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How to become a bicycle mechanic

Posted: 1 December 2022 Tips & Tricks

A green traffic light, also displaying a green bicycle light

The ultimate guide to working as a bicycle mechanic in Australia

Would you like to become a bike mechanic? Do you dream of tinkering with tools, grappling with gears and puzzling over pawl springs? If you love taking things apart and finding out better ways to put them back together, then this could be the perfect job for you. However, it’s not an easy one, and there are some people who are much better suited to it than others.

With over 40 years of experience in the industry, we’re going to give you the low-down on how to become a bicycle mechanic, who’s best for the job, and the pros and cons of this profession.

A professional bicycle mechanic, working on a wheel at Bio-Mechanics Cycles & Repairs
He's got the skillz to pay the billz

What is a bicycle mechanic?

First off, many people don’t know that ‘bike mechanic’ is an actual job.

Yes, ‘is bicycle mechanic a trade?’ often pops up as a trending question on Google.

Some people think that it’s only a part-time gig, or something that students do for work experience before moving on to greener or more lucrative pastures.

Other people confuse it with being a ‘bicycle assembler’. A bicycle assembler is someone who spends most of their time taking a bike out of a box, fitting the bars, front wheel and saddle, then putting it on the floor for sale. While these people will often refer to themselves as bicycle mechanics—and tend to be lumped into the category regardless—it’s a different job. For the definition of this blog post, we’re talking about people who service all facets of a bicycle and are involved in the deep problem-solving aspects of the profession.

A man sitting in front of a couch with a disassembled bicycle, shrugging his shoulders
Bicycle assembler (artist’s impression)

The general misconception around the trade isn’t helped by the fact that, for a long time, the Australian government hasn’t considered ‘bicycle mechanic’ as a profession, either. (Don't worry; we'll get into that in a second.)

Fortunately for us – and you! –, bicycle mechanic is indeed a job, and it's an interesting and challenging one.

The process of actually becoming a bicycle mechanic?

Well, that’s a bit less straightforward.

But let's begin with a simpler question.

Why do you want to be a bike mechanic?

Do you love cycling? Do you want to learn to fix your own bikes?

Then you may not actually want to become a bicycle mechanic.

Although it’s a great thing in itself, loving cycling as a lifestyle is a completely different beast to embracing mechanical work as a career. The bike industry is a tough one, and it’s not easy to make a living in it.

When we were looking for an experienced mechanic to join our workshop, we were surprised by the number of applicants who had never worked in a bike shop, let alone done any kind of mechanical work. Their cover letters all had two things in common, though: they mentioned how much they loved to ride (which was great), but also that they were looking for a ‘fun and breezy’ job.

A woman riding a step-through bicycle while wearing a virtual reality headset
So long, civil engineering career!

Don’t get us wrong: we love our work, but it’s exactly that: work, and often very hard work, physically and mentally.

So if you think that working as a bicycle mechanic just means hanging out in a bike shop, playing with new products, drinking coffee and chatting to customers about a sweet new build, that’s about 2% of it. The rest of the time you will be greasy and solving bike-related problems.

Most of the time your coffee will be cold by the time you get to drink it.

Undeterred? OK, let’s keep going.

A flat-lay picture of a coffee, leaves and macarons, with a (clearly edited) sign that says 'enjoy your lukewarm beverage'
Ah, perfect.

Are bike mechanics in demand?

It’s an important consideration – after all, there’s no point training for a profession which is dying off. (Milkman, anyone?)

Fortunately, there’s a growing demand world-wide for bike mechanics (not just bicycle assemblers).

Due to the pandemic, many people have discovered – or rediscovered – cycling, which has led to an uptake of new and returning riders. With the associated COVID-related bicycle shortages across the globe, more and more people have turned to repairing existing bikes, rather than simply buying new ones. Another factor is the proliferation of ebikes, which bring their own category of servicing challenges and specialist knowledge.

There’s also the green component, as people are increasingly aware of the huge environmental load that comes with throwing a bike in the bin in exchange for a shiny new toy.

So, yes, a good bike mechanic certainly won’t be short of work.

A bicycle that someone has tried to fit into a rubbish bin. For some reason, a six-pack of beer sits on top. Wait; perhaps that is related...

What qualifications do I need to become a bicycle mechanic?

Trivia time! Several years back, the Victorian government dropped the bicycle mechanic component of their apprenticeship courses because they considered it to be a ‘hobby’ rather than a job.

This was not only discouraging (and also kind of disrespectful) but also news to the thousands of bicycle mechanics employed around the country.

(We’re still not sure who the department thought actually worked in bike shops. Gremlins? Elves? Elvis? Who knows.)

Victoria was also one of the last states in Australia to offer this apprenticeship option, so once it was gone, there was officially no formalised training for the industry in this country.

Black and white photo of former president Richard Nixon in the White House, shaking hands with Elvis Presley. Both are facing the camera. Elvis looks slightly dazed.
Nixon and his bike mechanic

Regardless, the good news is that there’s technically no required qualification to become a bike mechanic.

The bad news is that, because there’s technically no required qualification to become a bike mechanic, it results in two problems:

  1. There’s no traditional career development pathway. It’s not like becoming a doctor, for example; university medical degree > hospital placement > graduation = doctor. Without formalised training, it’s hard to know where to start if you want to be a career bicycle mechanic.
  2. From a customer’s point of view, it also means that any chimp with a spanner can set up a shop and call themselves a bike mechanic.
A bearded man sitting in front of a computer and holding a book. He is smiling at someone over his shoulder.
"Two more chapters and I'll be qualified!"

Heading into 2023, while there’s still no recognised apprenticeship program in Australia, there are a small number of course options. Although not a requirement, they can be helpful, especially if you’re wanting to show to prospective employers that you’re serious about doing bike mechanic work as a career.

Where can you learn to become a bike mechanic?

When we say ‘small number of options’, we’re not kidding.

The government’s MySkills website lists a single course: a Certificate II in Bicycle Mechanical Technology.

However, as of writing this post, there are only four providers listed for this Certificate II:

  1. A TAFE in Queensland.
  2. A private training facility in NSW.
  3. A disability employment service in Canberra.
  4. An automotive training facility in Adelaide. #HomeStateRepresent

If you live in other states, this is clearly far from ideal; it’s pretty tricky to learn mechanical work over Zoom, especially if you don’t have your own tools.

A young man standing inside an auto workshop, holding part of a truck engine, looking unsure what to do with it.
"Are you sure this goes on a bike?"

Your other option is an independent course provider, such as Cytech, a UK-based bike mechanic training platform which is now being rolled out in Australia, though, again, it’s not available in all states.

So there you have it! Not exactly a huge field to choose from.

But don’t stress. After all, most career mechanics have not done these courses, either, and many are masters of the trade.

A male model posing as a bicycle mechanic. He is holding a critical gear component on entirely the wrong area of the bike. It is, to actual mechanics, hilarious.
This guy is not a master of anything except eyeliner.

OK, so how do I actually become a bike mechanic?

Study aside, the most crucial step is to get your foot in the door at a bike shop.

You’ll have the best shot of getting employed if you:

  • Have at least a basic level of bicycle mechanic experience. Most mechanics start off working on their own bikes, and learn as they go. Pete, for example, began his career pulling apart bicycles in the driveway when he was 5 or 6.
  • Have a genuine interest in the mechanical workings of a bicycle, not just the fact that they’re awesome to ride. (More on this in a bit.)
  • Are willing to do basic tasks, such as assembling kids’ bikes, pumping up tyres, and answering the phone. As a newbie, you will probably not be bleeding brakes or doing suspension repairs.
A small girl on a balance bike in front of a hedge. She is giving the camera side-eye.
First time working in a bike shop? Get used to seeing a lot of these.

It’s entirely possible to get a job in a shop before you do any formalised training. As we’ve said, there’s no course requirement to get into the industry.

Your first taste of working in an actual bike shop, even at a very junior level, will also give you a good idea of whether this is the kind of environment you’d want to work in full-time.

Which leads us to…

Is ‘bike mechanic’ a good job?

Yes! There are a huge number of positives to this as a career.

A young woman lying in bed, clutching a blue pillow to her chest and smiling in her sleep.
"Only seven more hours until I get back to my tool bench!"

If you’re a curious person, this job will keep your brain very busy.

In the bike industry, there’s no such thing as a standard bicycle component—no standard tyre size, no standard derailleur hanger, no standard brake pad, no standard frame size.

On top of this, bicycles and components are always evolving, so the system that makes the last generation of gears work will not necessary be the same system required for the newest generation of components.

Although it can be frustrating at times, this lack of a cookie-cutter approach means that each bike needs to be approached differently to the previous one you worked on. Problem-solving is a huge part of the job, and also a large factor in what separates good bicycle mechanics from great bicycle mechanics.

Hello, these are your jobs for today

It also means that there will always be new things to learn and keep on top of—new products, technologies, developments, people to speak to. You will rarely be bored. Try saying that about data analysis.

On that topic, you’re also never going to be stuck at a desk. You probably won’t ever have to go to a meeting, sit through a slideshow presentation, or be forced into team-building exercises, either. Hurray! No-one enjoys those things, regardless of what they tell management.

A redheaded girl looking extremely unimpressed as a robot mansplains (robotsplains?) something to her.
The latest HR meeting was going well.

In most shops, you’ll also be dealing with customers. The great thing about this is the sheer, mind-boggling variety of people who love riding bikes.

BMCR customers include surgeons, teachers, carers, judges, anaesthetists, stay-at-home parents, architects, construction workers, and even a butler. (And we thought we worked in a niche industry.) You will get to talk to every single kind of person you can imagine. Some will want to discuss handlebar tape in minutae, some are desperate to get their kid's bike fixed before that weekend's downhill race, and some don't care what you do to the bike as long as you make it work.

As anyone who’s worked retail or hospitality knows, customers can be the very best and the very worst of people. That being said, the vast majority of people you’ll be dealing with are lovely. Treat everyone with respect—regardless of whether their bike is worth $100 or $20,000—and you'll be golden.

A group of Portland cheerleaders with red pompoms, smiling at the camera. For some reason, the middle one is sitting on a bicycle.
"The shop was so boring until you got here!"

Looking at the big picture, you’re also contributing positively to the world, literally and figuratively.

You’re helping people get fit and stay healthy. You’re giving people the means to catch up with their friends, to see the sunrise at the top of Mount Lofty, to crush a PB on their next race, to bomb down the Fox Creek trails, or just get to work without being stuck in traffic.

Bicycles are people’s tools for fun and freedom, and you are a crucial component in this. Be proud. It’s an awesome thing to be part of.

Two cyclists with loaded bikes, standing roadside in a streaming pool of golden sunlight. It looks cold out there, despite the sun.
*angels singing*

Is being a bike mechanic hard?

The yourcareer.gov.au lists one single professional drawback:

Considerations: stressful.’

This is correct.

A mechanic lying spreadeagled on the floor at Bio-Mechanics Cycles & Repairs.
After the yearly cardboard replacement, one mechanic must be sacrificed to the gods.

Firstly, it’s physically challenging work. You will be on your feet 99% of the time. You will often be lifting heavy and unwieldy things. You will frequently find yourself working in odd or awkward positions, especially with some of the more convoluted frame designs.

You will (if you’re working in a good shop, at least) also need to test-ride every bicycle you work on. This can involve sprinting the bike up and down the street while checking the gears, or riding around the block with the brakes on to bed in the pads. (Always fun when it’s 40 degrees outside.)

In addition to this, you’ll need to have excellent dexterity, strong fingers and wrists, and excellent core control to help protect your back. (You’ll appreciate it once you’re of the age where people stop calling you ‘young man/woman/person’. It's also the reason why a lot of mechanics do Pilates. That stuff's tough.)

An extremely ripped man in a garden setting, lifting a tractor tyre with an expectant look at the camera. He is, of course, shirtless.
"Someone ask for a tyre change?"

It also helps if you don’t get easily grossed out.

You will often be working on bikes that are covered in—if not corroded by—other people’s sweat. There’s frequently crud, mud and gunk on everything you touch, and it’s your job to get it sparkling.

You will learn to love rubber gloves and hand sanitiser.

Your hands may never be completely clean again.

A bicycle handlebar with unwrapped bar tape, showing sweat deposits that have turned to powdered human sodium. It's pretty gross.
Yes, that's powdered human.

As an added bonus, most bicycle shop workshops are also on the small side (even if the retail space is huge), so you will need to have good spatial awareness and be able to deal with cramped conditions.

It can be hard to wrap your head around initially when your first impression of the shop is this:

Interior of a shop which seems to sell mostly bicycles and coffee. It is very neat, and also deserted. Perhaps the lattes are very expensive.
The dream.

... but the actual workshop part is this.

A shirtless man works in a crowded, untidy workshop. His back is to us. There's stuff everywhere. This is my nightmare.
The reality.

You must also be able to tolerate other people in close proximity for hours at a time. (Until you can open your own workshop and then twirl around like Maria in the Sound of Music, at least.)

Being a bicycle mechanic actually has a lot of parallels with being a chef: you will frequently be working in cramped, high-pressure environments, often for sub-optimal wages, starting at the bottom of the ladder, expected to produce high-quality work at a demanding speed.

You also don’t become a chef just because you like to eat; you become one because you love the process of cooking, similarly to how great mechanics love the bicycle as a machine rather just loving cycling as a lifestyle choice. (More on this in a moment.)

It's a mindset that's crucial to avoid burnout.

Two chefs working at an open window and having a discussion. They are both bearded, with leather-strapped aprons. We don't know what their food is like.
"My doctor says I have the wrists of an eighty-year-old."

How much does a bike mechanic make?

Here's the painful bit. You will unfortunately need to resign yourself to a lower wage bracket than you may like. Part of this problem is the pervading perception – clearly not helped by the whole ‘hobby not a job’ thing, thanks government! – that it’s an unskilled profession. As anyone who’s felt the difference between a chain store bike service and a proper, detailed bike service knows, however, there’s a huge amount of underappreciated skill that goes into being a good mechanic.

One thing that will make it easier to become a bicycle mechanic in Australia is an overhaul in the way society thinks about the bicycle and how important it is on multiple levels – environmentally, socially, physically and mentally. Once the bicycle is appreciated as a valuable machine, we can then start to appreciate how important it is to keep it properly maintained by skilled professionals. Most people are happy to pay for a good car mechanic, a good lawyer or a good plumber, but when it comes to our bicycle, this proclivity goes straight out the window, and we often look for the cheapest possible option.

Head-and-shoulders shot of a young man with a curated beard, leaning against a wall inside a shop and despondently staring into the middle distance.
"Why didn't I go into crypto instead? I've got the beard and everything."

The industry also hasn’t helped with this issue, and has traditionally under-valued itself for years because we’ve never been taken seriously by governments at any level in this country. This has led to a general expectation that a bicycle service should always be cheap. Going hand-in-hand with this is the concept that everything should always be on sale, and that workshop labour is worth nothing. Myriad bike shops have unfortunately learnt the hard way that you can't continue to offer to fit products for free; it's a very quick way to go broke, and also maintains the concept that if we don't value our time, why should our customers?

With this mindset, the bicycle industry can’t possibly expect to keep many of the best and brightest mechanics as mechanics for long; they’ll go off to better-paying occupations where their skills are appreciated and paid well for. During the mining boom, for example, we heard of multiple mechanics leaving bike shops to go off and earn over $100k per annum – something that they'd struggle to come near when employed as a bicycle mechanic.

Considering the fact that every time a person gets on a bike, they’re putting their safety/teeth/life in the hands of the person who worked on it, it’s a bit rich (no pun intended) to expect that same person to work for peanuts.

This is a Hamadryas baboon. It's staring at the camera. It looks like it wants to fuck you up.
Meet the new member of the team

We can also let you in on a little industry secret here.

A large number of career mechanics are able to survive doing what they love because their partner has a job that pays enough to make up for the shortfall in their combined incomes.

A bearded man grinning with joy against a backdrop of falling money.
"Thanks, honey!"

Once the industry is in a position to charge for the skills being offered on a similar level to that of other industries (maybe $150 per hour as a minimum), shops can then offer employees the sort of wage that makes being a career bike mechanic attractive in a modern environment.

Of course, if shops are going to start charging higher rates, they’ll need to back it up with an equivalent quality of service, so more mechanics will need to seek specific training… and there’s not much of that available at this point. Chicken. Egg.

Things are changing very slowly, but as of writing this post, you will never become rich working as a bicycle mechanic.

A white bicycle with a basket standing on a street underneath a sign that says 'Follow That Dream'. Yes, but whose dream? And where? AND HOW?
... if that dream involves the sweet smell of chain lube and a minimum wage.

How to be the world’s best bicycle mechanic

If none of the above has put you off, congratulations! You're in pretty good shape to make your way in this field.

So now we can also tell you the one secret that all the courses in the world can’t teach you.

To become a successful career bicycle mechanic, you need to be in love with the bicycle as a machine, not cycling as a lifestyle.

The bicycle encompasses both simplicity and complexity in the same design. Since its earliest inception as the safety bicycle over 130 years ago, the overall design hasn't changed a great deal: it still has a diamond-shaped frame, wheels, and a chain-driven gear system. The fact that it's remained almost identical is testament to how right the concept was to begin with. There have of course been many refinements in terms of components – and this in itself is also incredibly impressive when you look at some of technologies that now exist in the industry – but the beauty of the original design remains the same.

This beauty is the thing that captures many children who eventually become long-term bicycle mechanics. As a kid, a bicycle is often the first taste of freedom, the tool that lets you explore your neighbourhood, to travel at breathtaking speeds, to do stupid stunts with, or just hang out with your friends.

An infant squealing with joy as it's being pushed along on a bike by its (we assume) father. They are in a field. A woman walks in the background behind them, presumably happy she's got out of bike-pushing duty.
"If you keep this up, you'll never have to borrow our car."

From a sociological perspective, the bicycle also was (and still is) an incredibly important evolution in women's rights and helping end the cycle of poverty. But you don't think of that when you're a kid, of course: you just want to ride.

Many career mechanics have never lost that love of the duality of complexity and simplicity, and what it entails. If you fall in love with the bicycle in this way, it will keep you going in this line of work, no matter how greasy it gets.

A gentleman (with a suspicious resemblance to Prince Andrew) in workwear, sitting on an office chair, working on a bicycle. He also has a horrible orange tie on.
This guy looks too much like Prince Andrew to be trusted with a bicycle.

Here are some other important career-make-or-break factors.

Be curious

No matter how skilled you are or how many years you’ve worked in the industry, remember: you don’t know everything. Staying open to new ideas is critical.

Learn by observing

You will see people making mistakes, especially when you first start out working in a bike shop. Watch everything. Even a terrible bike mechanic can usually teach you something, even if it’s how not to do something.

You might see someone break a bolt or crack a carbon component because they couldn’t be bothered walking over to get their torque wrench, or they simply don’t see the value in purchasing that tool in the first place.

Remember those mistakes. Vow never to do them yourself.

A bike rider cycling away on a very smooth road, heading into an idyllic hills landscape.
Is it holiday time yet?

Pay attention to detail

This is a tricky one, as it seems to be a hard trait to learn (or teach). Some people are naturally better at details than others. If that’s you, develop that skill as it will serve you well, and allow you to pick up clues and information that other mechanics may miss, setting your problem-solving abilities apart.

If you’re not great at details but are still determined to become a bicycle mechanic, develop checks and balances so you can make sure nothing vital has been missed in the process.

As a critical part of this, every bicycle mechanic (detail-oriented or no) must cultivate a deep appreciation for the safety of the bicycle’s owner. One of our workshop mantras has always been 'would I be happy with this bike if I owned it?' If the answer is ‘no’, then the job is not yet finished.

A man and woman gazing at a bicycle in a field. The picture is taken from close behind and between their heads. It's less exciting than it sounds.
The sweet relief of knowing nothing's going to fall off.

Lastly, always strive to be better

This really is the biggest difference between a good bicycle mechanic and a great bicycle mechanic.

There is always a better way to do something, and it’s up to you to discover it. This may mean achieving the same result in a more efficient manner, or it may mean completely rethinking the way you tackle a process to ensure the result is better than what you’ve previously achieved.

This mindset is how we've developed a lot of the skills and processes that put our workshop apart – through constantly trying to find better servicing methods, creating our own tools and products, improving processes, making services as failsafe as possible.

A young man walking away into a neat and tidy bicycle workshop, rows of bikes on the floor and also hanging up.
The bliss of a tidy shop floor

So there you have it: your complete blueprint to becoming a bicycle mechanic in Australia.

There are some drawbacks to this work, for sure, but overall, it can be an incredibly satisfying and rewarding career on multiple fronts.

If you love the machinations of the bicycle, take pride in creating a great outcome and care personally for your customer’s safety and enjoyment, you’ll be able to get through even the most frustrating of days and still walk back through the door the next morning with a sense of excitement for what's ahead.

After all, isn't that what we all want out of our work?

Don't care about becoming a bicycle mechanic but just want your bike fixed? That's what we're here for.

After all that, how can we *not* link to this?

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