Monday, September 15, 2014

Paying a Fair Price for Bike Repair

A sign at a produce stand.
Take what you need. Pay what you can. Please be fair.
A statement like that could feed the world. Well, that message wouldn't solve all the world's hunger, I suppose, but it's an interesting approach to a farm stand full of produce. I helped myself to a bunch of kale and two onions, used the provided plastic bags, then put the veggies inside my panniers. I left a "fair" contribution in a metal collection box.

Later, I wondered about the "pay what you can" approach. In the world of excess veggies where rotting is the alternative to bringing in extra cash, it makes sense (think piles of zucchini that most folks are happy to give away). Applying this theory to bicycle business, could this practice work in a low overhead shop environment?

I like to work on my own bikes, but sometimes need a freewheel removed, brake cables tightened, or better yet, I would love to have a knowledgeable mechanic inspect a bike overhaul (I'm thinking of a current project). I'd gladly pay a fair price (35.00/hour is local rate, exorbitant in my opinion) for professional expertise.

It may be a dream, but a retired bike mechanic could service bikes from their garage (my grandfather did, as a self taught mechanic). Many people have the know how, tools, and ability to accept less payment*, but I suspect, if there are such mechanics in our area, they operate under the radar, so to speak, to avoid business license fees, etc.

Does anyone know of legitimate bicycle operations that practice the "pay what you can" business approach?

*There's got to be a worthwhile wrenching person that would accept a 20 dollar bill. It pays for a 12 pack of micro brew.


  1. I would think this would be a difficult thing to accomplish for most businesses; although, I do think it's a great way to help more people who may not have the skill/money needed to do fixes with their bikes.

    The only thing I'm aware of that is a less-expensive approach to bicycle repair needs are local bike garages that stock tools and equipment to do your own repairs. Many of them have individuals on staff (they volunteer their time) to help those who may not know exactly what to do to get resolution to their problems. I think the problem with a pay-what-you-can business model for actual bike shops is that people will find a way to not pay for service, and unfortunately, it's one of the few ways a shop can actually make any money. Profit on bikes is minimal for a shop, so they hope for accessories to sell and for service/tune-ups on bikes to be able to keep their doors open on the whole.

    I love the idea though - everyone should be able to get their bikes fixed so that they can keep riding.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. Briefly, I did a bit of work on a bike in a coop in Portland (years ago). They had the tools and knowledgeable staff on hand. But, I am looking for someone to take over the reigns and inspect my work. I can think of one guy, former mechanic, who might do this in his spare time. I can always ask.

    2. What is fair? not always an easy question to answer. I think what you ultimately are paying for is experience, If I can find a knowledgeable bike mechanic I gladly pay the shop rate, if its someone who barely knows more than I do then I have a hard time with paying them $35 an hour.


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