The Makings of a Good Bike Mechanic

Being Methodical

The word methodical has a bad connotation to many people; to describe someone as slow and methodical is not exactly a compliment. The usage of this phrase is curious, because it is by being methodical that a mechanic can develop speed. The term “methodical” implies that one does things with a method: doing the same things, in the same order, each time.
Mechanics is not an art, it is scientific in the purest sense of the word; every mechanical procedure should be repeatable, yielding the same result each time. By being methodical, a mechanic is freed from mysterious variables. A mysterious variable occurs when you haphazardly work on something and the problem goes away, but the reason is elusive. Since the reason is elusive, there is no way to go directly to the source of the problem (and therefore the solution) the next time the same or similar problem is encountered.

The procedural sections and the worksheets in this book are the method. Beyond the fact that they are good procedures, using them will make you a better mechanic, because they will make you methodical.

Attention to Detail

Mechanics is one place in this world where what you get is exact/y the sum of the parts. Leave a part out and the end result is not whole.

An example: Forgetting to apply Loctite to the fixed- cup threads when overhauling an adjustable-cup bottom bracket means that the fixed cup may work loose. When the fixed cup works loose, the precise adjustment achieved when following the adjustment procedure is negated. The loose adjustment results in an increased rate of wear of the bottom-bracket parts, and then the bottom bracket (recently overhauled) needs to be rebuilt or replaced. The Loctite that was supposed to be on the fixed cup was not just a detail. The entire job became negated by the omission of a single detail. All the effort to clean parts, inspect parts, add new grease, replace worn parts, and perform a precision adjustment were wasted by neglecting one detail.

Being a good mechanic requires attention to detail. If you are not currently “detail oriented,” it is an attribute that you need to vigorously cultivate.

Understanding Mechanical Functions

Without understanding the function of the piece of equipment that is being serviced, all the methodology and details seem unimportant. This understanding of mechanical functions is not easily taught. You must cultivate it in yourself by looking at equipment analytically. Ask yourself questions: What does this part contribute to the operation of the component? How? What would be the consequence if it were damaged? Missing? What types of loads does this item experience? What type of material is it made of and how suitable is the material? How does this component function; what is the sequence of events as it functions?

Although it does not say so in each section, before you perform any procedure, it would be a good idea to just operate the equipment and analyze its function. The purpose of the methods and details will become clearer and you will appreciate the methods and details more once you have a better understanding of what’s happening when things don’t go well.

Avoiding the Assumption Trap

The opposite of understanding mechanical functions is to make assumptions. Don’t be too quick to reach conclusions in unfamiliar areas; it is better to assume you are missing something and think it through an extra time or two, than to charge recklessly forward. Once you make an assumption and act on it, the possibility of introducing variables that later complicate a correct understanding is greatly increased. If you find yourself thinking, “How could I have thought that this was simple?” then you have been guilty of falling in the assumption trap.

Developing Appropriate Short-Cuts

When experienced mechanics are first exposed to the methods and approaches in this guide, they often wonder where all the short-cuts are. Short-cuts are an individual thing. They are based on how many things you can simultaneously keep track of at any given time. Short-cuts should never be about short steps; a good short-cut combines many steps into one step.

The procedures in this guide contain all the steps. As you become familiar with them, it will be obvious to you that certain steps can be logically combined (at least to jour logic). This understanding will not happen until you have used the procedures frequently enough that they become second nature. Looking for short-cuts before this understanding has developed is a recipe for disaster. Sometimes another mechanic can be a good source of a short-cut, but always analyze whether the short-cut skips steps, rather than combining steps.

Approaching Mysterious Problems


Always start with analysis. What is the problem? Exactly how can it be described? Under what conditions did it occur? When did it start? What happened just before the problem was first observed? What, if anything, can be ruled out?

Most importantly of all, do you understand the way that the equipment functions? If not, examine similar equipment that is in working order until you understand everything that is happening as it functions.

Troubleshooting charts

There is little substitute for experience when dealing with a mysterious problem. Rely on the experience that led to the information in this guide by thoroughly studying the appropriate troubleshooting section when a mysterious problem occurs. Often you will find the symptom you are looking for, only stated in a different way. Once you find a matching symptom, methodically use the cause/solution information provided. First check the first cause, then eliminate it by observation (or trial and error) before proceeding down the list of causes.


If the problem cannot be found in the appropriate troubleshooting section, the first step is to go back through the procedure again, in case anything was omitted or done incorrectly. If this does not solve the problem, it is time to start introducing variables.

Introducing Variables

When you introduce a variable (such as changing an adjustment, changing a part/component, or changing a condition), thoroughly analyze the result. If the problem changes, you are on the right track. If it does not, always restore the original adjustment/part/condition before introducing another variable. If you create a change through the introduction of multiple variables at the same time, there will be no way to determine the cause of the change.

Overlaying an ideal model

With time, you may be able to cultivate a skill called overlaying an ideal model. An ideal model is a thought or mental model that represents the equipment in perfect working order. The process of overlaying an ideal model occurs in the subconscious. Without consciously knowing what is happening, you just “see” what is wrong. What is happening in the subconscious is this: The ideal model in your brain and the image of what you are actually seeing are laid one on top of the other, and any discrepancies between the two images becomes automatically apparent. The ideal model is like a transparent image through which you can see the actual image. Where corresponding points on the transparency and the actual image do not line up, the difference stands out.

Utilizing this approach is very esoteric. Many good mechanics may never be able to cultivate this skill. If you have it in your capacity to approach mysterious problems in this way, right now you’ll be thinking, “I understand. I already do that to some degree in other areas!” If this is you, with experience you will develop a library of ideal models. As the library increases in size, more and more often, you will just “see” the problem.

To enhance your ability to use these ideal models, take a moment to look at the equipment in question without thinking about what might be wrong; if other people are involved, temporarily ignore the information they have been providing. It is important to stop the conscious analysis of the problem, because the analysis process interferes with your ability to access the subconscious. Look at the equipment without bias and preconception to enable the ideal-model-overlaying process to occur.

Basic Mechanical Skills

Often, very experienced mechanics are not necessarily very good mechanics. They know a lot of tricks and short-cuts, but their understanding of the basics (or commitment to utilizing them) is limited. For example, a mechanic may know from experience that a hub locknut from a Shimano hub is a suitable replacement on a Suzue brand hub, but having no experience with Maillard brand hubs, the mechanic may not have any idea whether the same Shimano hub locknut might fit the Maillard hub. A mechanic with a good understanding of the “basics” would know how to measure thread diameter and pitch and would not be limited by lack of familiarity with a brand. Just as the details are a key to the final outcome, there is no substitute to utilization of good basic mechanical skills. Mechanics of all experience levels should familiarize themselves with the BASIC MECHANICAL SKILLS section of this guide, initially, and again as needed. A good mechanic never neglects the basics.

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Basic Mechanical Skills