Leveling Up: How to Build Bicycle Repair Skills

America’s love of bicycles keeps wheeling forward. Since 2001, the number of people commuting to work by bicycle has grown significantly. Retail sales of bicycles have consistently put up multi-billion dollar figures. City planners are developing more bike-friendly infrastructure. And while it’s not quite at the level of ubiquity seen in Amsterdam, bicycle culture in the U.S. has moved out of the realm of early adopters and firmly into the mainstream.

The benefits of bike riding are well-known at this point. Boosted health, decreased traffic, fresh air, and a little zen thrown in for good measure. However, the benefits of bicycle repair skills, which are just as diverse, are not as obvious to the average consumer. The skills required to repair and maintain a bicycle are not as intuitive as the skills required to ride one.

Just because a bicycle comes with an owner’s manual does not mean everyone’s going to read it, let alone understand it. That’s the job of bicycle mechanics, however, who not only read the manual, but know it by heart, and sometimes even write their own version of it. While the savvy cyclist may understand how to change a tire, repair a chain, or replace a few simple components, those with bike repair skills are equipped to work on all manner of bicycles as they understand the balanced interaction of simple tools that allow a bike to function optimally.

It is a hobby for some and a career for others. What starts out as a mentally stimulating way to save money on having someone else repair your bike for you can quickly turn into a paying profession. This is not a typical profession, either. Those with bike repair skills get to work with the materials they love, in a good-hearted environment, with similarly passionate individuals. It has never been easier to get knowledgeable about repairing and maintaining bicycles.

Read on to learn about facts, mentors, educational programs, and DIY resources related to leveling up your bicycle repair skills.

Fast Facts About Bike Repair

  • Join a Growing Trend. Americans spend more than six billion dollars’ on bicycles every year, and the number of Americans riding bicycles has risen to 47.5 million. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the profession of bicycle repairers will grow by 29 percent in the decade preceding 2026, more than four times the average occupational growth.
  • Join the Real World. There are not many jobs more free from the cubicle than working with bicycles. Bicycle repairers typically commute in the open air, work with their hands, wear comfortable clothes, and disconnect from office life.
  • Join a Tribe. This is a job where people are genuinely passionate about what they do—how many industries can boast the same? Learning bicycle repair skills can help many gain access to a whole community of like-minded people.
  • Join Now. Bicycle repair does not require a university degree, and there are plenty of free resources. Whether you want to work on your own bike or those belonging to others, you can learn how and get started right now. The only requirement is passion.
  • Three Bike Shop Gurus to Know

    Bike Repair Programs

    International Open Academy

    This distance-learning platform, based in the United Kingdom, is an easy way to get started. It offers an online certificate program in the basic foundations of bicycle maintenance. The curriculum is divided into ten modules, nine of which are dedicated to a specific set of components on a bicycle: tires, wheels, chain, brakes, gears, suspension, pedals and drivetrain, steering, and saddle. Students gain a foundational understanding of how each component, along with how to replace, repair, and troubleshoot.

    • Format: Online
    • Tuition: €119 tuition (approximately $138)
    • Program length: Self-paced

    Shimano Technology Education and Certification

    The S-TEC is one of the most widely-known and highest ranked programs available to professional bicycle mechanics. With more 15,000 active members from 4,000 storefronts in America, this online training and certification program is as much of a community as it is an educational resource. Members spend 30 to 50 minutes watching instructional videos about how to adjust, install, and diagnose a particular component of cycling technology, and then pass a multiple-choice quiz to complete the module and move on to the next.

    As cycling technology advances, mechanics need to stay up to date on new approaches and keep sharp on the basics. The S-TEC has plenty of modules on each. Those who complete the program earn a diploma and the title of master mechanic.

    • Format: Online
    • Tuition: Free
    • Program length: Self-paced

    Barnett Bicycle Institute

    The faculty at the Barnett Bicycle Institute believe that bicycle mechanics is a science, not an art, and their curriculum reflects that by teaching students a rigorous methodology of measurable and repeatable processes. The founder, John Barnett, wrote the bible of bicycle mechanics.

    Individual classes are available for bicycle assembly and maintenance, bicycle repair and overhaul, spoked wheel lacing, and suspension service and tuning. Students may pick and choose classes at their convenience, or combine them all into a compressed 27-day program. Graduates may apply to take a level one or two bicycle standard of excellence (BSE) certification exam, and link up with BBI’s network of employment opportunities.

    • Location: Colorado Springs, CO
    • Format: On-campus
    • Tuition: $4,868 for the full program
    • Program length: 27 days

    Bike Teacher

    Located in Northern California, Bike Teacher provides training programs for every level of experience and ambition. The shorter courses clock in at under 12 hours of instruction and cover all the basics one needs to get started.

    The 70-hour one-on-one course goes much further, geared towards students who want to work in the bicycle maintenance industry. This individualized program covers the nitty-gritty details of the sorts of components one working in a bike repair shop would come across on a daily basis, such as different types of braking systems, cranksets, and outboard. Graduates earn a certificate of completion and obtain the resources necessary to apply for the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association (PBMA) certification.

    • Location: San Jose, CA
    • Format: On-campus
    • Tuition: $2,200 for the full program
    • Program length: 70 hours, self-paced

    United Bicycle Institute

    UBI is one of the most respected training institutes in the bicycle industry. With its two Oregon campuses, the school offers bike mechanic classes for every level of experience and terrain. From a beginner’s course in basic maintenance to a professional repair and shop operation program, and advanced certification seminars and continuing education, students work in a hands-on environment with a low student-to-instructor ratio. Many graduates have gone on to become successful shop owners and race mechanics, and the UBI regularly receives queries from distributors and manufacturers looking to hire new talent. The one-week beginner’s course costs $1,050, and the two-week professional course costs $2,100, with all the necessary manuals and textbooks included.

    • Location: Portland and Ashland, OR
    • Format: On-campus
    • Tuition: $1,050 for the beginner course; $2,100 for the professional course
    • Program length: One week for the beginner course; two weeks for the professional course

    DIY Bicycle Repair

    You do not need a formal program to get started on building your skills. There are plenty of resources on bicycle repair available for free. No matter your skill level, there are options to refresh your knowledge and push you forward towards true expertise. Check these out:

    MadeGood

    This is one of the cleanest and most comprehensive resources available on bicycle repair and maintenance. MadeGood offers a complete digital guide to bicycles written in simple language and organized cleanly by topic. It also has video tutorials on dozens of possible scenarios, each categorized by bicycle component. If you’re intimidated by some of the technical jargon you’ve heard at your local bike shop, MadeGood is a quick way to learn how to overhaul a cone bottom bracket or replace a freehub body on a bike wheel. If the words come a little too foreign or too fast, you can always rewind.

    Your Local Bike Shop

    Bicycling is about getting out into the real world, and if you want to connect and learn more, you might benefit from logging off and checking out your local bike shop in person. Yes, most bike shops sell and service bikes, but more importantly, they act as hubs for the community by sponsoring races and meetups, teaching classes, and answering in-context questions. Aspiring bike mechanics should ride on over and get their hands dirty.

    Reddit.

    The BikeWrench community on Reddit has more than 25,000 subscribers and plenty of daily activity. This is where the passionate nerds of the bicycling community come together to talk shop, digitally. No matter how specific and technical your question may be, there’s probably someone out there with the same problem and at least one answer as to how to fix it. Some of the posts are so technical that a large portion of the front page can resemble a foreign language, but immersion is the best way to learn. As the saying goes, the search function is your friend. With it, you have access to a massive repository of bike repair information.

    Matt Zbrog
    Matt Zbrog
    Writer

    Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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