The final morning of the 2 week Professional Repair and Shop Operation course at United Bicycle Institute was devoted to the “shop operation” portion of the title. We touched on the labor rates and service procedures that one might think about to keep the service portion of a traditional bike shop profitable. This wasn’t a business class, so if you’re thinking of opening a bike shop you should already know much more than was discussed, but for the aspiring mechanic it would probably offer a glimpse of the shop owners’ perspective and could be something of a reality check if you want to open a shop and haven’t done your homework.
After lunch we took our final exam. This was a written 90 minute test that touched on every area we discussed over the previous 2 weeks. While it was not the most difficult test I’ve ever taken, it certainly wasn’t the easiest either. If you want to call yourself a UBI Certified Bicycle Technician, you better be paying attention in class and absorbing the information in front of you.
So, what are my final thoughts about my time at UBI? I was thoroughly impressed with both the construction of the course and the way in which it was presented. I never found myself wanting information that wasn’t there, and I took more away from the course than I expected to. It was a totally positive experience and I would absolutely recommend it to everyone from the teenager looking to work in a shop, to the home mechanic who wants a better technical background for his own repairs. I think it is a must for the prospective or current shop owner/manager who is more of a “business” guy/gal, and I think even working mechanics whose only background is on-the-job training would do well to consider the professional instruction this course provides. You will definitely learn some things. Many thanks to Steve, Jeff, Dylan, Tony, and everyone at UBI!
The main classroom at UBI Portland.
Another view of the UBI Portland facilities.
The last truly “hands-on” day of the class started with a discussion of the principles of a proper bike fit. It involved making sure a customer rolls out the door on the proper size bike with the proper set-up for them and their intended use of the bicycle. This was a good presentation of the basics and gave us a good background in the steps and measurements involved. It was not intended to be a bike fitting course, as you could study bike fit for a full 2 weeks and probably not know everything there is to know about it.
The rest of the day was devoted to stripping a road bike down to the bare frame and completing a complete overhaul. Essentially, this was a thorough review of most of the procedures covered earlier in the class. As the bike was reassembled and adjusted the instructors checked progress and gave approvals to proceed. The bikes came together system by system. When everything was back together, shifting, rolling, and braking smoothly (and free of greasy fingerprints) the task was complete. Nine days down, one to go.
We started the day with a discussion of modern suspension components and how best to tune a suspension equipped bicycle to a given rider. While there is obviously a lot of subjectivity in what “feels” right to a particular rider, there are some general guidelines that will provide, at minimum, a good starting point for these types of adjustments. Definitions and adjustments for sag, rebound damping, compression damping, spring rate, etc. were all explored. We then removed the lower fork tubes from a typical “all-mountain” fork and performed a routine service and oil change. After completing the suspension work we segued into metallurgy and frame construction materials and techniques. This eventually led us to the proper way to prep a frame prior to bolting any components to it. We discussed and performed bottom bracket thread chasing and facing, as well as head tube facing and reaming. These operations are often necessary to achieve concentric and parallel bearing surfaces for those components. This has become even more critical now that a 2 piece ceramic bottom bracket might cost $200 and will wear much more quickly if it’s bearings are not parallel to each other in the frame. These sorts of small, but critical, details are often overlooked by the typical mechanic at the typical shop. Caveat Emptor!
The second Monday of the Pro Repair class at UBI covered pretty much every type of mechanical brake system you would ever find on a bicycle. After extensive lecture time devoted to the evolution of various braking systems and the obvious importance of the bicycles’ braking system, from both a practical and liability standpoint, the hands-on work commenced. Proper maintenance and set up of road calipers, cantilever and linear pulls, and mechanical disc brakes were all performed. Tuesday morning was reserved for hydraulic disc brakes. Explanation of the attributes and applications was followed by bleeding and servicing brake systems from the three major manufacturers: Avid, Shimano, and Hayes. In the afternoon we explored the world of headsets, including the amount of abuse they take on the typical bike. The pros and cons of all the various systems were covered, including getting them properly adjustment. We then removed and installed both threaded and threadless headsets and their pressed-in cups. If you haven’t done it in a while, get your headset serviced! Or, just buy a good quality sealed bearing headset, ala Chris King, and proceed to ignore it for many years while it continues to function perfectly.
Clearly, no one lives in Portland for the December weather. It is cold, rainy, and devoid of sunshine. Being from Phoenix, AZ the last part of that combination is a deal breaker. I’m sure there are times throughout the year when Portland’s weather is wonderful, but I don’t see how even a die hard Portlander could argue the same about December, the wettest and coldest month on their calender. Basically, I spent my weekend dodging raindrops and attempting to find great beer. I wasn’t that successful at either. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of good, local brew in Portland, but I am suffering from allergies (or a cold, not sure which) so my sense of smell, and therefore my taste, is compromised. I did get a couple nice beers earlier in the week when my nose was still working. I enjoyed both Amnesia Brewing’s Desolation IPA and Lompoc’s Sockeye Cream Stout. I’d recommend both if you have access to them. I’ve also had some very good food. Por Que No? has some terrific Mexican food, Mee-Sen was maybe the best Thai I’ve ever eaten, and the roast pork ramen soup tonight at Miho was a good alternative to chicken noodle for my cold. I’m not giving up on the beer tasting yet though, so I’ll try some more local brew as the week progresses.
After moving through every other part of the drivetrain we arrived at shifters and derailleurs. Friction shifting was touched upon, but as index shifting is by far the more common style, most of the time was devoted to that type. Differences between the various competing brands and between road control levers (brifters, or combination brake and shift levers as some call them) and mountain flat bar shifters were covered in detail. If you only took one thing away from this portion of the class it would be the massive amount of engineering the manufacturers do with shifters and derailleurs. The instructors go out of their way to emphasize that like brand should only be used with like brand AND explain why from an engineering perspective. No, or very little, mixing Sram and Shimano allowed…bad cyclist!! (Or worse yet, mixing Campy with anything!) After thoroughly covering all the options we then removed and re-installed cables, housing, and derailleurs. At that stage the finer points of fine tuning the shifting system were covered and everyone had to set up both road and mountain systems to the instructors’ satisfaction. Week One completed!
After five days of instruction at UBI, one thing has become crystal clear to me. These people absolutely know their stuff. I’m no stranger to working on bicycles but even the most basic adjustments have subtleties and nuances. These nuances are what separate decent mechanics from terrific ones, and UBI is trying to turn out terrific mechanics. I would be shocked if even the most seasoned wrench didn’t learn something from attending this class. It would be almost impossible not to with the accumulated knowledge in the room, and I for one, am grateful to be benefiting from this knowledge. Bring on Week Two!
A full day was devoted to an area of the bike that probably is neglected from a maintenance standpoint more that any other: bottom brackets. We covered all types, from cup and cone through the newest bearing pressed into frame systems. Installation, disassembly, overhauls, and bearing replacements were all fully explored. In short, everything you ever wanted to know about bottom brackets, including all the various size standards that have evolved over the years. The fourth day of class centered around drivetrain components. Types of chains and width differences were explored in detail. Freewheels were touched upon and cassettes were talked about extensively, including their compatibility with the proper width chain. Freehub disassembly and maintenance was performed, along with a look at the various freehub designs currently available. Again, basically everything you could want to know about these topics was at least touched on, if not explored in detail. If you want more depth in any particular area, just ask and the instructors are happy to oblige (within some time constraints, obviously). As an aside I have to say how elegant in it’s simplicity and massive amount of engagement a DT Swiss star ratchet freehub is. Perhaps only rivaled by Portland’s own Chris King RingDrive freehub. Just amazing pieces of bike technology.