(This post existed as a draft up until 9/3/2019, originally drafted 11/12/08)
I’ve been a professional bicycle mechanic for a few years now. “Where do I want to take it?” is a question that I ask myself frequently. Why did I get into it in the first place? This I know the answer to: Because I was hating the alternative. That being a corporate desk-jockey working for insulting wages doing tasks that utterly lacked pleasure or satisfaction. So now I’m a mechanic, and love it.
“Why do I enjoy it, why is being a mechanic pleasurable?” Because it’s fun. Getting your hands dirty—using both your muscles and your brain. Helping people out who are in need. Keeping these people on the road; helping them remain self-sufficient in their chosen means of transport. It’s also an interesting subject, seeing the evolution of components and technology (or rather notice how not much has actually changed). It’s a field that comprises a lot of my skills and takes from a lot of my previous experience; and this in itself is satisfying. Most of the time, the environment is filled with like-minded people which can be rewarding in its security.
“What is the future of it for me?” This is the one that I cannot readily answer. I think I do a good job of being a mechanic, however doubt enters my work space at times. More accurately diminished self-confidence rather than in abilities. Sometimes these doubts are inspired from a customer’s knowledge seemingly besting mine. That sense of competitive defensiveness always brings questions of doubt. I am confident I can repair just about any machine that crosses my stand, so it’s really just the thought of “knowledge” not being readily in my hand. And really this is just a factor of the sporadic lack of confidence in vocalizing that knowledge. The occasional inability to spew details and precise specs on specific bikes or components. Is this a commonly felt notion? Is my “bicycle personality”, hampering my mechanical experience? My personality being that of a cyclist who prefers simplicity and longevity—this relating to the fact that I don’t “jump on” enough varied bikes, components, doohickies and/or widgets? I like my few bikes simple and functional. Maybe I’m boring that way, I like to think of it as mostly utilitarian—to me that’s part of the bicycle’s beauty.
While I’m surrounded by the bikes and parts and all other such accoutrements of the bicycle mechanic, I sometimes feel stumped by the people who, from my perspective, are desk-jockeys who are likely learning data online as opposed to doing their white-collar tasks. (Admittedly, that judgement is just a knee-jerk reaction, and I don’t really mean it). Some other times, even in these surroundings, doubt creeps into my mind. “Am I merely a mediocre mechanic?” or perhaps, “Is this a mediocre profession?” I honestly don’t think so when I step away from these thoughts and really focus on my abilities. I do honestly think this is a great profession (certainly not in economic ways of course—it certainly is not as lucrative as I’d like; more on that below), it enables me to be around typically interesting people, it provides a great deal of satisfaction and that sense of accomplishment. But in some ways it seems like a finite profession. Definitely finite in it’s cap on income, but will it also be finite in it’s satisfaction and level of accomplishment. Factors I was keenly aware of when I began; factors I accepted. But. What’s next?
Can one make a career as a bicycle mechanic? In Louisville, KY? Anywhere? At the moment I’m not making as much money as I was while in Seattle (that is understandable in a way I know, but…). The statement, “You don’t get rich in the bicycle industry” is often heard in the shop I’m in now. It’s stated in a way that implies someone asked for a raise of executive proportions. Getting rich was never my intention. Being paid equitably for time and effort, positive attitude and out-going ambition is all that is asked really. It’s probably just a factor of working for a small business owner, a factor of working for someone else—and that’s not something easily adjusted. Right? So in a way, that’s a finite direction to take the profession.
What’s next? Owning my own shop? Perhaps. I often thought it’d be a good idea. Maybe start building my own frames? Extremely appealing. I’ve always wanted to get back into mechanical/industrial design, re-hone my dusty CAD skills. Travel to Europe and wrench there for a while? Revive the magazine and get Cranked back in print and back on the shelves? Hmmmm, not so sure. Seek corporate levels and get a “bicycle” industry desk job? Rather not, but the previous three all feel like viable options, just gotta start the planning process again. Can I do all three? Eventually, own my own shop, where I can fabricate my own frames, but only after a few years of cycling and wrenching in France and Italy. Sounds good to me. Someone send me a large sum check! What preparations are needed at this early stage of the game? There’s a lot to figure out, a lot to get busy on.