week 2…

March 25th, 2009

… of work is not going so well.  Mostly because of the bug I caught at the end of last week, and the continued lack of rest I’m getting.  I’m going to have to stay home for a day or two, which I should have done earlier, but really was trying to avode doing since I’m on trial employment.   I know it was just my illness (fever or something) showing though, but yesterday I was having all of these negative thoughts racing through my mind, like Maybe I really will hate this, and Maybe people are right when they say I should find a more comfortable career and just do mechanics as a hobby, but I’m not thinking that today so I know it was just a physically tough day from being sick.

The other day I spent a couple of hours working on two WalMart bikes.  I’ve seen some bike shops’ websites with stated policies of refusing to work on department store bikes, but after changing flats on a number of cheapo bikes my first week, I decided that those shops were being total a-holes.  The people I saw with dept. store bikes don’t have a choice;  they can’t afford anything better and they rely on their bike for transportation nearly 100%.   Well, after performing actual maintenance on these bikes, as opposed to just changing out tubes, I now see why a shop would refuse to service these POS-es.  Basically the bike is constructed out of plastic and a material slightly stronger than aluminum foil.  Once it reaches the shop, it’s totally overdue for service and seemingly needs everything done to it– the cables are rusty and shredded, the drivechain is worn, brake pads are gone, wheels untrue, you name it –but since the customer doesnt want / can’t afford the tune-up package,  they go for just the most critical repairs, like cable replacements.  But fine-tuning is near impossible on these components and you end up spending way too much time and willpower just to end up with  bike that still performs like it’s trash/recycling ready. It is really a frustrating, and pretty humiliating actually to work on a bike like that for so long and feel like it’s kicking your ass.  So it’s tough situation I think when a bike shop is faced with servicing a dept store bike, on the one hand the customerr probably really needs a functioning bike but on the other niether the customer nor the shop can afford to do the kind of work that would be required for that.

I sound so doom-and-gloom all of a sudden! It’s just the fever talking, things at work have not really been so bad.  I can think of two nice anecdotes  from last week.   A guy came in with a bike similar to the above-mentioned  (his was from Target, he told me, $159)  needing a flat fix.  While  I was working on his wheel he had a nice talk.  I learned he was a Chinese immigrant, started out working under the table at a restaurant for less than minimum wage, now worked at a bank and spoke flawless English.  He asked how I got interested in mechanics, and when I said “it doesnt hurt anybody, it’s not evil,” he understood what I meant.   We just went back and forth talking, it was nice,  and I found and pried out a piece of metal he had run over.  Then when the cashier went to ring him up, this customer gave a couple every dollars extra and asked that the change be given to me.  My first tip!  That meant a lot to me knowing how hard he had to work to earn his money.  We thanked each other again before he left.

Another time a customer came in, right before closing, and was pointing at his chain, making hand gestures and speaking in broken English in a european accent.  Well I happen to speak Russian so I said “Ruskie?”and kind of looked shock and said “da“.   He needed a new chain so while I took care of that for him we spoke in Russian and told each other our life stories, more or else.  This young man had just moved here from Russia month ago on tourist visa,  to live with his fiancée, who’s a dual-citizen.  He bought his mountain bike on craigslist for a hundred dollars, it needed a derailleur limit adjustment and brake tightening too, which I did while he was being rung up for the chain replacement.  He was really grateful and we shook hands before he went on his way.  So that made me feel really good as I left the shop for the day.

2 Responses to “week 2…”

  1. danpugatch Says:

    Right on brother!

    The main problem(s) with department store bikes are they need a full tuneup as soon as they are bought because they are thrown together by someone in a back room who doesn’t know what they are doing or using the proper tools. Brakes never work effectively, brake pads are never aligned up, gears don’t shift well, wheels aren’t true, hubs are tight, headsets are loose, etc.

    Unfortunately we have to tell people often and then they complain in yelp reviews that we told them and accuse us of being bike snobs which is funny I used to ride a huffy beach cruiser in college… Anyway, we have to tell them that the work it needs (new pads, new cables, new chain, new brakes, new brake levers even) costs so much its CHEAPER to buy another department store bike. I tell them its better to get the upgraded parts but if they are only going to use it for another year and move back overseas or back home then just ride it to it dies and throw it away. Most department store bikes are made to have a 2-3 year lifespan because they are made cheap for kids who outgrow them.

    Sorry to hear you are down man, I’ve been feeling the same myself. Gotta be warm/cold/warm/cold weather changes and spring allergies and what not.

    I want to learn Russian!!! I’m half Russian you know, my grandpa came over when he was a kid.

    I know you havent said what shop you are at cause the job isn’t a definite yet. I am curious tho! Sounds like you are having a great time wrenching, stay at it man. It is the BEST job I’ve ever had.

  2. pedalstrike Says:


    your stories are awesome – keep it up! and although i’m no mechanic, i think all bike mechanics are innately good people. and they are all super super cool.

    don’t give up! how else will i learn all about dept. store bikes?!

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