experience required (?)

January 29th, 2009

When I first began to consider becoming a bicycle mechanic, I was afraid of being already too old to get my foot in the door. I assumed most mechanics got their start when they were 13 at their local shop, and to do so post-college was too late in the game.  While it’s true that a good number of people in the field started out messing around with bikes as kids or teens, it turn its still possible for others to gain experience and get hired.  Here are some good resources I can think of:

bike shops – It might just be as easy as walking into an LBS and asking if they’re hiring.  Some shops might not require any previous experience at all, just an “enthusiasm for the job”, but that’s rare.  Maybe you can ask to start out as a sales associate and have them train you on mechanics on the side.   I’ve also heard of some people convincing the owner/manager to let them apprentice at a shop medium-to-long-term, but this might involve being compensated with a store discount in lieu of a paycheck.  If you’re really lucky maybe you’ll find a shop that does something as formal  as Aaron’s Bike Shop’s two-year apprenticeship.

Most shops will require some previous experience however, in which case you may want to inquire about whether your LBS offers basic bike maintenance classes.  These may last 3 to 5 sessions over a number of weeks and usually cover how to fix a flat and do a simple tune-up.  Bike-based nonprofits usually do this sort of thing as well, often for a smaller fee or even free.  Which bring me to…

bicycle cooperatives, a/k/a bike kitchens, community bike organizations, etc… are an excellent resource to learn more about bikes, gain mechanical skills,  save money, and do some good for somebody else.  A partial but not total listing is available here. These noncommercial enterprises vary in mission and organizational level.  Some are small, volunteer-run bike kitchens run out of somebody’s garage or donated space where you can get help on your own bike for free or a donation, or can work on your own bike (Actaully some LBSs also have rentable self-service workbenches as well). Sometimes there is a focus on empowering local youth by allowing them to earn a bicycle through volunteer work. A few orgs have international programs that focus on improving the standard of living within developing nations by delivering bikes and related equipment there.  All of these organizations share a common goal of getting more people on bikes and becoming familiar with them.

Check to see if the one near you offers maintenance classes or the opportunity to do bike-related volunteering.  Chances are they do.

Professional schools – There are two institutes in the country which offer a certification program in bike mechanics.  UBI in Oregon, and Barnett’s in Colorado. I think they go for 80 hours over 2 weeks, and cost two or three grand.  I’ve heard and read only good things about these schools.  They have websites.

if anyone has any other ideas or experiences … pray tell.

update: question mark added to end of title, as I had intended

2 Responses to “experience required (?)”

  1. danpugatch Says:

    As I told you previously on facebook. I started as a bike mechanic on my 27th birthday with no experience. I took the BikesNotBombs basic class a few months prior. I walked in being able to change a flat and adjust a hub that’s it!

    I plan on going to Barnett’s possibly this January.

  2. Vin Says:

    Great article.
    An additional way to learn is to pick up a junk bike on trash day or a couple cheap bikes on craigslist or the local Salvation Army store and just start messing with them.
    If you don’t have a bike stand, just turn them upside-down so you can spin the wheels, run the gears, etc.
    If you’re short on space, just keep the wheels and bring them into your apartment and take ’em apart and see if you can get them back together again.
    Just getting your hands on a bike and turning some wrenches will help build confidence, skills and experience.

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