £29000 per year. To fix bikes. Ive worked for 6 great bike shops in the uk and canada. I’m very experienced. I work on shat bikes and £15000 bikes. It balances my problem solving you’ll never get good working on just shit, and you’ll never get good working on the honey. But most of all I’m professional. Your only as good as your last job. When you start compromising its time to move on and move up, not out.

JP - 02/11/14 - 6:26pm

Many people have the mechanical ability to repair the mechanisms we all use everyday. However, many more of us would rather spend our personal time doing other things. Such as family time, date night, public service and hanging out with friends. How much is that time worth to you? The average repair at our shop runs in the $35-$45 range. Our customers are more than happy to pay a certified mechanic to get it done right. What’s the problem with paying service industry workers a livable wage. A healthy middle class creates a healthy economy. To all the haters, try telling you ego to shut up and look at people with open eyes and heart.

Colombus - 02/11/14 - 6:43pm

@Ve; you are one of those people who knows the cost of everything, and the value of nothing.
On your maths alone, I assume you cut your own hair.

ve - 02/11/14 - 7:01pm

@chasejj

I took offense that the numbers were grossly misused in order to manipulate people.

I took offense that being a bike mechanic is more deserving than the other occupations it was compared to.

I took offense that it was implied that this was somehow the customer’s fault for being too cheap when shop time is already very expensive on the customer side of things.

The Guy - 02/11/14 - 7:04pm

Hey chasejj… Why would your comment be censored? You’re about as offensive as a pair of Docker’s khaki shorts.

VE does indeed have points – but they’re terrible points. Pretty much everything this ass-hat has written on BR (not specifically even this thread here) is all generalizations and mindless ‘mathematics’, with a gigantic disdain for the service industry – and VE does not seem to care for or respect anyone in the service industry. VE is capable of all things and everyone should praise him for it.

Got a kidney stone? PSsssshH! Doctors? VE don’t need no stinking doctor. Never mind going to your local doc. VE has some ‘standard tools’ he can get that out with. And he can also rebuild your Super Record shifter while he’s at it!

OH MAN! I need to find an Eames chair for my new office. Don’t hire a local designer or buy one from a local furniture shop… THANK GOD I KNOW VE because he can effing MAKE ONE!

While I’m at it, it must be mentioned: No girl’s panties ever dropped from a guy talking about ‘what a great deal he got’ on some product. Here’s the real news flash everyone – Don’t be an asshole. Tip your mechanics. Tip your servers. Open the door for a lady. Buy someone lunch. Buy a round of beers at the bar.

chasejj – where are you basing your assumptions off of? Small Town USA? NEWSFLASH HOMEBOY – it can be a career. A very rewarding career. I’ve been working in the industry a LONG time. I’ll spare you the details of losing my virginity in a bike shop, and fast forward to now where my back makes noises when I sit down – I know a lot of capable mechanics all across the US who make a good living. Some don’t. Some have two jobs! I had three jobs when I was in college. I know lots of store managers of IBDs who do pretty damn well for themselves. I know mechanics who have become service managers and parts buyers… and the list goes on and on!

So you see, my dear chasejj… It is not like being a flight attendant (except for the bathroom sex, that sh*t totally goes down). It can be a career.

Who says your career can’t be fun? Or free from responsibility and youth?

Dude. You make bike shop employees out to be these fun-loving jackasses who are hopeless adolescents who bounce off the walls, steal your money, all without responsibility and freedom from youth. I bet you’re a real ‘kick in the pants’ when you’re out on the town! I bet you’re a whole lot of fun in the sack, too. “Missionary, AGAIN? YES!”

Did you work in your college shop for an afternoon? Did you learn nothing? A great deal of responsibility is involved in working at a bike shop. ESPECIALLY when you’re a mechanic.

Look. All I am trying to get across is that people need to shop locally, more often, and when possible, buy stuff from your local bike shop! When you need work done, splurge on the nicer stuff at the bike shop. Tip the guy/gal who does your work. Get them a Christmas card and some cookies. Buy the shop pizza. WE LOVES THIS SH*T. We do. It makes us warm and fuzzy.

It makes being underpaid and under-thanked a little more palatable.

bikejedi - 02/11/14 - 7:18pm

To respond to all the bull from that ve chump…if you came to me with your sh*t rig and your degrading attitude…guess what, your fixing your own bike…Is my time worth more than yours…yes, yes it is. You see, what happens among seasoned mechanics is that we can refuse to give you service or charge you double or shuffle you along to another shop because your such an insulting a-hole. This, i suspect, is what happened to you. I dont think any mechanic expects to have their ass kissed to work on your bike, but common courtesy and respect can go a long way. Treating any skilled labourer or craftsman like a peice of crap and at the same time expecting only the highest quality work from them is only insuring that your not going to get good quality anything…treat others the way you want to be treated. Just because your paying what you deem to be high rates doesnt entitle you to treat people like doormats or slam an industry that you obviously have no real knowledge of. Im a mechanic, i make pretty good money, and over the years ive put thousands of smiles on thousands of faces…can your f…ing gardener or plumber or even you (ve) make that claim…but your not the problem…its all of us thats the problem…good luck fixing your broke-ass sh*t rig and be prepared to pay through the nose when you go to a shop with that attitude.
Sorry for the anger folks, but this guy needs a reality check, a kick in the junk and a bus pass

Pete - 02/11/14 - 7:20pm

@ve

I just take offense that you think that other occupations are more deserving than others. Viewing yourself as better than another is the ultimate sign of douche.

Loser - 02/11/14 - 7:43pm

@chasejj

Who are you yo decide what a career is? You are one of a million cookie cutter know it all engineers who’s twerp ass worked at a bike shop while thinking you were better than everyone else. You’re not cool. Go engineer a life

Jordan Buzzy - 02/11/14 - 7:51pm

I’m also in support of a bicycle mechanics union however I’ve read a few articles discussing the reasons it hasn’t happened. The number 1 reason is bike shops are generally pretty small operations. How many of you work along side the shop owner? The traditional union model is a worker vs. management scenario and I feel as though thats just not representative of most shops. Not that mechanics don’t wish that their bosses would show them a little more respect.

There are alternatives to this. One being worker owned and operated shops. This is becoming popular in many small craft businesses such as coffee shops and breweries. (New Holland Brewery, Paramount Coffee makers of Joe Coffee, just coffee co-op). There are also alternative unions from the standard AFL-CIO unions that may be sympathetic. The Industrial Workers of the World, one of the oldest active unions, represents both Jimmy John workers and Starbucks workers. At this time it is even free to become an I.W.W. Starbucks member.

It is also important to remember that your job is legally protected in the United States if you are trying to unionize.

Shanghaied - 02/11/14 - 7:55pm

Seriously The Guy, you can stop insulting people’s manhood left and right now, we get it, you are a real manly man who has lots of bike shop bathroom sex, the rest of us are all little girls with pigtails on pink tricycles. You say you are an old man, so can you stop behaving like a 17 year old and talk like an adult?

Anyway, I wonder if all this has something to do with the fact that for a lot of people working in the shop combines their hobby with their work. I’ve certainly heard from more than one art school graduate that lots of artists are willing to 70 hr/week at animation studios and game companies for salaries that would shock people in customer service (and not in a good way). But they put up with that crap because they love doing it. I know what I’d pick if I had to choose between low pay janitorial work and low pay bike shop work. I think that the pay would actually go up if everyone just forget about their passion for one second, and actually demanded a fair wage. It would help too if there aren’t young guys lining up outside to do the work for shit pay because they love riding.

Funny that people should mention cars though, because car dealer margins are actually squeezed pretty hard by the pricing from the car companies. It wasn’t that long ago that we all read on BR about how bike companies can be absolute assholes to their dealers. Funny that someone from Specialized would make that slideshow, because I’d imagine they are not the most pleasant people to their dealers. If they actually cared enough to make sure that their dealers made decent profit, in the end that would help the shop employees too.

john - 02/11/14 - 8:52pm

So here is a question; what do many of the bike mechanics, cyclists and web commenters I have necounter

B Bowen - 02/11/14 - 8:58pm

I’ve been a mechanic for over 25 years and have worked in the same shop for 13 years. I cannot think of a single time where I didn’t want to go to work. I work in a bike shop because I have a passion for cycling.

onewheelparade - 02/11/14 - 9:06pm

So, the labor charged is the only source of revenue that the mechanic will take a cut from?
To keep this poignant, there are certainly some services for which the going rate of is much less than their actual worth, but it’s hard to charge more for maintenance related labor.

Most bike shops provide things besides service (IE: selling bicycles) which contributes the bulk of the mechanic’s income.

Katie - 02/11/14 - 9:35pm

Okay friends, both sides have points here.
I’m a mechanic. I have a degree in Exercise Science, so I also do the fitting at my shop. I’m a salesperson, group-ride-leader, and teacher of skills, in both wrenching and riding. I make CONSIDERABLY less than that median wage. I also run a pretty tight ship and absolutely realized the value of quality work. I don’t think this is an argument of who works harder than whom, or whether it’s a skill anyone can learn. Any job is a skill anyone can learn. But does everyone want to take the time to learn how to do everything themselves? There is a demand for this occupation. I don’t know how many bikes I’ve fixed that started out, “I tried to do it myself…” You cannot compare what you pay for a shop to do your work to the average Joe trying to do it themselves.
Also, if you go get your car fixed and they botch the job, you don’t go back to that same mechanic again, but do you trash-talk all car mechanics and tell everyone they need to replace their head gasket themselves?
This is a cutthroat industry and I agree there are hack. Not at my shop. I don’t allow it. Don’t support a crappy mechanic, BUT because there is a demand for the occupation, and people working hard at an in-demand job deserve to make at least a livable wage.

Pynchonite - 02/11/14 - 9:40pm

@ben. Yeah, I’m with you on this: what is truly astonishing about this is how little-valued mechanics are.

@chasejj. Jesus, that’s one of the most callous and fallacious comments I’ve seen yet. Just because you used the job to get discounts and such doesn’t mean that it isn’t in fact someone’s livelihood, it just means that you’re privileged enough to pursue a better-paying job. Replace “bike mechanic” with “roofer” or “fast food worker”: everyone deserves to make a living if they’re able. Your argument is paternalistic, callous, and relies on a false generalization.

@ve. And so what? Anyone can fly a plane with enough teaching. They’re glorified bus drivers. Iknow because I’ve been both. Just because the possibility exists that someone can do x doesn’t mean that they will or should. Most of the people who walk into the shop are mentally and physically capable of doing absolutely everything I do: so what? They haven’t put in the time to learn, don’t have the money to buy the tools, and generally recognize that it takes experience to do something right the first time and they need a mechanic. Just because an amateur can put in the years it takes to get good at what I do doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve to make a living wage. The fact that you can hole up in your workshop caressing your headset press has no bearing whatsoever on either the need for skilled mechanics or the fact that the low pay of full time mechanics is an economic injustice, plain and simple.

Matt - 02/11/14 - 9:56pm

@ve

I am not one to comment like this but I have to post a response to your comments. For starters. The slideshow in no way is blaming the customer. The last question is actually saying it is possibly the SHOP’S fault. Now I understand your argument. You can do most if not all of the work. You very well might be a good mechanic. But can you honestly say that you will do it better than a mechanic who went to specialized schooling? I have been a full time mechanic for quite a while now and can honestly say I LOVE what I do. And I have lots of customers who at one point in time did their own work. Now they are customers of mine. Many of them make right around that average $40k a year. And now that they have ridden a bike properly setup, they pay us to do the work. You might not have had a good experience at a bike shop. But this gives you no reason to talk down to the ones who work extremely hard to make a living doing what we love and helping the people who also love cycling. I don’t care to argue with you online. It is a waste of time. All I do is ask you to refrain from talking so negatively about us who work so freaking hard to make our own living.

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

I’m going to chime in because I have some…. frustration… with a lot of local bike shops.

First, I want the local shop to succeed as I’m theoretically pro small business. However, in reality, I’ve almost given up on my LBS.

My worst experience was when I had a local shop install a brand new Fox Vanilla fork that I had pre-ordered when they first came out about 10 years ago. The mechanic somehow measured the steerer tube w/o including the length for the stem and then cut down the tube so short that it completely wrecked the fork because it wouldn’t fit on my bike, and since the fork was so new they couldn’t even get me a new one for weeks (at which point they rebuilt the fork because they couldn’t get the RLC model so they used the steerer tube/crown assembly from a RL model)!

More recently I took my bike into a shop after moving to where I live now for tune up. I had just moved across the country and my bike tools/lubes/etc hadn’t yet been shipped and I thought my mtb could use a tune up. After paying $90, my bike looked the same with perhaps some chain lube on it. The wheels weren’t trued, the frame wasn’t wiped down, and the brakes (since they are hydraulic) weren’t touched (since they didn’t need to be). I doubt they could have spent more than 20 minutes on the bike. Instead of saying, “hey your bike didn’t need much, it’s only $20″, they just felt entitled to charge me the full tune up rate. When I asked them how much time they spent on it, I got some vague answers and then they asked what else I wanted done. I wanted a professional (since they were charging professional rates) to look it over and dial it in. If it didn’t need much then don’t charge me for work that wasn’t done simply because the customer asked for a “tune-up”. I haven’t been back to that shop since.

I realize there are costs in running a shop, but there needs to be good value in the $ that shops charge their customers. All too often I’ve found that shops aren’t providing that value unfortunately.

Scott Hicks - 02/11/14 - 10:08pm

(I wasn’t able to post this last night due to the “site glitch”. Thanks to Zach Overholt for the explanation).

@ve, in response to the comment you directed at me:

So many false assumptions; so much specious logic.

Why don’t we raise our prices? Because it’s NOT simply supply-and-demand. We set our prices based on a number of factors, including what other shops near us and in similar markets are charging for their services. We also try to charge enough so that we can stay in business and hopefully still be here in a year or two. Our staff is doing better than the restaurant workers’ $2.13/hour plus tips, but we’re still just barely making a living wage.*

Your words: “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.”

How am I “going off topic” by mentioning “desk jockey”? Your term. Your claim.
If you’ve forgotten what you’ve written, you need merely scroll up and re-read it.

“$60/hr is not a fair price FOR THE CUSTOMER TO PAY”. I disagree. What you’re willing to pay a bike shop to have your bicycle serviced has no bearing on what that shop needs to charge. There are many other factors to consider than are covered in the limited scope of your arguments. There are resources available for those of limited means, mostly volunteer, non-profit bike shops. Most big cities and college towns have at least one. Someone who thinks that $60-$70/hour is too much for a bike shop in a metropolitan area to charge for labor lacks a basic understanding of what it takes to run a retail business. $70/hr is my shop’s nominal hourly rate, and we give good value for that price. In fact, our customers often get more than what they pay for. There are often small touches that aren’t itemized that are done gratis while a bike is in the stand.

I strongly encourage anyone who rides a bike to learn how to do at least basic repair. They can save money and learn more about how their bike works. Maybe they’ll still prefer to have us do some of the work. Merit pay? Sweat equity? I never mentioned them. I never said that bike mechanics are more important than gardeners, janitors, cobblers, et al. Please don’t confuse me with the creator of the slide show.

And ve — if you’re good enough at riding your bike, and you do it competitively and win some races — yeah, you CAN get paid for it.

*source: http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/0600106000

Gummee! - 02/11/14 - 10:36pm

In the 20 years I’ve been in and out of shops (its a great fallback option when times are bad) I’ve seen lots of ‘stuff.’ *Most* of the time, customers that come in are friendly, positive, and happy people enjoying a great sport. …then there’s the other 1-2% that are looking for something to get angry about. There’s not really much you can do about that ratio.

I’m figuring out my way around Di2 and disc brakes as I go. There weren’t any such things when I was learning to wrench all those years ago.

re free tune-ups for life: The idea is to get the customer back in the shop. If they’re in the shop, they may buy the high-margin items like tubes, patch kits, etc. If they’re in the shop, their bike may need a chain, cassette, brake pads, or other wear item that they otherwise wouldn’t buy. If they’re not in the shop, they’re not buying anything *from me.* That last bit is key: buy stuff *from MY shop.* Not the competition. Not from the innerwebs.

The daily grind of being a mechanic can be just that. A grind. Having to tune up yet another ‘lawn furniture’ grade bicycle? Ugh. The only redeeming thing about that is the owners of ‘lawn furniture’ grade bicycles are tickled pink that their bike actually works! The expressions when they find out they can actually use all their gears? Priceless.

The guys with the high $$ bikes? Not so much. I’ve had em kvetch about a scratch on the TT that they claim I caused. (I didn’t) If you’re that anal, work on your own stuff.

I could go on, but sufficed to say I earn the (more than some, less than others) pay I make.

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

@Chris

I understand how those are experiences would make you lose faith in the LBS. But please don’t globally discount the good ones out there. They are out there. I work in one. We do honest quality work focusing on stellar customer service. I think the key is integrating the customer in the service process and keeping them as informed as possible, which will align his expectations with mine. Basically, we KEEP IT PRO (profession and proactive). Keep looking for a good shop. It’ll be well worth it.

Mindless - 02/11/14 - 10:48pm

I fix everything myself not because it is cheaper, I can afford it, but because it is faster, and I trust the results more. I value my time and my safety over the convenience.

Pete - 02/11/14 - 11:18pm

As some of the other commenters have pointed out Shimano is becoming a great resource to professionalize and qualify mechanics. More brands need to follow their lead.

To those that buy stuff on the interwebs, you’re going to start find it more difficult to get deals. Again, Shimano is in the lead. They’re ratcheting back on distributors and you will only find their products in authorized dealers (aka your LBS).

http://www.bicycleretailer.com/north-america/2013/07/12/shimano-slash-number-north-american-distributors#.UvrzdXmppuY

In addition, internet sales tax is gaining momentum.

http://www.bicycleretailer.com/retail-news/2014/02/03/fred-clements-sales-tax-reform-gaining-momentum#.Uvr1knmppuY

Beer And Spokes - 02/11/14 - 11:53pm

To all of you that learned and earned the trade. Good for you and me and every deserving tech out there. We learned for ourselves to further our own enjoyment, and then some of us choose it as our profession for a time. To all of you **** that take us for advantage, go **********!!!! If you had any pride at all and or self- worth, you’d learn a thing or 2 or maybe 4 about your own ******* bike minus the country of origin , the name of said bike ( model and make), and what ******* gruppo it actually has ( no force is not the same as red as is Ultegra-mech to Dura-Ace Di2). Respect is given where respect is deserved. You come to me with a crap-can, and I will do my best to make gold out of it. You come to me with a 10k$ road bike, and I will so the same. It’s only when I come along the prick that has the balls to say to me when I fixed something properly with new or old parts and the fact that I’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty, to make something work with iner-generational parts/frame that I truly tell someone to go *************!!! All in all treat your tech with any respect at all (and maybe a couple of beers here and there ( best customers)) and we will love you til the day we die. Otherwise the over righteous pricks can learn how to do there own work like the rest of us. P.S. it might take a while and some cash to make a crap can into gold, but tell me who has the bigger smile on their face???

friedrice - 02/11/14 - 11:58pm

24 hours of angry posting, and not a single mention of using cycling as serious transportation. Not to get combative, but good job, bikerumor commentators! This is exactly the mindset that keeps us in the Dark Ages of big box shittycycles, ghost bikes, and SMIDSY.

To wit: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=669994986377021&set
Yes, that’s a fox 36. And a Crossmax. And an XTR brake. Those parts alone are worth a fortune. If you’re a person that’s willing to do that to a bike in the four (or five) figure range, I hesitate to think how you’d treat a <500 dollar commuter.

Maybe when North America can take bike riding (not just cycling) as seriously as Europe, we can have a more adult discussion. Maybe even treat bike work as a trade with a standard of competency.

One can hope.

AnotherDude - 02/12/14 - 12:34am

15 year mech and 6 year shop owner here. I’d like to add to this here discussion with input hopefully deemed sensible and not too biased. The problem I see here is we have customers who complain that shops are too expensive and mechanics complaining that customers are complaining while both are having issues finding common ground. Making sweeping generalizations about either will get nothing accomplished and only broadens the counter that we are speaking across. Ve seems to be quick to call a vast majority of mechanics hacks performing basic tasks that anyone with the right amount of patience and knowledge can do. For many repairs (flat tires, wheel truing, basic brake adjustments, etc.) he is correct. And yes, there are a ton of “mechanics” out there in shops who can perform a number of these tasks as could the customer. Try this out for a moment. I can make myself a latte anytime (bear with me here), but I go support my local cafe that I would guess is paying about 25-35 cents for the beans/milk required to make said latte and a barista taking 90 seconds or so of their day to do that job. Then that turns into a 3ish dollar drink. I will most likely give a tip of some sort as a good job gesture fully knowing that I could have done the same thing myself and been fairly satisfied with the job. If we extrapolate that the 90 seconds spent making the latte added $2.75 to the price of the product, then the hourly latte labor would be billed at a little over $120 for “something that I could totally do myself”. I don’t think that it is horribly off to say that most baristas are making the same or more than likely less of a paycheck than a lot of mechanics, so now my coffee has become insanely expensive for what it should cost in my mind that isn’t versed in calculating the operating costs of running a business. So both of these tasks are trainable to anyone, but here is where things start to differ. The barista has a fairly set number of drink combinations that they will make and that repetition will lead to a fairly easy learning curve and actually make them more proficient which will lead to coffee that costs the same but is actually costing more for their time committed. The mechanic on the other hand is constantly being presented a combination of the same task (flat fix, wheel true, brake adjust) but none of these tasks are really exactly the same. There are still variables to account for. What kind of wheel/tire? What model or brand or type of brake (road caliper, V-brake, Hydraulic and maybe hoping it doesn’t have a four letter name in particular)? What brand and make of the wheel (bladed spoke, straight spoke, what kind of nipple, how should the spoke tension should feel, how much fatigue has the wheel been through? These repairs can be performed by the high school shop rat of course, but does he just bleed the brake and call it good, or does he know what kind of issues said brake may have which led to the issue itself. That last part takes time and experience to fully understand these little nuances. As we all know time=money. So the high school kid leaves the shop for college (where he gets an advanced shop rat position) and the long time mechanic who knows the ins and outs is still there to do his job as well as possible and make as good of a living as possible in the job that he is in fully knowing that home ownership and being the breadwinner of the family are going to be very difficult to obtain. This person does deserve a good living wage. Unfortunately, the margins that the bicycle industry bases its prices on will never lead to a six figure salary for that mechanic and I think all of us wrenches have grasped this for a long time. Nor do we need that kind of salary really. This is just scratching the surface of this debate but I’m just trying to make a simple point. I’ve worked with a fair amount of mechanics who are boneheads and I’ve worked with some who are absolutely brilliant minds when it comes to understanding the physics and engineering that really go into bicycles. It is without a doubt that many of the brilliant ones could, at any point, study something different and find themselves a better paying job in another industry that is founded upon higher margins and can afford to do so partially because the clientele decides “it would really take me a long time to learn how to make this ______ and I don’t have time to do that, I’ve got a job to go to”. That scenario unfortunately would lead to a poorer overall quality of service through our industry which would give customers a reason to call out “high” labor prices and probably care less about cycling as well. $60/hr isn’t really all that bad now that you think of it while you drink your coffee. Plumbers will charge a substantially higher labor rate and for many of us mechanics we can figure out “cold is on the right, hot is on the left, payday is Friday.” I’m now a certified plumber.

On the other side of the coin not pertaining to labor prices, there is animosity on either side of the counter when it comes to prices of bikes and parts. Yes, we want your business, and not just the money part. We want your passion. We want to influence others to ride more regardless if it’s road or mountain or cross or commuting or touring or whatever else it might be to you or the next person. Bring more people and money into this wonderful activity called cycling please!!! Truly good mechanics all over know that they don’t make the amount of money that matches their knowledge base. Much of this is associated to the established margins of the industry which in tern leads us into the catch 22. Online retailers operate on thinner margins and bigger unit sales to make them viable. Small shops have to rely on upholding those margins and actually winning the customer over based on a real shopping experience. This leads to more variables based on the mindset of each individual customer. I don’t completely blame online retail for creating a shift in the acceptable margin through the industry because shops are willing and somewhat obligated to do so to compete with not only the internet, but also the shop across town that employs less experienced people and pays them less as well. I declined to match an internet price on a set of Ksyriums because it was $40 over my wholesale. This same customer balked at a $120 quote to install an entire Ultegra group (purchased online of course) on his bike that he needed finished by the start of the weekend (he called us at 5p.m. on a Thursday). He chose to do it himself and did the job very poorly and then balked at a price to have us re-adjust EVERYTHING because he did such a bad job. We have never seen him since and we are fine with this. My mechanics were able to do other work at our hourly labor to our real customers bikes who don’t question the established shop rate. I didn’t lose the customer because I never had him in the first place. I’m not complaining about this customer really because every shop has to deal with someone (or many someone’s) just like him. Which is where you get the resentment from employee to customer. And where you get burned out shop employees who grow tired of feeling like their job, with everything it entails, is not worth respect and a fair price. Some guys get this and are the reason why you go to your LBS, and some don’t which is why you might say “screw my LBS, I’m going online and doing this myself.” Please understand that.

A little understanding and respect is required from both sides as usual. The cycling industry has an amazing product that deserves to be respected. A big part is up to us shops to convey why we a requesting said price for the product/service. The better we are at that, the better the customer actually understands our plight and can emotionally connect with the shop thus leading to a real customer to business relationship. We won’t win every price battle, but your computer will never grow arms and give solid advice out of the mouth that it also cannot grow. Give us a shot. Flexibility on both sides goes a long way, but it is our job behind the counter to figure the equation out and translate that to a customer. If we are not doing a good enough job at that, then responsibility rests mostly upon our shoulders.

Thank you all.

1gr8sailor - 02/12/14 - 1:00am

Bike wrenching is just not that hard– I do almost all my own– I’m sure many others do as well–

LBS Tech - 02/12/14 - 1:25am

Been working at a top 100 bicycle shop as a mechanic for 17 years. The pay is enough to get by on. If you don’t want a car, a house, and like dealing with every c ride pro who ever swung a leg over a top tube. If you can do it yourself, f*ing do it, and shut the f**k up. otherwise get the service you pay for.

chasejj - 02/12/14 - 1:26am

@ TheGuy,Pynconite and others…….the tuth is often a bitter pill to swallow.

I am not saying the job is worthless. But it is a job that just is not commercially lucrative, it never will be and if you are whining about the pay. Then you need to get a real career.
Don’t even try an compare yourself to doctors, lawyers or other professions. Your pay is like all others in capitalist society, exactly what you are worth. No more no less.
If I could still dick around in the shop, hang out, go on evening club rides, score all the newest gear at 40% discount I would kill to do that. But unfortunately life has tortured me with all the other good stuff I need to pay for like kids and a mortgage. That real career income has afforded me the luxury of outfitting my workshop at home with enough tools and parts that equals many shops.
I do my own work as I would never trust most mechanics in shops I visit. True talent like any industry is difficult to find.

I am not even addressing what the internet is doing to the conventional shop model which I consider essentially dead.

I see opportunities in service side of cycling , but the correct model has not presented itself yet.

greg - 02/12/14 - 1:41am

my comment, like others, got deleted, so i may be repeating things…
Gummee:
the problem with the free tunes for life, besides devaluing labor, is that youre trying to get the customer to come in because youre giving something away. that in itself is a bad tactic. how about getting someone to stop by because theyre curious what the latest and greatest stuff is? if you stock it, that is. or maybe theyre working on their own bike (not a crime) and just had some questions about an issue they were having, or had a compatibility question, and they absolutely knew the mechanics at this shop would know best…
another issue with free tunes for life is the customer then expects that bikes need tunes or adjustments all.the.time.. it is not the case, if the bike is properly sorted out to begin with. the bike needs a new shifter cable and some housing to function properly? “oh, no. just make it as good as you can. i dont want to pay for anything.”
there is no reason shops in metro areas shouldnt be charging AT LEAST $60/hr.
there’s no reason for shops in metro areas to be paying their year-round mechanics AT LEAST $15/hr.
there’s no reason for shops in metro areas to be employing mechanics that dont deserve $15/hr.
im a bike mechanic, have been for 18years. i can say first-hand that there are a lot of crappy bike mechanics. the majority of bike mechanics are crappy. it’s a vicious circle that bike shops have gotten themselves into, with weak wages, no health insurance, etc, only attracting the crappy.
not all shops run this way.
ve, the other guys, dont give up on bike shops as a whole. just go somewhere else. i cant say you will find one worth going to in your town, i have no idea where you guys live, but it’s worth a shot. who knows, you might need them at some point.
to the bike mechanics that read this: if youre grossly underpaid, and you feel you are truly one of the best, and you wouldnt mind moving, let me know.

greg - 02/12/14 - 1:46am

EDIT:
there’s no reason for shops in metro areas to *NOT* be paying their year-round mechanics AT LEAST $15/hr.
also i just realized i pretty much wrote exactly what Pete said in my last paragraph

FPR - 02/12/14 - 6:31am

My life as a bike mechanic was great for almost 12 years. It seems I was reasonably well-paid ($18 bucks as an an expat in Vancouver, BC and $22 at home in Australia), I worked overseas, could get all the latest gear much cheaper and worked with awesome people in a fun environment. But hey, I want to buy a house one day! I’m 30 and started an electrical apprenticeship over a year ago. Sure, I’m getting paid peanuts now, but in 3 years I’ll be earning nearly double (at the least) what over a decade’s experience got me as a wrench. I still get on my bike several times a week and still love it, but since I changed career I haven’t looked back. It’s not too late, guys.

falserider - 02/12/14 - 8:32am

@chasejj,

To say the capitalist society is always right is a very elitist view. Consider most union laborers in the past prior to unions. They were used, abused, and thrown away and it wasn’t until the laborers stood up, and demanded a fair wage, that they were then respected and paid for their skills.

Bike shops work now in the same way as many pre-union employers and the only way to fix that is to assemble, train, and unify the mechanics.

When toll booth workers and stop/go sign holders make 20+ an hour. There is no rational argument that a skilled bicycle mechanic shouldn’t be making the same.

i - 02/12/14 - 8:45am

Bike mechanics need to get this through their heads: you are NOT “highly skilled”. Meaning you aren’t doing anything that a reasonably intelligent person can’t do themselves. You aren’t a car mechanic or a plumber.
As prices for service at a shop go up some people decide it’s time to just learn to do it themselves and people on $100 department store bikes decide it’s cheaper to buy a new bike than fix one that needs a half hour of labor and a $50 part – it’s the same way if my car mechanic tried to charge me $3000 to change the oil in my $3500 car, I’d probably just drive the car till it stops working all together then throw it away and get a new one.

Look, you aren’t entitled to a well-paying career doing whatever you want. I for one would never trust my bike to someone who works at a bike shop, especially long term. Smart people don’t work for bike shop wages for 10 years.

The Guy - 02/12/14 - 9:43am

Hey, “i”

You’re full of crapola. We are highly skilled, period.

I wouldn’t trust you with my bike, let alone a nail and a 2×4.

falserider - 02/12/14 - 10:02am

@i,

ANYONE can learn to be a plumber, carpenter, electrician, road worker, etc… and they are considered highly skilled. But anyone who wants to work on bikes is dumb? Bike shops hire some unskilled laborers for menial tasks and training but there are also highly skilled mechanics back there who have hundreds of hours of training and years of experience that any other industry would pay much more for.

A bike shop doesn’t charge you $100 to oil a chain (comparison to changing engine oil)… See what a full tuneup costs from an auto mechanic. If you blew the transmission on a 3000 dollar car that would be the equivalent of a 50 part on a k-mart kruiser. Personally i would rather fix an old car with a new transmission than role the dice buying another used car with another old transmission.

Bicycle mechanics do hydraulic work, suspension work, wheel building/repair and countless other skilled services that would take the average person a while to learn. But just because the average person can learn to do it doesn’t mean its unskilled. The Average person is capable of quite a lot.

No one is entitled to anything. But you really think someone who works hard at a demanding job doesn’t deserve to make enough to survive? With so many welfare and insurance scammers out there its impossible for my dumb ass to comprehend your view.

heatwave23 - 02/12/14 - 10:48am

The bike industry is out of control with what they charge. When a mid-end bicycle costs the same as a Honda CBR500R MSRP $6,299..
And don’t give me the I am comparing apples and oranges speech,,,, The moto has higher production cost, shipping costs, federal regulation to adhere to, import taxes, R&D,,,,,
Also considering that the median expected salary for a typical Motorcycle Mechanic/Repairer in the United States is $30,683 I am not sure a bicycle repair can expect the same.
I have lifetime service and a couple of my bikes but I choose to do the work myself because I can do most things in less time it takes me to dropoff/pickup the bike to the LBS, my work is typically better than my LBS and most of all I enjoy it.

Randall - 02/12/14 - 11:26am

I think this has been a healthy discourse, but this really should be looked at from a business model perspective.

Let’s say, for example, that a mechanic should earn $20/ hr, because it’s a nice round number. Let’s also say, that a customer expects a mechanic not to be *actually working* 40 hrs a week. Why do we assume this? Low customer supply, or simple admin overhead (e.g. them answering my stupid questions instead of fixing whatever bike they were working on when i worked in). For simplicity, I’ll use the 50% duty cycle for this.

This increases the labor rate for billed time to $40. If we use the “standard” bill rate of 2.5X, we certainly do get to the $100/hr. When correlated to a tune-up, which at my LBS costs $80 for a basic one and $120 for a full cleaning, the price seems fair.

*** Note: certainly, anyone who is only making 10% of the hourly billed rate is getting ripped off, and that’s on them (this is why unions exist, by-the-way…). ***

Now, there are only three ways to maintain a bike: professional repair, home repair, and continuous replacement (I’m going to ignore that last one). A proper home repair “toolbox” can probably be built for under $500. Lets also assume that it takes triple the time for a home mechanic, that their labor is also valued at $20/hr, and that the person has two bikes. Assuming bikes need bi-annual maintenance, add in labor equity of 12hrs (two hrs per session tripled for the home “mechanic”) is $240/bike. This means that my home repair of two bikes has a first-year value of $980 and out-year cost of $480.

Using my LBS convenient tiered system, I could spend $120 plus $80 = $200/yr/bike, or $400/yr.

This math shows it is $740 cheaper, over three years, to use the LBS. There are, however, two problems with this:

1) This implies model implies that the LBS customer has no tools, and therefore no expenses other than the LBS. I think most people would agree that there are cleanings / lubings / tweakings that happen more than twice a year. Therefore the cost of those “regular maintenance” tools should not be included in the home repair figure, and the cost of using the LBS exclusively goes up significantly.

2) Factoring in the economic value of the home mechanics labor is a luxury, and not totally appropriate. Most importantly, the home mechanic cannot earn that money during the time they choose not to do their own repairs (yes, a pro can do it while they are at work, but they never had that option). Second, this doesn’t address whether or not they have the available cash to pay the LBS even if they wanted to.

Therefore, a person (like myself), who has recently purchased a house, might look at his $300 tool kit and choose to spend $200 extra on a bike stand and a few extra tools. Then, they can convert $0 value television watching time into bike repair time, and perceive a three year savings of $1000 for being a home mechanic.

Now, with two different models showing either a three-year $740 savings for using a pro or a $1000 savings for doing it yourself, which answer is the correct one? They both are, but the pro savings is in avoided-personal-labor-equity, and the $1000 is pure cash.

In order for LBS maintenance to be possible, the person must have the cash available. Whether they should or not is irrelevant, both the LBS and the BMW dealer referenced above LOVE IT when someone saves up a pile of cash and blows it on parts or a more expensive vehicle. Either way, there is no benefit to a mechanic saying that a particular customer should stop saving for a new wheelset (etc.) and buy more service. It’s not the mechanics business.

In order for LBS maintenance to be optimal, a person needs to be able to recover some of that economic value. For example, I am currently finishing my basement AND riding my bike. If I don’t have time to do both, it’s certainly cheaper to have my bike repaired than hire a contractor to complete my work. For other wealthier people, they value the time spent playing with kids (or whatever) at a level that makes LBS repair advantageous.

* Side note: on the subject of repair competency, most people should be able to EVENTUALLY repair their specific bikes. It takes time, but everyone starts somewhere… *

In summary, I’d say that it seems like the price of a tune-up is fair but that many people can save money doing work themselves, money they may well not have. Additionally, anyone getting paid less than 40% is getting ripped off by their boss, but they should use total dollars billed per pay period divided by hours worked.

Maybe customers should only support LBS that pay out at 40%? Mechanics, what do you think?

JP - 02/12/14 - 11:32am

The real crime is that any bike costs more than $5000 and is junk made in China by people that make no money. But it will continue as long as people are stupid enough to keep buying them.

MikeC - 02/12/14 - 12:06pm

What I love are all the “bike shop jobs aren’t worth it” people who begrudge underpaid mechanics their EP discounts and think they should be entitled to some kind of discount, too, just because they have deigned to grace our shop with their presence and custom.

You could get discounted stuff… you just have to take a 50% cut in pay and be willing to learn all kinds of things about bikes and working on them that you don’t know.

I worked five years as a full time mechanic, taking a 60% cut in pay to do so. Happy times. Then a former employer contacted me about getting back into Publishing. Jumped at the opportunity and am now making twice what I was as a mechanic.

While still maintaining the bike shop job 1-3 days per week, seasonally.

I get my cake and eat it, too. Suck it, haterz. Nyah, nyah.

Can’t tell you how many professionals we get in the store saying, “Hey, you hiring part time? I’ve worked on my own bikes for years…” No thanks. Retirees: “Now that I’m done with a real career, I’m looking to do a bit less — got any jobs available?” Um, no, not with that attitude.

I don’t mind having put the time and resources into learning a trade like Bike Mechanic at the expense of income not made while doing so. Opportunity cost considered, decision made. And as long as I stay current with technology and skills, I have a portable trade I can take with me, and a modest, low-impact lifestyle which makes mechanicking viable. I won’t get to the end of my life with a regret for not having taken this path, one I always wanted to explore.

But the bottom line is: I get paid to be way into bikes. Anyone doing their own work — like I did before I got into it professionally — is paying to be into bikes.

NZ - 02/12/14 - 12:07pm

This is definitely a difficult situation. People who are mechanically inclined (myself included) don’t enjoy paying for things that they can do themselves. It is far easier and rewarding to me to buy my own tools and fix/maintain my bikes. BUT, I also know that there are things that are too difficult, or too expensive for me to do myself. In this case, I have no problem taking my bike to the local shop, and paying someone with the knowledge and means to fix the problem. This is where it gets dicey. I want to support the local shop, and buy all of my consumables there, but when I bring a bike into the shop for a repair, I do not want to be talked down to, or told that my “brakes need adjusting” by a kid that has less experience than myself. I really do appreciate the work done by quality mechanics, but finding that quality today is a tough go. This is not the problem of the bad mechanics, as they are hired by a shop owner who is trying to stay afloat among a vast outlet of online retailers, while the professional mechanics are becoming harder and harder to employ, as their work demands higher pay than some kid off the street. This just does not seem like a solvable problem that will work for all parties involved, because at the end of the day, the shop needs to make money, the mechanic needs to eat, all while the customer can do most things themselves or buy cheaper online, but it is that 20% of things that all customers can’t do, or buy online that keeps people coming to the shop, but also wages low.

MikeC - 02/12/14 - 2:20pm

Really?

Ripnshread - 02/12/14 - 7:35pm

@Randall What if your bike shop had an awesome set of tools that you could use at your leisure for say $20/hr. Lube, wipes, polish and wash area included. ??? And lets say for $40/hr you could also have free reign to have a pro mech on hand to advise you and teach you what you don’t know and make sure your kept in fresh, new bedazzled parts?

I don’t think you considered that business model.

Pete - 02/12/14 - 8:16pm

To all those that claim market driven pay is the best way to compensate employees, I’d like you to take a look at what happened today. Pres Obama forced an increase in the minimum wage for federal employees by 40%. He argues that the increase in wage will increase productivity and lower turnover. It also increases the cash on hand for these people to spend elsewhere, maybe a the business you work at.

http://www.businessinsider.com/companies-need-to-pay-people-more-2013-8

goridebikes - 02/12/14 - 8:39pm

@i, I would love to discuss your point about other trades vs bike mechanic-ry, and I’d also love to talk about how anyone that takes a job they love needs to respect the fact that often, money and job-satisfaction have a negative correlation.

Unfortunately, you decided to open by insulting my profession and further, demeaning my intelligence. For starters, I have finished college. In fact, I did so full-time (15 credit semesters) while working full-time as a shop manager. I didn’t need the money per se, but I love the job and it’s nice to be able to afford beer!
My boss before me had a law degree, plenty of offers for lucrative jobs due to his success in school, as well as his excellent interpersonal and organizational skills.

For one, bike mechanics, as you are aware of it, may take no skill that a person cannot learn.
Bike mechanics, as I am aware of it, is on another level. Much as anyone may read a “for dummies” book, and obtain a basic understanding, the same can be said for mechanics. However, there is a vast difference, from you as a B.S. seeking sophomore in bike repair, and me as the Professor.

In many areas, you may learn to do what I do in a way you think is correct – for example, you may learn to calculate spoke lengths, lace and build a wheel. But how long does it take you to do this? Further, when something is not right, how long does it take you to notice, correct your mistake, and complete the job? It takes me 2 hours to build a wheel to the highest standards, which I personally stand behind for the life of the wheel. Mainly because I do such a good job, it never needs anything beyond 1/4-turn of a spoke once a year… So, you can pay $100 to the shop, which earns me perhaps $30, for the job. Or, you can try to learn yourself. Let’s say at best you complete this job in 4 hours, excluding any complications. Do you earn less than $25 an hour? Now let’s consider complications: your spokes are the wrong length, you’re out $10 on return shipping, plus 1 week extra shipping to exchange them from wheelbuilder.com because you refuse to hop into your local shop. You laced it decently enough but got distracted and one of the pairs of spokes are crossed incorrectly, did you notice this? How long did that take?

Given how much many of the elitist commenters are purporting to make, I can understand how you might feel that I am less intelligent or skilled then you, since I make less. But, salary has little to nothing to do with skill. Or job difficulty. Salary is a reflection of supply/demand, business overhead, and ultimately in the case of mechanics, exactly how much quality a shop really demands.

As manager, and now an employee in a very successful, high-end shop, I have been through each level, and understand why a summer builder is paid only $10 an hour. I also understand why I am paid much more.

You (commenters) should show some respect for mechanics who have mastered their art. Bike repair is as much science as it is art. I have a combination of both formal education (via Barnett’s Bicycle Institute), and experience, via ~7 years of being a mechanic. What you can learn to do in an hour I can do in 5 minutes, the problem you are baffled by I just finished fixing for someone else, and the mistake you just made, I made 6 years ago so I learned how to avoid it.

It’s fine to debate, first, can bike mechanics really demand more money? And second, are they underpaid because shops cannot afford to pay more, or shops can get away with not paying more, or because the job is simply not worth more?

But, please, do not compare your dabbling with my expertise, as I would never venture to compare my summary knowledge of whatever your field is with your countless hours of experience and specialized training and education.

Being a dick is a really great way to get people to ignore your valid points and attack your character. Try to show some respect and consider that, actually, I am highly skilled.

If you’re not convinced, I sincerely invite you to spend a day in the shop with me, I will give you a comprehensive training on the relatively easy process of building a bike (I assure you, I’m very good at it! I train 2-3 new people each year (for the last 4 years) and within 2 months need only spend about a minute inspecting their work). At the end of the day, we can see how you do, and discuss the level of skill my job really requires.

There is so much difference between the kind of expertise alluded to by the pro mechanics who are writing response and the angry customers writing responses.

As a high-end mechanic, I spend all day dealing with high-end attitudes like yours. Believe me, I have the utmost regard for your Black Card, it pays my salary. But, 90% of my customers also have the utmost regard for how simply and quickly I can solve problems which ruined their rides. Try to learn that skill.

chasejj - 02/12/14 - 11:56pm

@falserider:
Comparing yourself to workers in a time period where there were no workplace rules and unfair conditions is really laughable. That time has passed and labor unions are nothing more than a shakedown racket and lobbying machine these days.

But when you set down that bong and really think about your ideas you will see it my way.

greg - 02/13/14 - 1:30am

Randall and Goridebikes,
thank you for putting it all down so thoroughly.
many people just dont know. and they dont know that they dont know, ya know?

heatwave23 - 02/13/14 - 10:37am

@goridebikes… You say that “Given how much many of the elitist commenters are purporting to make, I can understand how you might feel that I am less intelligent or skilled then you, since I make less. But, salary has little to nothing to do with skill.”

That statement is not much different than you looking down your nose and making the assumption that people who do their own wrenching are less skilled at it than you. Granted you may have some knowledge about bikes they do not own or care about or may do things faster but don’t fool yourself that a moderately mechanically minded person can handle 99% of all bike maintenance as well as your typical professional bike mechanic can.

joethebikemechanic - 02/13/14 - 11:00am

I have been a bike mechanic for over 6 years. When I left I took a dozen or so customers with me. They all paid me full shop rates to work on their stuff from my hose. I find myself making about 4000 more than the posted a average in the slide show so I consider myself an above average mechanic. I also managed one of the stores I worked, while still doing repairs(4-5 tune-UPS or 2-3 frame up builds/overhauls) all while averaging 20-55k a month in sales. I’ve never worked so hard in my life! And for all that 12.50 was my hourly pay. I quit that job and make the same money w working at a retail store only 3 days a week

goridebikes - 02/13/14 - 1:26pm

heatwave23, How is my statement about salary being unrelated to skill (if you’re not convinced, remember every time you’ve ever thought how much better you could do your boss’ job than s/he does…) at all analogous to a statement about skill being related to knowledge and experience.

Given that knowledge and experience are sort of what defines ones’ skills, I would say that someone with less knowledge or experience than me is less skilled. Your 99% is a total misunderstanding of bike mechanics, again, you have nowhere near the necessary inventory of tools, experience with varying technologies, patience, ability to procure parts or knowledge, warranty support, etc.

Anyone can learn to competently adjust a derailleur if they are patient and well taught, no doubt. But that doesn’t mean that you have my skills. You can learn to adjust YOUR derailleur, but not ALL derailleurs.

For example, a few days ago I had a customer bring in a beautiful Dogma that he ordered online (instead of from me, because he assumed online would be a “better deal”), and had a friend help him build it. It was decently done enough, except his friend had tried to set up his 9000 front derailleur as if it was a 7900… It didn’t work. Had forgotten a barrel adjuster for front derailleur (“I wondered what that was?”), no use of support bolt, incorrect understanding of the trim adjustments, etc. – Again, it was competently adjusted by the guy, if what he was adjusting was last year’s product…

That’s the difference between professional and “arm-chair” work. I needed 30 seconds to correctly diagnose, another 5 minutes to fix, and he happily paid $15 so he could enjoy his ride.

What I truly don’t understand is that a lot of this hate is coupled with what appears to be damaging encounters with bad mechanics. Fine. You had a bad experience. That doesn’t make all mechanics bad, useless, or undeserving.

No one likes cops when they’re being written tickets… but you love when they pull over the guy that was tailgating you.

Try a better shop and try paying more, watch how much better your service is.

heatwave23 - 02/13/14 - 2:07pm

@ goridebikes… You sound like a good mechanic but you are still making a lot of assumptions in regards to do it yourself people… What you have to remember is that unlike the Dogma owner you will never see the good home mechanics that “can” do 99% of their own wrenching walk into your shop with a problem…
It sounds like you would be amazed at how many tools that I own and the workspace I have set up for working on my bikes… I am not doing it to save money and will gladly spend money on tools that last years than to pay someone else to do it… The only thing I do not do myself is rebuilding shocks and I send them to a company the specialized in rebuilding them but cause I know they will do a better job than anyone I know.

p - 02/13/14 - 3:49pm

We, the mechanics in bike shops (the qualified one with high quality) are definitely underpaid, but we love what we do.
I hope you bike shop owners take this into consideration and respect your quality mechanics.
bikeowners, you can always tip (beer or $$) if u have preferred mechanic.

Ben - 02/13/14 - 4:56pm

“and that’s all I have to say about that….”

http://swoboradio.com/2014/02/13/death-of-a-mechanics-soul/

Aaron Maughan - 02/18/14 - 11:06pm

If bike shops spent less of their time trying to be everyone’s buddy and simply charged what is fair to service modern, highly tuned, and complex bicycles, then there might be some room for wage increases. The shops I have worked in over the years piss away money in trying to be cool, which trains customers to expect price breaks and preferential treatment.

Bottom line, shops are too afraid to take their business seriously enough, and only the shop owner gets to “Live the dream”.

Ben - 02/21/14 - 11:42am

Thought you’d all like to hear a little discussion on the topic. The Just Riding Along crew discussed it on the air this week: http://www.mountainbikeradio.com/just-riding-along/serious/

circe801 - 03/07/14 - 3:40pm

don’t feel bad. i came to this site because i googled: “why is it that every motorcycle dealership promises ‘pay commensurate with experience’ and then wants to pay you, with over 20 years of experience the fucking exact same thing as a kid fresh out of ‘certificate school’ (which means ‘on the job training at this job’??” and a ducati service can cost almost $1000, depending on which service it is–1st, 2nd, etc. and the shop charges usually $125/hour labor. my husband used to make $40-50/hour over 10 years ago. now, these jerkoffs want to, instead of paying a guy with all that experience–a perfectionist master mechanic with no comebacks and a specialty in diagnostics say, $30/hour, they’d rather pay the three fucking stooges $10/hour each to absolutely fuck everything up and never have a customer come back again.
it’s the sad state of affairs in this country–a $7.25 minimum wage when, if ONLY productivity were taken into account, would be $21.72/hour. if ONLY inflation were taken into account, it would be just under $11/hr. shit, the 1968 minimum, in 2013 dollars equals almost $11.
they do it BECAUSE THEY CAN. it is by design–by the powers that be–to make and keep us slaves while they make tens of millions or billions a year. our constitutional rights are dwindling and we are being poisoned by the only food we can buy–we don’t even merit the right to know what is in what we’re paying for. all by design.
i’m gonna stop here ’cause i’m getting really pissed off. but tell me one thing–since when is a one-bedroom apartment in SF over $2600 a month?? not all of them, trust me. i’ve lived there… but i commiserate with you. lots and lots of us are going through the same kinds of bullshit…

ebike101 - 05/29/14 - 12:07am

Anyone know where I can find a good part time Mechanic in the Chicago area (near Downers Grove) for a new e-bike shop? Thanks tons.

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