details coming soon -i’ve been so busy this week. …update: This is now (for how ever briefly) officially a bike mechanic’s blog!  Soon after filling out job applications at five local shops, I got a callback from one and an interview was set up.  I thought the interview went well, I didn’t try to over-represent my skills, I was honest and said I was just starting out and I was looking to make a career out of bike mechanics, and that I had a lot to learn.   I asked previously whether I would be working on a bike during the interview as a demonstration, was told ‘maybe’, and ultimately did not.  We just had a good, long conversation, but with zero professional experience the manager told me I was not the ideal candidate for the job, as a veteran mechanic with a number of years under his belt was had just given notice, and a replacement was being sought for him. But the manager floated the idea of having me come into the shop, and work for a few weeks under him to see how it goes.  It basically allows him to keep taking applications while evaluating me, and allows me to get a feel for what working at this shop would be like, get more mechanical training  and practice, and retain ith the freedom to interview at other shops (which I will be doing at at least one other LBS next week.)

The manager/owner  and I agreed to give this trial employment thing a shot, and that’s what I’ve been doing this past week.  So I’m working as a mechanic in a shop now, but I don’t have a job offer yet.  It’s not the most reassuring or stable situation obviously, but it has definitely been worth doing so far.  I’ve been at this for a week but I haven’t had a chance to put pen to pad, fingers to keyboard, so what follows is a hodgepodge of experiences, observations and thoughts that I’ve had since starting work.

-I mostly like this shop’s dynamics.  It’s been in the same location for decades and there are a bunch of regulars, some even let themselves in through the staff-only backdoor entrance, and then stand behind the counters  and workbenches chatting up the employees.   Some of these regulars are real characters, let me tell you.  The employees are nice, one thing that I think would bug me if I stayed here is that no one else is in their twenties, and socially it may not be that great if I stay on here.  The shop has an annex space with a separate workbench, where a mechanic can work on bikes without being uninterrupted by customers.  Sounds cool because you can play whatever music you want and be ‘one with the bike’.  But I haven’t actually spent any time working in the annex because I can’t stray too far from the manager’s shadow, and he is mostly up front with the customers.

-most customers have really simple needs, like a flat fix, tune-up, brake adjust, etc.  which I can take care of most of the time.  Anything complicated  or involving diagnosis  is usually handled by the more experienced staff.  Most customers, actually all of them so far, are really nice and appreciative of the work done at the shop.  I never though of myself as a people person, but so far i have enjoyed interacting with customers.  Most of them really like their bike, and I’ve realized its important to show enthusiasm for their bike too so they feel good about having it and riding it and taking care of it.

-I am really amazed that some bike couriers in this city don’t know even the most simple things about bikes and  maintenance .  This week I showed a courier how to tighten his brakes using the barrel adjuster, and told two mess’ers that it’s important to clean and re-lube the chain after a day of riding in the rain, which they didn’t know.  I thought all messers did at Winthrop Square was talk shop all day long… guess not?

-I’ve been assembling boxed bikes and that has been going well, as I was pretty prepared and trained for it.  They are simple and cheap bikes — 7 speeds, flat bar, threaded headset — and assembling like 5 or 6 of them has gone off without a hitch, more or less.  They come partially assembled, I’m not sure how long it takes me to finish one completely, but I havent done more than two in a 7 hour work day.

– While I’m assembling a boxed bike,  a customer might wheel in their bike and in tell the person at the counter, or sometimes me, the problem with their bike, and if I can handle it (flat fix, tuning, truing, chain replace), I interrupt my assembly and take care of the work order on the spot.

– Installing new Armadillo tires was a real fight!  My forearms were throbbing after doing two in a row, like I was lifting weights in a gym.  After getting through them, my thoughts turned to protein bars, as if by Pavlovian conditioning.

– I screwed up badly twice, that I know of.  One was a front derailleur cable install, on rapid fire shifters on a beat up Cannondale. I could tell this was being ridden someone who had no choice between a bike, a car, or public transit, and depended on this bike for primary transport. This bike was really dirty and muddy, had a plastic bag over the seat, and a rear rack that clamped to the seat post.  The ULock was attached by bracket on the seat tube, and I had no place to clamp the bike to the stand.  I had to let it dangle by the nose of the seat, putting me in a low and uncomfortable position.

First I wasn’t placing the head of the cable into the right spot on the shifter, and then I had trouble clamping the end onto the derailleur the right way, because it had dual top/bottom pull capability.  I had to throw away the first cable I used and start over, and the whole thing took forever, with the customer standing right there in front of the mess.  The end of the cable started to fray at where I was the clamping blot was being applied, and i had to cut and crimpy the end shorter then would have liked.  Finally I got the bike back to the customer, he leaves the shop, and within seconds he’s back in the door, talking to the manager, who is making an adjustment for him.  Fuck!  Now the boss gets to see the hack-job I put on the cable install.  He tells the guy it’s all set now and gives him back the bike… and guess what, the customer comes back in the shop within seconds again.  He’s annoyed, natch.  Chain not shifting into the largest chainring.  I take the bike this time, use the barrel adjuster to tighten the cable, make sure the derailure can shift to all three chainrings, and say That should do it.  He takes the bike out the door, and I don’t see him again that day.  Did we fix the problem for him, or did he lose patience with us and vow never to come in again?  I may never find out unless I see him again sometime in the shop.  lesson learned:  make sure to put the bike on the stand in a way that I easily reach what needs to be reached.  that means asking for the ulock key to make room at the seat tube, etc.  Also take closer not of how the old cable went into the shift mechanism and derailleur before removing it and installing a new one.

The other bad screw-up was with spoke-install slash wheel true. Two spokes were missing on the drive side of a single speeder, and the wheel wobbled badly.   Of the two other ‘real’ mechanics at the shop, besides the manager, one was on vacation and the other had gone home early.  Suddenly I found myself alone in the workbench area of the shop, wearing a shop apron, as if i was the face of the shop’s repair operation. not cool!! The job was promised to be ready at something like 5, but I didnt even touch the that wheel until 5! (the manager was busy with a phone call of something).  The customer came in the shop exactly at five, and was told 15 more mins.  I had never installed spokes before but had seen it done, I got a hand for another staff member for picking out the right spoke lengths. I removed the freewheel, but I had to back off the cones and locknuts to get access to the spoke holes on the hub.  I was doing something wrong there, was afraid I was misaligning the axle with the way I was wrenching the cone off, and had to get help again for that.  Then I spent literally like 35 or 40 minutes trying to true this wheel.  I had to go over to the guy and say, Oh, 10 more minutes, sorry to keep you waiting.  At least he had a book to read, and he sat down and did that.  Every time I thought I had the wheel perfectly true, I would de-stress the spokes, spin again, and the wheel was insanely untrue.  My face was flush from frustration and fatigue.  I finally gave the SOS to the counterperson, “please page the manager!”  Then I realized I hadn’t adjusted the hub after easing off the cone and nut on the drive side, and that’s what was messing me up.  The spokes were too tight all over, and the wheel was out of dish.  The manager came over, was very patient with me, cleaned up my botched work wheel explaining what he was doing,.  I turned my back to the seated customer and whispered to the boss, ‘this guy has been waiting for this wheel for like an hour, I feel really bad, can we cut him a deal or something?’ When the manager gave the finished wheel back to the guy, he only changed him for the two spokes, no labor cost, and the customer was beaming at both of us as he left– I guess he figured waiting an hour is worth saving 30 bucks.  I am really not confident that that wheel is going to stay straight once he starts riding on it again.  I later realized I also didnt use any spoke prep on those new spokes, either.  ugghh….   so that sucked.   lesson learned:  don’t let the first time I do a certain kind of bike work be on a customer’s bike, call on someone else if I’m not confident to handle something myself, use spoke prep, and remember to have the hub adjusted right before throwing a wheel up on a truing stand.

-My hands are sore and dry from wrenching and from washing.


here did my cuticles go?  I started to worry that I was going to developed RSI  in my palms and wrists working over the long term…. The manager here says he has no problems after 30 years so I hope its just soreness that I will overcome with time.

-I slept like a baby after the first day of work, from being so physically exhausted.  Mind you I hadn’t put in a day of work since graduated college three months ago.  I worked 6 days in a row since Monday, and I knew wasn’t getting enough sleep, mostly because the commute sucks currently.    A few days a ago I said to myself at this rate, the sleep deprivation is going to cause me to get sick, catch a cold of something.  Well lo and behold I started to get sick last night, just after finishing my first full week of work.  Feels like a fever, I’m not sure if I’m running a temperature or not, but I am sick and weak right now and its sucks to spend my only day off like this.  I’m moving into Cambridge in a week (been with my folks in the suburbs since January) so things should in improve once my commute time gets cut in half or better.

That’s about all I can muster for now, I’m going to take some more Nyquil and try to rest up for work tomorrow.

4 Responses to “where’ve I been? at work, that’s where (!)”

  1. danpugatch Says:

    details now!!!!

  2. danpugatch Says:

    First off congrats on getting a foot in the door, I hope all things go well and you become one of us!

    And now for my comments 😛

    Armadillio’s are hard, gatorskins are harder, kids and strollers are the hardest. It’s all hand strength, try doing hand exercises everyday. You’ll get better in a few weeks and it’ll be easy. My first month as a mechanic I did 10+ flats a day, its an initiation thing…

    It’s amazing how little people who think they know a lot about bikes actually know. But hey that’s why there’s classes! I remember everyone making fun of me at my first alleycat race becuase I couldn’t change my own flats.

    You should be able to finish assembling and make adjustments to a new boxed bike in an hour.

    I hate having to let the bike balance by the seat to it’s such a pain!!! If I’m not going to do brake adjustments I sometimes clamp it by the top tube.

    I learnt the hard way too about some brake and shift levers have two spots for the end of the cable depending on what type of brakes you are using v or caliper cause it needs to pull more or less cable. I’m surprised they don’t double check your work before the customer gets it back. Especially since you are new. At Broadway we always have someone else test ride the bike first. Even if you’ve been there for 10 years.

    Sounds like you are loving it, welcome to the world of permanently dirty hands!

  3. Vin - OldRoads Says:

    Congrats and don’t worry about making mistakes once in a while.
    They’ll be fewer as you go on.
    Even if this gig doesn’t pan out, it will be good resume fodder and a good reference.

  4. pedalstrike Says:

    Congrats! And permanently dirty hands = hottt!

    Feel better and keep blogging 🙂

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