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Sorry if this question isn't sufficiently bicycle specific, however I thought this board could lend some insight! I'm recruiting at a community bicycle shop, and I'm increasingly curious as to how bike mechanic skills are acquired and certified, both because I need staff, and because I'm interested in career pathways to graduate mechanics from our modest shop.

How do you find mechanics? How do you qualify a mechanic's skills in an interview process? What kind of jobs are there for mechanics besides working in a shop doing assembly and repair? Are good mechanics made or born? Is it ever too late to learn?

Edit: though I'm based in the USA, I'm interested in experience from other countries. For instance, I have heard that in some places, bicycle mechanics must be licensed skilled tradespeople. I know that's not the case in the US, but I'm still interested in the perspective.

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    You're in the USA I believe - it might be worth mentioning it in the questions because the qualifications I know of wouldn't be relevant.
    – Chris H
    Sep 28 at 14:10
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    Need to define a bike mechanic. There are gorillas who can hold a spanner call themselves mechanics, then there are some bike fixers who throw new parts and therefore money at every problem. Bike Mechanics fall into the 'If I have to, I have a CNC Machine and lath and can make the part, but I can also fix your kids bike as cost effectively as possible' (And the very best don't look down their nose at you when you take a 20yo bike into the shop.)
    – mattnz
    Sep 28 at 20:05
  • @mattnz agreed - finding a mechanic to suit the job is a significant part of the challenge. Fancy sportbike mechanics may have little experience with cargo bikes, electronics, singlespeeds, kid's bikes, or fitment. And vise versa.
    – Criggie
    Sep 29 at 9:28
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    A couple practical bits: in the US, BBI and UBI are both options that people can go to on their own, and Trek and QBP both also have programming in the same vein but it's more geared towards retailers sending their own people (BBI and UBI do that too). Community shops have it tough; the nature of the work is much more focused on dealing with bikes from across many decades and the worst states of repair than what goes on in commercial shops, and then you're likely putting that against the need for low-paid or volunteer labor. It's a rare bird who can actually do that. Oct 18 at 15:56

3 Answers 3

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Like many things, bicycle mechanics is not difficult if you have the right mind for it, but not everybody does.

In some cycle shops, new staff are taken on starting just to unpack and do the basic assembly of new bikes and work from there. Certification schemes are available, such as CyTech in the UK, courses run by Park Tool and others, and also major component and bike manufacturers run their own in-person or web-based training schemes which result in various certificates being available, some of which have more value than others.

After whittling down your field of applicants to the bare minimum, it's worth having an hour in the workshop with each of the final few individually to get a feel for the level of cack-handedness your new recruit will display in the early stages. Experience: "I somehow manage to keep my 125cc motorcycle running on a shoestring budget" may well be worth more to you than "I built my own MTB". If you are already an experienced cycle mechanic and your workshop runs OK, training your willing young assistant to cancel out your own personal flaws/oversights/bad habits is extremely helpful (I found) and should end up giving your team a good edge, where everyone can play their strongest cards and boost the shop's reputation.

There's also nothing like learning from a master and getting a "friend" from a big industry service centre or a specialist outfit (that focusses on just a few specific things or processes)to visit for half or a full day and show your team some procedures can be great training. Cultivating these types of links can be expensive and time consuming but makes the experience richer for your employees and everyone ends up better off.

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    You sound like you know more about formal training than I do, but I think there's also a City & Guilds qualification. And of course your point "training your willing young assistant to cancel out your own personal flaws/oversights/bad habits is extremely helpful" implies something else good - a mutually respectful atmosphere, which customers will notice
    – Chris H
    Sep 29 at 9:11
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As a bicycle mechanic instructor for more than 8 years and having certified more than fourteen hundred mechanics, I must say that finding the right mechanic for your workshop/business/store is very difficult and time consuming. A lot of trial and error is going to be involved in the process.

The reasons are mainly three:

  1. Modern bicycles are more technologically similar to airplanes than motorcycles or cars. The need for certified and professional mechanics has been an issue that has been of concern to the industry for several years. Many mechanics choose to study many advanced topics in depth, becoming more relevant and coveted by service companies in the process.

  2. There is a shortage of mechanics of this type throughout the planet. Professionalization and demand are on the rise.

  3. Many professional mechanics are oriented to have their own business in the short term. The offer must be attractive enough to keep them in one place.

In general my advice is: As a manager take a course in specialized mechanics (after all you can't manage what you don't know) and try to hire people with little experience and start a local training with that person until he/she becomes the Mechanic you need. With a larger budget, you can look for graduates from the main academies in the country.

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    Great answer and welcome to the site! Really cool to have someone with that experience.
    – MaplePanda
    Oct 19 at 1:14
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    Thank you very much, very excited to be here.
    – Evac
    Oct 19 at 17:22
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This isn't meant to be complete, more a collection of points addressing some of your sub-questions.

In other (engineering) fields I've used practical tests as part of an interview process. If you're interviewing, that might be an option - but remember that people won't necessarily be in workshop clothes at an interview.

In some fields in some areas, trial shifts are common - paid work but with no commitment on either side.

If it's a community shop, are all your roles paid? One community enterprise I know of has a program for providing bikes to those in extreme need (e.g. refugees), and that's mainly staffed by volunteers. Some of those volunteers go on to pick up some paid work. (I may be a little hazy on the details, that's what I've pieced together including from eavesdropping). You'd need to be careful around labour laws.

If you have sales/shelf-stacking roles, you can take people on mainly for that and train them as well, starting with the easy stuff. It doesn't have to be very formal to start with, but sooner or later you might be looking at qualifications which will likely incur external costs.

You should look into what support (if any) is available in your area for taking on apprentices. This is a bit of a commitment but can work out very well for the business and the individual.

As for whether bike mechanics are born or made, it's obviously going to be harder to learn to work on sometimes tricky mechanical systems if you lack practical skills of any kind. But someone with skills in one area can easily learn in another area. For example I learnt to maintain my own bikes in my 30s, learnt to build wheels in my 40s while injured from a bike crash (still with notes in front of me) - but I've been aligning laser systems in work for 20+ years. The skills are surprisingly similar even if the levels of cleanliness are very different.

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  • I find that bicycle repair skills also translate quite well to some other mechanical areas. It's quite a nice way to learn about torque, lubrication, power transmission, wear, etc.
    – MaplePanda
    Sep 30 at 3:33

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