Confession: I was a tourist in the biking industry. Yes, I worked in a shop — the front and the back — but I wasn’t really in the business. I worked weekends and that landscape is vastly different than Monday – Friday. During the week is when warranty claims are filed, bills are paid, orders are received, the floor is stocked, and the professional mechanics do the deep work like tune ups, brake bleeds, and the improvisation required for working on odd French stuff and parts that are seized, rusted, or broken that need to be removed and replaced.
Now I do all of that. More than a few customers have been tickled by that fact. Why do they get a thrill out of learning they are speaking to the head mechanic, owner, and sole employee? I dunno but I can make some informed guesses:
1) Quality control. Shops that have n+1 employees will do inconsistent work because people are inconsistent. The person who takes your order for a wheel build may not be the person who does the build. The person who does the wheel build may or may not be the shop’s best builder.
A bike mechanic will never starve; they know this and it can lead to them setting their own rules. The work you get may depend heavily on how they spent the previous night. There’s also great variability in skill level because there’s little regulation over this vocation. There are schools, and there are manuals, but when it comes to getting a business license the only thing we had to prove was our business insurance met the minimums. The last thing that leads to inconsistent quality: shops are really stretched thin these days. I’ve heard of wait times in excess of 4 weeks. And try finding a bike shop without a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window. Corners are going to be cut.
We hear good and bad things about other shops. When the feedback is good, the person’s name is usually mentioned. When the feedback isn’t good, the story is usually about some guy in the service department who did less or more work than was expected, and didn’t bother explaining to the customer the reason(s) why.
This doesn’t happen at our shop. I am the only person working on your bike. When you leave your bike with me I will tell you what I plan to fix on your bike. When you pick up your bike I will tell you what I did to it and why. Your receipt will have a thorough explanation of the service performed. If the bike doesn’t perform to expectations I will work on it until it does. That is why we are able to guarantee our tune ups.
No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
When I imagine the life of an e-scooter I often resort to that Hobbesian quote (or as much of it as I can recall). It is a versatile quote and here I am using it to describe the reality of owning a self-financed start up business. Our family lives a thrilling existence in which one lawsuit, one large medical bill, too much bad weather, or an extended absence could end the dream. The possibility is ever present and it leads us to be very thorough in how we operate. This is why our service records are clear and wordy and the torque wrench gets a lot of use. I would wager our tune-ups, wheel builds and bike builds take about twice as long as other shops… because what I don’t want to see is you coming back through my door 5 minutes later or 24 hours later telling me that your bike wasn’t fixed right or something even worse than that.
3) Attitude. We love what we do. What do we do? We… behold an early 1990s Specialized Allez road bike because it was one of the first to use aluminum lugs and carbon tubes; donate our used cassettes, freewheels and chains to a neighborhood artist because… upcycle!; inflate your tires; valet park your bike while you are visiting Tin Whiskers or your parole officer… because bike theft is rampant; offer an opinion on how the city could make our streets and sidewalks more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists; and show you how to adjust your mechanical disc brakes. And we also fix bikes! That pretty much covered yesterday. Today it will be something new.
See you soon!