If you’re thinking of embarking on a cycle mechanic course think carefully about what you want to achieve. Do you want to fix your own bike? Maybe you would like to work in a workshop or learn a bit more about how a bicycle works? Are you hoping to invest in a future career or be able fix a puncture? In the following article we are going to look at whether or not a short course will make you a bike mechanic and what has changed over the years to make fixing bikes more difficult than it used to be.
I’ve recently been asked by a local charity to train some enthusiasts to work for them as volunteer bicycle mechanics. This made me think about the bigger picture of becoming a bike mechanic and how false the image of cycle maintenance education has become. Wouldn’t it be great if you could invest a couple of hundred quid and a few days later, bingo, you have an experienced bike mechanic. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if fixing your own bike meant that you could automatically diagnose and service any bicycle. Well, this might surprise you, but it doesn’t work like that.
People love repairing
Whether it’s watching a heart-warming restoration on “The Repair shop”, successfully fixing the arm back on a pair of glasses or bringing the twinkle back to a set of fairy lights, nothing draws out that sense of satisfaction like bringing something back to life.
Bicycles are high up on the list of things that can be repaired. No messing with plumbing and enough cogs and to make it look like you want to have a go. There is another, more subliminal, reason why people want to repair bikes. It’s that general feeling that you should be able to fix your bike and that it is so easy.
What is a cycle mechanic course?
As mountain biking made cycling more popular it became less exclusive. People were no longer expected to be able to naturally repair bikes so maintenance classes became popular. The accepted format is to have a small group of people (probably no more than 8), demonstrate a task, (e.g. removing and replacing your wheel, tyre and tube) and then have your students copy the task. When everyone has had a go and have all their questions answered then the teaching and learning is deemed successful. Most courses will offer a certificate at the end, sometimes with a qualification and sometimes just for attendance.
I’ve been teaching National Standard Bicycle Maintenance for many years. By the end I realised that fettling bikes for 10 days and receiving a certificate doesn’t, unfortunately, make you a bike mechanic. This is because in such a short period of time you are unable to learn, understand and gain enough experience. Also, as with any other skills, lack of practice will lead to it being forgotten. I had a student who spent time and money on learning what is considered basic cycle mechanics and he still visits our workshop to have new tyres fitted.
Cycle mechanic course – Education, practice, experience
The cycle world is divided into two sorts of cycle repairers, “The professional mechanic” and “The home mechanic”. The professional makes a living by repairing cycles. They may have started a business on their own or they may be working for someone else who is teaching them on the job.
The home mechanic doesn’t make a living out of repairing bikes. They may do their own repairs and their friends or they might volunteer on a cycling project.
Currently in the UK, neither of these types of mechanics require any qualifications.
Most trades do require evidence of qualifications or an apprenticeship. Cycle maintenance has slipped through the net. This is possibly because they were simple to fix and to understand. There were very few variations. Being a cycling enthusiast and a bit handy was generally enough to be able to run a bike shop and repair bikes.
This started changing in the 1980’s with the introduction of index gears. The principal of derailleur gear shifting has changed very little, but rear index gears need finer tuning. Once mountain bikes started to turn the cycle trade around and made biking a bit more fashionable, the technology moved on in leaps and bounds. More cogs at the back, cassettes overtaking freewheels on high end bikes, cartridge bottom brackets and replaceable hangers. Professional mechanics were seeing bikes and their variations coming through the workshops everyday.
By building on knowledge that they already had, sharing information and a bit of trial and error, they were able to extend their skills and fix the different types of bikes and components coming through their workshops.
The issue of cycle maintenance qualifications
This issue has raised its head in the late 1980s after a court case regarding a cycle accident. Cytech was developed and cycle mechanics were encouraged to follow the courses and pass exams at the different levels. City and Guilds were a competitor and other bodies brought out their own variations of maintenance courses.
Some of the courses were followed as an apprenticeship, but the popularity of apprenticeships in the UK died out at the turn of the century. By selling these courses in two week bundles, learners were given the idea of becoming a cycle mechanic by going on a course.
Sometimes, the development of a qualification moves at a slower pace than the technology it is hoping to teach.
How technology is changing bicycles
In the last 20 years huge changes have taken place in cycle development. Most components and have come under the scrutiny of R and D. Computer aided design and 3D printing has allowed technology to expand further and make bikes faster and easier to ride. Frame materials are developing as you read this and electronics have crept into transmission and propulsion.
Because information can be spread so quickly with the internet, international standards no longer have to be followed.
Cycle mechanic course as a part of apprenticeship
Cycle maintenance, is like any other trade and I think that it needs to be taught in an apprenticeship programme. This way the trainee can have enough time to learn skills and gain experience alongside a seasoned professional before going onto a course and further elevating their expertise. Only then will the course offers its full potential.
These days cycle maintenance is a skilled profession and should be valued as such. Offering apprenticeships gives a chance to earn at least minimum wage while learning a new skill.
Lacking this apprenticeship process leads to the market being flooded by people who are certified but not experienced.
Would you let someone do the electrics in your house because they’d fitted a plug once? I know that I wouldn’t.
I’ve been learning about cycles and components for nearly 40 years now and I’m happy to admit that there are areas that I don’t know much about but I never stop learning and the day that I do stop will probably be the day that I retire.
Mary Clark is a cycle maintenance instructor at Cycle Maintenance Academy. Click here to find out more about Mary.
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