I remember being in my early 20’s, walking into an old bike shop in the Bay Area and being blown away by how much it was going to cost to fix my bike. Keep in mind I am using the term “bike” loosely here: it was an early 1990’s Gary Fischer that I had recently bought from a less-than-reputable used bike shop. I was new rider at that time, plus I was looking for a deal. I rode this bike for a while and thought nothing was wrong with it. I figured that it was normal to double click the shifter to make the gears change and had no idea how a bike was supposed to properly work. My riding experience was very limited and so was my knowledge of bikes. After doing a little bit of reading I started to notice things wrong with my bike and quickly realized I had bought a turd on two wheels. Pissed off and knowing that confronting the owner of the used bike shop would get me nowhere, I ventured into a long-standing bike shop in Berkeley, “The Missing Link.” This was a real bike shop and I was intimidated! They had racing jerseys and dust on the walls older than me. These folks lived and breathed cycling.
My goal here was to look around a little bit and possibly get my bike fixed. One of the first things a woman working there helped me with was rolling up my right pant leg, or using a strap, to keep it away from the greasy drive train. Since my bike was my main mode of transportation around the bay, she had just saved me a ton of money in new pants. We got to talking and she asked me about my bike and I had told her about the issues I’ve been having. She told me to go across the street to the mechanics’ shop and talk with those guys. Yes, the mechanics’ shop for the store was on the other side of Shattuck Ave., in downtown Berkeley.
Walking into the mechanic’s shop, I remember smelling the old greasy bike parts, and I loved it. The mechanic was an older man in his 60’s I would say. He asked me what issues I have been having, and I explained to him what I thought was wrong, and finished with “it probably just needs a quick once over.” After a few minutes or so, he came back with a pile of parts in his hands. He started writing up the estimate. As I am freaking out by the size of the pile he says, “It’s going to be around $250 to get your bike working the way it should.” I was thinking this guy is trying to screw me over. $250 bucks for a bike that cost me $50, are you crazy? Keep in mind I am in my early 20’s working and living away from my parents: I am broke!
Luckily, I had just gotten paid the day before, and had the little bit of cash I was making at the time. I agreed to have the work done, and I told the mechanic “I’ve got a few errands to run in the neighborhood and I’ll pick my bike up in a couple of hours.” He must have liked that comment, because he chuckled and said he would have it done two days later. I paid the man and walked home. After two days of taking the B.A.R.T. train and walking, I went back to pick up my bike.
The mechanic wheeled my bike from around the counter. My new shifters looked good, the new brakes and matching tires he had installed looked great. He took a minute and explained what he had done, and pointed out a few things to check every now and then. I listened, told him “thank you” and left. Walking out, I was ready to go for a ride and excited about not having to walk anymore. I jumped on my bike and it rolled soooo good! The tires he had recommended were just what I needed. I was off the knobby mountain bike tires and on a set of smooth center hybrid tires that felt like they could roll forever. When I clicked the shifter, it would change gears so smoothly and the brakes, let me tell you, the brakes worked and didn’t squeal. I was ecstatic!
This man had taken my bike and turned it into an extension of me. I was proud to ride this bike now and loved it. When I got home, I started to read all about the parts he had installed, and how to do the basic upkeep on my bikes from there on out. If it wasn’t for this man taking my turd and turning it into a masterpiece, I would never had found my true passion for bikes and cycling, and am grateful for having that experience.
There have been some other influencers in my cycling life since then, but The Missing Link bike shop was the start. That experience changed me. It taught me about paying for what you get, and trusting your local bike shop. I continued to use the same bike shop when I lived up there, and still pop in to buy something when I am in the area. The mechanics’ shop is no longer across the street, but the dust is still old.
Be sure to find a good local shop and trust them. They might not always have what you need at that very moment, but they can most always get it. They are a “hub” for growing our community of cyclists and share the same passion for cycling that you do. They live and breathe everything bike and have the experience, training and knowledge to back it up. They will never be able to compete with Amazon on price, but any good bike shop will provide you with so much more than any online anything can ever provide: the human connection and the memories that go with that.
See you on the next ride!