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  1. #1
    King of the molehills bcoppola's Avatar
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    Bike mechanic: late life career change?

    How does one become a bike mechanic? And is it a reasonable goal for a 50+ corporate dropout?

    Here's the deal. My career field has been decimated by the economic storms of late, especially here in Michigan. Being in my early 50s and not having the wolf at the door I've pretty much written off work in the field, or anything like it. I am casting about for, basically, a job that doesn't suck too bad and will just get me out of the house and supplement our income (my wife is a retired teacher with a decent pension and some investment income). Relocating is not an option, alas.

    My "qualifications" for becoming a bike mechanic are a pretty good mechanical aptitude, good learning ability (last year I taught myself enough electronics to build some very good amps and speakers nearly from scratch) and previous experience in sign and display fabrication in various materials. I have done most of the maintenance on all bikes I've owned. And of course, being a cyclist myself. So, although it's a long shot, if I could work even part time at a LBS it might be a nice way to spend the last 10 years or so of working life.

    My last job was part time at a chain hardware store. That was enough to sour me on retail. And they're out of business now.

    This is only one possibilty of many, mind.

    Of course, being unemployed has given me lots of time to ride! But if I want more bike stuff I'd have to steal it. And I am not temperamentally or experientially suited to a life of crime.

    BTW, I only know of Sydney by what has been said here, having joined BFN fairly recently. If he were still with us I suspect I'd get an earfull!
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    "People who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles." - Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

  2. #2
    The Rabbi seely's Avatar
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    You probably won't start out as a wrench. Four years later I'm still learning. If you don't mind the hours and low pay its not a bad gig. Parts at just over cost are a nice benefit. But, theres a lot of 10 hour days, a few years of making $6.50/hr and being frustrated and not being able to ride much. Theres also a lot of $60 Huffy's getting $100 of work, irate customers, and people that treat you like a moron. All in all I like it but the experience can vary wildly from shop to shop, and coming in relatively inexperienced you probably won't get hired by the best shop to start.
    commuter turned bike mechanic turned commuter (also a Velocity USA employee, but this is my personal account)

  3. #3
    me have long head tube TallRider's Avatar
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    Lemme guess, you were in the auto industry?
    seely lays out some of the downsides of working at a bike shop. Working at a good shop that sells and services lots of nice bikes is better, but you need to be pretty good to get one of those gigs. I worked at such a shop in high school, but I was their least experienced mechanic so I was the one who assembled new $400 and cheaper mountain bikes to go on the sales floor.
    If you love the product, retail ain't that bad. Working sales floor at a good bike shop can be fun.

    If you want to try out the mechanic gig, I'd recommend completely overhauling whatever bikes you have, and perhaps doing a few for friends as well, to learn a lot in advance before applying to a shop. And few shops are going to be hiring mechanics in the winter, especially in Michigan, so getting lots of experience over the winter would work out well for you schedule-wise.
    If it doesn't work, you'll have become a pretty decent home mechanic in the process. It's worth buying a stand if you're going to work on lots of bikes at home.

  4. #4
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    If you have enough spare cash, enrol in one of the Barnett's or UCI courses to get that piece of paper. You might be able to find a bike shop that is a good employer and willing to let you wrench for them. But I suspect where you are, there are significant seasonal troughs where work might be hard to come by.

    You'll also need to read A LOT to keep up with the (marketing-driven) "technological advances" in bicycles, especially MTBs. Your tool account also might need a boost -- having talked recently with a retired bike-shop owner who still keeps his hand in wrenching, a new tool is required almost every month.

  5. #5
    so much for physics humble_biker's Avatar
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    I say do it. You don't need Barnett's either see how much time and effort you want to invest before you do anything like that. Bicycling magazine has an excellent repair manual for $20. Good luck.

  6. #6
    Senior Member toolboy's Avatar
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    I am a retired teacher who has had a life-long fantasy of being "Bicycle Repair Man" (ala Monty Python ) . I have a complete shop in my basement with more tools than the LBS and had the chance to work in that same LBS for two weeks while one of the partners was in Europe taking part in a big Pinarello workshop/race/promo. The best part for me was selling and helping people find what they needed. I assembled bikes - from low-end to the $4000 carbon racers and repaired and tuned a LOT of bikes. Believe me, at the end of a 9 hour day of repairing mostly the low-end clunkers, my little fantasy had turned into the hard reality that I would not want to do this for a living. The three owners have done it since they were kids, working in the family shop. They take pleasure in helping customers, solving the tough tech issues and of course sharing in the financial rewards. Unless you take the courses (Barnett's etc.) you may not be able to get much past assembly and simple repairs in the shop. How about opening your own MOBILE bike repair? That has always made a lot of sense to me unless you have a lot of competition in that area. Besides, you would get to wear that super cape and do the flying thing!!

  7. #7
    Scott n4zou's Avatar
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    I had to retire due to medical problems. I was an ASE certified gas turbine systems tech (Aerospace). I got interested in bicycling for pain relief. I rebuilt a very nice bicycle I picked up at a thrift store for $5 and that got me started as a bike mech. Things just exploded from there. What do I do now? I go riding a lot and go on group rides. Everyone quickly realized I knew what I was doing and started bringing there bikes to me for repair or upgrades. I do not charge but make note of my donation box where they can leave whatever they want in it. I subsequently use the proceeds for my bicycle hobby. I could not live on the donations but it does feed my bike needs. It's also fun when you're able to give some deserving person a nice free bicycle!

  8. #8
    Senior Member toolboy's Avatar
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    Cool!

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    Be sure to look thru this forum and read all the LBS hate threads from the last few years(It is not to hard it is the same bunch of A-holes every time). As good as many(most) people are, you will spend a fair amount of time dealing with people like the ones posting in these threads, because, while they try to rally a cry against bikeshops and mechanics, they are still pretty incompetent and will need your help all the time(their dirty little secret)
    I do all my own work = I have very low standards

  10. #10
    Senior Curmudgeon
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    Quote Originally Posted by bcoppola
    How does one become a bike mechanic? And is it a reasonable goal for a 50+ corporate dropout...if I could work even part time at a LBS it might be a nice way to spend the last 10 years or so of working life...
    Think outside the box, bcoppola (yes, I know it sounds trite...). ANYBODY can walk in, show up, and work at the LBS. At your age, you have other skills. USE THEM. Become a manufacturer's rep for a bike co. Develop a slide show about saving the world from global warming by cycling and go tour. Teach others how to work on bicycles and put on seminars about wrenching. Become a buyer for WalMart and get them some better bikes!

    Point is, you can do pretty much what you want (except relocate). Get some professional career assistance and decide what YOU WANT TO DO! Your life ain't lasting forever, you know, and you're at the point where you have LOTS of opportunity. Use it.
    Last edited by FarHorizon; 09-19-06 at 06:43 PM.

  11. #11
    genec genec's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FarHorizon
    Think outside the box, bcoppola (yes, I know it sounds trite...). ANYBODY can walk in, show up, and work at the LBS. At your age, you have other skills. USE THEM. Become a manufacturer's rep for a bike co. Develop a slide show about saving the world from globl warming by cycling and go tour. Teach others how to work on bicycles and put on seminars about wrenching. Become a buyer for WalMart and get them some better bikes!

    Point is, you can do pretty much what you want (except relocate). Get some professional career assistance and decide what YOU WANT TO DO! Your life ain't lasting forever, you know, and you're at the point where you have LOTS of opportunity. Use it.
    Maybe the guy is trying to unwind from the corporate world... lots of folks do. I know a judge that is now a cook. Others have gone from investment banking to B&Bs.

    Hey Bcoppola... look into training through Park tools. Might be a good step.

    Or BBI. http://www.bbinstitute.com/

  12. #12
    Senior Curmudgeon
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    Quote Originally Posted by genec
    Maybe the guy is trying to unwind from the corporate world... lots of folks do. I know a judge that is now a cook. Others have gone from investment banking to B&Bs...
    Yes, but I also know of those who tried to "unwind from the corporate world" and were bored to tears. The point I wanted to make for the OP is that self-analysis is needed BEFORE trying to pick a life. There are excellent resources for assisting in such analysis, and the results are much more likely to produce satisfaction than trying random fields looking for a fit.

    I speak from some experience since my employer of 25 years went bankrupt and I found myself in the same shoes as the OP. What I ended up doing was a good choice for me, but it took some support and analysis to find and make that decision.

    In any case, I wish the OP happiness in his new career, whatever it may be.

  13. #13
    Recovering Retro-grouch CRUM's Avatar
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    I gave up a 17 year career in the transportation business, took a $20K cut in pay and went to twist wrenches at a friend's bike shop. That was 1988. In 1990, I bought into the shop and became a partner. In 1996 we went belly up. My ex partner moved into real estate. I pounded nails fuill time and had a mobile bike repair business for a couple of years. Then I took the plunge again. Since 1998 I have owned my own shop(no partner) and I would not change a thing. Well a little more money at the end of the year would be nice, but hey, you can't have it all I guess.

    Bike repair and retail is a hateful business. It is also a wonderful business. It just depends which side of the bed I got out on that day and which side my customers bailed out on. 50 Huffers in a row on the stand has a way of deflating even the most enthusiastic wrench. But then the smile say, a special needs kid gets when I customize a new trike for them so they can be mobile too makes it all worth it. There are so many ways to gratify yourself in this business. You just have to look for them. I enjoy putting people on bikes. And I generally enjoy fixing them. Not today though. Today every repair seemed to turn into, well, it was a tough day on the stand for CRUM.

    Since you feel no pressure to commit to new work because of financial need, I say try it out.
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  14. #14
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    i took a job at my local bike shop in may. it is a small shop, so i do bike and parts sales also. there can be some jerks, but most people are happy to have someone who cares working on their bike. i enjoy the job, but it is more of a lifestyle than a living.

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  15. #15
    weirdo
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    If you screw with your own bike long enough you will get good at the basics. Most of the mechanics I have worked with were hired after we saw them come into the shop looking for certain parts rather than asking us to do stuff. If you have the basics, you will pick up the hard stuff from the more experianced mechanics. I started off just tinkering and using one of those mecanics books when I got stuck.

  16. #16
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    There has been a help wanted sign at my LBS all summer. My favorite mechanic moved to Colorado. The shop is called D & D Bicycles in Northville, MI. It is on Center Street between 7 and 8 Mile Roads. I'm pretty sure he owns from 2-4 shops with the same name. I was offered a position of putting bikes together for a couple of days and getting a bike at a big discount. I was going to do it for the experience, but could not get time off my regular job.

  17. #17
    King of the molehills bcoppola's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the advice. Northville, alas, is at the other end of the world for me. It would cost more in gas for the commute than I'd probably make. But I am familiar with D&D.

    The freelance wrench idea sounds interesting.

    I do plan to wrench on my bikes over the winter and maybe even build a fixie conversion if I can find a suitable bike cheap.
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    "People who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles." - Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

  18. #18
    Banned.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bcoppola
    How does one become a bike mechanic? And is it a reasonable goal for a 50+ corporate dropout?
    I think the best way to become a bike mechanic is to get hired somewhere that will let you apprentice. This is really the best way. Get hired with the idea that you know you won't make any money and you are there to mainly learn and take home a couple bucks at the end of the day.

    Do this until you are a full fledged desirable mechanic and then you are in the driver's seat. Working on bikes in your garage is fine, but learning in a real bike shop from a competent mechanic will drastically reduce the learning curve.

    I can bet that most shops are tired of hiring inexperienced, young nose pickers with no real life skills. If I had a 50 yr. old, proven worker come in and offer to work in exchange for a low wage and knowledge, i'd hire him in a minute.

  19. #19
    Giggity giggity! Dirtbike's Avatar
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    Go to Barnett's before you try to learn on your own so you dont develop bad habits.
    Rides: 06 Demo8 II, Yeti DJ
    Pin it baby!

  20. #20
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    Since it is a business see what the local need is. Also look into scooters, electic cars, ect.

    "I was an ASE certified gas turbine systems tech (Aerospace). " This poster should consider getting back into the field as the new small jets / Light sport aircraft might create a shortage of repair talent.
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  21. #21
    Former grouch, now happy H1449-6's Avatar
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    The question you should ask yourself is "why do I want to be a wrench."

    I worked in shops (as a salesman) for a total of about four years. When business is good and you get to sell and work on cool bikes and with serious cyclists, it's all good. When it's not, it sucks. Especially when you get robbed from time to time. Which seems a reasonable likelihood in Detroit.
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  22. #22
    Scott n4zou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geo8rge
    Since it is a business see what the local need is. Also look into scooters, electic cars, ect.

    "I was an ASE certified gas turbine systems tech (Aerospace). " This poster should consider getting back into the field as the new small jets / Light sport aircraft might create a shortage of repair talent.
    I had surgery to remove a brain tumor deep in the left side. This precludes my working on anything even remotely critical! I lost the ability to do any electrical and electronic work but my wrench turning abilities are still intact. The doctors have no idea what caused the brain tumor. It could have been the weekly Methotrexate treatments for my arthritis, constant exposure to synthetic turbine engine oil, or it just happened. In any case I an on a well-deserved retirement and plan on staying this way! There has always been a severe shortage of people that can work on turbine engines and the required control systems, as you must be a mechanic and electronics tech as well. I got pretty tired of 12 to 16-hour days, 6 and 7 days a week, and only getting to sleep whiling traveling. Now I am a recreational bicyclist with no schedules, stress, or boss (unless you count my wife as a boss).

  23. #23
    Sasquatch Crossing mycoatl's Avatar
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    One thing to consider is some kind of specialization. While being a general wrench may not be feasible, it strikes me that being a wheel builder might be a better option. If you can specialize and develop a reputation for good work at reasonable rates that fills a niche (how many great wheel builders are there in any metro area) you could do quite well.

  24. #24
    robhunterx robhunterx's Avatar
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    I retired at age 55 (engineering) and have completly built up a dozen or so bikes in the past couple of years (mostly for me & my grandkids). My friends that I run & ride with quickly found that I could repair their bike and get it back to them in a day or so when the LBS would be 2 weeks. They usually pay for the parts & bring me beer. It is a fun hobby and I don't try to compete with the LBS, I even buy some stuff locally (as well as ebay & the catalog houses). I don't want to do this full time because I also like to ride. I really feal that I have caused some people to ride who otherwise would not and many that have borrowed one of my bikes or started with a fixer-upper have gone into the LBS and bought a new bike. I get a lot of pleasure from that and I hope it works out as well for you. Good Luck!

  25. #25
    so much for physics humble_biker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toolboy
    I am a retired teacher who has had a life-long fantasy of being "Bicycle Repair Man" (ala Monty Python ) . I have a complete shop in my basement with more tools than the LBS and had the chance to work in that same LBS for two weeks while one of the partners was in Europe taking part in a big Pinarello workshop/race/promo. The best part for me was selling and helping people find what they needed. I assembled bikes - from low-end to the $4000 carbon racers and repaired and tuned a LOT of bikes. Believe me, at the end of a 9 hour day of repairing mostly the low-end clunkers, my little fantasy had turned into the hard reality that I would not want to do this for a living. The three owners have done it since they were kids, working in the family shop. They take pleasure in helping customers, solving the tough tech issues and of course sharing in the financial rewards. Unless you take the courses (Barnett's etc.) you may not be able to get much past assembly and simple repairs in the shop. How about opening your own MOBILE bike repair? That has always made a lot of sense to me unless you have a lot of competition in that area. Besides, you would get to wear that super cape and do the flying thing!!
    This is spooky! I'm a retired bicycle mechanic that is now a school teacher I also have a basement full of tools and bikes.

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