A bicycle mechanic services, maintains and repairs bicycles.
Bicycle mechanics work in the cycle industry, which in the UK employs several thousand people. The UK is home to over 20 million bicycles, and cycling is on the increase for a number of social, environmental and political reasons.
More people are choosing cycling as a means of transport, a way to keep fit and a leisure activity, and government-backed initiatives are encouraging us to cycle more and are re-introducing cycle proficiency, updated for the 21st century. This UK biking boom makes it a great time to get a job in the cycle industry.
There are many different settings in which bicycle mechanics might work. Fondly referred to in the industry as 'grease monkeys', most bicycle mechanics are employed in independent bicycle shops, of which there are over 1,000 in the UK.
Opportunities for technicians also exist in hire centres, cycle workshops and larger non-specialist retailers selling bikes (such as Halfords or Tesco Homeplus), as well as sports clubs, race teams and holiday/tour operators.
The precise role of a bike mechanic will vary according to the setting – from highly-specialised technical work to a much more general role combining basic maintenance with a customer service or sales role.
The cycle mechanic profession has traditionally been male-dominated, but this is changing. There are really no bars to women entering the profession, and an increasing number of independent bike shops are owned and run by women – sometimes with an all-female staff to boot.
Most cycle technicians come into contact with just as many people as they do bikes, so the job suits outgoing, customer-focused individuals - surly grease monkeys are unlikely to progress in this profession.
Salaries are commensurate with experience and qualifications. Junior or trainee bike mechanics can expect to earn the National Minimum Wage, equivalent to around £11,000 a year.
Wages usually rise with a couple of years' experience, but in 2008 an industry survey found that the average wage for a mechanic was still under £14,000 in the UK.
Mechanics with a particular specialism and those employed by a cutting-edge cycle workshop often command higher salaries, but it is still unusual for cycle technicians to earn more than £20,000.
As a head mechanic it is possible to earn in excess of this figure, but the role is likely to involve longer hours and more managerial, sales or other responsibilities in addition to the technical aspects of the job. On the plus side, cycle mechanics often benefit from generous staff discounts – useful if you are a keen rider.
Bicycle mechanics will typically carry out some or all of the following:
- assembling new bikes
- identifying faults, damage and wear
- carrying out minor repairs (e.g. fixing punctures)
- repairing and/or replacing damaged or worn-out components
- wheel truing (straightening bike wheels so that they are properly aligned)
- fitting accessories (lights, pannier racks or cycle computers)
- carrying out routine services and safety checks
- cleaning, degreasing and lubricating bicycles and components
- advising customers regarding work which is required, and whether this is essential or recommended
- estimating costs (labour and parts) and providing customer quotes
- booking in work
- dealing with customer queries and offering product or general cycling advice
- liaising with suppliers and dealers
Cytech is the only recognised training and accreditation scheme for bicycle mechanics in the UK. In 2008, it was estimated that over 60% of bicycle mechanics had achieved at least a Level One Cytech qualification.
A significant number of experienced technicians have never done any formal qualifications, having built up their expertise through years in the job. In today's fluid job market, however, it's wise to get your skills and knowledge accredited by completing a recognised training and assessment programme.
There are three levels to Cytech:
Cytech 1 Induction (which is a distance learning certificate) and Cytech 1 Practical These provide a basic competence in bike mechanics. With a Level 1 qualification you should be able to completely build a bike from its component parts. Health and Safety and customer service is also covered.
Cytech Technical 2 This qualification is the accepted standard for professional cycle mechanics. The training course takes 5-7 days and covers customer service, safety legislation, removal and repair of components from a frame, identifying what repairs or maintenance are required, correct use of tools and equipment. The areas covered by this course are gears, brakes, basic wheelbuilding, headsets, hubs, pedals and saddles.
Cytech 3 This is the natural progression for mechanics with Cytech 1 and 2 under their belts. The Cytech 3 qualification covers more advanced techniques and is designed for those working with top-of-the-range and more complex bikes and cycle equipment. Individuals can choose from a range of modules according to what will be most useful to them. These progression and follow-on courses include:
- Hydraulic Disc Brakes
- Suspension Fork Servicing
- Advanced Wheel Building
- Full Suspension Servicing
You can sign up for a Cytech training course as an individual – Level 1 costs a few hundred pounds. Bear in mind that the fees for each subsequent level will top £1,000, and that practical experience is a key element of Cytech.
It makes more sense, therefore, to do the training on-the-job with access to tools and equipment and, perhaps most importantly, an experienced mechanic to whom you can be “apprenticed”.
Most employers recognise the importance of a structured training course and the benefits it brings their cycle business, and will fully or part-fund the course and associated expenses and provide you with time off to attend residential courses and carry out your studies.
For under-25s in England there is currently a government-funded support scheme in place to make it easier for employers to afford the cost of training.
Bicycle mechanics require the following skills:
- technical knowledge
- good organisation and time-keeping
- a meticulous and thorough approach
- consistency and a high level of attention to detail
- the ability to keep accurate records
- team-working skills
- the ability to work unsupervised
Cycle technicians working in a customer-facing environment (such as a bike shop or cycle hire centre) will also need:
- good customer service skills
- an engaging, friendly and positive attitude
- an interest in cycling and knowledge of local cycling routes
Computer skills are also useful as most mechanics will be required to use email, internet, word processing, spreadsheet and database packages in their day-to-day work.
Most bike shops are open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm, though an increasing number also open on Sundays or during the evening, particularly in larger cities. As a mechanic you would normally work a five-day week, with some weekend working from time to time.
Larger bike shops and those catering for tourists, such as bike hire centres, may be open much longer hours, especially in the summer months.
Most mechanics work indoors in a workshop, and often within a small team. A mechanic will spend a lot of time on their feet, and the job can be physically tiring, especially if a lot of stock is being moved or bikes cleaned.
Minor injuries, such as scratches and bruises caused by tools and equipment used in the workshop, are part and parcel of the job. Serious injuries are, however, rare.
Some substances used in the profession are potentially harmful or toxic (grease, lubricants and cleaning agents) so safe working procedures must be followed to prevent injury and to avoid exacerbating existing conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Personal Protective Equipment, commonly a workshop apron and eye protection, are supplied by employers.
It is possible to get a job as a trainee mechanic without any qualifications, but some experience of bikes and an enthusiasm for cycling is essential. Trainee mechanics are likely to receive on-the-job training, and most employers will require a mechanic to have a minimum of two years' experience. Workshop managers and head mechanics usually have a minimum of three to five years' experience in the industry.
There are over 2,000 independent bicycle retailers in the UK, most employing just a handful of bike mechanics – many workshops have just one full-time technician. You can find the majority of these specialist retailers through the Association of Cycle Traders.
Cycle stores with several chains include Evans Cycles and Cycle Surgery. Some non-specialist stores also employ cycle mechanics, including Halfords, and there are also opportunities with holiday resorts like Center Parcs and other locations offering cycle hire.
Little experience is needed to get started as a mechanic. Cytech, the industry-standard training programme, has fast-track options and with hard work and diligence it is possible to progress very quickly.
It's important for bicycle mechanics to keep up to date with industry developments and technological innovations. Being a bicycle mechanic gives you a good grounding and opens up a host of other roles in the cycling industry, including in sport, leisure and education.
Lindsey James works as a bicycle mechanic for Drover Holidays, a cycling and walking tour operator based in the Welsh town of Hay on Wye. Lindsey works at the business's bike hire centre, and is responsible for maintaining a fleet of 50 hire bikes as well as carrying out repairs and servicing for local customers.
She also deals with customer enquiries, and advises bike-hire clients on mountain biking and cycling routes in the Brecon Beacons National Park – so the job is about more than simply wielding a spanner!
Lindsey answers the common question: what is it really like being a bike mechanic?
''I was motivated to become a bicycle mechanic because I wanted to do something hands-on and practical. I've always loved bikes, so it's the perfect job for me!
I only recently became a bike mechanic. I did an English degree, followed by a variety of office and retail jobs. But even after a few months I already know I like the job.
The best thing is the variety – every day is different, every bike is different. I also enjoy the problem-solving aspect of the job. So far, I haven't found anything to dislike – well, apart from scrubbing muddy tyres, maybe!''
''In terms of advice for others considering becoming a bike mechanic, I would say don't be motivated by or expect a big salary. It's the kind of job you do for love, not money. Otherwise try and gain experience by fixing your own bikes and your friends' bikes – though while you're still learning they may or may not thank you for it.
Be open to opportunities too. Get into the biking scene – you never know who you might meet.''