Originally published in Issue #192
“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.” — Leo Tolstoy, “Anna Karenina”
Repairing bikes isn’t a great way to make a living. On average, bike mechanics are paid less than the average high school dropout. Pretty sad state of affairs for an industry that seems able to sell multi-thousand dollar bikes on a regular basis.
How did this happen? First and foremost, bike shops are terrible at making money. The profit margin on new bike sales usually hovers right around the break-even point. Parts and accessories are moving more and more to online sales. Considering you can often buy things from brands like Shimano for less than dealer’s wholesale cost, this comes as no surprise.
Bicycle mechanics are also unregulated, meaning any dolt off the corner can selfidentify as a bike tech. No certification, no licensing, no industry-wide educational programs. While there are a few good schools out there offering bicycle repair classes, these aren’t true certifications.
Additionally, the seasonal nature of the bike business in many parts of the country leads to annual layoffs. After a few years of regular wintertime unemployment, many talented people move on to careers that offer better job security. So each year a new round of raw mechanics start at entry-level wages, which drives down the average wage as well.
Add to this the perception by some of the public that fixing bikes can be done by just about anyone. Work in a shop for any amount of time and you’ll hear complaints about the cost to repair something “simple” like a flat tire.
There have been attempts to start a professional organization or union for mechanics over the years, and it seems like one is finally going to stick around. The Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association is brand new, but managed to add 5,000 members to its Facebook group in just a few months.
While that Facebook group is a mixed bag of everything that is good and bad about bike mechanics, PBMA is off to a good start with a board of directors and organizational structure that seems truly professional.
From the PBMA blog: “A major goal of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association (PBMA) is to help define what certificated training means to an employer and eventually issue professional certification levels as a member benefit. In the U.K. there are cycle mechanic trade schools and those conduits are a major part of entry into the industry. They have a governmentimplemented system in place that is recognized by the cycling industry, the bicycle dealers, but also, and most importantly, by the general public. We are hoping to create programs and systems that could eventually lead to a similar system for the cycling community here.”
As a former mechanic and shop owner I’m entirely behind this idea. With the massive amount of standards and ever more complicated component designs, it is time for the industry to embrace the idea of certification for mechanics. I’d also like to see a push for better pay for those willing to dedicate time and money to becoming educated and experienced. No one that works on bikes for a living is doing it to get rich, but that doesn’t mean they have to work for barely above poverty wages either.
Workers organizing to improve their lot have a long history of positive outcomes for everyone involved. Keeping some of our best and brightest around the shop with better pay and benefits will have a positive effect that will extend far past the wallets of the dedicated grimy guys and gals in the back of the local bike shop. Check out PBMA’s website for more information.
From Issue #190
Throughout the evolution of the mountain bike, we’ve seen new technologies and ideas introduced at a very rapid rate. Just 30 years ago most of what we take for granted while riding now wasn’t even on anyone’s radar.
Some of the technology has been discarded along the way, usually with good reason. Dual-control shifters, suspension stems, 1.5-inch knobby tires, toe clips and horizontal top tubes have all been relegated to the waste bin by most riders.
Some technology was a little before its time and returned to wide acceptance. Dropper posts started out with the Hite-Rite, which was tossed out as cross-country racing took hold of the industry. The Gravity Dropper brought the idea back, and now the dropper post is the must-have accessory for any serious trail rider.
Even the current wheel sizes aren’t new ideas. Back in the ‘90s, 700c wheels made appearances on mountain bikes from Diamondback and Bianchi, and rumor has it 650b wheels might have been the dominant wheel size if the Russian government hadn’t purchased all the available stock of knobby tires in that size. But it seemed we needed a few more years to warm up to things, and now 27.5 and 29 inch have replaced 26 inch wheels on probably 95 percent of new mountain bikes.
But, some things stick around, even if they seem to serve no purpose. The biggest offender here? Internal cable routing. Why? Why are we doing this to ourselves? At best, it cleans up the aesthetics of the frame, but does zero to clean up the spaghetti-mess of cables that sprout from our bars. I have a bike I’m testing right now with SEVEN cables coming off the bars, with a few of them going inside the frame, and a few outside. Why? Who knows.
At worst, this stuff can actually be dangerous. Some of the early designs could cause the housing to rub on steerer tubes, and cable housing can cut through an aluminum steerer tube with enough use. I’ve also seen bad routing cause housing to fray and/or rattle inside the frame. And those little rubber grommets that keep the housing in place where it enters the frame? They seem to like to take early retirement in hidden trailside locations.
While this is improving, for many of these bikes you’ve got a serious headache when it comes time to replace your cables. There are all kinds of attempts to make this easier. I’m sure the Park cable routing tool is pretty awesome. But really, on a mountain bike, why?
Even better, on some bikes, you’ve got your cable running through housing (which is a tube), running inside a guide tube inside the frame tube. Tube in tube in tube construction seems to be straight out of the Department of Redundancy Department.
I will admit that internal routing for dropper posts makes a lot of sense. While I still use quite a few external droppers, unless that loop is routed just right, it is forever running into legs, swingarms and/or tires. But I see no need to make this good idea worse by trying to get the cable to make the internal turn in the junction between the seat tube and down tube while having almost no access to it.
The better option is out there, and in use by some companies like Turner and Guerrilla Gravity. Just put three or four threaded bosses on the top of the down tube. You can even cheat and use the two bottle mounts that should already be there. Bolt cable guides into those bosses to create customizable routing. Hell put some on the bottom of the top tube, too. More options are better.
One derailleur, two derailleurs, droppers, remote lockouts, moto-style brakes—all this is easily taken care off. Sure, the Di2 whiners will whine that their precious electronic cables are exposed, but there is no stopping that.
Enough with the roadie influence here; there is no need to be ashamed of our cables.
Illustration: Stephen Haynes
My event would allow only two bikes—any two bikes the racer wanted, but only two, with just tire swaps allowed between stages.
No question, the Enduro World Series is a great racing event. It’s well run, truly global in locations and is attracting some of the fastest riders on two wheels. I “raced” one a few years ago on a borrowed bike with a triple-ring crank and unclutched rear derailleur, and I had a blast doing it.
But you don’t read this column to be regaled with prose about the wonderfulness of things, do you? I don’t want to slag off on the EWS—I’d be glad to race another one anytime—but in reality, it has turned into downhill racing on trail bikes.
It wasn’t always like this, as Carl Decker said in an interview in Dirt Rag #185: “There was a mix that rewarded cross-country fitness, strong bike handling and descending abilities. Now it’s definitely trending toward the washed-up World Champion downhiller.”
I’m all for a retirement circuit for the former fast guys, because they make for fun racing. But I always thought enduro was supposed to reward riders with a mix of skills, not just the ability to pin it going down.
What really got me thinking about this again was Grinduro (which we detailed in Issue #189), which really isn’t a mountain bike event at all. The key to making it interesting, at least to me, is a nice mix of stages that doesn’t favor any one riding style or bike. Grinduro has four timed sections: road hill-climb, dirt-road descent, rolling pavement and singletrack downhill. Choices like that make it very hard to choose the right bike, and throwing in the ability to draft on the pavement means some peloton skills are needed as well.
After a night watching Red Bull’s Hard Enduro events, having nostalgic thoughts about putting on our own Punk Bike Enduro in the past, debating making a trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia, for the Tour de Burg (whose motto is “All good downhills start with a climb”) and fondly recalling John Tomac racing cross-country and downhill on drop bars, I’m once again reminded that cycling is too damn specialized (not a pun).
I want to celebrate the amazing all-around riders who might never be at the top of their class in any one discipline, but kill it on any kind of bike, in any type of terrain. I’m betting there is enough interest among racers, spectators and manufacturers (as well as sponsors) to have a multi-day, multidiscipline event that truly would find the best bike riders in the world.
I’m thinking World Cup–level downhill course, 100-mile gravel/dirt-road race, multi-lap road crit and a day of enduro-style racing with uphill, downhill and rolling stages. Maybe even toss in BMX and cyclocross stages for good measure.
If it were up to me, my event would allow only two bikes—any two bikes the racer wanted, but only two, with just tire swaps allowed between stages. That would keep things even more interesting and truly would test the allaround performance of modern machines.
I have a lot of ideas in the course of a given day, and most of them just float off into the ether. This one seems to be sticking around, and now there is written proof. Maybe others might feel the same about this idea? I guess this is as good a way as any to find out.