“Hi, I need a new tube.”
“We’d be glad to help you. What size tube do you need?”
“I don’t know. A regular one.”
Hint: There are no “regular” parts when it comes to bikes!
Believe it or not, knowing the simple details of your bike will help you and your bicycle mechanic understand each other far more quickly, and with a happier result. Let’s start with those tubes…
- When purchasing tubes for your bike, know the tube size you need, and whether you need Presta or Schrader valves.
Your tube size is listed on the tire itself, usually in black. You can save a photo of the size so when you visit a bike shop and when you remember that you need a tube, you already have the details with you.
This tire requires a 700 x 30/32C tube. Tubes can sometimes fill a range of sizes. Choose the closest measurement as possible to get the ideal tube fit. Your mechanic can help you with this.
“Presta or Schrader?”
This is not an order for fancy coffee. (Ha!) Older bikes often have Schrader valves like your car tires, while newer bikes will have Presta valves. Presta valves are offered in varying sizes to fit the depth of your wheel. This is another opportunity to take a picture for your photo archives. Again, there is no standard size to name for all bikes, and there is a bit of allowable variance if you are out on the road with a flat…You can use a tube with a 48mm length when you normally use 32mm, for example, to get you on the road until your next bike shop visit. Your bike mechanic can explain this more thoroughly if needed.
- Your bicycle mechanic may need to know how many speeds your bike has in the front and/or back.
This is crucial information to enable your bicycle mechanic to assess your needs and/or to define your next steps (especially over the phone), and/or to prepare for your visit to the shop. Some bikes have numbered gearing on the handlebars:
You may have three speeds (or chainrings) in the front and eight in the back. Or one chainring in the front and seven in the back. If your gears aren’t numbered, you can count the cogs:
This bike has seven cogs (7-speed).
- Your bicycle mechanic does not expect you to know a lot of technical jargon, but a little research goes a long way.
One mechanic described a story where a woman called to order a crank arm. He was surprised when she added the details—“It needs to be 170mm in length with a diamond shape.” He only needed to ask in return, “Square or tapered?” Simple terms or measurement guidelines are available on the web with a quick search. You can be proactive by knowing a little about what you need, removing the guesswork for both of you. It will transform the way you understand and communicate with your mechanic.
“My bike is making a funny sound like this. Can you tell me what to look for or what could be wrong?”
- There are instances when a shop visit is a requirement to get the information or help you need.
More times than you may realize, guesswork comes in to play over the phone. Your mechanic is attempting to understand your needs and you are doing your best to describe it. Bring your bike in and ALL of your questions will be answered.
- Sometimes there’s an in-store wait, and sometimes you have to leave your bike for a week or two.
Your bike mechanic is willing to assess, estimate and even correct your bike’s smaller issues while you wait (in fact, it’s usually preferred). But a lot of details affect the way this goes down. Your mechanic has long-term work orders with deadlines. Your mechanic is also managing the daily traffic that comes through the door. Additionally, they are performing service checks on brand new bikes headed out the door with new owners. Bicycle mechanics must master an unbelievable amount of knowledge, extending from the oldest classic bikes to the newest technology available. Often, during peak season, the demand is high and the wait is long. If your bike needs more intensive work, you will be asked to leave it and it will be added to the workflow. If you are racing or headed to your favorite rally, it’s crucial that you plan far ahead. Sometimes things go wrong last minute, and we all understand that. But plan ahead as much as possible to insure your bike is ready in a timely manner.
- Your bicycle mechanic is aware of the internet and its details such as cost and availability.
You are shopping local and receiving personal service—the way no website can offer. Your mechanic is willing to discuss all of the details of your bike. He or she does not set pricing or control shipping or wish to delay you in any way. His or her greatest wish is to get your bike serviced in the quickest manner with the highest quality possible.
- Keep your bike clean and maintained for best results.
There are reputable articles and videos online to help you know how to wash, dry and lube your bike. Your bicycle mechanic can give you insight as well. Keep your drive train clean. Lube after every one hundred miles or after a wash and thorough dry. Overly lubing the chain actually causes it to collect dirt and grunge. A dirty drivetrain leads to faster wearing of parts, which makes it less enjoyable to ride and more costly to fix.
- Tip your mechanic, but not necessarily with beer.
Get to know your mechanic a bit…He or she may love craft beer or have a sweet tooth. We all know cash goes a long way!
Some individuals may be recovering so alcohol isn’t a great default choice for tipping, even though it is a tradition.
When you find a mechanic that syncs well with you, knows your bike history and your personal preferences, that is a match for sure. Do what you can to make him/her yours, keep coming back, and extend some gratitude. As the saying goes, “those who feel appreciated will go above and beyond the basics.”
Lisa Tilley is a contributing writer for Wheelbrothers, is a member of Fort Worth based MBBC, and is in sales at Bicycles Inc.