Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Good and the Great

A good bike shop keeps all -- or almost all -- of its old parts. These can be used for the "wizard jobs" in which experienced, talented mechanics can improvise, substitute or re-engineer components to fix them quickly, without having to expend the time and money to order complete new assemblies.

A great bike shop actually sorts and catalogs the old parts. Perhaps they even offer them for sale, along with new old stock and other stashes of retro treasure. See Harris Cyclery for an example. And we did it at the first shop I worked for. In the slow months of late fall and winter, we had time to dig in the crypts of the shop basement and set up the used parts area. One of us also reconditioned a number of used bikes with those parts, to use for rentals.

Fixing bikes is a lot like the cable television show Junkyard Wars, in which teams compete to make usable mechanisms out of whatever they find lying around. Depending on how well equipped the shop is, the bike mechanic starts with some advantage, knowing certain items will be there. But with all the variety in bike parts over the years, we often come up against a challenge that calls for more ingenuity than simply going to the pristine parts shelf and picking out the exact item in a sealed package.

3 comments:

Brian C. said...

It sounds like much fun to build a bike from scratch; and it's environmentally good to build a perfectly good bike from used parts. Perhaps one day I can set aside the time to learn bike mechanics. Maybe, if these shops are swimming in spare parts, they could think about donating them. Around where I've lived there is The Freewheel Collective (http://www.lifreespace.org/freewheel/programs/bikegrant.htm)
and the Recycle-A-Bicycle group in NYC (http://www.recycleabicycle.org/). But I know there are similar programs in many states and cities. These organizations are always looking for donations. Presumably they'd be tax-deductable for the store donating--and more importantly good social practice.

cafiend said...

Bike recycling tends to do better in areas with higher population density than where I live. Also, for the sake of the mechanically uneducated, it's good for shops to have the resource for repairs. Otherwise we get sucked into the disposability concept that has infected all other consumer goods, like automobiles. The mechanic who fixes my car is a genius who really cares about keeping people's transportation operating at the lowest feasible cost for doing a decent job. I travel a long way to get to him because he has the best attitude, combined with excellent skills. In bike repair for customers I try to offer the same trustworthy service. It needs to be right, but it may not need to be expensive. I never complain about the price my auto mechanic charges, be it $10 or $1000, because I'm confident it reflects the necessary cost of that repair.

Brian C. said...

Indeed, I agree with what you write, wholeheartedly. What I intended by "swimming in spare parts" was that if stores had more than they knew what to do with (or do with in the near future), they could donate them (perhaps seeing if mailing the parts was feasible--I bet some collectives would help pay for/accommodate shipping).