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Saturday, September 26, 2009

How Safe is your Local Bike Mechanic?

CANADA - I've worked in a few different bike shops and even early on I noticed there is a trend in bike shops to cut corners when it comes to fixing a bike "by the book" with respect to the safety of the customer.

[Right: Craig, a BTAC certified bicycle mechanic.]

Take wheel truing for example. If a wheel has reached a point that the tension on the individual spokes is greater than 30 kgf the spokes are much more likely to snap when the cyclist hits a bump. That will result in "catastrophic wheel failure" and the person will end up crashing, possibly getting injured or dying. [Note - The maximum kgf will vary depending on spoke thickness, strength and the spoke pattern, but 30 kgf is true for all normal bicycle wheels. Consult your Barnett's Manual for different spokes.]

And that is just one example of what could happen if someone doesn't fix your bike properly.

As a responsible citizen you'd think bike mechanics would care more about their customers' safety, but from what I've seen quite a few bike shops out there are selling their services just to make $$$ with little regard to the personal safety of the rider.

"Well that's what I do on my bike and I've never been in an accident yet."

The key word is YET. Its bound to happen eventually.

[Right: BAM Instructor Smokey Dymny shows John how to properly tune brakes. John is now a BTAC certified bicycle mechanic.]

The problem lies in that 99% of bicycle mechanics out there have never been properly trained. They are either self-taught or taught by a shop mechanic who wasn't really trained either and is relying purely on experience.

Its my opinion that bicycle mechanics should have to go through a certification course, like the BAM program here in Toronto, the Winterborne Bicycle Institute at Conestoga College, or the John Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado. Or some similar program.

At the very least every bicycle shop should have one properly trained bike mechanic who can then pass their knowledge unto lesser mechanics on how to do things properly/safely. True, sometimes people get impatient when you've got X number of bikes to fix in a day, but I should point out a properly trained and experienced mechanic is also faster and more efficient, in addition to being safer.

In Toronto the BAM program has only been around since the start of 2009. It was created because of two things: 1. Toronto has a shortage of bicycle mechanics; 2. Toronto has a shortage of properly trained bicycle mechanics. The plan is to eventually open more BAM programs across Canada so that more and more bicycle mechanics can be properly trained.

So even though its not mandatory by law or anything, the Bicycle Trade Association of Canada is proceeding with a plan to create an industry wide standard wherein bicycle mechanics will eventually be expected to be certified. Its essentially self regulation.

And that is a good thing because it means safety standards should go up with respect to properly serviced bicycles.


  1. agreed on point that bicycle mechanics is a highly underpaid profession. many retail members of BTAC cut corners by hiring kids fresh from school instead of giving vets their dues.

    curious - where did you come up with the spoke tension figure? will that figure be the same for a $5 single wall rim as it is with a Mavic X618? What about the number of spokes? Jobst Brandt measures overall tension on the rim. Rim manufacturers don't spec a given recommended maximum tension, so it's hard to give an absolute there, right?

  2. Check out A listing of mobile biycle mechanics in the UK



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About the Author

Charles Moffat is equal parts bicycle mechanic, cyclist, painter, sculptor, fantasy writer, poet, website designer and pun maker. For more details see



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