On a Mechanic’s Importance

By CJ Rudy

Essay: On a Mechanic’s Importance

Nov 19

In the barbershop world, there is a seniority based on which chair a barber works at. The barber closest to the door is greenest; the one farthest from the door, likely near the cool stuff, is the seasoned veteran that people hope to snag. Some patrons will pass on the barber by the door with intentions to wait for the long-standing tonsorialist. It’s that concept that applies to the local bike shop’s mechanics. 

Over the past few decades, many people have worked on bikes from creakybottombracket.com’s service course. Some, like the mechanic who snipped the shifter cables the day before a big race to reinforce his recommendation, never touched the bike again. There was a case when a customer specifically asked one of the mechanics to not touch his bike. Much to the credit of the mechanic, he confronted the customer directly to ask what the disconnect was regarding his expertise. But there are a small group of mechanics who are sought out because of their veteran status. Unfortunately most of them no longer work in the bike industry. One has opened his own handyman business, one was never seen again after the shop closed, but the enclave that remains are trusted experts who have solved numerous problems.

This got us thinking of another example regarding schools: “Schools cannot function if teachers don’t show up, but schools could function if administration did not report to work.” Meaning, is a shop dependent on a great mechanic? Or the other way around? Customers tend to follow mechanics when they relocate while others will gauge the expertise of the new crew. So does a shop function if a great mechanic is not present? Or are mechanics personalities that come into their own as they melt into the store’s culture?

Consider our current luck – we have three incredible mechanics at one shop who are entrusted with all our bikes. But the luck doesn’t end there, because the mechanics are not lone employees. The three mechanics invite each other to review their work, thus creating a team of checks and balances. This was a new concept compared to shops with one veteran surrounded by up-and-comers. There is no level of pride to prevent one mechanic from requesting to the others, “Can you come look at this and give a suggestion?” Often the conclusion that bike mechanics are problem solvers is obvious while they work.

Mechanics have been asked to diversify their experience greatly in the past decade. Bikes plugged into laptops are common. Sealant being poured into tire casings would have drawn confused looks twenty years ago. Setting disc brakes is likely accompanied by gritting teeth from the traditionalist mechanics. Yet here they are, fixing bikes while watching electronic shifting and suspensions encroach on their work.

It was a few weeks ago when the asphalt bike was loaded onto the team car and taken to one of the trusty mechanics. The bike was not cooperating, and I was at my limit of knowledge. Knowing my place in the world, I rolled the bike into the service area of the shop where it was diagnosed that the last mechanic installed the chain incorrectly. In the haste of getting back out there with a new chain, a mechanic who would have been the equivalent of being stationed by the barbershop entrance had installed it all wrong. 

While people turn to YouTube to troubleshoot their bike, one should simply turn it over to the local bike shop’s mechanics. So many people have brought in online orders to ‘finish the build’ but what they are really looking for is peace of mind that the bike is tightly put together. While people want to think mechanics are reduced in their necessity, it’s great to know that those who make a living out of wrenching are waiting to solve the next bike problem, even if that means one was ‘just riding along.’