Greasing the Wheels

 By Pedal Wrench

The businessman in his white dress shirt glanced at my hands as I carefully rolled out his electronic-shifting carbon race bike from the back room. I’m sure he noticed the black grit under my fingernails. But with sincere gratitude he reached out his hand with a “Man, thanks so much for getting this done so quickly! I have a race tomorrow morning and there’s no way I could show up on my old bike!”

Bike shop mechanics are always apologizing for their hands. But take it from me – a greasy handshake is a simple and painless way to show your appreciation for an often thankless job. During the summer, at most full-service bicycle shops, you’ll find a whole crew of tattooed young men and women who spend every waking hour building, tuning, and selling bicycles. We are a hard-working bunch who don’t get to play on our own bikes as much as we would like. That is, until the season slows enough to justify an extra day off.

All bicycle owners need a good mechanic. So, once you find the right one, nurture that relationship. All it takes is a little care and understanding. Here are some tips to help with that:

Call Me Wrench: Introduce yourself with a handshake, eye contact, and a smile. Remember your mechanic’s name, and he’ll do his best to remember yours. Be prepared to answer a few questions about your bicycle (e.g. what the problem is, when it first began, where it happened, and how you were riding). Your mechanic will put the bike in the stand to give it a once-over. A good mechanic will make suggestions to improve your bicycle’s performance, such as better cable housing (i.e. not using brake housing in place of shift housing) or the appropriate chain lube (i.e. not WD-40). This is not necessarily the mechanic’s opportunity to try to sell you more stuff, but really to diagnose problems and learn what he’s getting himself into.

But I Need It Now: Chances are, there are 10 to 50 customers ahead of you. Mechanics are sympathetic—if the issue is relatively small, they may be able to squeeze in your bike between the other bigger repairs. The most dedicated mechanics even come to work early to work down their repair load so that your wait is as short as possible (i.e. less than a week). But remember that everyone wants their bike back tomorrow. A fellow mechanic once told me, “There is speed, quality and price. And you can only choose two.” In other words, you can have it quick, but it’s going to cost a pretty penny to do it right.

You Again: Bike shops love a loyal customer. If they get to know you, they will bend over backwards to help with returns, repairs, and good deals. Bike shops are small businesses that appreciate repeat business and will work hard to keep you returning. When it comes to the dreaded mention of an online purchase, most don’t mind giving advice as long as they get a fair shot at making the sale.

IPA, Pepperoni, Double-vanilla latte: Yup, I’m saying we can be bribed. To be clear, I’m not referring to a monetary hand-off! I’m not implying that your local bike shop employee can be bought. Bicycle shops, like most small businesses, work hard to retain their client base with integrity. But you can get on the shop’s good side by bringing us food or drinks. This is a small courtesy that will likely ensure the quickest, best service. Seriously, if the whole shop enjoys a chilled adult beverage that you have provided, with every sip your bicycle becomes further etched in their memory banks.

So the next time you’re in desperate need of an adjustment or last-minute overhaul, stop at the store on the way and pick up a half-rack or an iced latte. You may just find your bike in the stand a little sooner.

Pedal Wrench is an experienced bike mechanic at an undisclosed Inland Northwest area bike shop. He may or may not have tattoos, but he can indeed be bribed with IPA and Pepperoni. His new occasional column, “Greasy Handshake,” will explore the mysterious underworld of the bicycle repair shop.

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