So you're tech savvy and like to do some of your own maintenance? Great. It’s likely that at some point you’ve been working on your bike, found something isn’t quite right and reached out to the World Wide Web to rescue you. Often it provides a lifeline, but hunt for something a little more complex, obscure or older and you may well be scrolling forums for hours. Below are my tips on when to look online, and when to resort to 'old fashioned' resources like local shops or books.
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Don’t get me wrong, the internet has made it possible for many to fix their own bikes successfully. The likes of YouTube, large online stores, media and tool brands that provide detailed ‘how to’ guides, and helpful mechanics who browse forums are all great. However, occasionally there are times when the internet is as useful as a fax machine without paper.
Now, I understand the irony of ranting about the internet on the internet as an employee of an internet-based business, but stay with me for a few minutes.
Finding oddball information
If you’re dealing with an older product, you’re swimming upstream against the search-engine river. Because of the way Google works, it’s highly likely these older component manuals, how-tos and exploded diagrams are absolutely buried beyond the first 10 pages (and you stopped looking after page 2).
At this point, let's pause and give a round of applause to brands that have endless and easily searchable archives. However, in the effort of simplistic web design or faster load speeds, it’s all too common to hide or remove the older information.
The truth is that you’re the consumer and there's a whole other business-to-business world that you just aren’t privy to. This includes everything from advanced ‘dealer’ manuals to, perhaps, exploded diagrams that display complete availability lists of small parts.
Reaching out to the forums is a likely way to get your answer, but it’s just as possible you’ll get the answer that’s relevant for something else… or perhaps one that’s incorrect.
Then there’s the bias. The sad truth of the matter is that user reviews and forum advice are slanted toward the negative experience. How many times have you jumped online to review a hotel after a fantastic experience? So if strong numbers online are telling you to not bother bleeding your SRAM brakes and just buy Shimano instead, for instance, this doesn’t mean that you automatically should.
I’m not going to get into the argument about online vs. independent bike dealers; however, below are a few examples of when many online stores are failing customers.
The big online retailers that offer fast and free shipping are built as mass-market businesses. Far too often I’ve seen people forgo repairing a component because these stores don’t offer the right small part. Or maybe, the small part is marked up while a substitute replacement is suggested to you at a discount — it’s not a coincidence.
The harsh reality is that these stores are there to make a profit and leave the time-consuming, low-profit components to the local bike stores. Want a new faceplate for your scratched STI shifter? Chances are a good local bike store can get it for you cheaper than the single supplying online shop will ship it for.
In many countries, the likes of Giant, Specialized, Trek, Fox and a large handful of others forbid their dealers from selling online. In these cases, online stores aren’t likely to supply you with relatively common suspension components or frame hardware pieces.
Avoid the pitfalls
So following all that, here are my quick tips to avoiding the pitfalls of being an internet mechanic:
- Just as you shouldn’t believe everything told to you by strangers in person, don’t believe everything you read online.
- If your go-to online bike store doesn’t have a part, never assume it doesn’t exist or can't be obtained.
- If a repair procedure calls for a specific and expensive tool that you don’t own (or want to buy), consider paying someone that does own that tool to do the work (in other words, a shop).
- Exploded diagrams offered by the relevant brands are great. If there’s a part number, chances are your bike store can get the part. However, if you can’t find the right exploded diagram, it may be something hidden from public view. In this case, call the brand or visit a shop that stocks the brand.
- Certain repair-help books such as Zinn & the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance remain an invaluable resource for reliable and organised content on certain repair tasks.
- Plenty of old (non-mechanical related) goodness can be found here. Goodbye productivity!