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Given the large amount of money you need to plop down to buy a good mountain bike, the selection of a shop to take it to when it needs a little TLC is almost as important as choosing a pediatrician for your first-born child. Of course, just like with the kid, you might be able to save a few bucks if you can do the work yourself. I suggest that every new mountain bike owner (or new parent) start with a good repair manual. Topping my list are the Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair by Park Tool, and the Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Your Baby’s First Year.  Both include easy-to-follow directions, and have plenty of diagrams and photographs to help you along the way. And don’t be afraid to buy some of the specialized tools you’ll need to do the work—like a cassette removal tool, a cable and housing cutter, or a rectal thermometer. These tend to pay for themselves in savings on the very first job.

Photo: poisonspiderbicycles.com

Now, if you do find that you need a little professional help with your beloved (or your child), you’re well advised to seek out a competent technician to do the work… and not everyone who hangs out a shingle is necessarily up to snuff. There are some good ones out there, but there are also plenty of hacks and quacks. Being the owner of no less than 10 bikes and at least 3 kids (?), I feel I’m qualified to offer the following advice:

Photo: Northstar Bicycles, Dawsonville, Georgia.

Ask around. Sure, you can flip through the Yellow Pages and hope your gamble pays off, but you’ll be better off if you consult the locals. Whether you’re at the playground on the corner or the trailhead parking lot, there’s a wealth of good advice to be gleaned from those who’ve been around the block a time or two. If there’s one in your area, the local MTB club will definitely be your best resource

Seek experience. My grandpa always said he’d never visit a doctor that didn’t have some grey hair on his head (yeah, he was a little sexist). The same holds true for bike shops. It stands to reason that a shop that’s been around for decades must be doing something right, ¿no?

Consult the web. If the town you live in is big enough to offer a choice of bike shops, chances are there’ll be some reviews of those shops online. One or two testimonials doesn’t amount to much, but a large number that either sing their praises or warn you to stay away almost certainly merit some consideration.

Ask a few questions you already know the answers to. I asked a mechanic recently if it was okay to re-pack my wheel bearings with marine-grade grease (which is an excellent lubricant with superior water repelling qualities), and his answer was: “No.” When asked who not, he replied, “Because it’s not made for bikes.” I bought my brake pads and mentally checked the “No” column next to that shop’s name.

Select a shop that specializes in mountain bikes. Although all bikes share much in common, MTBs and the conditions they’re ridden in demand that their mechanics possess some specialized knowledge. A good MTB mechanic will, for example, be familiar with the suspension components other types of bikes just don’t have. Also, he or she can help you fit and tune your bike to match your body and particular style of riding. Even things like chain and bearing lubricants are often different for a bike that is regularly subjected to mud baths and water crossings than for one that never leaves the bone-dry tarmac.

Photo: Over the Edge Sports, Fruita, Colorado.

Whatever you do, don’t forget that your baby is your baby. Whether it’s the two-tired type with a crank, a shock, and a spring-loaded damper on its rear end, or the type that gets cranky when it’s too tired and packs a shocking load in the Pamper on its rear end, the message is the same: He/she/it is way too valuable to entrust to just anyone.

Your best bet, in my opinion, is to learn to do the work yourself. But even then you’ll sometimes be faced with a job—like polishing the ports on a hydraulic shock or performing a circumcision—that’s best left to a professional. If the work’s done correctly, these components will provide years of dependable service. Done incorrectly, and they’ll only be a source of disappointment, frustration and embarrassment when called into duty.

Having a good LBS to rely on in your moment of need is an invaluable asset for any MTBer, and you’d be wise to do your homework when selecting one. The only task remaining is to find one that’ll accept you health insurance!

What do you look for when choosing a bike shop?

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# Comments

  • dgaddis

    Support the shops that support the local scene!!! Look for shops that host races, rides, skills clinics, organize and/or volunteer at trail work days, helps the local advocacy group, etc.

  • mtbgreg1

    I’d also add, ride with your shop. If the guys that work at the shop are good riders and passionate about the sport, that makes me that much more excited about supporting them and supporting the local scene. Plus, that’s a great way to make friendships that can last for years.

  • Korvyn

    Excellent read. some good advice in there for sure. Like Greg i went with the LBS that i saw out on the trails. we have about 4 in town and really only one of them seems to cater to the MTB guys while dabbling in road bikes. In fact one of the bike shops in town reffered me to the one i used because they are more into Roadies. Which i thought was decent of them, instead of taking my money hand doing a half baked job servicing my front forks.

  • MTI

    Great article! I agree with Gregg get out and ride with those in the LBS. I know my LBS is into the community awareness for cycling and sponser events. I will take the time to say Happy Birthday 4th to Bryson City Bicycles on June 22nd. We are having a nice ride in the Great Smokey Mountains to celebrate!

  • maddslacker

    Your pic of Poison Spider reminded me that picking a shop at a destination you have traveled to is a whole separate issue. In the case of Moab, Poison Spider is the first shop you hit when you come into town, and their prices and service backlog reflect that. They are a great shop with skilled wrenches, but you are going to pay more and wait a little bit when you go there. When away from home, one option is to start with the shop that is a dealer for your bike brand. You’ll likely need to go to them for warranty work anyway, and they should know your bike quite well. Next, look for the shop that runs their own guided tours as they will have good area and trail knowledge, as well as solid equipment recommendations. Just like at home, check for shops that are actively involved in supporting the local MTB scene either by sponsoring events or donating man hours to local trail building and maintenance. All that being said, at a true MTB destination like Moab or Fruita, you can’t go too far wrong at any shop, but there are still standouts amongst the crowd.

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