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Doing own bike mechanical maintenance. Is it worth it?(28 posts)

Doing own bike mechanical maintenance. Is it worth it?Marc in Montréal
May 30, 2001 1:24 PM
Buy a workstand, specialized tools, follow bike mechanics courses etc... Do you do yours or leave it to LBS? What exactly should be left to professional bike mechanics? Thanks for your imput! Marc in Montréal, Can.
what's it worth to you?Haiku d'état
May 30, 2001 1:44 PM
what should be left to your LBS mechanic?

what you don't feel comfortable doing.

is it worth it buying all this stuff?

NEW tools $100 + stand $150 + books $40 = $290
(cut that in half for used stuff.)

throw in another $50 to have LBS fix stuff that you break learning to fix it yourself.


LBS tune-up $35 twice per year

wheel true once per year $15-20 per wheel

minor mechanical including:
* replace cables and housing
* replace brake pads
* etc.
* track down those little creaks, ticks and grinding
...i have no idea what these would cost, but i'm guessing $20 for the cables and housing and $25 for labor?

one year total: $155 plus miscellaneous expenses


LBS: if it's not done right, you can take it back
you: if it's not done right, learn from your mistakes
LBS: building rapport with the local shop (what's this worth?)
you: building familiarity and comfort with your bike
you: the confidence to fix problems on the road/trail
you: the confidence in your bike via your work on the bike
you: chicks dig greasy fingernails (not)
you: you are open all hours of the night and weekend
you: there are no other bikes in line in front of yours
you: you have a personal investment in doing it right
you: you'll be careful not to drop tools on the finish
you: mister handy on group rides


btw, tools cost alot less online. i realize you can only learn so much from a book and greasy hands. sometimes it helps to have an experienced professional showing you the ways of the wrench. unfortunately, i have yet to find one from whom these lessons would prove valuable. for the most part, for me, it's a matter of what sized bb goes in what frame, what's the difference between splined and otherwise, what's compatible with what, etc. -- not actually how something is done. i enjoy learning myself!

good luck from an aspiring garage bike mechanic with good intentions and two left hands.
Great Post!Len J
May 30, 2001 1:51 PM
I started by tinkering and learning by mistakes (Can be expensive).
I learned the most by building up my own bike. I cut a deal with a LBS I had a good relationship with, He sold me the gruppo, I paid him by the hour to watch/teach/assist me in building up a used frame I had bought. We did this in the offseason in his shop. I learned a ton & had a ball doing it. He ended up with someone he could call to do light maintenance and watch his one man shop when he had an emergency (Me). It was a good deal allaround. Might not work for everyone but in the right circumstances.
Couldn't have said it better......Rusty Coggs
May 30, 2001 2:03 PM
....except I do it all without a repair stand and have mechanical ability so my learning experiences from screwing up have been minimal.If one has lots of bikes, the financial part becomes alot more meaningful,and it's good therapy.
lots of bikes=lots of $ savedHaiku d'état
May 30, 2001 2:31 PM
agreed! 2 road, 1 mtb, 1 cruiser, various non-rolling hulks and rusty frames lying about the's either DIY or not at all except the critical stuff.

i've picked up a few yard sale bikes and learned the basics like wheel true, cable & housing replacement, brake and derailleur adjustment, and related stuff, using them as my lab rats. kinda like getting a haircut at a barber school. turned 'em over on ebay, they paid for themselves and the tools i bought to work on 'em, plus the lagers that were consumed in late-night wrenching sessions. if i could find more cannondales and italian bikes at yard sales, i'd be in business!
Easy when you know how. Or care to learn. bayou
May 30, 2001 2:08 PM
that's me. I learned the hard way. Paid twice for repairs. My value was in in self suffenciency, not $$. Others love to drop off a bike to "their guy" and ride a different mount for a few days. My short answer would be learn what you need to get yourself out of a jam on a long(50+) unsupported ride and leave the rest to the LBS. If your desire and comfort gets to the next level, get the Zinn book and go from there...either way, you won't go wrong.
Who do you trust with your own life?Tom C
May 30, 2001 2:19 PM
With labor costs as high as they are these days, I don't know if professionalism is the end all and be all we would like to think of it.For me it came down to trust.When I reached down and grabbed a handful of loose spokes on my new custom built tubular wheels, I figured right then and there, you can do better than this. That was over 20 years ago. I haven't reached down since.
re: Doing own bike mechanical maintenance. Is it worth it?Larry Meade
May 30, 2001 2:20 PM
I do virtually all of my own maintenance. For me doing my own work is a hobby all its own. I have a full basement in my house and 1/2 of it is a dedicated bike shop. I am fully set up to handle any repair from wheel truing/building to full bike builds. My wife bought me all the really expensive headset presses, torque wrenches, etc, one year for christmas so there is very little I can't handle. One word of advice is that if you are serious about doing your own work, get the right tools. You can use a pipe wrench to adjust a headset but a headset wrench is much easier.
May 30, 2001 2:28 PM
If you're mechanically inclined, the tools will generally last a lifetime so their cost is not that relevant. The nature of the repairs are relatively simple as the bike and its components, are not that complex. Try replacing an inner CV joint on a front wheel drive car and the bike is simple. I've farmed out two things, both to frame makers. A frame I bought in the 70's came without the steerer tube cut or threaded. Tanguy in Somerville, MA took care of me for free. I had a Marinoni with a 126mm rear triangle. When I had them repaint the bike, I had them spread it to 130mm and realign the frame.

I've been working on my bikes since I was in single digits, took the fenders off my sister's bike 'cause it was cool at the time. Later graduated to taking the family lawnmower apart before realizing I need a sidedraft carb. to make it work on a friend's mini-bike. My father was a bit pissed. Now with the internet and proliferation of information, its really easy to get educated on all phases of bike maintenance, including building wheels. Its not like it was 30 years ago where it was the LBS, if you could find a serious one, your club, or the local racing sage. If you're not mechanically inclined, find a good wrench and have him do a complete annual tune up in the winter when its slow and he can take his or her time.
Weird, I didn't read your post till after I posted but...J.S.
May 30, 2001 4:29 PM
You had the same thoughts as me.
Weird, I didn't read your post till after I posted but...zelig1
May 31, 2001 2:42 AM
Timing chains. Ugggh! Helped a friend with the chain on his 2002. "When removing the chain, do not let it slip down towards the crank" Well, you know the drill. Heavy use of the F word followed by a fishing expedition with a coat hanger. At least on the bike I can see everything I'm working on and there's enough space to properly apply the tools.
No it is not worth it.Thioderek
May 30, 2001 3:51 PM
I will do the basics like changing tires, replacing tubes, cleaning the chain and other non intensive stuff, but I will not do anything that requires a manual. Tuning gears, truing a wheel and all the other tough stuff I leave up to the mechanic. If they mess up, they pay for it. If I mess it up, I pay for it. I would rather have it done right than do it again for more money.

Plus, it is your life that you are playing with. How long does it take to learn everything at the level of a race mechanic?

Not worth it in terms of safety and money expenditure potential.
Defineatly worth itHerrLURP
May 30, 2001 4:10 PM
I'm only 17, yet I've been able to learn how to do basically every possible maintenance job on a bike. From truing wheels, removing stuck headset cups/races, bb's, stripping and repainting a frame...I've spent a grand total of 80$ on tools. In fact, I don't even have a workstand! When my LBS told me it would be $9 to tape my handlebars, and 15$ to switch out the BB (5minute job) I decided that enough was enough.
With all due respect,TJeanloz
May 30, 2001 6:12 PM
If you can properly switch out a bottom bracket in 5 minutes or less, I know some people who would love to hire you (The key to the sentance being properly.)
It's just a bicycle, how hard can it be.J.S.
May 30, 2001 4:18 PM
I grew up in a car family so working on bikes is a piece of cake. Try changing a timing chain without air tools, talk about pain in the ass. I know some may take offense to this but it cracks me up when bike mechanics act like what they do is brain surgery, please. The first time I built a pair of wheels I went into the LBS and asked for the parts. The mechanics laughed " You'll never be able to do it, bring them in and we'll build them" I brought them , completely built and perfect. Life is about learning and challenges, why not give bike maintenance a try?
Question isn't "How can you?" It's "How can you NOT?"cory
May 30, 2001 4:30 PM
I started not knowing how to fix a flat, and I've built my last two bikes from frames and gruppos. If my bike fell into its component pieces today, the only thing I couldn't do comfortably is build the wheels.
If nothing else, knowing how the thing goes together lets you fix things that go wrong on the road. Some of the shops where I live hire marginal mechanics, and if I do the work myself, I know it's done right (it wasn't always, but it is now). There's some satisfaction and enjoyment in it, too, but only if you enjoy it...
The prices for tools somebody posted are accurate but still a little misleading. You don't have to buy everything on the list the first time you adjust brakes. Buy what you need as you need it, and the money comes out $10 and $20 at a time instead of in a huge chunk.
You may not need everything, either. How often do you install, say, a bottom bracket? I know how, but if I had to do one, I'd take it to the shop. They have high-quality tools and the knowledge to use them.
Ordinary stuff, though, like servicing that BB, or doing brakes, bearings, shifters, cables... It's faster, cheaper and all-around more appealing for me to do them myself.
Besides, the sad truth is, I'm embarrassed to take my bike in and say, "the headset's loose," then pay the guy five bucks for a 30-second fix.
re: Doing own bike mechanical maintenance. Is it worth it?paladin
May 30, 2001 6:14 PM
Very ODD, indeed!!!!

I was surprised by the number of posts that supported them home-cycle-maintenance do-it-yourselfer. Which I whole-heartedly agree.

Surprised because when the topic is buy LBS or On-line, most everyone says to support the LBS lest they become extinct.

Why do we feel so different about the maintenance of our bikes versus buying new items?????
One's a product, the other's a servicezelig1
May 31, 2001 4:58 AM
Unfortunately service, and quality thereof, is dependent upon the individual. Would I have a problem with somebody like TJeanloz (I thought you were getting a full time day job TJ) wrenching my wheels? Absolutely not. But for some guys out there, its just another day job. One that can be done with diligence or just going through the motions. If you have a good, hard core LBS with good mechanics, its an easier decision. But if they spend most of their time changing flat tires and setting up low and mid line bikes, I'd have seconds thoughts about having them work on my bike.

Someone also said if they (LBS) screw up, its their problem. The reality after you've crashed or are broken down in the middle of nowhere is that you've got a problem and even upon your return to the LBS, what are your options besides asking for you money back or having them fix what they should have done in the first place. If you maintain your own bike, you know how to fix it if something goes wrong including in-field solutions when all you're carrying is your housekeys. Also, you know generally when things need to be looked at as most things, other than tires or spokes, do not suddenly need maintenance.

That's my take on the purchase of equipment versus maintenance with my LBS. BTW, my LBS used to be Branford Bikes and years ago they went mail order, its hilarious to see them referenced as the Holy Grail (they are good but it was just a small shop in a small town), so my take on LBS loyalty is everybody for him or herself.
May 30, 2001 6:24 PM
Each Spring, the LBS's usually have day-classes on various maintenance items. If the class doesn't cover your particular interest, I believe that you can get an hour (or 2?) of private instructions for about $35. (You should know WHICH mechanic is worth asking for the private lesson; not just who is willing or available)This will have to be the BEST $35 ($40?) bucks you ever spent on your bike.
my thoughts ...are you ready :)Breck
May 30, 2001 8:01 PM
it used to be easy. bikes were cheap and relatively simple. now adays not so cheap or simple. maybe one reason i still ride the mid 90's shimano 8-speeds mtb and road with dt shifters is the "can't keep up" with the replacement costs as shimano, et. al. insist on non-back fit-able parts, etc. and the old xtr rapidfire has been bullet proof so far. mebee they should take a lesson from nikon whose oldest lens would fit the newest slr's but haven't checked lately and film is becoming a dinosaur anywho (are you out there dino?).

was lucky and the year 1991 decided to drop out and hang at the cabin. missus said ok and had worked 30 years nohow and always paying hobbies such as jukebox/ pinball repair and sales and after work extra jobs building patio covers and decks and light hauling. had the 8-5 good payin job all them years and but getting a bit tired of the customer no-service attitude of the younger set i worked for/with, etc.

So being a long time lunch time runner and pretty fit for 47 at the time got a mountain bike from rich wolf of julian bicycle company, a one man shop here in the mountains. he needed some carpentry work done so traded some of the costs. then he needed some counter help in the shop and soon was an "employee" learning the trade of running a small business and bike repair. and riding! riding! riding! the best part. then road bikes and now do both road and mtb and trail run and have the ranch(yes we saved some money after all) now to "run" the ranch. checked used tractor prices lately and field mowers, 5K gallon water holding tanks, costs of propane, septic tank repair, re-building an old farm house, fixing up barns, keeping the bob cats away from the hens and geese, water well gone dry?, roads mud in winter, some more fun etcetras and luv em all. bikes are cheap if you don't over do it and as in all things moderation is the KEY.

that said it's not for everybody. you do have to have some mechanical app and front and rear dx adjustment at first seems like you need to shake some shaman feathers over it or the like. setting up a bike outta the box is best and one step at a time you learn. off the shelf bikes you ride away and when it 'don't shift good' you are likely to live with it not knowing it's supposed to be butter smooth. you may go thru the trinket phase, the light phase, the it works fine but gotta change newest betterest etc phase. you will go thru the pocket book phase like the morn after you wake up from the bar noticing the sixty dollars is two bucks now and think hard where did the money go. don't remember the cute little waitress always there to serve only you(who made my dreams come true, only you ...yikes no song jokes mikey :)

if you are asking you probably want to do it. first step is to buy a good stand, the park $110 version will do. are you flinching already? mebee rethink it and find a lbs whose salesman personality is same as the one sold you the lexus when you shopped for the ford :)

Coming from someone who's learning to do it themselves,boy nigel
May 30, 2001 8:31 PM
I'd definitely suggest home-maintaining your bike. Early this year, I got a brand-new bike. The thought of maintaining it from head to toe (or close enough) is an attractive one to me. Almost as importantly, I'm very protective about it and keeping it looking new and shiny (and unscratched) for as long as possible. The thought of leaving it at a shop and having it returned to me with a ding, scratch, or paint chip is difficult to bear. What could I say to the shop? "Look at that! Now what?!" Nah, nobody'll handle my machine with the care I can, so I've gotten an inexpensive repair stand ($50) that'll do virtually everything I'll need it for, and some basic tools. Add to that some grease, chain lube, rags (old undershirts/shorts), bike wax, and degreaser, and I'm really digging the self-maintenance thing. Order your tools online to save money here and there. I try to order a new tool when I order a larger item (bibs, jersey, etc.) so that I'm not paying shipping on only small tools.

For the piece of mind, I'd say it's certainly worth it. This is coming from someone who's not mechanically inclined naturally. I'm not clumsy, just very careful.

Last, get a really good manual like "Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance." I wouldn't try anything without that if you're a beginner. The book simplified things and gives much-needed warnings and tips so things only get easier and better as you do them.

Have fun with it--I do!
re: Doing own bike mechanical maintenance. Is it worth it?LC
May 30, 2001 9:20 PM
With 5 bikes those tools pay for themselves very quickly. I would rather spend the time with my bike then driving to the bike shop and then back to pick it up again. There is also the satisfaction of doing your own work that you can't put a price on.
It doesn't have to be black and whiteVlad the Impaler
May 30, 2001 9:33 PM
Working on your own ride doesn't have to be an all or nothing experience. Like anything in life start out small. Do minor things that you feel comfortable with. Doing them correctly will reward you with the feeling of a job well done. As your confidence grows try more difficult things. . .but only if you feel comfortable doing them. Anything you're not too sure about, you can take to the LBS. For relatively simple things I'm stumped with, I'll take it to my LBS have them fix it and then ask what the solution was. They always seem happy to tell me. If I think I can fix it but don't have and don't want to buy the expensive tools, I'll take it to the LBS.
I'd say yes!James
May 30, 2001 11:28 PM
I bought a workstand, the $130 Park kit, and a book. I feel more proud when i know the functions of my bike, I just built my first about 4 days ago and it feels good. Some people are not mechanical and just want to ride. although i did struggle at some points, I got through it and can now fix just about anything(wheel truing excluded!).
Yes, if you have some mechanical skills..ScottH
May 31, 2001 7:18 AM
I'd say I have 200-300 in tools including my stand. I do most of my own work. I don't have a bb tool or a headset press, so I still go to the shop for that. Sometimes I just go to the shop out of laziness.

For me doing my own work is more a matter of convenience, I don't have to load up the bike, drive to the shop, and wait for mechanic to finish aligning the tassels on some little kids bike.

Then there is the expense. At the rate I go through parts (I have 2 mountain bikes and a road bike), the work I do take to the shop every year is still expensive.

And as far as the confidence in shop work vs. my own goes, at least if I do it, I know what to expect. There have been many times I have taken a bike home and had to readjust derailleur, true wheels, tighten headsets, etc. With some shops you never really know who will work on it, it could be some high school kid off for the summer.
re: Doing own bike mechanical maintenance. Is it worth it?VaMootsman
May 31, 2001 7:49 AM
50 years ago, when the wheel fell off the wagon travelling along the Oregon trail, what do you suppose the explorers did?? Call up the local repair shop, get on-line, transmit their excact position with their handy GPS unit? Bicycles are not lunar explorers. A few basic tools, a little know-how; your on the road again. They are the simplest machines ever invented.
re: Doing own bike mechanical maintenance. Is it worth it?Gary M
May 31, 2001 9:53 AM
Ripoff avoidance is a powerful incentive to do your own work. When I discovered my LBS marked up an Ultegra 6500 cassette 25% OVER list price and wanted labor in addition to install it, I ordered the cassette and tools from Colo Cyclist and did it myself. Best of all, I now know how to do this.
If you plan to stick with the sport, yes ...Humma Hah
May 31, 2001 1:20 PM
I do most of my own maintenance, including wheelbuilding. But then, on my relic, I probably know its insides better than the wrenches at the LBS, and the only special tools needed are a few cone wrenches (English sizes they don't have), plus a spoke wrench.

There are a few specialized pullers and presses needed for some operations, the worst for either of my bikes is a freewheel puller, for which I also need a bench vise. But no red-blooded male should be without a good bench vise. Otherwise, a good set of automotive tools does most of what I need.

There are good reasons to let a pro build your best wheels -- it is an art and a good wheelsmith does virtually perfect work. But the hardest part of that is truing the wheel, that delicate balancing act to pull it into a perfect circle and plane. That procedure is routine maintenance, and you might even need to do it in the middle of a ride some time, at least well enough to get rolling again. So you get a beater wheel, cheap, tear it down, put it back together, and get it reasonably round.