I don’t know about you, but I prefer to avoid the mechanics at my bike shop as much as possible. It’s not that they are all jerks (although some are), but I can’t think of many situations where I feel as helpless as I do when I take my mountain bike in for maintenance.
Of course, the easy solution is just learning how to do my own bike work and be the master of my domain. The truth, though, is that I’d much rather ride my bike than spend time working on it (and usually making it worse), so I remain at the mercy of my local bike shop and their mysterious pricing schemes.
The primary reason why I generally dread going to get work done on my bike is that I feel completely at the mercy of the prices and curation of parts by the mechanics.
Fortunately, COVID-19 has really changed the landscape of how customers and mechanics interact with each other. As supply chains have dried up, many bike shops rely more on turning a profit through their maintenance departments. Also, there has been a bit of a turn towards focusing on customer service in this area. This development is great news for you as you try to navigate the terms of your repair.
One of the best benefits of this change is how shops interact with their customers through part sales.
It used to be a major no-no to walk into a shop with a wheel or component you already owned and ask the mechanic to put it on for you. The distributor/shop markup is a very real thing. Bike shops stand to make way more money if they provide both parts and labor rather than letting you shop at third-party vendors like Amazon, Jenson USA, or Chain Reaction Cycles. Now that shops no longer have access to the parts they need when they need them, there is much more freedom with you coming into the store, components in hand, asking for them to perform the installation.
The second reason I generally am anxious about getting maintenance is that shops never seem to be open with their pricing for different types of repairs.
The only prices I usually see posted anywhere are for tune-ups. So, after toting in all of my parts and talking through what I need, I typically leave with no idea how much my repairs will cost or when the bike will be done. I’ve found that the best answer to clarifying this confusion is the most obvious: just ask. Most shops are candid about the maintenance bill and turnaround. As long as you’re not haggling over prices or demanding your bike to be completed in an unreasonable time frame.
The key is to develop a relationship with your mechanic and let them know you only trust their hands on your rig and no one else’s.
Sure, we've all had those experiences where mechanics were jackasses.
I had one guy tell me that I should buy a second bike if I couldn’t handle not knowing when my repair would be done. I just needed new bar tape, and it took over a week! But remember, at the end of the day, you are the master of your repair. There is always another bike shop that will be willing to take your business if the price or repair isn’t to your liking. The key is to be realistic, courteous, and be appreciative of the work they are doing. Chances are, if you do so, then your shop manager and mechanic will go the extra distance–throwing in that free bottle cage or cleaning up your chain when they don’t have to.
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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