Good bike shop mechanics are the unsung heroes of every rider. The best ones are bona fide wizards, magically transforming our rickety heaps into well-oiled machines, deftly silencing the most elusive creaks, miraculously extracting the most woefully seized bottom bracket, fixing the hopelessly unfixable.
The wizard's life isn't necessarily an easy one, however, and there are a lot of reasons why they're often so grumpy. As a former shop mechanic with 14 years under his belt – not one of which I regret, mind you – let's just say that I didn't earn my nickname by happenstance. Your hands perpetually smell like oil, your feet ache from standing all day, you're forever fighting for respect, the hours suck, and worst of all, you're constantly surrounded by bikes but rarely have time to ride one.
No one likes a grumpy wizard. So the next time you head into a shop for some help, here are a few things you should probably avoid saying:
"But I can get that way cheaper online!"
In this day and age of 1Gb/s downloads (ha, as if!), instant noodles (which apparently will kill you) and drive-thru weddings (and divorces), we want everything right now. Brick-and-mortar operations have inherently higher operating costs, however, and convenience and good service don't come free. Unless you're also the type to walk into your local electronics store the day before Super Bowl Sunday and expect to pay Amazon prices, don't freak out because a shop actually has the nerve to charge a manufacturer's recommended retail price.
"You just installed a new tube last week and I got another flat on my next ride. What gives?"
Hold on there, bucko. It's entirely possible that your mechanic missed a shard of glass hiding in your tire before installing a new tube but it's just as likely that you just ran over something else on the road or trail. There's cause and then there's coincidence – learn the difference between the two before pointing fingers.
"This part broke when I crashed. It's covered under warranty, right?"
This worked the last time you brought your car into the auto body repair shop, right?
"That only took you five minutes to do. How is that ten bucks??!!"
Most shops charge by the job, not by the hour. In those cases, it's not a matter of how long it took the mechanic but rather how long it would have taken for you to try and do it yourself.
"Can you just show me how to do that?"
With few exceptions, no. But there are a growing number of co-op bike shops that specialize in this sort of thing, and many traditional shops also offer maintenance classes (typically for a nominal fee).
"I just finished 15th in last weekend's Cat. 3 race so you should totally sponsor me. Can you give me a deal on that?"
No. And here's why.
"Can I borrow a [insert tool here]?"
This gets filed into the 'usually no, but sometimes maybe' category. Mechanics live and die by their tools, and they're not always provided by the shop. If you're a regular and you're doing a quick (as in less than two minutes) job within sight, then maybe. Otherwise, it's better to not even ask. The best option, though, would be to ask the mechanic what tool is required for your task – and then buy it from the shop.
Mechanics consider tools sacred. Don't ask to borrow one
"How hard would it be for me to do that myself?"
This is an impossible question to answer. What's your mechanical aptitude? What do you know how to do already? What tools do you have? For example, your mechanic might think nothing of replacing a brake master cylinder and overhauling a suspension fork but it could easily be a frustrating, all-day job for you.
"I've got a big race on Sunday [it's Friday evening]; can I pick this up tomorrow morning?"
How's that saying go again? Oh, right: 'Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.'
You've been training for weeks and months for this race so why did you wait until the last minute to get your gear in order? This is one of those times where you throw yourself on the mercy of the court and hope for the best. Weekends are notoriously busy as it is so if your mechanic is able to accommodate you, make sure to show your appreciation later.
"I was Just Riding Along..."
Ah, the infamous JRA story. Here's the thing – with few exceptions, modern bikes and parts almost never break for no good reason. While it's entirely possible for a component to fail while 'just riding along', there's also the likelihood that it was mortally damaged in a previous crash. And then there are also folks surreptitiously trying to score a free replacement for something they know was their fault. Yep, that massive rim dent obviously just magically appeared.
Here's a tip: tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It's all too easy for someone to see through a fabricated story, and you might be surprised at what your mechanic says when he/she hears what really happened.
"Oh, you're from Taiwan? So did your parents build this bike?"
Yes, someone actually said this to me and no, he wasn't trying to be funny. Needless to say, the conversation didn't end well.