Exploring this Job
Many people become interested in bicycle repair because they own and maintain their own bikes. Taking general maintenance and tune-up classes that some bike shops offer for bicycle owners is a good way for you to explore your interest in working with bikes. Visit with the bicycle mechanics at these shops and ask them for their insights. How did they start in this line of work? What do they enjoy most about it? What is the most challenging aspect of the job? If a local shop does not offer classes, consider taking courses at a private school such as the United Bicycle Institute or the Barnett Bicycle Institute.
Bike shops sometimes hire inexperienced students as assistants to work on a part-time basis or during the summer when their business is most brisk. Such a job is probably the best way to find out about this type of work.
There are various magazines available at larger newsstands, bookstores, or public libraries, or online, that are devoted to recreational cycling and serious bicycle racing. These magazines often cover the technical aspects of how bicycles are constructed and operated, and they may provide helpful information to anyone interested in bike repair. Bicycle associations can provide additional information regarding classes, industry news, and employment.
Repairing bicycles takes mechanical skill and careful attention to detail. Many repairs, such as replacing brake cables, are relatively simple, while others can be very complicated. Mechanics use a variety of tools, including wrenches, screwdrivers, drills, vises, and specialized tools to repair and maintain bikes. There are many different brands of bikes, both domestic and foreign, and each has its own unique characteristics and mechanical problems.
Bicycle mechanics work on both new and used bicycles. They may be required to do emergency repairs or routine tune-ups, or they may need to repair and recondition used bikes so they can be sold. Many new bikes come from the manufacturer unassembled, and mechanics working at a bicycle dealership or shop must assemble them and make adjustments so they operate properly. Many department stores and discount houses that sell bikes contract out this type of assembly work to dealerships or bike shops, and it can be very profitable.
Some of the basic repairs that bicycles need can easily be done by the owner, but many cyclists lack the tools, time, or initiative to learn how to service their bikes. They prefer to take most problems to professional bicycle mechanics. One type of repair is fixing a flat tire. Leaks in clincher tires (those with a separate inner tube) can be fixed at home, but many owners choose to take them to a bicycle mechanic. Repairing sew-up tires (which have no inner tube) is a more complicated process that generally requires a mechanic. Mechanics can also build wheels, replace and tighten spokes, and "true" (align) the wheels. To build a wheel, the mechanic laces the spokes between the rim and the hub of the wheel and then tightens them individually with a special wrench until the wheel spins without wobbling. A truing machine is used to test the balance of the wheel as it spins.
The gear mechanism on multiple-speed bikes is another common concern for bicycle mechanics. On some bikes, gears are shifted by means of a derailleur, which is located on the back wheel hub or at the bottom bracket assembly where the pedals and chain meet. This derailleur frequently needs adjustment. The mechanic aligns the front and rear gears of the derailleur to reduce wear on both the chain and the gear teeth and adjusts the mechanism to keep constant pressure on the chain. Gear mechanisms vary greatly among different makes of bicycles so mechanics have to keep up with current models and trends.
Bicycle mechanics must be able to spot trouble in a bike and correct problems before they become serious. They may have to straighten a bent frame by using a special vise and a heavy steel rod. They may be asked to adjust or replace the braking mechanism so that the force on the brakes is spread evenly. They may need to take apart, clean, grease, and reassemble the headset, or front hub, and the bottom bracket that houses the axle of the pedal crank.
Mechanics who work in a bike shop sometimes work as salespeople, advising customers on their bike purchases or accessories, including helmets, clothing, mirrors, locks, racks, bags, and more. In some shops, especially those located in resort areas, bike mechanics may also work as bicycle-rental clerks. Where winters are cold and biking is seasonal, bike mechanics may work part of the year on other recreational equipment, such as fitness equipment, snowmobiles, or small engines.