The Chainlink

The other thread got me thinking about mechanics.

How can you tell a good mechanic? Which shop or shops have the best?

I've been pretty disheartened this past year by the poor outcomes I've had at several highly-regarded, frequently-recommended shops. What can I do differently to get better results?

One example: I have a persistent and annoying "grindiness" (for lack of a better word) that I feel in my feet only when I accelerate very hard on my single-speed. It showed up after I put on a new chain, and one shop assured me, "It's definitely the freewheel"-- that the cogs weren't meshing with the new chain. They sold me a new freewheel, but there was no difference. When I went back and told them so, they basically shrugged and told me I was imagining things. (I'm not.) This is a shop with a 5-star Yelp rating and nothing but rave reviews on the Chainlink.

Another: My girlfriend's coaster brake hub was having problems and making funny noises so we foolishly decided to try to take it apart and put more grease in, following a Youtube video. Predictably, we couldn't get the adjustment right afterwards. We took it in to her local bike shop--this shop also has a 5-star rating on Yelp and also is frequently mentioned here as one of the best. They took her money and returned the bike to her in basically the same condition (this is a modern Shimano coaster brake hub, nothing super weird or esoteric). She was not able to discern any real difference in how it rode. She wasn't comfortable about going back to the same shop so she took it to Uptown Bikes to re-do the work (and they did a great job. Maybe the answer to my question is, just go to Uptown in the first place!).

I'm not naming these shops because I don't think they're bad shops. They have been friendly and patient, and on other occasions than the ones I've mentioned here I've had work done by both shops with no problems. But I do kind of feel like it's a coin toss every time I go in.

Maybe part of the problem is that both my bike and my girlfriend's are very cheap (and mine is very old), so shops are reluctant to give me a quote that reflects the amount of work it would take to properly fix things because they figure I wouldn't want to sink that much money into such a cheap bike.

But the fact is that I like the bike I have and I don't mind spending more than its market value on getting it running smoothly. I'd happily pay much more than the two shops mentioned above charged for the assurance that the work will be done right. But I'm reluctant to take it anywhere because it's such a crapshoot--whether I'll get the one mechanic on staff who really knows their shit, whether they'll be too swamped that day, whether they'll be out of the replacement part that would be best suited and will use a lower-quality part because they assume (wrongly) that I'd rather have it done fast than right.

As it's getting toward spring (I hope!) and as I plan to take my bike in again soon for a full overhaul to make up for all the winter wear (and to take another crack at that #$@!# grindiness), I'd like to know what I can do to be sure I get good results the first time.

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It's hard to find a good mechanic.  One of the reasons is that you can't always just pick a shop and know you will get good service; shops that employ several mechanics can often have mechanics with varying skill levels and personalities.  The key is to find one you like and trust and patronize them.

Shops I recommend for good service:

Comrade

Ciclo

Johnny sprockets

Green Machine

Boulevard

Element (obviously)

I'm sure there are other shops with good mechanics I am missing but I haven't been to them or don't know them so don't discount your local shop.

These are also shops where I feel you can get great service form everyone there.  I left a couple of places off because I do not think they have consistent skill levels across the board for their mechanics.

Thanks, Dug - I had the same question as Eli did, and I appreciate all of your suggestions.

Does anyone have any suggestions that would be conveniently located to downtown or Hyde Park?

South Loop Cycle on Michigan just south of Roosevelt is great, and close to the loop. I've always had great service.

Simon Phearson said:

Thanks, Dug - I had the same question as Eli did, and I appreciate all of your suggestions.

Does anyone have any suggestions that would be conveniently located to downtown or Hyde Park?

Choosing a bike mechanic is like rolling dice. Eventually you will find one you like and can continue the customer/bike mechanic relationship. Hopefully, he is not "grumpy" and is content at working his chosen profession.

Eli, You do live in Edgewater, no? When choosing a bikeshop, proximity should be big consideration.

There are a number of shops in an around Edgewater. From a previous thread.

http://www.thechainlink.org/forum/topics/bike-shop-near-andersonvil...

Sometimes the issue is the salesperson you speak with not properly communicating to the service team. I bought a Schwinn off craigslist last year and went to Cycle Smithy for some upgrades and repairs. I had two instances of bad communication.

First was when I ordered fenders. I very specifically said silver or matte grey and they ordered white. Thankfully they called me before they put them on and didn't have to do the work twice.

The second time was when I asked them to mount my rear rack. The bike doesn't have seatstay mounts so I very specifically asked them to use p-clamps. I didn't want the rack mounted to the brake mount since a single mounting point in the center would be weak. Sure enough that's what they did. 

In both instances they were very good about correcting the mis-communication. With the fenders they just re-ordered the ones I wanted. They also re-mounted the rack with p-clamps. In both instances the mechanic wasn't aware of my requests yet was very nice about making the adjustments. 

I took my bike back to Cycle Smithy a few times after that and made sure to speak directly with the mechanic. No issues whatsoever after that. All other work they did was great. I recommend them for work based on my experience but would advise you to speak directly with the service team. I also really like Johnny Sprockets and have purchased two bikes from them. 

I LIKE BLUE CITY ON 33RD AND HALSTEAD OWEN IS GREAT OR IRV'S ON 18TH AND RACINE OR THE MOST FRIENDLY AND KNOWLEDGABLE RAPID TRANSIT ON 13TH AND HALSTEAD

This is why you should always talk to the mechanic.  I am not a fan of shops where the mechanics are isolated form the people they are serving.

Rich S said:

Sometimes the issue is the salesperson you speak with not properly communicating to the service team. I bought a Schwinn off craigslist last year and went to Cycle Smithy for some upgrades and repairs. I had two instances of bad communication.

First was when I ordered fenders. I very specifically said silver or matte grey and they ordered white. Thankfully they called me before they put them on and didn't have to do the work twice.

The second time was when I asked them to mount my rear rack. The bike doesn't have seatstay mounts so I very specifically asked them to use p-clamps. I didn't want the rack mounted to the brake mount since a single mounting point in the center would be weak. Sure enough that's what they did. 

In both instances they were very good about correcting the mis-communication. With the fenders they just re-ordered the ones I wanted. They also re-mounted the rack with p-clamps. In both instances the mechanic wasn't aware of my requests yet was very nice about making the adjustments. 

I took my bike back to Cycle Smithy a few times after that and made sure to speak directly with the mechanic. No issues whatsoever after that. All other work they did was great. I recommend them for work based on my experience but would advise you to speak directly with the service team. I also really like Johnny Sprockets and have purchased two bikes from them. 

I second Blue City, II forgot them on my original list.

GEORGE VANDERFOR said:

I LIKE BLUE CITY ON 33RD AND HALSTEAD OWEN IS GREAT OR IRV'S ON 18TH AND RACINE OR THE MOST FRIENDLY AND KNOWLEDGABLE RAPID TRANSIT ON 13TH AND HALSTEAD

Yep learned that the long way. Thankfully it didn't cost me more than some delays and a bit of hassle to the shop. 

notoriousDUG said:

This is why you should always talk to the mechanic.  I am not a fan of shops where the mechanics are isolated form the people they are serving.

I also recommend Blue City Bikes. 

I think the OP has it right in asking about a "good mechanic," not a good shop.

I have had some of the best service ever from a good mechanic at a shop most would not rank high on their list, and I have had spectacularly bad work done at shops that most would put at the top of their list.

The big question is how to assure you get a good mechanic when you take your bike to a shop. Having that choice doesn't seem to be part of the program at most shops.

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