Thursday, September 8, 2016

One Month in a Bike Shop

It's becoming a habit to apologize for being MIA more frequently than I'd like, but here I am again. I've taken on some new projects (probably more than I should) and it's left me with little spare time. In some respects, it's fantastic to have so much to do, but on the other side, I'm left with little reflection time, which is unfortunate as I am one who enjoys that time. I am trying to find balance, but, if you've read here for any length of time, you'll understand that is nearly always my struggle.

It is difficult for me not to give everything to anything I undertake, but when there are splits off the main path, I find myself struggling to do anything the way I would like. At the moment, my attention gets pulled in multiple directions on any given day and I find myself wondering why nothing gets accomplished. For someone who once taught classes on time management and organization, I have difficulty implementing these ideas and plans for myself ('Those who can, do; those who can't, teach', as the saying goes). It doesn't help though that I also have a very difficult time saying no to people who want or need assistance.

Which is how I ended up involved in the latest branch off from the main path.
*Image found here
I was approached and asked if I'd be willing to work in a local bike shop part-time to help out with various needs. The immediate request was to get inventory under control and to give the owner time to have a quick break or work on other necessities as the situation dictated. Unfortunately, all the shop staff had vanished for one reason or another (summer plans for touring abroad, back to school, etc), and they'd been left in a bit of a tight situation. I understood that the need is seasonal and part-time, so it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to agree to do.

Secretly, I also thought, Finally! My way into Interbike. Though, in truth, I'm sure I could fanangle my way in via the blog... I've honestly never tried. Still, it just seemed an easier path to be connected with a bike shop.

Though I've never worked in a bike shop, I am semi-knowledgeable when it comes to bicycles - or at least have enough information in the recesses not to sound like a complete bumbling fool most of the time - so my response without really thinking was that of course I would be willing to help.

Admittedly, it has been a less-than-secret curiosity of mine to have the opportunity to work in a bike shop too, so when assistance was requested, I looked at it as a chance to dip my toes in the pond without having to go for a full-on swim. 

One day early on at the shop, as I was pulling out my hair attempting to understand why the inventory was in the state it is in, the owner asked me to switch out a tube and add a liner to a tire because he was busy with other repairs. He pointed over the counter to a bike I couldn't see from my vantage point, and threw some tire liner at me.

My insides suddenly lit up - and not in a good way. My internal thought was, wait, why am I doing this? You don't think I'm a mechanic do you? You know I am completely inept when it comes to changing or fixing most things on a bicycle, right?

My external response was, "Yeah, sure. No problem," in as nonchalant a voice as I could muster in the moment. After all, I was there to make his life easier and it's not as though I don't know what to do, but I just rarely change tubes for myself (a more recent exception took place, but generally speaking, I've been fortunate enough to shirk off this responsibility to others - namely, Sam).

As I walked around the corner, I spotted the bike in question. Oh, thank heavens. At least it's the front tire in need of repair, was the only thought in my mind. I suddenly realized that the brakes were disc though and that there was no quick release skewer, so off I went to find a tool to free the wheel from the fork.

"You're okay, right?" the owner inquired as he saw me (I'm sure looking like a lost pup) scrounging for a multi-tool.

"Oh, yeah, I'm good. I just need a tool to remove the bolt on the wheel," I responded. Though, it probably didn't come out as smoothly as it appears in written word. One thing I've noticed is that even though I know what parts, pieces, and accessories are, I seem to stutter and stammer through some of the real-life moments because my brain doesn't seem to keep up with my mouth (or maybe it's the other way around?).

As dramatic as one might think this task could have been for me (at least if you are semi-versed in my history with bike repair), it was really a non-event once I found the tool. Everything came off and went on as it should have and I finished in a reasonable amount of time, feeling entirely too proud of myself for accomplishing such a simple task.

Perhaps I was feeling too cocky at this point because a bit later in the day another request was thrown my way to remove a saddle and put a different model on a bike. Aacck, my insides were screaming. Removing and adding isn't such a big deal, but I have a horrible time with tilt. As if reading my mind the owner stated, "Don't worry about the tilt. Can you just get the saddle on there for me?"

This time I actually said something to the effect of, "You know I'm completely incompetent with this stuff, right?" To which his response was, "Well, the only way you'll get better is to do it."

Touché. I couldn't help but laugh at this on-the-nose remark.

Since then, he's cut me some slack (mostly due to the reality that I do want to get everything computer-wise straightened out for him), but I've been told that more repairs are in my future (watch out bike world!).

I've had the opportunity to talk with customers and attempt to fumble my way through real-life problems. It's amazing how different it is to have time to compose thoughts (a la this blog) than to have need for instantaneous response (such as in a bike shop). The knowledge is there, but I find that it doesn't always immediately come out of me in every situation. Thankfully, everyone has been patient.

The brands carried in the shop (at least as far as bicycles go) I am less familiar with than some others, but I know I have an off-the-local-norm sense of what works. I do think that the owner's and my backgrounds are different enough that, in many respects, it is actually beneficial to those coming in looking for advice. We may both love to ride, but our strengths are in different areas without a doubt.

While his ideal shop probably looks something akin to this:
High-end road bikes on the walls and technical gear would probably be the shop-owner's dream.
*Image found here
My ideal is something more along these lines:
Old wood floors, wood racks, steel bikes, wool jerseys, and dogs in baskets (if only my retrievers would fit/sit in a front basket)... what more could I want? There's a definite aesthetic that appeals to me.
*Image found here of Huckleberry Bicycles 
Even though appearances may be different, I know we both want to help people find the right bike for their individual type of riding and to help resolve any issues they may be experiencing whether they race bikes are commute on them. Really, we have more similarities than differences.

Ultimately, I think he'll gain more trust in me as we move forward and I'm able to prove that I'm not as stupid as I sometimes sound, and hopefully I'll get better about answering questions without the occasional stumbling over myself.

It's been an interesting and often entertaining time to have this opportunity to experience what it's like to actually work in a bike shop. It's familiar, and yet somehow all-together foreign. A perfect opportunity for applying knowledge, if I can get my act together, I think.

If you could work in a bike shop (even temporarily) would you give it a try? Have you worked in a bike shop? If so, do you have any words of wisdom for me as I figure my way through this?


  1. Oh, how exciting! This is a great way to become more confident in your skills. I've never worked in a bike shop, but I have a little bit of this experience through my volunteer work at the co-op. I usually take a two-hour shift once a week during "open shop" hours when members come in to wrench on their own bikes.

    Lots of people who are completely new to bikes come in to fix up old bikes that have been sitting the garage for ages. We'll do a quick assessment of the bike and decide what to work on first. Over time, I've overhauled and helped others to overhaul just about every component on a bike. I'm slowly but surely getting better and becoming more confident. I do like the amateur environment at the shop. I can always say, "wow, I've never seen bottom bracket like that before. Let's look it up in the book [or on the web] to see if we can figure out how to get in there."

    1. I love the idea of everyone kind of learning together at the co-op! Such a fun experience, I have no doubt. Really cool to have places like this and I'm sure it's even more fun to get to see the different types of people and bikes that come in!

  2. Yes, I would work in a bike shop for a month in a heartbeat. There are lots of things to learn and lots of things that might be frustrating too. Someday I want to to true and build my own wheels. I could at least watch a time or two in a bike shop. JanT

    1. I agree... many things to learn, even if you are a person who already knows quite a bit. I'm with you on truing and building wheels. It always seems fairly uncomplicated, but it will be fun to get to watch others who actually know what they are doing. :)

  3. Super exciting! You will learn a lot, but you also have so much to offer. Your customers are lucky to benefit from your experience, honesty and kindness. I think it is great, just wish I could drop in for a chat about all things bike!!

    1. It's been fun thus far, definitely. Thank you for your kind words... and I wish many of you that are across the globe could come in and say hello! :)


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