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Sunday, August 13, 2006

HOW TO START YOUR OWN BICYCLE REPAIR BUSINESS


IN THE BEGINNING
Bikes have been around for over a hundred years. More bikes are produced in the world every year than cars. A bike makes you 21 times more efficient covering a mile than on foot. A bike is cheap to maintain and operate. Unlike an automobile, you own it, it doesn't own you. Depending on where you live on this earth and your income a bike is either a toy, a recreation device, a transportation vehicle or a tool. With the recent price hike in fuel, bikes are not about to vanish from the transportation map.

All this means is that there will always be a need for people to repair them. Bicycle repair is simple and doesn't require heavy tools, machinery or a large working space. It does however require knowledge, a few specialized tools and a passion for biking. This article is long and you might want to refer to it again. Feel free to bookmark it for later consultation or print a hard copy.

GATHER INTELLIGENCE
Before you start, you need to get solid information. If your lucky enough to have access to a local trade school or community program that will teach you to be a bike mechanic, great! Jump in with both feet, watch and learn. If not, the other way is to teach yourself. First thing you have to do is to get a good technical manual on the subject. I mean a bonifide real hardcopy that you can leave on your workbench for quick reference. Spend the money, in the long run you will see that it's a wise investment. You can read how to fix bikes on the web, but nothing beats a good solid manual that is divided in easy to look up chapters. Even this blog is not complete enough to learn to become a mechanic, I've yet to start on 1/4 of the material that's needed.

Learn to build wheels. No bike mechanic is truly a real bike mechanic without this skill in my opinion. You have to learn this from someone who will sit down with you and explain the process. There are also some great tutorials about wheel building on the web. I had the chance to have both and thru the years I have managed to become a decent wheel builder. Noting is more relaxing for me than to sit down and lace up a new wheel. This is the ultimate craft that you MUST learn. After building a few wheels, aligning them will become very easy.

Lastly, keep informed on the new trends by reading bike magazines on a regular basis. I need to brush up on this myself.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE
You'll need some basic tools like metric size open wrenches, tire spoons, chain breaker tool, a good tire pump with pressure gauge, spoke wrench, a complete set of allen keys, screwdrivers, ratchet set with size 9 to 17mm, wire cutters, adjustable pliers, flat bearing cone wrenches, crank arm pulley tool, a work stand and a trueing stand for wheels. I'm probably missing some stuff, but as you go along in your jedi bike mechanic quest, you'll learn to buy what you need. This list is a good start.

PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE
Now before you go out in the world helping people out by fixing their bikes, there is one thing that every newbie mechanic must do: Take your own bicycle apart to the bare frame, regrease every single bearing in it and put it back together. I don't mean just taking off the wheels and putting them back on. I mean to the bare frame, totally naked with just the paint and stickers. If you can do that and safely ride your bike again after you've rebuilt it, you'll know if you have the ability or not. It won't mean that your good yet, but that you do know what you're doing.

Next thing you'll have to do is to find some donor bikes for parts. Anything is good when salvaging for parts. Many bearings, cranks, brake calipers and chains, to name a few, are common to many kinds of bikes. Never overlook a carcass that you can get your hands on for free, you can always use something on it. Taking apart these donor bikes will do two things for you: You will learn how different types of bikes are put together and you will make yourself a decent supply of spare parts. Don't kid yourself, you probably won't be working on the very latest ride that came out of that fancy bike boutique 2 months ago. Chances are you'll be working on bikes that are pretty similar to the ones you are taking apart, mainly chain store specials. Besides, customers love buying used parts since they pay less and you love selling them because they cost you next to nothing.

WORK ETHICS
When taking a bike in for repair, ask the owner what he/she thinks is wrong with it. Listen in carefully for some clues that might help you out on the repair. Check the bike for loose wheel bearings, bad brakes, out of adjustement shifters, frayed cables, loose pedal axle bearings in front of the customer. Tell him/her what you have observed and your evaluation of the bike. If you suspect that there is a possibility of a major problem, tell the customer right away. People appreciate when they know what they are getting into ahead of time and they hate surprises. They'll also appreciate that you took the time to listen to them. If you get a surprise while doing the job, stop the work, call them up and explain it to them. Give an estimate and ask the customer if the work should go ahead.

When you know you have to replace parts, offer a used part if you have a good one in stock. My gauge is half price from new or less. I also throw in used parts for free sometimes. Everybody loves free stuff. When I have to supply a new part, I will usually charge the same price I paid for it since I buy it retail.

When you fix another persons bicycle, they depend on you for their safety. Anything can happen to them if you've missed or forgotten something. Always, and I mean ALWAYS, take the bike out for a test ride yourself before giving it back to it's owner. One loose bolt or badly adjusted brake cable could represent major injuries or death, REMEMBER THAT.

Keep track of your customers and call them up after a week, or if you see them, and ask if their bike is running good. Should you get a negative answer while the bike and customer is in front of you, make sure you always carry basic tools so you can take care of the problem on the spot. If not, always garanty your work and fix the problem for free as soon as you can. Returning customers is what you are looking for, treat them well. Working on a bike from a return customer is very easy most of the time since you know who was the last mechanic that worked on it.


MARKETING YOUR NEW SKILLS
You should start marketing yourself as soon as possible. Talk to friends and family about your talents even while you are learning them. Offer them to work on their bikes for free, it will give you practice and the quality of your work will be spoken to others. People love to brag about good products or services. If you do great work, your friends and family will not hesitate to give you referrals to potential customers.

Volunteer your time. Don't hesitate to give your time to good causes like bike safety rodeos. Community groups are always in need of mechanics when doing events like these, they'll be more than happy to take your offer and they won't mind you giving away your business card in exchange for your services. You will meet a lot of potential customers and they will get to sample your work. They will ask you questions and ask your opinion on many bike related subjects. Don't be afraid to interact with them and be friendly. This is an opportunity to make contacts and build your reputation.

Advertise on your car(if you have one), on bulletin boards, on local free internet classifieds and on your bike. Be aware that if you chose to advertise on your bike, be sure that it is in perfect running order and that it looks good. Even if you don't have a fancy bike, it still as to be clean and look the part of a well oiled machine. I don't advertise on my bike because it looks like crap! But it runs perfectly and I like the fact that it looks crappy. That's just the way I am.

Get people to know you as more than just a bike mechanic, but a bike guru. Give information on bike related topics like safe riding, cycling health benefits and your own cycling preferences. Remember, this is your passion and you want to share it.

PRICING
Since people are reading this from all over the world, it is hard for me the give an actual price for every single job. One thing I can tell you is that I charge a flat fee for a tune up, plus the cost of parts. Here is my definition of a tune up: The bike comes in running like crap and the bikes goes out running fine. Period, whatever it takes for the bike to run good. Some bikes take me 2 hours and some 20 minutes. I only replace or fix what needs to be fixed because I check everything. In the long run, the average makes it worthwhile and the customers are happy. When customers are happy, they come back and chances are you might have to do less work on that same bike when it goes back in your stand.

Of course I will not charge the same fee if all the customer wants is to replace a brake cable or if he/she wants to strip and rebuild the entire bike.

Don't be greedy and sometimes throw in a freebie, it will always come back to you in a positive way at some point. Giving feels great and I consider myself a millionnaire for the many times I had the joy to see a kids face light up after giving him/her a free bike.

HOME BICYCLE REPAIR OR OPENING A SHOP?
That's a big decision. If you are fortunate enough to live where riding is possible 12 months a year it is much easier to do than in a place like where I am with real cycling business happening only 3 months a year. Working from home to start is always good. You get to build a customer base and that is priceless when starting a new business. Beyond that I can't really help you. I've always been asked why I didn't open a bike shop and my answer has and always will be: I like biking too much. With only 3 nice months to ride here, I don't want to spend them with my elbows in grease in a neon lighted little shop. I prefer doing jobs once and awhile now and I get to choose my customers. I've moved recently and lost all of my customers and realised that I wasn't riding that much anymore. So now I'm more picky about my customers and I only do jobs when I feel like it. If you want help on opening your own shop, check out your local chamber of commerce or of course there is always the web. I gave you the basics for a bike repair business, but I won't get into how to get hooked up with bike manufacturers and parts suppliers. I never did that so I'm not qualified to give you that information. But if you want it bad enough, I'm sure you will find it.

If you decide to get into bicycle repair, either at home or opening a shop, remember this: Everybody offers the same thing at about the same price. People know they have to pay for your services and they are willing to do so. What they are looking for is SERVICE. That is the key in my opinion, great friendly service will always get you more customers.

LAST WORDS
Rule number #1, have fun. If you enjoy what you are doing, you will be a good mechanic, work will always find you and you will keep your passion alive. If you ever decide to start in the bike repair field, email me and let me know how this little article helped you out. I'm also willing to answer any questions. This post will most probably be revised from time to time.

Until then, ride safe and Godspeed.

Gerry



29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I started a bike repair business in London. I had no money...but I do have know-how and LOVE fixing things and especially bikes. In London, bike shops have huge waiting lists. I had friends who couldn't afford to be without their bikes (since they commute on them and public transport is quite expensive in London - can you say "2-4 pounds per ride" or "highest fares in the world"?) while they waited on those lists, whose wheels were so wobbly they had to loosen their brakes considerably for the wheel to turn. Since I could do these little repairs in minutes, I'd have them on straight/true wheels in hours, and I'd exchange the service for the tool with which to do it. I'd tell them the tool to buy (a good tool) and perform the repair (saving them a three week wait at a bike shop) and keep the tool and any extra parts that might be incidental to the job. Eventually I had almost all the tools necessary. When someone came to me with something I'd done ten times and had the tools for, I'd ask them to buy me a tool I didn't have...for repairs I hadn't done. By the way, I'd also ask them to bring me food, money, or beverages (whatever was a necessity at the time...a baguette from France, and a good French cheese...yummy). I fixed about 30 bikes for various people and met a lot of people on the streets as I'd also ride around and see people in need of repairs and tell them I could fix their bike quickly for a fraction of what it would cost in the bike shops (since they charge tons for labor). Anyway, I've since left London and plan on doing this same thing in my new location. The one last bit of advice I have is never make an official business or you'll be paying taxes to people who don't need the money (especially in London - ie, the queen who uses the money to wave at people). As for guilt over social programs supposedly supported by taxes, if you want to give to charity just fix bikes free for various people or groups...or better yet show others how to do certain things. But remember these people must be at least as dedicated to the love of it as you.

Gerry Lauzon said...

That's a great story. I'm glad that there is still passionate people like yourself out there. Keep up the great work. I always carry a minimum of tools with me as a habit. I once fixed a derailleur on a young woman's bike while I was at a terrace. She baught me a beer and was very happy with the work. I wasn't going to charge her since she was very cute and nice, but I can't say no to a free beer! :)

mtnbikesownu said...

i am trying to start a bike shop business. but i am just a teenager adn in las vegas. not many kids bike. so i am not sure where to find the clients. i have the skills, just nobody to use them on.

Gerry Lauzon said...

Well you made the first step by deciding to go ahead with this. Post on craigslist and kijiji, it's free dude. Put up flyer's in shopping malls and grocery stores on bulletin boards, at school, banks, anywhere you can figure out. Talk to the neighbors, spread the word. Trust me it won't take long to get business if you do a good job and charge a decent rate. Vegas is booming and you have all the customers you need, just go out and get them! You can do it, just don't quit and in no time you'll be busy.

Good luck young grasshopper.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

Im 13 i have my wee bro working for me i got my skills off my big bro who used to work in a few big bike shops.I started a bike repair business in Belfast u call it lagan cycles.My mother was hardly givin me money i got £5 a week off her.And now i get about £110 every 2 weeks now out of my business my business is in a garage my bikes r (mtb orange224 white) (bmx rytham IL1 black).On my mtb i had to build it from the frame

Gerry Lauzon said...

Congratulations, it just goes to show that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Gerry :)

Munirah said...

I'm also a teen like the other.unlike them i don't have a garage.where can i store the costumer bike?and where can i find the right tools and bike parts because I'm trying to start a business too.

toxikid said...

I'm also a teen like the others.but unlike them i don't have a garage.where can i store the costumer bike?and where can i find the right tools and bike parts because I'm trying to start a business too.

Gerry Lauzon said...

Try to rent or bum some storage from someone or store them outside with a tarp. Just make sure they are very well locked. Customers bikes should always be stored indoors in a very secure place. Your local bike shop should provide you with tools and parts. The garbage is also a great place to find some free spare parts and projects. Good luck.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

im 14 and i live near brighton in england.
i really want to start a little business because i know a thing or two about bmx's but not mountain bikes.i really want to learn as i do have a passion and love to ride...please advise on what i should do..also are there any bicycle books/manuals like you said earlier that you can recommend?
thanks,
george

Gerry Lauzon said...

Hey George, I'm glad to see that your are willing to take the plunge this early in your life. I would suggest taking a trip to your local library and read everything they have on the subject, books, magazines, you name it. It's all there for free. As far as working on mountain bikes, get an old one for cheap or for free in the garbage. Read this blog and whatever other information you've collected and take it apart. Put it back together. Do this often as practice makes perfect. Good luck and keep us posted.

Godspeed

Gerry :)

bart said...

Hi Gerry,
I red 'How To Start..' and i felt like looking in a miror. At least during the first part. I'm just a starter but i got me a certificate at the local technical school, as a bycicle technician. It was a two year course. I'm trying to get all of my friends and family on twowheelers. I even make new friends fixing their bikes.
I'm doing 250Km every week to go to work on a fixed gear. Big fun!
Thanks for the enormous repairtips.
Bart, Leuven, Belgium

Gerry Lauzon said...

Glad I could help Bart. You just made my day.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

in the beginning of your article you mentions having a good tech manual and i was wondering if you could offer me good advice on a good book to buy about bicycle repair. any hints would be appreciated

Gerry Lauzon said...

I recently found out that Haynes, who makes a series on auto repair, has a book out on bike repair available at amazon.com. I don't know if it's good, but if I relate to the one my son uses for his car, it must be pretty complete. I'm in the process of writing a book as well and all that is left to do is making the pictures to accompany it.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Recently at 17 i have decided to put my skills with bikes to good use and start my own used bike buisness. i usally find disgarded bikes and overhaul them i have had little customers, most of them say oh it must be scrap made to look good but its really like new since i fixed it, how do u recomend winning over these people

Gerry Lauzon said...

It is important to list any work done on the bike , like re greased bearings and to list all the parts that were replaced. That always does it for me. You must mention that the bike that you are selling will not require any repairs in the near future. People don't want to buy problems and you have to convince them about that first. I sincerely wish you all the best in this venture.

Gerry :)

Bill in Detroit said...

You've been Stumbled, old bean. I thought that this article was an excellent overview for anyone just beginning to contemplate a bicycle repair business.

Simon. Australia said...

Great Blog. The best bicycle repair book by far is The Barnett's Manual. Available to buy from www.bbinstitute.com It's expensive - $140US, but worth every cent. comes as a CD with updates online so it's never out of date. Has work sheets that you can print for every job you could ever do on a bike. I have worked in numerous bike shops and currently do repairs to my own bike as well as freinds and some people in my bike club and the manual is always open on my computer when I'm doing a job. If you are thinking of repairing bikes as a business, get this as your 1st tool and don't leave home without it.P.S Be wary of 2nd hand tools, especially from bike shops as they are usually worn out. If the tool is worn you can do irreparable damage to bike components.

Anonymous said...

Any advice on setting up a wholesale account to obtain name brand parts, ie shimano, sram, easton etc when you are working out of your garage ? I have been building and repairing bikes for friends and it is evolving into a business. Scavenging parts from ebay is very time consuming and a wholesaller would help tremendously. Thanks

Gerry Lauzon said...

If you don't have access to a local wholesaler, there are plenty of online bike part stores online with decent prices. Just google it up.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

im 14 and want to start a bike repair shop and go out to ppl who need help i dont know that kids need ther bikes fixed any suggestions

Gerry Lauzon said...

You are in a great position to start your business right now. You have the ear and the trust of your mates who all ride bikes. The more practice you get, the better is my suggestion to you. Pull bikes out of the garbage and fix them. Carry tools with you all the time and offer to fix on the fly when you spot stuff. The more you wrench, the better you will get until you become a Ninja bike mechanic. Whatever you do, don't give up and invest your money in good tools. They will pay for themselves quickly.

Now go fix a bike and make some cash.

Good Luck

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

I know that you want good customers don't give everything away for free buy stuff cheaper sell it and get a little profit i started my own bike selling business when i was 12 now im 16 i made over 6500 dollars in the summers i got bikes from yard sales auctions flea markets anywhere some times people would give them too me i just fixed them how i liked it so they looked new took all the rusty parts off the and sold them that day i would sell 20 bikes a day at cheap prices 20 to 30 dollars and everybody knew me im spost to being a report right now on how to start your own business but i already have and your page helped me a little thanks

Gerry Lauzon said...

Always great to hear about young ones getting into the business and being successful. Keep it up.

Gerry :)

Qwik-cadence said...

I am trying to start a mobile repair shop but I am having a hard time with the highly controlled distributors of cycle parts. I would like to have parts available to sell or just parts in hand to fix bikes at events. Already licensed,. but what they require would cost over $50,000 the first year just to be able to get parts at distributor prices. Opening a store front and competing against the franchise stores in my area would not be a good ending. Maybe that is the reason there are very few mom and pop shops anymore..Any advice?

Gerry Lauzon said...

I buy my parts retail and sell them the same price I pay. Used parts and service is where the money is made. It will take you a real long time to make over that 50 000 investment.

That's my $0.02

Gerry :)

Michael & Lydia said...

I'm thinking about starting a business.I'm almost 13 and I thought that over the winter I could find 1 or 2 cheap bikes somewhere and fix them up and sell them again later for twice as much.This page is great it helped a lot. THANKS!

Gerry Lauzon said...

Awesome! That's the kind of feedback that makes my week. You're never too young to start.

All the best to you and keep us posted.

Gerry :)