Over and over we see advertisements for courses like the Barnett Institute For Bicycle Mechanics. Just as with the National vehicle repair licensing programs, they have a core certification (Bicycle Assembly and Maintenance) followed by many subset courses you can attend to increase your knowledge and versatility.
But are these courses needed? I have maybe met one person who had attended Barnett’s wheel lacing program (which makes sense, wheel lacing is difficult to master). But I’ve never met someone who started their mechanic’s training there or received the bulk of their training through them (out of the 10 or so mechanics I know).
In some ways, bicycle wrenching is the wild-wild-west of repairs; there is little by way of standardization or accountability. Poor mechanics go hungry; good mechanics have long waiting lists. It’s the law of supply and demand.
So how does one become a bicycle mechanic? Especially if you are outside the “inner circle” of your local cycling industry.
In this article, I’m going to lay out the three-step pathway that most people follow.
Step 1 Become Conversant In Bike Repairs
There are so many Youtube videos you can follow, and if you want a comprehensive online course, there’s affordable on you can buy and go through.
It helps to know that a “cone” isn’t something that you put ice cream on. You want to become conversant.
Ideally, you are going to take the next step and begin getting practice. You can start by adjusting the derailleurs and brakes on your bicycle. Learning how to perform basic maintenance is an excellent place to start.
In this phase, you want to expand this experience. Purchasing bicycle from a local thrift store or garage sale, fixing it up, and then selling it or donating it to the local homeless shelter is a low-pressure way to hone your craft. Try to do two to three of these bikes if your budget allows; it is way cheaper than paying for training, and Youtube makes an excellent master.
Step 2 Build Relationships
Joining your local cycling club is a good step for those of you who are active riders. This isn’t the most direct way to build connections to the shop owners, but it can put you in touch with people who know other people. If nothing else, it can be an excellent place to get references.
As you go through Step 1, you will be in the shop all the time to buy parts. This step is key. It will be excellent if the crew at your local shop sees you once or twice over a span of a couple of months. They’ll appreciate the consistent business and that you have are comfortable with bikes.
It is key not to come off as a know-it-all during this phase. You want to be teachable, but you also don’t want to pepper them with too many questions and cross into that “annoying” category.
Some communities also have opportunities where you can volunteer helping to repair bikes in the community. While this won’t directly lead to a job, it can help you expand your skillset and might put you in contact with local mechanics who are also volunteering.
Step 3 Ask For A Bike Building Job
Most bike shops have a need in the summer for a seasonal bike builder. There are too many bikes flying out their doors for their repair team to keep up. Most of them rely on college students for this entry-level position, with the idea that this role will wrap up at the end of the season.
This is an excellent place to begin gaining the knowledge and respect that comes from working in a shop. In many cases, you will need two or three years of working in the same shop before you begin being trusted to help with repairs.
Depending on the shop, they will likely ask you to help them with simple repairs such as tire changes for walk-ins. And then, as your skillset progresses, that will lead to more responsibility.
Be vocal about your desire to become a bike mechanic. If the boys know you are interested in making it a full-time gig, they’ll help push you forward as a candidate the next time there is an opening.
Most mechanics learn through apprenticeships — hands-on training as the knowledge is passed from one mechanic to another. .
I have seen some local shops sign up for the Park Tools trainer program. These shops invest in the formal training for their mechanics. Getting in with a shop that does that can help expose you to advanced training and certifications you would otherwise be unable to get.
Being a bike mechanic is fun “hobby job.” The camaraderie and enjoyment are unequaled. However, it is difficult to support a family on the wages paid by most shops and is typically only a career that is pursued by college kids and husbands whose wives have lucrative careers.
Similar to how people become baristas for “fun,” few bike mechanics stay in this role if they need serious income.