January 5th, 2017
In the Beginning
Since the popular use of bicycles began, there have been people wrenching on them. The majority of people begin as self-taught enthusiasts who either made a shop or got hired at a shop. Any education or certification was secondary if at all. The skills built up over years of wrenching often seen as far more useful than a certificate from a two-week class with no shop experience. However, this may be changing.
Last year a group of individuals and organizations (some anonymous) got together and created the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association (also written as PBMA or ProBMA).
The newly formed ProBMA has been compiling data and gathering cooperation to quickly bring about a nationally recognized standard for professional bicycle mechanics. What does this mean? Does this mean everyone wrenching in a shop will need to be certified? They are still asking loads of questions and requesting industry input through surveys (http://www.probma.org/pbma-surveys.html). This will definitely impact small bicycle shops and individual freelance mechanics. Some questions being asked are: Can demonstration of skill by-pass any school to attain a certificate? This would mean that everyone else who before 2019, had not been able to attain years of shop work may be required to obtain a certificate before legally being able to work on bicycles. This is one potential scenario of many. But there are many reasons the industry is heading towards more professional certification.
Old Models v New Tech
When bicycles first came into mainstream production, they were made with the idea they should last for a long time. These often heavy, steel bicycles might require replacement of certain components, yet can ride for several decades. This was the average, everybody bike. Since then companies and manufacturers have tried to make the original design – lighter, ride specific and with non-interchangeable components and/or tools.
Those older model bicycles are still on the road. Early production bicycles also had frames and major components set to certain standards; finding replacement or upgradable parts for any bicycle was relatively easy. Somewhere around the 1980s manufacturers started recreating the bicycle several times over. As the designers continued to reform the bicycle they left a lot of discontinued sizing and designs along the way. Many of those models and makes are still on the road yet no longer in distribution. Finding replacement parts or upgrading can sometimes be impossible due to the discontinuation of the older sizing or specs.
New model bicycles are going the way of the automotive industry. Creating whole companies with specific components, parts, accessories and even tools. You buy a Big Brand Bike you must buy all Big Brand Bike parts and service. In addition, the current uptrend in popularity of eBikes has created need for new legislature on what type of vehicle it can legally be defined as. There is both a need and desire for more regulation within many elements of the bicycle industry.
Greasers v Techies
Currently on the road there are the older model bicycles along with new and custom bikes. As with most technology it’s ‘out with the old, in with the new’. However, this means that those with older bicycles might become hard-pressed to find a mechanic who will or can fix their bike. This essentially forces the purchase of a new one, due to lack of industry professional knowledge or desire to repair. And that new bicycle you buy may have easily damageable parts that are replacement only. Welcome: The Disposable Bicycle Industry. When once the idea was that your grandchild might inherit your bike, now you’ll be lucky if it lasts as long as your pet guinea pig. Old school bike greasers will get your bicycle going as safely as possible. Bike Techies won’t touch your bike without the manufacture’s spec guide. The most marginalized persons tend to have older model bicycles. What will they do if they cannot find a mechanic who can fix their bike and they can’t afford a new or used newer model bike? Bike Greasers tend to be the mechanics helping the community, the lower income riders and often most marginalized. The bicycle was a way to unity the people, everyone is equal on a bike. It doesn’t require fuel, most minor maintenance can be performed at home, no need for expensive upkeep. Well at least that’s how it has been. It may be difficult for a lower income person to be able to afford the quality bike they need, one that won’t require constant or expensive upkeep; unlike cheaply made more affordable bikes that are more disposable than fixable. Bike Techies wrench newer or customs. Passionate bike snobs, they pride themselves on knowing all the latest tech and specs. Life is about the newest gear and the latest trend. If the bicycle doesn’t have new orderable parts, the bike is no longer operable. This isn’t to say Bike Greasers don’t have schooling or keep current on changing industry; it’s to say Greasers will work on the outdated bike while Techies won’t even look at it.
Who’s on board?
Several different companies and organizations have jumped onto the bike wrenching certification train. And with the National Bicycle Dealers Association’s purchase of Barnett Bicycle School, the idea of certification is definitely a growing trend.
Mobile mechanic franchises Beeline Bikes and VeloFix have expressed their support of the ProBMA and most recently Snap-On has also partnered with them offering a raffle. The ProBMA is also seeking input from industry professionals about how the certification process could be. With both closed and open surveys, they have collected data, some available on the website to see what people are saying.
Currently there are a few different bicycle mechanic schools in the United States: United Bicycle Institute, Barnett Bicycle School, Trek Bike School, Park Tools are some of the more popular and there are many specialized schools or classes for suspension, electric bikes and more.
Rise in Education
More and more people, particularly marginalized persons are speaking up about their interest in bicycle mechanic knowledge. Even if the goal is not to become a mechanic, but know how to work on their own bicycle(s), more people are requesting mechanical, hands on knowledge. Some organizations are attempting to help diversify by offering scholarships to schools for certification. QBP has a yearly Women’s Bike Mechanic Scholarship (please apply) which sends women and women identified persons to the United Bike Institute. This amazing program offers lodging and more. Once certified, scholarship winners bring that new knowledge and refinement of skill to new or current positions within the bicycle industry.
However there seems to be a large percent of persons who seek mechanical bike knowledge not to become a mechanic but as a skillset for themselves. Incidentally workshops are on the rise, often in cooperation with retail bike shops. A school in Tennessee recently opened up to offer residents the access to information that may not otherwise be available without several thousand dollars to attend a school, perhaps thousands of miles away. All over the country, small community centers or shops offering free or discounted services to the public. Yet often the volunteers don’t have enough time or knowledge to provide intensive or thorough bike education.
What does it all mean?
What will this mean to the newly aspiring bike mechanic? Or the current mechanic working in a shop with years of experience? No one knows right now but the times are surely changing. Regulation seems at hand, yet there may still be ways for everyone to gain the information and tools they need to maintain such a vital vehicle of many people’s lives. Could there be a renaissance of accessible custom bicycles or local manufactures of made to last, interchangeable components? Who knows, but a mechanic can dream. A mechanic can dream.
By Hard Knox Bikes Staff
Main image: http://image.slidesharecdn.com/handbookforbicyclemechanics6edhowardsutherland1995-150602201927-lva1-app6891/95/handbook-for-bicycle-mechanics-6ed-howard-sutherland-1995-1-638.jpg?cb=1433276481