Bike mechanics, like many essential workers, have long been unsung, but make no mistake, they are heroes. That’s a strong word, but to those of us too lazy to learn to fix our own bikes, or who don’t have the tools, we rely on them to keep us rolling. Tonight I was at a shop, participating in the usual back and forth. First, there is the friendly but slightly tired question, “What’s going on?” A description of the issue from me. That is followed by a brief technical educational seminar complete with repeating main points, checking for understanding, and a hand drawing. Then, investigation of the bike and either repair, ordering parts, or other appropriate result is. Some low-grade insults from both sides are scattered in, said with a laugh to soften the blow. And we realized we’d known each other 10 years. “And you still can’t get rid of me!” I lampooned myself. Of course he sees many other people, so it’s a lopsided arrangement. But for a decade this guy has been in my life and that’s a lot more than I can say for most “friends.” Excuse me while I get a little verklempt here.
The thing about bike mechanics these days during the global coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 plague of death, or whatever you call it, is that they really have become indispensable. So many people discovered or rediscovered bicycles in 2020 that there’s still a huge backlog of orders for bikes and parts. After periods of lock-down, some were furloughed. Many if not all the wrenchers I know who were able to stay on the job or get back to it here in Austin, Texas. They have been overworked and are playing catch-up to this day. This is good in the sense that it’s job security, but it’s bad because it tends to make them tired, maybe even physically hurt, burned out, and grouchy. Yet they persist at keeping people riding their bikes.
Why is this important? Well, if you depend on a bicycle for your transportation, like to get to or even do your job, that’s obvious why you need a good bike mechanic. The vast majority of my getting around is by bike still. Lately, with a busted shifter, biking has been slower than usual, even with my ongoing issues. If you rely on the bicycle for exercise, and thus getting fresh air, sunshine, and stress relief, of course it has to be in good working condition. Safety is key, too. An unsafe bike is dangerous for the rider and for others, say if you can’t stop at a traffic signal. And if you bike with friends, family, etc. you need it to work well and safely. There must be other reasons I probably don’t know about why bike mechanics are important.
Trust is key in any relationship. You don’t want someone you don’t trust working on your bike and then forgetting to lock the quick release back in place. There’s more to it than that, for me at least. I know I can count on him to do a good job, even though nobody’s perfect. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but I think it has to do with history. He knows me, my bikes, what kind of rider I was before and am now, and other things, too. In some ways, he knows more about me than a lot of people. If I’m there waiting while he works on Sophie, before that Sookie, or Sonnie, or other bikes that I didn’t name, conversations happen. I’ll go on about how I have to find another place to live (yet again), or whatever physical ailment is bothering me, or how some jerk nearly killed me in the parking lot. It’s that familiarity, that common, shared history, that has meaning. There’s a bond there, at least for me.
I recall a specific moment when I thought, “This is a pretty cool dude.” I had an old dark green Huffy bike. I got it used and it wasn’t great quality so it frequently needed repairs. I wasn’t biking nearly as much as I have recently, but I was car-free, so had to have it working. I didn’t have much money, working for a non-profit. But I’d take it to the shop and there he’d be. When other mechanics might roll their eyes, or make blatantly pejorative comments about how crappy my bike was, he never did (at least to my face). He gladly worked on it and to help me out.
Once I even mentioned this, and he said something to the effect of, “Hey, it’s your bike, and you need it to ride.” Sure, he was happy to take my money, and he got paid regardless. So when I walked into another shop years later and he was working there, I was thrilled to see him. He rebuilt Sookie the Fuji Silhouette, who got me through five of my six charity rides, in which I raised $12,000, and got me past my first 10,000 miles. Sure, there have been other folks who worked on my bikes, and they are also all important in my journey. But I’ve known this dude for a decade, and that’s not nothing. It’s something.
I’m under no delusions that he shares the same outlook on me; like I said, I see other mechanics, and he sees other people and their bikes. It’s his job to help, and I’m just a regular, after all. Not that I spend a ton of money there compared to people buying $2,000 bikes, but it’s plenty for me. But I suspect he’d admit to some sort of affinity, or at least toleration, for me and other customers. If you own a car, motorcycle, RV, boat or other vehicle, or a musical instrument, or other valuable thing that requires a mechanic or other specialist, perhaps you can relate. When you get it back after a period of separation, the feeling is one of gratitude, amazement, and relief. And thanking him profusely for fixing my bike problems doesn’t seem enough sometimes. That’s why I wrote 9 Reasons Why You Should Buy Tip Beer for Your Bike Mechanic. Maybe you give yours flowers, or something else that’s appropriate.
Maybe I’m kidding myself here. He’d be embarrassed to even read this and probably make fun of me for it. But I hope he knows that after the jokes and insults — because that is part of it — there is some sort of bond there. I mean, who else is going to fix my bike, a god damn robot? Hopefully not til long after I’m gone to that bike rider junkyard in the sky. Or probably that other hotter place. Actually no place, because neither heaven nor hell exist if you’re an agnostic atheist like me (which I wrote about in the post In BIke I Trust).
There’s not a lot to put stock in these days. Politicians tell people what they want to hear (aka lie) for a living. Celebrities have too much money, weird habits, or check themselves into rehab. Our corporate overlords are in it for the money, making people peeing in bottles and obstructing their right to unionize. (You know I mean you, Amazon gazillionaire Jeff Bezos.)
I for one will continue to believe in my bike mechanic. So take care of yours, because she or he takes care of you, and your bike(s). And if you’re into bikes, I bet you too can tell your own story.
Talk about your bike mechanic in the comments.
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