Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mechanic or technician...

If you work on bikes for a living, do you call yourself a mechanic or a tech (technician)?  This is a question I've pondered for quite a while.  I think I first heard the term "tech" used by the warranty guy at a bike company where I was working.  I recall stopping and thinking the term was strange.  "Well, has your bike tech check this or that?  Can your tech try this?"  Bike tech, eh?  Hmmm.  I'm not sure I like that term.  Maybe it's appropriate in this modern era where a laptop might be used to diagnose shifting problems or reprogram a slow derailleur.  The term "technician" sounds fancy like you might have gone to school and earned a degree to tech on bikes. 

I'm a bike mechanic.  Been so for 25 years.  So, Mister Smarty Pants, what then is the difference between a bike mechanic and a bike tech?  The way I see it, not a lot.  However, the minor difference is enough that I want to be a mechanic.  I see a tech as going by the book.  Performing tasks by rote.  Replacing rather than repairing.  That last bit is at the core of what makes a mechanic a mechanic.  Repairing.  Seeing a problem and fixing it.  Taking the time to repair a $20 part rather than installing a new part that, for all intents and purposes, would take much less time to replace than repair and, in effect, put more money in the coffers.  

Then there's also that "challenge" thing.  You know, you're presented with what looks like a basket case of a bike that the owner wants repaired.  There might be sentimental attachment to the bike or the owner really just wants the bike fixed instead of spending what might be an equal amount on a new-to-them bike because then what to do with the basket case?  Toss it?  I see this scenario quite a bit.  I know that a lot of shops won't spend the time necessary to revive an old, neglected bike.  They'll steer the owner over to the new bike section.  I don't follow this approach - most of the time.  There was one time a bike was brought to me that needed virtually every part replaced.  In that case, I declined the work and sent the owner to the Re-Cyclery

I've been thinking about this for quite a while, but it was the repair yesterday of an old Nishiki road bike with 105 down tube shifters that made me think more about what it means to be a mechanic instead of a tech.  This bike had a chain that was rusted solid and a freewheel that wouldn't freewheel and tires that were as crusty as week old toast.  The hubs were a bit rough, but overall, the bike was in good shape - and the owner loved her bike.  I gave her an estimate and got the go ahead.  

First order of business was removing the rusted chain which took breaking it apart in two separate locations.  I did not try to salvage the chain, but the freewheel was on my radar.  The freewheel in question was an old Shimano 600EX 6-speed model.  These are pretty good freewheels.  I've use quite a lot of them on bikes over the years.  There is an outer threaded dust cover over the outer race.  Both of these are removed with a pin spanner and are left-hand threaded.  Removing these two pieces exposed the bearings.  Lots of tiny bearings.  My goal was freeing the frozen freewheel quickly by flushing it with some WD-40 and if this didn't work, then it was new freewheel time.  A couple of shots of WD-40 and the freewheel was freewheeling.  I continued to flush it while adjusting the hubs (they felt great after a quick bearing adjustment).  After the freewheel was flushed and spinning smoothly, I dripped some Phil Tenacious Oil over the bearings along with a little light grease for the bearings and buttoned it back up.  I let it sit overnight so any excess oil would drip out.  Next morning it was like new again.  

So, what did we learn?  A frozen freewheel can be easily repaired and by repairing it and I didn't have to throw it away (actually, freewheels can be recycled at Resource Revival).  Mechanic or tech?  What do you think?

The freewheel.

(What's playing:  KWMR Swimming Upstream)


Stuart Hanson said...

Great post. I think there is definitely some inherent value in keeping decent bikes and parts on the road (or trail). Way to rally against the "disposable mindset."

Dan Horndasch said...

I've been wrenching on all wheeled things for as long as I can remember. When once asked what I did for a living, by a grizzly old Harley rider, I replied, "I used to be a mechanic." He looked a bit befuddled at the assessment of my "previous" profession, and quite sternly, but politely, said, "You don't just stop being a mechanic. You've got skills, and can do things that I can never figure out. You're always a mechanic."
Just because I wasn't getting a paycheck (at the time) for my skills, it didn't mean that I no longer had them. I was, I am, and I'll always be a Mechanic.

It's something that's stayed with me ever since.

Marin County Single Track said...


Anonymous said...

what does the shimano manual say about freewheel maintenance and replacement?

Kiwi Pete said...

I'm a Mechanic! (Motorcycle and Cycle).
A Tech can only fit new parts and change oil!
(like you said).
The most Mechanic's are older, because the kids today do not have the time to repair.

John Majors said...

Mike, Great post. I was a building trades carpenter for 36 years, and we referred to the most skilled and knowledgable tradesmen as "mechanics", no matter what the trade. I say mechanic.

Guitar Ted said...

Well, I have to agree with you, Mike. You know- the bicycle shop was where folks took everything to get fixed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The whole idea of "Mr. Fix-it" and "mechanics" came from this time.

I would boil it down to this: Mechanics are creative, resourceful, wise, and have a basic understanding of physics and mechanical properties. Techs? They can diagnose and replace stuff.

In a parallel comparison I feel it is the same as the difference between being a "salesman" and a "clerk".

Brian A said...

How about cognoscente?

co·gno·scen·te (kny-shnt, kgn-)
n. pl. co·gno·scen·ti (-t)
A person with superior, usually specialized knowledge or highly refined taste.

Seems especially appropriate for one inclined to repair frozen freewheels!

Oli said...

Mechanic without a doubt, and I follow your ethos to the letter because it's inherent in me to do so. Great stuff as always, Mike.

Sam Larson said...

The term "mechanic" implies deeper skill. You're a mechanic when the seasonal bike builders ("techs") come to you and ask either how to fix something they broke, find a very small, very specific repair part out of the back of the shop, or call you over to diagnose something they've never seen.
I've been a proud professional mechanic for five years now.

saddle up said...

Sram and Shimano are making it increasingly difficult to be a mechanic. They are designing stuff to be replaced. A replacement chainring set on a modern crankset sometimes cost as much as just replacing the crankset. Does Sram even manufacture 8 and 9 speed components still?

Mags Oi said...

I'm a bike mechanic. But I do the same things with computers and nobody ever calls me a computer mechanic. Potato/poe-tah-toe or dork/dorque, I says.

Roasta said...

Mike a great post. In short I agree and relate to many of the comments, definitely Gted's.
I guess the terms are industry specific and have changed in modern times. In the aircraft spannering world you start as mech and progress to tech. But in general society I just use mechanic as most people trust and understand the title. I might add that I know many who speak of being good because they have 20 years of experience. unless you learnt the correct methods initially they may just have 20 years of do things poorly. Proof is in the work.
we live in a throw away. World and with cheap parts around I am always frustrated when I have to fit a new crankset for someone rather than change the chainrings. Mind you I get work big shops won't bother with. How many times can you fix something using 2 old parts to make one.

Ryan said...

More commonly I go by the title "wrench" but between tech and mechanic, mechanic reigns in my mind. As far as steering people to new bikes in the shop - I just try to put the customer on the bike they will like the most and ride the most (whether that is the new bike or the old trusty). At my shop we will make more profit on a repair when compared to a new bike of similar price tag.
So from a dollar stand point the repair is preferred even though the customer may not think so. However when I have a customer come in looking to revamp a bike they haven't ridden in 15+ plus years I always consider the type of bike and positioning as well as how the person's fitness level has changed. Often a quick test ride on the new bike can be more than enough for someone to trade their aggressive, heavy old schwinn 10speed for a lighter, more comfortable hybrid.-Ryan

Anonymous said...

A "tech" will tell the customer "Gee, your freewheel is frozen up. It will have to be replaced....and, golly, we don't have any more of these Old-School threaded freewheels anymore but we can install a new wheel."

A "mechanic" knows that those dimples in the dust cover fit a pin wrench and remembers that they are left-hand threads. He will tell the customer, "You know, I pretty certain I can REPAIR (key word) that."

Anonymous said...

Its not Mike and the Technicians now is it?

blackmountaincycles said...

Ah, and finally the "Mike and The Mechanics" reference. I was waiting for that one.

LeRoy said...

I think that the difference between a mech and a tech is similar to the one between cyclists and people who ride bikes. A cyclist will find and attempt to fix the cause of that annoying "fwop, fwop, fwop" themselves before going to the LBS. Someone who is just a bike rider will just go to the LBS. Cyclists, especially long distance folks, are often their own mechanics finding their own solutions in the middle of BFE.

EJ Jent said...

Mechanic is the snuffer, tech is the one that helps via technology, as James Bond is to Q.

Likewise at Mercedes a Tech diagnosis and guess who actually does the reapair?

My title is "Bicycle Fixer" because, well, that's exactly what I do.

Jer said...

I was writing a blog post on this very subject ( ) and found your post while looking for examples of what other people think of the topic.

A great post. As one who prides himself on doing almost all of my work on my bicycle myself, I definitely value mechanics for when I lack the skills or don't want to buy a $300 tool for a one-time job. Here's to mechanics.