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Guest editorial: Don't be a tool, grow the bike mechanic trade

Published December 6, 2019

By Danielle Strader

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In case you want the skinny of this article, here it is:

Be a good person.

For those with more time, read on.

Being a professional bicycle mechanic comes with a certain level of pride and camaraderie, born from hours of hard work and dedication to learn a craft that many will never understand. When you're good, you're good. You work to gain a reputation and people in your community know your name — maybe even across the country and across the world. Customers throw around the words "the best" in your presence, and when you hear these superlatives enough times — deserved or undeserved — it's easy to forget that the front derailleur was a total mystery when you were cutting your teeth in the back room at your local shop.

As an industry, we've got to learn to remember.

The bicycle industry has created a "members only" culture that squashes the enthusiasm of the inexperienced. When I say "bicycle industry," I don't limit it to mechanics, though that is my intended audience here. We are not generous enough with our time, our resources, our knowledge. We instead pretend like we've always been here and that being cryptic or difficult is some kind of rite of passage,

It's not.

More and more, our interactions are moving to the internet. As a result, there's a lack of empathy toward one another. Instead of answering beginner's questions, people are asked why they don't already know, or ridiculed for being simplistic, for not having the skills that we all know we were not born with. We lament over the lack of talent in the pool, while also belittling those who wish to learn. We can't have it both ways.

So what can we do about it?

Answer the damn questions

You know the answer, so just take a second and be helpful. When people are scared to ask questions, they either give up entirely or worse pretend to know what they are doing. New and aspiring mechanics need experienced professionals (like you, there, reading this!) to help them succeed. We need to propagate a culture that offers help. Invest in the people around you and give your time freely with the understanding that it is a sacrifice that pays future dividends in our craft.

Support and promote educational opportunities

Be prepared to direct new mechanics to resources that can help them if you can't. Promote the educational opportunities that hone the quality of mechanics. The PBMA works alongside many major brands to provide relevant, tangible educational opportunities. Many brands provide their own helpful documentation and formal/informal training in their specific products. You can't read the Park Tool School Instructor Manual cover to cover without learning something. There's always a way to help.

Relish the excitement

We are all fellow bike nerds who decided there were no better ways to spend our time. That's a huge common ground, right? There was a time when bikes were exciting to all of us. The newness of the information was addictive, suddenly having even a kernel of understanding opened up a whole new world. Watching S-Tec videos until your eyes hurt, or whatever the kids are doing these days. That enthusiasm propels aspiring mechanics to be voracious learners, and we should encourage it. Like Neo when he's first plugged back in — that "I know Kung Fu" moment. It's important. A person who is excited to learn and supported in that endeavor is more likely to become a top-notch mechanic.

Remember where you came from

My final ask here is that we remember that none of us got to where we are without other people. Someone poured their time and knowledge into training you. Someone wrote that book. Someone made that video. Someone bought you that tool. Hell, someone invented the bike. We can't take sole credit for anything we do — and it's our prerogative to pay it forward to the next mechanics and then to the mechanics after that. It's how we grow, and how we show our humanity.

If nothing else, in everything you do, be kind. It makes all the difference.

Danielle Strader is the owner/operator of Torrenti Cycles Inc. and an active member of the PBMA Board.

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