7582474468_45887e8551_bThere’s a lot of banter in the service area of bike shops about what customers could do to save themselves money and at the same time help mechanics out. Here’s a short list of how you can make your shop, your riding and your pocket book happy.

Oil the chain every 100 miles (or more).

It’s simple and takes less than five minutes, but is the most common wear and tear on your bike. Lightly oiling your chain and wiping it down afterwards as well as you would if you were cleaning it helps your gears and chain last longer, makes it easier to pedal and saves you money.

Clean up your rims regularly.

Especially if you ride where it’s wet or humid, rims break down into a horrible black grime that coats them and makes it hard to stop. When your bike is upside down to oil the chain, hit your rims with a clean, dry towel and wipe the grime away. It can add another year or more to the life of your wheels (which are the most expensive part of your bike).

Pay attention to your brake pads.

When your brakes aren’t working well it’s often because your pads are worn down. Pads have wear indicators—little divots in the pad that you can easily see. If your pads are seem worn, make an appointment with the shop before they ruin your rim or destroy your cables from pulling too hard trying to make them work.

Clean your bike before you bring it in.

Your bike runs better when it’s clean, but it’s also harder to fix when it’s dirty. A simple rinse with a very light pressure hose and some soapy dish water will go a long way to getting it clean quickly before you bring it to the shop. If you take a shower before doctor’s appointments or a massage, treat your mechanic and your bike with the same respect.

Schedule regular maintenance appointments if you’re riding a lot.

Put a reminder on your calendar to make an appointment every 6 months to a year if you’re riding over 2,000 miles. (To figure out, multiply the number of times on average you ride a week times the average miles times 52. Most folks are surprised how this adds up). If these are commuter miles, which are a lot rougher on your bike, schedule service every 6 months. This way you don’t let parts wear too far and need replacement.

Don’t be offended when they tell you everything that’s wrong with your bike, even if you brought it in for a different problem.

When your mechanic let’s you know all the little bits that are wearing out on your bike, they are not trying to gouge you for more money. Instead they’re trying to save you having to come back three times in one month for different problems. You can always refuse a service that’s not absolutely necessary, but the mechanic has done you the favor of letting you know what’s coming up the pipeline and giving you the chance to not have to make multiple trips to the shop.

Don’t wait until a strange noise gets really bad.

If you notice something strange or out of the norm with your bike, don’t assume it’s just you or it will go away on it’s own. This is how little problems get to be big, expensive problems. If you think something is wrong, swing by the shop and have them take a look. Estimates are usually free and can save you bucks down the road.

Don’t come in at 5 minutes to the hour and expect them to stay late fixing your bike.

Bicycle shops are not restaurants. It’s not a “last table seated before we close” deal. These folks have families at home and dinner to eat, too. If it’s an absolute emergency, most shops will do their best to accommodate you, but keep in mind your “emergency” does not make it theirs. Usually no one’s life will end if your bike isn’t fixed. If you absolutely have no other choice, keep in mind you’re really buggering up someone else’s day. Be grateful and courteous instead of demanding and panicked. Which leads to…

Tip. Tip. Tip.

While it’s not customary, tips are appreciated. No matter what work the service area is doing, remember that many of these folks are making less than the wait staff at a restaurant or your local bartender’s hourly wage. Those people serve you food or pull on a beer tap and you throw them a buck. Your bike mechanic saves your life by making sure your bike doesn’t explode while you’re riding.  It’s nice to show them you appreciate it. Money is the best, but beer, wine or home-made cookies are acceptable substitutes for showing your appreciation.

By Tori Bortman – Gracie’s Wrench, Portland, OR