Of Bike Mechanics and Computer Repair Techs

As somewhat of a bike enthusiast, I came upon this presentation discussing bicycle mechanic salaries.  Long story short, they are depressingly low. At around $22,000, it’s pretty close to the minimum cost of living in most places.  In many places, this won’t even cover rent in a 1 bedroom apartment.

So, it seems there’s a problem in that it’s almost impossible to make a living being a bike mechanic.  Bike mechanics can be useful, and I’ve even taken my bike to a mechanic from time to time. The presentation (I use this word, because a simple 1 page article was turned into 39 slides), states that some bikes can cost $8000, and that people are unwilling to pay $80 for a tune up.

While a bike certainly could cost $8000, most do not.  I don’t have any actual data, but based on the bikes I see on the street, that the average price of bikes that are sold, is somewhere around $400.   Most people, even the enthusiasts that I know, will never spend more than $1500 on a bike.  For those that aren’t enthusiasts, and who only shop for bikes at Walmart, will probably think that $400 is way too much for a bike.  And bike prices are only coming down.  $1000 will get you a bike that’s better then what the pros were riding 10 years ago.

When you have a $400 bike, charging $80 for tune up sounds like a lot to ask.  It’s similar to a computer repair guy from the Geek Squad asking you for $80 to fix you $400 laptop.  For the price of a couple tune ups, you’re well on your way to purchasing a whole new bike, or laptop.

Fixing a bike is easy. You don’t even need many fancy tools.  About 95% of the work you will ever have to do on your bike could probably done with about $50 worth of tools.  There’s even this great site  where people will help you fix your bike for free.  And it’s also (at least in my opinion) quite invigorating, to know that you can do it yourself, when you’re 50 km from nowhere, and something breaks, it’s nice to know you could solve the problem yourself instead of having to hitch-hike home, or call someone for a ride.

This is very similar to computers, where most people could figure out how to fix their own computer if they just took some time. Actually, fixing a computer is probably more difficult than fixing most bike related problems, as actually diagnosing the problem, and fixing it without just formatting the machine and starting from scratch can actually be quite difficult.  A bike has way less parts than a computer.  And there’s very few things that actually go wrong with quality bikes

I admit, if you have an $8000 bike, and need it for racing, where seconds can mean the difference between winning and losing, then paying somebody big bucks to makes sure the wheels are perfectly true, and the gears and brakes are adjusted just so makes perfect sense.  At this point you should be spending your free time training, and not mucking around with wrenches and grease.  But if you just use your bike for transportation or recreational rides, then you really should be doing your own maintenance.

I don’t think we can solve the problem of the low paid bike mechanic.  If you want to make big bucks as a bike mechanic, you’d better start fixing bikes for people who really care about them. People who’s livelihood depends on their bike, like professional bike riders.  Just like computer techs who want to make more money have to end up going to fix computers for people who have rooms full of computers, and having a computer not working  means loosing money for every minute that computer isn’t running.

But I just don’t think there’s any money to be made in tuning brakes, tuning derailleurs, and switching out bottom brackets.  It’s too easy to learn to do these things yourself, and if you start asking for more money in the hopes of making more money, you’ll probably just drive potential customers away, who will figure out how to do it themselves, or get the local high-school bike enthusiast to do it for the price of a couple inner tubes.