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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Why do people put up with shoddy bicycle assembly?

By Smokey Dymny,
of the Quadra Bike School

Edited by Charles Moffat,
The Bicycle Mechanic

Just before I closed up my shop on Quadra Island, B.C. for the Christmas break a young woman brought me a $3000+ downhill bike to straighten the derailleur hangar she had bent for the second time. (The bike was three months old.) She said the first time it had been straightened by the shop in Squamish, B.C., which had originally sold her the bike. Now she was living on our island off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

I cautioned that I could only straighten the derailleur if the back wheel was true, and she agreed I could true it if necessary. (A minor truing usually takes less than 15 minutes.) Now, this wheel was actually laterally true, but the spoke tension was terrible. Half the spokes on the drive side were close to the correct tension, and the alternate spokes were drastically low. After I re-tensioned this wheel I had to check the front wheel too, hoping it wasn’t as bad. But it was.

In under half an hour I saved her wheels from a potential catastrophic failure. What was deplorable was that a bike shop in a town known for hard-hitting downhill riding, a bicycle shop there would let an expensive cycle go out the door in such pathetic mechanical shape. They even had a chance to correct their sloppy work when she returned to get her derailleur hangar straightened.

I urge everyone buying bikes anywhere in Canada to start demanding that their local bike shops prove the proficiency of their mechanics. Take every bike from a “professional shop” to a community bike shop or clinic, get the volunteers to show you how to use a tension gauge and use it to check every spoke on the drive side of the rear wheel to see if it measures close to 100-120kgf. The front wheel should measure 80-100kgf (measure on the left side if it has a disc brake). If the wheels are not close, go right back to the shop and ask for a proper wheel truing or your money back.

Up till now bike shops have been slow to send their mechanics to professional training schools. I think they’re afraid they’ll have to pay them more. And they will. This has been an industry sleazing by with minimum-wage starting salaries, and only rising above that in minuscule increments. The riding public is suffering, only they don’t know it. When a wheel or other component fails drastically, I’ve seen service managers blame the customer for the fault and then charge them for the repair even within the very short warranty period offered by most shops.

Only bike riders who won’t take bad treatment will make these shops shape up.

Being a rider on the streets of Canadian cities is not for the faint-hearted. Riding a bike assembled to shoddy standards should be an offense under your local highways act.

Editor's Note: Some bicycle shops don't even have a spoke tension gauge. A true sign they don't know what they are doing. They're not even expensive, and they really should be mandatory in every bicycle mechanic's bag of tools. There are many different kinds of spoke tension gauges (like the three shown below) and there is no excuse for not having one and learning its proper use.



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Looking for a bicycle mechanic school in Canada? The Quadra Island Bike School in British Columbia is a Canadian bicycle mechanic school that trains professional bicycle mechanics against the backdrop of the beautiful Quadra Island.