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  1. #1
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    Getting certified?

    How hard is it to become a certified bike mechanic?

    The shop by my parents house is hiring for mechanics. This would be a great job for me when I'm home for the summer from college.

  2. #2
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    I am wrench in an LBS.

    Certified isn't the issue, learning how to work on bikes is. The best way to do that is to learn from an accomplished mechanic.

    There is no, as far as I know, national test that certifies bike mechanics. There are two schools that I know of - the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon and Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado. Both are very good.

    But, people who have attended both has told me that you can learn just as well by working in an LBS. Most mechanics learn by essentially being apprentices. They start out sweeping and cutting up cardboard boxes and then step-by-step learn to become mechanics. It takes awhile.

  3. #3
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    ^ Agreed. I started out working at a bike shop after a couple of years of servicing and building my own race bikes. I learned most of what I know now from the shop's master mechanic. Go interview for the job, be personable and show your determination to learn, and they will hopefully find a spot for you. First it's opening boxes and fixing flats, then it's assembling bikes, and finally you get to really know what makes them tick and learn to do tune-ups, swap components, build wheels, etc.

  4. #4
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Reading bike maintenance manuals help? A Part of anyone's training. Which one's do you recommend.

  5. #5
    Senior Member RockyMtnMerlin's Avatar
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    Well, two responses from mechs say on the job training is as good as or better than going to a school. I have been a consumer of LBS mech services for over 25 years in multiple locations. I have also been to Barnnet Bicycle Institute basic course (just for the fun of it). I can't speak to the abilities of the posters above,they might be great mechanics. And, if you are lucky and can find a shop that has a "master mechanic" then you might do well. But I'm here to tell you that there are at least some shops who have mechs who don't know what they are doing. I have been into shops (with a $5000 bike) where the mechs actually bragged about not using torque wrenches. Now that mght be okay when working on a cheap bikes without high end alloy and carbon components, but its not okay on my bike. I have also been in shops where the "master mechanic" was apparently too busy to oversee the work of the guy who was learing on the job. That resulted in stripped threads in the stem, a dent in the top tube, and handle bar tape wrapped the wrong way. The owner made it all right but it was a PITA waiting for the new stem and having the bike out of commission. I have also been into shops where the mechs were top notch and the service was great. Bottom line, the learning on the job thing might turn out great for you. But, if you have the time and money, I believe you would be well served going to a place like BBI.

  6. #6
    Me talk pretty one day. eyefloater's Avatar
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    I know two people who have gone to UBI and both said they benefited greatly from the experience, even though they were already working as wrenches at a shop. It was a situation where they already knew how to do certain things, but this gave them extra information to completely understand different areas of the bike and be able to adapt and properly work on parts they'd never seen before. Another benefit of going to a school would be to get some in-depth training on specialized components, say suspension forks. If you work at a shop that generally caters to roadies, it's still nice to know how to overhaul a suspension fork so you don't have to turn away that business when it comes through the door.

    With that in mind, the two best mechanics at the shop I work at are either self-trained or trained via the "on-the-job" process exclusively. There's nothing better than a massive amount of experience working on everything and anything to make you a skilled wrench. Those last two individuals are also very adept when it comes to all things mechanical, so natural ability also counts for a fair bit.

    This winter when the shop slows down, I hope to go to UBI for the mechanics course and possibly some others. I'd recommend Brandt's book for wheelbuilding information (check Amazon to get it used) and Barnett's Manual as a great reference book (PM me if you're interested in a .pdf copy).

    - eyefloater

    Edit: Got my spell on.

  7. #7
    Senior Member RockyMtnMerlin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eyefloater
    There's nothing better than a massive amount of experience working on everything and anything to make you a skilled wrench. Those last two individuals are also very adept when it comes to all things mechanical, so natural ability also counts for a fair bit.
    Well put. I would also add that at least when I went through BBI, it was fun!

  8. #8
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    Rocky, you're quite correct about some shops having horrible mechanics, especially since it takes years to master the craft. Even after 3 years of experience, I had times when working on a bike I couldn't figure something out (or at least not as quickly as I would have liked). The master mechanic would come over, listen for 1/2 second, twist the screw driver 1/4 turn, and smile at me like the cat the ate the canary.

    By the way, the hardest bikes to work on are low end. I can build, tune, and fix $1000-5000 bikes with my eyes closed. But give me a 1980s Huffy and I shout curses trying to get the darned parts to adjust. The reason for that is because the high end components have enough investment in them to have fine adjustments and precision made parts, while the cheap bikes don't.

  9. #9
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    Listen to what the mechanic tells you, but also read what Park Tool and Sheldon have to say on the subject

  10. #10
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    I can vouch for UBI as being a good solid foundation. Their shop mechanics course teaches you just about everything in a intensive one week course. The mistake I think a lot of students make is not applying it right after they get out. I had the best intentions of working in a shop right after, but got diverted with school. Now I find my self flipping through the Ubi text book for some pretty basic stuff. They give you the option of taking a certification test at the end of the course which is about a 100 technical questions in 1 hour. You have to pass with at least a 75%. Only about 4 out of 25 pass each class. I've heard that the certificate is a good way to get your foot in the door.

  11. #11
    Senior Member RockyMtnMerlin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urbanknight
    Rocky, you're quite correct about some shops having horrible mechanics, especially since it takes years to master the craft. Even after 3 years of experience, I had times when working on a bike I couldn't figure something out (or at least not as quickly as I would have liked). The master mechanic would come over, listen for 1/2 second, twist the screw driver 1/4 turn, and smile at me like the cat the ate the canary.

    By the way, the hardest bikes to work on are low end. I can build, tune, and fix $1000-5000 bikes with my eyes closed. But give me a 1980s Huffy and I shout curses trying to get the darned parts to adjust. The reason for that is because the high end components have enough investment in them to have fine adjustments and precision made parts, while the cheap bikes don't.
    Two very good points. Wonder what Mike 321 decided to do.

  12. #12
    Senior Member RockyMtnMerlin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by deerhoof
    I can vouch for UBI as being a good solid foundation. Their shop mechanics course teaches you just about everything in a intensive one week course. The mistake I think a lot of students make is not applying it right after they get out. I had the best intentions of working in a shop right after, but got diverted with school. Now I find my self flipping through the Ubi text book for some pretty basic stuff. They give you the option of taking a certification test at the end of the course which is about a 100 technical questions in 1 hour. You have to pass with at least a 75%. Only about 4 out of 25 pass each class. I've heard that the certificate is a good way to get your foot in the door.
    Also good points. You do forget it fast if you don't use the knowledge gained routinely. That is a pretty low percentage of people passing the test.

  13. #13
    Me talk pretty one day. eyefloater's Avatar
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    It may just be a time crunch, depending on the depth of answers required. 100 questions in an hour could be pretty messy if it's more than multiple choice, etc.

  14. #14
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    Sorry I didnt get back on here before... Finals are coming up in a few weeks and I have been studying like mad.

    Thanks guys for the input, I'm heading down to my parents house for Easter weekend. Most likely I will go to the shop that is hiring Friday and talk to someone there about getting a job.

    I already have a whole lot of "basic" mechanic knowledge, my previous job was a scooter/ATV/motorcycle mechanic, so I'm hoping that experience should help me.
    Last edited by Mike321; 04-12-06 at 07:50 PM.

  15. #15
    Senior Member RockyMtnMerlin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike321
    I already have a whole lot of "basic" mechanic knowledge, my previous job was a scooter/ATV/motorcycle mechanic, so I'm hoping that experience should help me.
    It should help. Just remember when you are torquing anything that you are no longer working on those scooter/ATV/motorcycles.

  16. #16
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    I got my start at a local bike shop in the winter no less. I worked under a Barnetts grad and former instructor for about 1 year and then just kind of figured it out on my own after that. The former Barnetts instructor I worked under for that 1st year was very knowledgable and gave me a great foundation but I' feel I've learned more doing on my own. For the past 2 years I have co-managed the shop at our store and have found that was the best education that I've had so far. I run into something new everyday and you have to use the resources around you to fix them - ie tech manuals, former experience, other experienced mechs, etc.

    As for going to one of the schools, I would try like hell to get a job at the local shop first to see how well you like it. I wanted to work for the shop I got hired at and learn about working on bikes so badly that I offered to work for free for the 1st few months just to learn! Thats right, FREE!! Luckily the service manager hired me and even gave me $7hr. It was a deal for me because I would have at that time paid to learn about working on bikes.

    -64deville

    P.S. - When we look for new mech's we look for past mechanical skill no matter what it is. You can differentiate the person that has limited experience with tools and mechanical principles from the person that has exposure and experience with both.

  17. #17
    Recovering Retro-grouch CRUM's Avatar
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    Become a sponge. Suck up every bit of of bike knowledge you can from as many sources as possible.

    I have always worked on my own bikes. In the mid 1980s I got into mountain biking. At the time I had to travel to Portland, about 45 miles to any shop that even had a clue. So I began buying tools, reading every mag, book, and graffitti I could to learn what I needed. I took my own bikes apart down to the last nut and bolt many times a season. Now I own a bike shop and sometimes wonder just what the Hell I was getting myself into.

    I gave up a high paying job to twist wrenches in a friends shop. That is when the learning curve picked up speed. When I learned to turn a Huffer from a dog into a ridable dog in under an hour, my boss told me I was now a bike mechainc. Was I certified? I guess so. I also later took a mechanics course that was a waste of money. It was geared for the newbie mechainc. I was way beyond that level. So I built wheels and straightened frames for 5 days. It was great. I received a cetificate I instantly lost somewhere in New Hampshire on the way home.

    If you want to learn, you will. Some shop somewhere will take a chance on you.
    Keep it 'tween the ditches

    My Blog - Lost in the Bo Zone

  18. #18
    THIS SPACE FOR RENT
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    Everybody who has commented so far has the right end of the stick, but I would add that you will learn a lot from tearing down 2 or 3 bikes until nothing is left to be unscrewed or taken apart and then building them back up that would take you a long time to learn in a shop. Most shops spend a lot of time doing the same 10 repairs, and it might be a while before you saw some other things done. Rip apart a thrift store roadie and a crappy 90's hybrid and you will get to see every single part come apart and be put back together.

  19. #19
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    Landgolier, thats a good idea, I havent thought of that yet. I have 2 older Schwinn BMX bikes and a mountain bike that are just sitting in the barn at one of my parents vacation homes. I'll probably go up there sometime soon to tear them apart, and attempt to put them back together.(its only 20 miles from campus)

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike321
    Landgolier, thats a good idea, I havent thought of that yet. I have 2 older Schwinn BMX bikes and a mountain bike that are just sitting in the barn at one of my parents vacation homes. I'll probably go up there sometime soon to tear them apart, and attempt to put them back together.(its only 20 miles from campus)
    Make sure you invest in some good tools first. Adjustable wrenches may work the first few times, but you will eventually find that the right tool makes a world of difference over the almost-right tool (which seems to be something I have to re-learn myself every now and then ).

  21. #21
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Landgolier
    Most shops spend a lot of time doing the same 10 repairs
    Bingo! In order of frequency, as I recall:

    1. Change tire tube
    2. Adjust derailleurs
    3. Full tune-up (adjust derailleurs, adjust brakes, clean bike)
    4. Fill tubes with slime
    5. Replace tires
    6. Upgrade brakes
    7. Replace brake pads
    8. Install new seat
    9. Install new handlebars
    10. Upgrade drivetrain component

    That pretty much covered 99.9 % of my time working at a bike shop. Most of your customers are the commuters or poke around the neighborhood type, so you end up doing jobs you can't believe people pay $10-50 for. The racers and hobby riders usually do their own work.

  22. #22
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    BryE, thanks for the advice, but I already have a absolutely great set of tools, probably every tool needed for the job, except if I need specialty tools...

    what is "filling tubes with slime"?

  23. #23
    Senior Member concernicus's Avatar
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    i think certification is silly and all hubub. its way expensive. the best way is to get a job at a shop. you get paid too!

  24. #24
    Me talk pretty one day. eyefloater's Avatar
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    11. New cassette
    12. New chain

  25. #25
    ............ deerhoof's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eyefloater
    It may just be a time crunch, depending on the depth of answers required. 100 questions in an hour could be pretty messy if it's more than multiple choice, etc.

    They are multiple choice, but not a breeze. Usually if its a specific number or spec its asking for, the choices will be really close to eachother. I actually ran short of time on it. I had about 15 questions to do in five minutes. Ended up passing with a 77%.

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