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Getting a wrench job?

Old 12-02-12, 11:38 PM
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Getting a wrench job?

Hello, all.

I'm 36 with a MA and a dozen years experience in a field (teaching/writing/editing overseas) that I am now terminally over, and as such, I'm looking to find a job as a wrench.

I intend on taking an early summer course at UBI because I've got little nest egg and I figure it can't hurt. (I might be taking every class they offer. I haven't decided quite yet.) Afterwards, I'd like to find a job as a mechanic pretty much anywhere in the country/world. My experience with bikes is mostly from fixing up old beaters and giving them away or leaving them out to be "stolen" (but at least in decent working condition), and I wonder what prospective employers will be looking for. I have a modicum of retail experience from a decade+ ago.

Anywho, a few questions, if I ight:
What can I expect in the position? (Is there much downtime? [I like being busy.])
What will prospective employers be looking for?
Are there better and worse cities/states to look for jobs?
What questions did I forget to ask?

Many thanks for any help y'all might be able to share!
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Old 12-03-12, 12:28 AM
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Winter is very slow , wages are never cost of living..

you mean working in Korea, or where?
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Old 12-03-12, 12:34 AM
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Ah. Sorry. I am an American, but I have lived overseas before so I'm quite open to locales. (America is my preference. And probably the most reasonable.)

I have a number of other avenues to support myself; part-time teaching, making jewelry, probably other stuff. So I'm not in it to get rich. But my needs are minimal and cost of living issues don't worry me much. I'm mostly looking to do it in order to do something with my hands and to not be behind a desk or in front of a chalkboard all day.
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Old 12-03-12, 09:13 AM
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You will never get rich being a bike mechanic. You might think of becomming an auto mechanic. Really good one can make near six figure incomes. With so much electronics on cars these days, it takes a really smart person to repair them.
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Old 12-03-12, 10:13 AM
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If you get a subscription to the publications sent to Dealers, there are, position announcement advertised in those classifieds.
once you pay for those Wrench schools, alumni have access to job listings.

The better jobs are up the supply chain, like at distributors, and importers.
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Old 12-03-12, 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by rydabent
You will never get rich being a bike mechanic. You might think of becomming an auto mechanic. Really good one can make near six figure incomes. With so much electronics on cars these days, it takes a really smart person to repair them.
I think the OP has established that the pay is not an issue.

OP - go for it if your heart calls you to the work.
My first inclination would be to become aware of which cities have a thriving bicycle culture and focus on those. University towns and larger metropolitan areas tend to have this type of active bicycle community.

Your options are open. Which area of the country / world are you interested in living in?
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Old 12-03-12, 11:05 AM
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Originally Posted by canyoneagle
I think the OP has established that the pay is not an issue.

OP - go for it if your heart calls you to the work.
My first inclination would be to become aware of which cities have a thriving bicycle culture and focus on those. University towns and larger metropolitan areas tend to have this type of active bicycle community.

Your options are open. Which area of the country / world are you interested in living in?
+10 Start with areas you would like to live in, and match them up with a strong bike culture. There are some awesome places to live in the US that just happen to have strong bike cultures as well. Think year round decent bike weather. Realize many of those locations have high cost of living, so you have to balance it out.

Want to be busy? Busy people stay busy, its not so much about the J O B. Even if the job is slow, you can stay busy doing other stuff. I retired at an early age, six years ago. No problem keeping busy, between restoring bikes, tutoring at the local community college, teaching motorcycle riding, rehabbing a 1930s house, ebay, hunting for that next deal, etc. Retirement to me has allowed me to move from what paid well, to what I enjoy the most.

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Old 12-03-12, 04:04 PM
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All the replies have been good advice and information. Working as a mechanic takes a certain type of personality. Dealing with people skills and patience, working with staff and management, comfort with the physical conditions, comfort with the hands on/dirty/chemicaled nature of fixing bikes, cut skin, gratification from helping people (many who can't afford their bike, others who think you can't afford to ride their bike), the scorn/disrespect of the general public, the life style aspects. Then we move onto the financial area, low pay, often no health coverage, the risk of the paycheck being late, the seasonality of the pay.

I've seen dozens of people try to "become" a bike mechanic, few achieve this goal in all aspects. Often it takes a second income from a partner and their access to bennefits to make a life of wrenching. The mechanical understanding and ability to figure out stuff and fix them is only the tip of the working ice berg. Their failings are usually other then the mechanical skills.

My suggestion is to try working at a shop that's easy to get into. Give it as much of a season as you can. Then decide what's best for your future.

BTW, I always found that the applicants that have tried to get into wrenching through UBI or other "schools" are the less likely ones to work out. Those who showed self learning and started at the bottom of the LBS service dept were far more likely to survive to become a lifer. Andy.
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Old 12-03-12, 05:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart

BTW, I always found that the applicants that have tried to get into wrenching through UBI or other "schools" are the less likely ones to work out. Those who showed self learning and started at the bottom of the LBS service dept were far more likely to survive to become a lifer. Andy.
I second the reference to schools not always being an entre to the industry. Most shops look for basic knowledge, positive attitude, and a willingness to learn the stores way of doing things. Most graduates of schools have an inflated sense of their skill set, think they know more than they do, can be incredibly slow compared to an experienced mechanic, and often have trouble adapting to the shops practices where there are differences with what's been learned. (IME, the last is most true of Barnett's graduates).

Don't over school yourself. Know the basics, improve your speed, and show that you're willing and willing to learn.
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Old 12-03-12, 05:08 PM
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Yea , There was one of those UBI graduates with too much of Himself , sacked a year ago..
attitude issues..

on the Touring cycle trail Down the Pacific coast , a bit of the Jury Rig flexibility is helpful
to fix things out of what is on hand, when the perfect solution is not in stock..

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Old 12-03-12, 06:54 PM
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Thanks to all for the replies.

My goal in attending UBI is not to be a know-it-all (luckily, I'm old enough to know that I don't know much of anything) but solely to address "My suggestion is to try working at a shop that's easy to get into."

As to whether it's worth the $2000, well... I've blown $2000 in far worse ways. Is UBI a decent path to scoring an entry-level job in a store somewhere?

As to the question of where I want to live... I prefer heat to cold. The climate of Las Vegas suited me just fine, so the Southwest would probably be my preference. I've not spent much time in the Northeast, but people seem to think it's a nice enough part of the country. I'm originally from St. Louis, and my family is from Arkansas, so I quite enjoy the south. I spent a summer in the Northeast and enjoyed it. The upper midwest and middle midwest are quite nice. As are the mountain states. The only states I haven't been to are Alaska and North Dakota, but either of those would be fine. I speak some Spanish, so Florida would be fine, too. The only place I've been that I didn't really care for was Chicago, and that's mostly because of Cubs fans. So I guess the answer is: Anywhere but Chicago. But I'd probably live in Chicago, too. Maybe Gary, Indiana. Hm. I'm flexible. My bike at the moment is a Brompton, and I have a bag, so I'm incredibly flexible. I've moved 24 times in the past 20 years, and somewhere within the USA is much easier than moving to Ho Chi Minh City! My plan is to bike from Las Vegas to Ashland and back. (If it's possible. I'm still trying to figure out the road situation.) So if there are any bike shops en route, that would be Best Case Scenario.

My long-term goals for the bike wrench thing are to be good enough to be able to do it charitably. I've got a vision of taking the world's beaters and reforming them into solid vehicles for the homeless and destitute. (Or doing roving on-the-spot fixes with a wee trailer.) I did it on a very small scale in the past, having fixed up probably about 7? 8? bikes, but that was a few years ago. All I know is that I really enjoy the time I've spent in front of a bike stand, and I want more of it.
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Old 12-03-12, 07:07 PM
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looking for someone with good mechanical aptitude and not ham fisted. knows how to hold a wrench. knows when they are over there head and to stop and ask for help. entry level is pretty easy at my work place for being a mechanic. you will start off just unboxing bikes and slapping on the bars, pedals and reflectors, not even adjusting anything. if you got what it takes then you can move up in under a yr

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Old 12-03-12, 07:11 PM
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Originally Posted by reptilezs
looking for someone with good mechanical aptitude and not ham fisted. knows how to hold a wrench. knows when they are over there head and to stop and ask for help. entry level is pretty easy at my work place for being a mechanic. you will start off just unboxing bikes and slapping on the bars, pedlas and relfectors, not even adjusting anything. if you got what it takes then you can move up in under a yr
This echoes the speech I give to every new hire.

They only need to know three things

1- they need to know what they know, and be self directed and confident
2- they have to know what they don't know, and be willing to ask for help before they get in too far above their head
3- they need to know the difference.

Anyone who knows those three things has a good chance for growth an success wherever they work.
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Old 12-03-12, 07:14 PM
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Originally Posted by tlxxxviii
Thanks to all for the replies.

My goal in attending UBI is not to be a know-it-all (luckily, I'm old enough to know that I don't know much of anything) but solely to address "My suggestion is to try working at a shop that's easy to get into."

As to whether it's worth the $2000, well... I've blown $2000 in far worse ways. Is UBI a decent path to scoring an entry-level job in a store somewhere?

As to the question of where I want to live... I prefer heat to cold. The climate of Las Vegas suited me just fine, so the Southwest would probably be my preference. I've not spent much time in the Northeast, but people seem to think it's a nice enough part of the country. I'm originally from St. Louis, and my family is from Arkansas, so I quite enjoy the south. I spent a summer in the Northeast and enjoyed it. The upper midwest and middle midwest are quite nice. As are the mountain states. The only states I haven't been to are Alaska and North Dakota, but either of those would be fine. I speak some Spanish, so Florida would be fine, too. The only place I've been that I didn't really care for was Chicago, and that's mostly because of Cubs fans. So I guess the answer is: Anywhere but Chicago. But I'd probably live in Chicago, too. Maybe Gary, Indiana. Hm. I'm flexible. My bike at the moment is a Brompton, and I have a bag, so I'm incredibly flexible. I've moved 24 times in the past 20 years, and somewhere within the USA is much easier than moving to Ho Chi Minh City! My plan is to bike from Las Vegas to Ashland and back. (If it's possible. I'm still trying to figure out the road situation.) So if there are any bike shops en route, that would be Best Case Scenario.

My long-term goals for the bike wrench thing are to be good enough to be able to do it charitably. I've got a vision of taking the world's beaters and reforming them into solid vehicles for the homeless and destitute. (Or doing roving on-the-spot fixes with a wee trailer.) I did it on a very small scale in the past, having fixed up probably about 7? 8? bikes, but that was a few years ago. All I know is that I really enjoy the time I've spent in front of a bike stand, and I want more of it.

I grew up in Austin, Tx, which has had a vibrant bicycle / outdoor culture since the 70's, and is a really cool place to live IMO. I visited my folks over the Thanksgiving holiday, and the bike scene is bigger there now than ever.
The riding in Austin is quite good - both on and off road. A nice mix of hills, beautiful countryside and workable urban routes.

Vegas could be cool. I lived there for two years and fell in love with the West side of town towards Red Rock Canyon. Great road riding, excellent mountain biking, and really nice bike shops. The tradeoff for a stunning winter is a really hot summer.

Part of the consideration will be size of city. Do you like an active urban scene, or do you prefer a smaller city/town?

As for schools, as others have mentioned, it is not a necessity. However, I do think UBI or other schools would be fine - it sounds like you are just looking to bolster your capacity to do the work - and as others have mentioned, as long as you don't delude yourself into thinking you're a wrenching god upon completion (sounds like you're not THAT guy) it is a good way to get some learning.
On that note, Portland is really cool, and VERY bike centric as US cities go. I can't speak for Ashland - never been there.
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Old 12-04-12, 01:26 AM
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I actually have a similar history to you. I'm British, have a PhD from Canada (and Bachelors from the US), and worked as a post-doc researcher in Switzerland for five years. After the post-doc contract ended and couldn't be renewed, and my wife and I wanted to stay in the same Swiss city, I decided to try to get a job as a bike mechanic here since I'd been doing that as a hobby for the previous 10 years. After learning the basics while bike touring 15 years ago, I started buying, repairing, and selling pieces of sh1t while I was a grad student in university (up to 40 bikes per year), then worked on good stuff with our bikes and our friends' once I was working here; I had already custom-built several bikes from the frames up, including building a dozen or more wheels. I had studied some textbooks (including Barnett's) but had no formal mechanics training.

Within one week of asking around at the local bike shops in March a couple of years ago, I had two job offers, and I've been working at one of them ever since. This surprised me because I couldn't even speak the local language (French) very well, but apparently there is a lack of qualified people who want to do this kind of work here (all the local people want a higher-level job). The lack of any formal training meant that I only knew certain types of bikes well - mainly just road, touring, and commuting bikes, not much MTB or fixie knowledge. I've learned some more stuff as I've gone along, but have always had colleagues who could take over the tasks that I'm not that comfortable with (e.g., bleeding hydraulics, overhauling suspension, removing press-in bearings). I've unfortunately had to become pretty good at gluing tubular tires (which I still hate and think the idea of them is old-fashioned and stupid for anyone who isn't on a fully-supported race team).

Switzerland probably has the best-paid bike mechanics in the world: My starting wage was the equivalent of about US$4500 per month, and taxes are relatively low (take-home pay is about 75% of that) - Norway and Japan are probably the only other countries in the world that might come close to this level of wages (in case anyone is interested how our boss pays for this, the shop's hourly labor charge is about US$100 per hour). I started out working full-time, but I soon cut back to 4 days a week in the high season and 3 days per week in winter because I prefer more free time than more money. I also still teach one course at the university for one afternoon per week in the Fall to top up the income. My wife also works 4 days per week, we have no kids, no car, and a moderate-sized apartment, so life is pretty comfortable.

If you've got a European passport, getting a work permit for Switzerland is automatic once you have a job offer; if your passport is not European then getting a permit is really tough, and unfortunately probably won't be possible for a bike mechanic. We are currently looking for another mechanic, but need someone who is fluent in French and is experienced with the mountain bike stuff.

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Old 12-04-12, 02:20 AM
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Chris_W, that is an incredibly thoughtful and pleasant post to have read. Thanks.
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Old 12-04-12, 08:20 AM
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Most European countries will grant you an EU passport if you had grandparents born in that country. I have 3 passports all legal. Ed
If you've got a European passport, getting a work permit for Switzerland is automatic once you have a job offer; if your passport is not European then getting a permit is really tough, and unfortunately probably won't be possible for a bike mechanic. We are currently looking for another mechanic, but need someone who is fluent in French and is experienced with the mountain bike stuff.
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Old 12-04-12, 09:40 AM
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Originally Posted by tlxxxviii
My long-term goals for the bike wrench thing are to be good enough to be able to do it charitably. I've got a vision of taking the world's beaters and reforming them into solid vehicles for the homeless and destitute. (Or doing roving on-the-spot fixes with a wee trailer.) I did it on a very small scale in the past, having fixed up probably about 7? 8? bikes, but that was a few years ago. All I know is that I really enjoy the time I've spent in front of a bike stand, and I want more of it.
If that's the end goal, then I would widen your search space to getting any old job anywhere you want and volunteering at (or establishing?!) a bike co-op. Then you can get to your charitable goal sooner, learn/improve skills for free (instead of paying for a course), and the experience you gain would certainly help you get a wrenching job if life takes you in that direction.

BTW I also dream of retiring and spending free time puttering around in a co-op, helping set up honest, hard-working folks and their kids with reliable bikes (and a love for cycling)! Seems like a good thing.
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Old 12-04-12, 11:49 AM
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tixxxviii, I totally get where you're coming from. I'm an attorney and can't stand it any longer. I started another thread here (bike mechanic courses) to see if going the UBI route was advisable as a route to mechanic-hood, and the overwhelming response was "no." Most people said one could learn the basics from using the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair (I got it - it's awesome) and by checking out YouTube videos. Another suggestion was to do what you do - fixing bikes for people who need it but don't have the cash to pay for labor, etc. Someone also advised working with a local bike repair clinic/charity for a few months and then asking for a letter of recommendation from them.

Please post updates as you continue your journey!
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Old 12-04-12, 06:45 PM
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To those of you who have suggested a bike co-op, I thank you. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me sooner. When I think about goals, the co-op definitely seems to be a better place to look than a bike shop.

Let me ask one more question, if I might:

Are there any people out there who believe UBI would provide more utility than $2500 in tools, parts, books, etc?
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Old 12-04-12, 06:49 PM
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Originally Posted by tlxxxviii
To those of you who have suggested a bike co-op, I thank you. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me sooner. When I think about goals, the co-op definitely seems to be a better place to look than a bike shop.

Let me ask one more question, if I might:

Are there any people out there who believe UBI would provide more utility than $2500 in tools, parts, books, etc?
*bingo*
That's a great way to look at it IMO.
If you've got the extra cash to burn, the classes certainly are good, but the same money is a great start on a workshop.

FWIW, consider taking one of the shorter/cheaper courses at UBI. You'll get the opportunity to purchase tools and many parts at quasi-wholesale prices when you complete any course. I believe it is a 6 month or 1 year time window that you can place your order.
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Old 12-04-12, 06:57 PM
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Originally Posted by tlxxxviii
Are there any people out there who believe UBI would provide more utility than $2500 in tools, parts, books, etc?
I really depends on how much you know, your hand skills and how you learn. If you can learn from books or video tutorials, then keep the money. When I say keep the money, that's what I mean. You don't need to spend that much on tools if you're going to work as a shop mechanic. Most bike shops provide most if not all tools< the rest provide the major shop tools, and expect each mechanic to provide his own only for the basic everyday stuff. However most of the better mechanics I know prefer to use their own stuff for everyday use, so spending a small amount for basics and a book or two would be money well spent.
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Old 12-04-12, 07:40 PM
  #23  
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Most of the things I really enjoy doing, I've learned by getting dirty and doing it myself. I was going to try UBI as a change of pace and to try something new (taking a class as opposed to DIY). About three years ago, I had a decent enough selection of tools. Truing stand, nice enough bike stand, other various wrenches and things that I'd purchase as needed when repairing old Schwinns that I'd gotten at thrift stores or through Craigslist. Then, the Big D hit and I lost everything except for a bag of clothes and a button accordion, so I'm still in the rebuilding process. I've always worked with my hands in some form or fashion, mostly by making stuff - jewelry, woodwork, blacksmithing - and I've always enjoyed making my own tools when necessary, so I'm not particularly worried about being able to repair bikes - I've done it before and never encountered anything that angered me or that I couldn't find an answer to in Barnett's or Park's books or on Sheldon's or here - but I thought UBI might be... fun. I'm starting to wonder whether it's $2500 fun, though!

You're all being tremendously helpful in helping me to puzzle this out! If any of you are ever in Daegu, I reckon I owe each and every one of you a pint and/or a cup of coffee. Thanks a ton.
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Old 12-04-12, 09:33 PM
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My best mechanics/employees usually were those annoyingly passionate cyclists who persistently hung around the shop asking questions or simply because they liked the bike shop culture. Eventually they would be there on a very busy day or when someone called out sick and I would say "Hey Bob can you go grab this repair" or some simple task and suddenly I would have an employee. My point is that I usually had some relationship with the person before employing them and you may find that it takes forming a bit of rapport with a shop before they hire you.
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Old 12-04-12, 09:54 PM
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Weird. I live in South Korea also. I'm registered for the professional shop class and the wheel-building / suspension seminars at UBI for March. It'll probably be somewhat redundant for me but I found after applying for 9 mechanic jobs in MPLS before I left that no one really takes your word for it when you tell them that you're self taught.

It's a lot of money to throw down to get a low paying job, but I think that it's something I'll enjoy and I was hoping the certificate might make it possible for me live in Whistler, BC for a summer or two. I need to look into visa stuff for that.
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