The Secret Lives of Bike Shop Mechanics

What do you know about the person who works on your bike when you take it to a local bike shop? I randomly selected three local bike shop (LBS) mechanics in our area to learn about them and their perspectives. From them, I think we can learn a lot about a wrench turner at any LBS. I was lucky in that the three mechanics I talked to encompass a broad spectrum of experience.

Eric Geist, 26, has been a bike mechanic for 10 years. He currently works at Vertical Earth in Coeur d’Alene. David Goode, 36, has been at this for 11 years, and he works at The Bike Hub downtown Spokane. Rounding out the group, and perhaps a candidate for godfather of Spokane-area bike mechanics with 38 years of experience, is David Mannino, 60, at Two Wheel Transit in Spokane’s Perry Neighborhood.

HG: What path led you to this line of work? Geist: I started building bikes while I was in high school and just loved it. I am self-taught and I learned a lot from other shop mechanics. Goode: My background was in airframe and power plant, but the job market didn’t suit me. I loved cycling so I walked into bike shops and applied. Michael Conley at North Division Bike Shop gave me a chance and got me started. Mannino: When I was five I took my coaster brake apart to clean it. A bike shop had to put it back together for me. When I graduated from Gonzaga, I answered an ad for a bike sales clerk. I brought my Peugeot, which I had painted myself and upgraded all the components, and said, “This is my resume.” I got the job.

HG: What kind of riding do you do? Geist: Mostly mountain bike trail riding and a little bit of road. Goode: Mountain bike riding and racing is my passion. I do some road, cyclocross and even BMX. Mannino: Road and gravel.

HG: Describe the qualities of a customer you appreciate. Geist: Someone who is respectful of the shop environment and employees. The ones who are stoked on cycling are the most fun. Goode: Someone who values and appreciates you and your skillset. It’s a challenge to deal with a customer who relies on a knowledgeable friend and kind of pits them against you. Mannino: A person who is excited about cycling. It’s great to see them get their first bike and progress over time.

HG: What is your favorite non-cycling activity? Geist: Ice hockey. Goode: Riding my sport touring motorcycle. (Maintained by a local motorcycle shop mechanic.) Mannino: Cross country skiing.

HG: What about your job gives you the greatest feeling of satisfaction? Geist: Getting people excited about cycling. Setting someone up with their first bike and watching them advance over time. Seeing a customer who is stoked about their bike being fixed. Goode:  Troubleshooting really tough mechanical problems and finding the customer is happy with the solution. Mannino: When someone comes in with a really unique problem for me to solve.

HG: Day or night time riding? Geist: That’s a tough one. It depends on the season, but night riding is more challenging. Goode: No preference. Mannino: With my commuting schedule it’s 50/50, but there’s something to be said for being able to see everything.

HG: What do most people not know about bike mechanics that you would like to share with them? Geist: There’s a lot more skill required than most people realize. It takes a substantial amount of experience and knowledge for the on-the-spot problem solving customers expect from us. Goode: (laughs) We operate on coffee and beer. The hardest thing to address with customers is fitting. Bike designers assume a specific athletic posture and not all people are able to do that. I try to make sure the bike fits as good as possible because nobody rides an uncomfortable bike. Mannino: We are not reluctant to help you learn how to fix your own bike. I don’t think we lose money doing that. Besides, there’s almost always a point where even the most knowledgeable customers need help.

HG: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently? Every single one of them answered, “Not a thing.” If Geist, Goode, and Mannino are as representative of their peers as my experience has shown, when you take your steed to a local bike shop you are likely putting it in the hands of someone who loves what they do to a remarkable degree. Small wonder that many of their customers are so stoked. //

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