Experiment #24: Working at a Bike Shop

Cyclists often fantasize about working in bike shops or owning one - an almost "must be nice" type day dream of just spending all day talking about bikes and riding bikes and working on bikes as opposed to corporate drudgery.

A favorite sticker now 

And I am guilty of that. When mechanics had joked with me that they were hiring, I always figured I *could* work in a bike shop and maybe one day aspire to own one. But last March when I walked in to Einstein Cycles for the first time with a stripped helicoil because I had screwed in my pedal backwards, Dave offered me a real job. "You know what you are talking about -- do you want a job? We could really use help" 

Long story short, I had a demanding and well paying full time job and I definitely wasn't looking for even part time work, but after some hemming and hawing and most people advising me not to do it, I said yes. Something in my gut told me to say yes. 

So I began working at Einstein Cycles for minimum wage 2-3 days a month depending on if I was in TC or not.

"This is my first day here so I'm a bit rocky..."


Initial things that surprised me were how quickly I picked up most of the sales and retail work. Without ever fully appreciating this knowledge, I knew a ton about Salsa and Kona bikes despite not owning one. Things like "Warbird? Great race bike, very stable but responsive. Light but not as light as some other race brands. Kona Honzo? Amazing hardtail. They nailed the geometry here and for a $1800 bike you literally could not do better". In a lot of way, Einstein's was very easy for me to work at because I genuinely loved most of the brands they sold (like Bearclaw -- the owner of Bearclaw used to own Einsteins). I also was doing bike builds on Shift 2 and found, to my surprise, that these were skills I had been working on for a while. At EC, I was part bike mechanic and part sales. 

The things I saw...

I worked just enough that customers recognized me (two of my favorites nicknamed me "part time") and I started to meet people through the shop. So far, all wins for someone new to town and who loves talking about bikes! Throughout June and August, I found myself gravitating towards working at EC whenever I could, building my schedule around shifts and even trying to work an occasional weekday morning or evening if my schedule allowed. What I realized later, was that EC was becoming more than a bike shop for me - it was a safe and happy place where I could come and wrench on a bike, joke with Dave and Trevor (the owners), and do something I was both passionate about and great at - getting people on bikes. 

But then in August, I quit my full time job and asked if I could work more hours at the bikeshop when I wasn't traveling. I had some big (and ultimately partially realized) goals of organizing the shop and augmenting my burgeoning mechanic skills. Dave and Trevor wholeheartedly said yes (the timing was perfect - just as they were losing their summer help they got Lo to help kind of cover things). 

Nota Bene: when you work in a bike shop people do expect you to bike commute and do every race in town 

What I became painfully aware of working full time at EC was that I couldn't live off the salary. I would be physically exhausted at the end of the day from lifting bikes and standing on my feet but an 8 hour shift paid $120. My health insurance on COBRA cost $700 a month and my rent is closer to $1700. I would have to work 3.5 full weeks just to cover those, let alone food or bike expenses. And let's be real, even "full time" I worked closer to 20 hours a week and this almost covered my bike expenses (although, major perk of working at a bike shop, literally the BEST sponsorship you could ever find). 

The other surprise was that it is a ton of lifting and upper body strength. I didn't see that coming, but as a woman with almost no upper body strength, it was legitimately hard for me to lift the e bikes onto the shop stands or get the fat bikes over my head. I kept joking I need to lift more, but I actually really do! 

But it was a job I absolutely loved and never stopped loving (although Iceman week tested that). Sure, there were moments in customer service that weren't great (like people being unhappy about the cost of their repair, not realizing that like a car, you may need to pay more to replace parts like chain/cassette on a 'cheap' bike than you were expecting). But for every bad moment, there were 10 great ones -- helping a woman get a commuter bike so she could save gas money and get in shape, helping a teenage girl buy her first 'fast bike', meeting local product producers and hearing about their vision for what they created, and seeing the relief on people's faces when we tell them we can fix their bike. 

Bike mechanic Lo on the local news!

More than that, Dave and Trevor showed me what a healthy work culture looked like. I liked my co workers and enjoyed talking with them while we worked on bikes or riding after work. Despite being "part time" I have always felt like a valued member of the staff and was trusted to make good decisions, from inventory purchasing to knowing when to ask for help on a work order or sale. I could ask questions, and I learned something new almost every day I worked there. I learned how to (selflessly) change my actions to better work with others -- like Dave would make me mid day coffee knowing that made me happy. In turn, I knew when Dave was frustrated and just needed me to be happy and calm. We all had shifting roles to play, but I guess what I found was that I became part of a team, a representative of the shop, and part of a shared goal -- I wanted EC to thrive and for others to feel like they could come there to get the support they needed to ... ride bikes! 

I know I am painting a rosy picture and it sounds like a love fest, but it has been an incredible experience to work there. It's definitely not an easy job and Dave and Trevor absolutely work their butts off as first year business owners, but it's a job that embeds you in a community and if you truly love seeing _other_ people on bikes. 

E bike smile, model: mom

I also have a million little stories from working there too. From learning the "proper" way to change a tube (ie decals need to align with valve stem and heaven forbid you forget that near-useless plastic cap for the valve stem) to things like people coming in and being like "I want the biggest motor you have, like 1500W. I want the strongest e bike" (our biggest motor is 500W... more than enough for a 300 pound person to ride at 20 mph on the flat trail...). Also the "e bike smile" -- it's such a beautiful thing. Put someone on an e bike for the first time, and there's this pure joy smile that lights up their face, like being 19 and in a convertible with the top down on a sunny day. One more -- never ever say "I was just riding around and xxx part just broke". I heard that like 10x a day, and some of it was like a taco'd wheel or a cracked handlebar...

So what's the plan now? I start up a full time engineering role again at the end of the month. I'll still be part time and often around Einsteins, but yes, I shamelessly admit it, I am not at a point where I can viably support where I am at and what I like doing on bike shop salary. I also miss doing statistics and working in data in a way that has reminded me why I chose that as my primary career path. I'm also really excited about to working at my next job and the questions I've been asked to answer. 

But make no mistake, everyone's favorite hairbow and leg warmer wearing mechanic is still around playing pop piano music and with a big smile. 

What? They're warm!

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