Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Death of the ABW?

Yes, I was Googling myself.  In doing so, I came across this article:


in Outside Magazine.  It's good.  Outside's got some pretty good writers.  And, for the most part, it's true.  Depending of course on the shop, bike mechanics and shops are increasingly put on display, and the overtly aggressive/condescending/douchebag bike mechanic's days could be numbered, and that's not a bad thing.

I'm here to say all the things I cannot to the idiots across the counter from me.  In person, I have to be polite and courteous, and I need to bite my tongue when you bring me your neglected bike and then question the quote I put together to fix it.  I'm OK with this.  I really am.  For the most part, my customers are calm, understanding, and reasonable.  Often, the worst reaction I have to deal with is a raised eyebrow and a "Wow, I didn't expect it to be that much," after which I explain to you how chains stretch and cogs wear and you nearly always understand and tell me to go ahead with the repair.  And you're happy you did, because when you get your bike back, it works again, better than you remembered it could.  Sometimes, you tell me it's just too much, and we back off on a couple things, and I do my best to educate you on what to expect, and I'm OK with this too.  If it's not a safety issue, I'm pretty happy to do as little or as much as you want me to.

So where does the Angry Bike Wrench come from?  The soul of the ABW lies in the disconnect in how we view bikes, and how you view your bike.

The ABW became a mechanic because he loved bikes and would tinker with them whether he got paid to do so or not.  In middle school, he was dissatisfied with his Huffy, and did what he could to make it better.  He quickly became frustrated with it, so he wandered into a bike shop and noticed what good bikes looked and felt like.  He saved his dollars and bought one.  Then he tinkered with that.  When he couldn't fix it himself, he took it to the shop, where he pestered the crusty old mechanic to teach him a thing or two.

In high school, when mowing lawns wasn't cutting it any more, he asked the crusty old mechanic for a job.  Crusty gave him a shot building kids' bikes.  The ABW showed some aptitude.  He got good at it.  Crusty let him do a tune-up.  The ABW got better at that too.  Now he had skills.  He still needed to look to Crusty for advice when he encountered something new, but for some reason, new info on bikes and how to fix them stuck in his head like other information didn't. 

In college, fixing bikes paid for rent and booze.  The ABW didn't need to look to others as often for advice on how to fix something.  The way he thought had changed.  He understood how things had to go together, so he know how they had to come apart.  His eyes knew what looked right and what didn't, and without thinking, he paid attention to how parts were oriented so he could put them back the same way.  Now, when presented with a part he hadn't worked on before, he had the mechanical foundation that allowed him to figure it out.

After college, the ABW didn't want to keep fixing bikes, but he was good at it, and when a "real" job wasn't quick in coming, he decided to get a gig at a shop, just to pay the bills, just until a real job came along.  His service manage left in a huff, and because he was the most experienced mechanic, he fell into the job.  The ABW learned business.

Outside the shop, years of riding had honed his senses.  When riding, he could feel a shifter out of adjustment, and he could fix it without even thinking about it.  He'd long ago ceased to give his bikes tune-ups, because maintenance of his personal fleet was constant.  He lubed and wiped down his chains after almost every ride.  He checked his cables, and a cable never went uncapped for longer than a ride.  His bikes were never stored outside, ever.  His bikes were tools, and some of them were bastards, but he loved and revered them, because they were his.

The ABW had learned to eat, sleep, breathe, and shit bikes.  Without trying, they had become his life, and his life had grudgingly come to depend on them.

And now you walk into his shop, with your bike that you left locked to a parking meter over the winter, and you wonder why he sneers at you?  You bring your bike in because it makes a funny sound when you squeeze the brakes, and you wonder why he's exasperated when he points out that your brake pads were worn out and needed to be replaced months ago, and now you've worn through the brake track on your rim and need to replace your wheel?  Your tires are rotted and worn through to the casing, and you wonder why he rolls his eyes when you balk at a thirty dollar tire?

He takes it personally.  He shouldn't, and he know he shouldn't, but he can't help it.  Bikes are his life, and they should not be treated like this.  That is the soul of the ABW and the fundamental reason it's so difficult for the ABW to relate to you and to your bike.  The problem is, the ABW isn't good for business or for the industry.  Belittling a customer is no way to win repeat business.  At best, it pisses people off.  At worst, it keeps people from having their bikes serviced, which means they don't enjoy riding their bike because it shifts like shit, so they don't ride as much, so they get fat and unhappy and don't buy any more bikes or service.  It's a nasty, downward spiral.

So the ABW exists in all bike mechanics, because we have a fundamentally different perception of what bikes are and how they should be cared for.  Good mechanics will temper their inner ABW.  Great mechanics will use their ABW as inspiration to make your bike as good as is possible to show you how good it can be, so you learn to revere your bike like he does.

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