bike mechanics

Bike mechanics may finally get some respect: Ontario working on a certified apprentice program

derailleur close-up

Bicycle mechanics get little respect yet we demand much of them. Everybody wants their bikes in perfect running order but we typically under value the complexity of the mechanics, at least in North America. Thus bicycle mechanics get paid little and many accomplished mechanics I know have talked about moving into other technical trades where the pay is higher and where there is more respect. (Photo by backonthebus)

That might be changing as Ontario is working on a provincial apprentice program for bicycle mechanics. The apprentice program is currently hanging in limbo as different departments work to approve it. The province has invited potential bicycle mechanics apprentices to participate in a 45 day waiting period before it becomes official. Roy Berger, a bicycle mechanic from Brantford, ON, was one of those invited. Yet Berger told me that the province has yet to start the waiting period.

Between March 2013 and April 2013 the Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities made a Training Agreement with 113 Bicycle Mechanic Apprentices in Ontario and provided a 30 page Schedule of Training.

For the longest time bicycle mechanics has been undervalued as only fit for teenagers and people who can't get a real mechanical job. The low pay has matched that expectation. With an apprentice program bike mechanics might finally become a respected profession which might also result in better pay, conditions and also safer repairing, maintaining and building of bikes. Or as Berger told me:

Papers, if you got papers, you like papers. People covet trade papers in all countries. I see this trade paper in the same category as a certificate for a gastronomical chef. You don't have to hire the guy but you figure that fellow is up to a certain minimum standard. It begins to set a bar and perhaps some day form a trade association same as chefs, hair dressers and other trades that require skill, dedication and interest. This one, our thing, is in the public interest. It's good for little Johnny, Susan and Mohammad. It's good for baby polar bears and tiger cubs. It's all about reinforcing the green and saving the planet. It's a decent moral trade. Now we have a real opportunity to step up to it. We've been wanting this for decades.

Currently Berger and other bike mechanics are just waiting. Berger received a apprentice card in the mail but now is just waiting on the government. The provincial ministry has designated bicycle mechanic as a new apprenticeship program but is hanging in limbo by another act. As explained by a ministry spokesperson:

The trade of Bicycle Mechanic was designated as a new apprenticeship program under the Apprenticeship and Certification Act, 1998 (ACA) in 2012. However, the trade is yet to be prescribed (named) under the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009 (the Act).

When the new Act came into effect on April 8, 2013, the previous apprenticeship legislation and regulations governing apprenticeship programs, including the ACA, were revoked.

Before the Ministry can name the trade in a regulation under the Act, a 45-day consultation period with industry and training stakeholders will be required to confirm support for Bicycle Mechanic to be named as a trade under the Act.

Once support is confirmed the following events will need to occur:
· the trade will need to be named in Ontario Regulation 175/11 (Prescribed Trades and Related Matters);
· the College will need to develop the scopes of practice in regulation (O. Reg. 278/11 – Scope of Practice - Trades in the Service Sector); and
· the College of Trades Board of Governors will need to establish a panel review to determine compulsory or voluntary designation.

As of April 8, 2013 and until these events occur, no new training agreements can be registered for the trade of Bicycle Mechanic.

Active training agreements with existing apprentices will continue to be honoured; they continue to be registered apprentices with the Ministry until such time as the trade is designated or not. Please note these apprentices cannot be members of the Ontario College of Trades until the trade is named under the Act.

Once the apprenticeship program is running it will require the apprentice to put in 2000 hours of time which is followed by an exam with both practical and written components "at an institution and with an instructor yet to be named". Those who pass are certified but it will still be up to the bike shop to choose someone who is certified.

So here's crossing our fingers for bike mechanics. I know I like having the people who work on my bicycle to be good at their jobs. My life depends on it.

Established non-profit DIY bike shop CBN looking for a new home

Community Bicycle Network (CBN), the non-profit organization dedicated to improving communities through cycling and recycling is need of a new place to spin its wheels. The church on Queen Street West where Community Bicycle Network has been tucked away for the last number of years has been purchased by a developer and all tenants are required to leave as of December 31, 2012.

So far, the group has a few potential locations on the table but, with the clock ticking, CBN is now calling on the people it has served for almost 20 years, and its supporters, to help it find just the right place to set up shop. CBN needs about 1000 sq ft with a store front, preferably in an underserved community / priority neighbourhood in Toronto, accessible by walking, cycling, public transit and driving.

Board member Eric Tchao noted that a free, subsidized or below market rent would be a valuable asset to the organization.

Since 1993, both CBN staff mechanics and DIYers have repaired thousands of bicycles and diverted salvageable frames and parts from the landfill for reuse or recycling. As a social enterprise CBN has played an important role over two decades in making cycling accessible to Torontonians and a new location will enable us to continue serving the community.

The organization is asking anyone who knows of an available space that could suit CBN’s needs to contact Board Chair Adrian Currie by phone on 416-504-2918 or email via

You can drop by the shop currently located at 761 Queen Street West, lower level.

My visit to Central Commerce's new bike mechanics class

Central Commerce, a school in downtown Toronto, has launched an innovative course for students to learn the basics of bike mechanics. Last week I met with the period one class and teacher Ravi Mohan-Sukhai to learn how the course is coming along.

I met Ravi in the otherwise unused basement of Central Commerce where he was happily moving from student to student, helping them with their bike project. Twelve students in each of three daily classes meet in the basement of Central Commerce Collegiate Institute in Toronto, learning the basics on donated bicycles and parts. During the course they will fix up not only a bicycle for themselves but up to five other bikes that will be sold off to support the program.

There is a waiting list and the students clearly love the change of pace from the usual sitting in their desks, listening to teachers talk. One eager girl, Fahmeda tells me she also likes the hands-on aspect of the elective class and that she'll get a bike out of it at the end of the course. Omar signed up for the course soon after starting at the school, eager to learn the basics of bike mechanics.

Ravi is supported by two assistants, Matt Draimin and Eugene Chao, both Curbside Bicycles mechanics, who both come almost daily to help students with their bike education.

The bicycles are stored in empty classrooms in the basement and in the empty swimming pool. The bikes were provided by the Cabbagetown Youth Centre (CYC) to Central Commerce, which in turn were donated by the government to CYC as a settlement in prolific bike thief Igor Kenk's court case. Many of his thousands of stolen bikes that he bizarrely stored in garages around the city were unclaimed and were eventually given to CYC so they could be refurbished for youth. The bikes are finally being put to a good use.

Ravi, Matt and Eugene have sorted the bikes into those which are more easily refurbished, the bikes to be used for parts in the appropriately named "Boneyard", and those to be dealt with at a later date. Despite the large numbers of bikes donated, there are still a lot of supplies to be purchased. For this Ravi's approach has been to sell some of the refurbished bikes back to the community (there will be a spring sale coming up) and to offer bike repair to school staff. Ravi registers each bike with the Toronto Police so they're aware that these bikes that were once stolen now have a legitimate life.

Each semester Kristen Schwartz from Culturelink teaches bike safety to the students, gives them a helmet and a bell. Many of the students might not have been aware of road rules. They will follow it with a ride.

The class got quickly organized last fall as the thousands of bikes were sent to be stored. Instead of just letting the bikes sit, the school principal, Iwona Kurman, quickly organized for Ravi to be hired and gave him space in the basement to teach the elective. Given that the focus of Central Commerce is commerce, the class will eventually have a broader focus that will also incorporate an interdisciplinary study of environmental issues, physical activity, business and science.

The class, the first of its kind in the Toronto District School Board, started last fall with just two students but quickly grew as word got around. Ravi has been designing his own curriculum to meet the particular learning needs of high school students and to keep the students on top of the quirky needs of bicycles in need of various levels of work. All the bikes will require overhauling the bearings, brakes and gears but some will have more serious issues with the frame, broken drivetrain or other issues. The students - with the help of Matt and Eugene - are taught to identify such issues.

The object is not to produce bike mechanics; some students may end up working in the bike industry, but some will use the hands-on mechanical concepts as a foundation for other technical trades. And others may find that they are using their new bike to go to school or run errands and be able to repair their own bicycles. The course can help student become more mobile, more self-reliant and give them an understanding of mechanical systems like the common bicycle.

Looking for parts in the Boneyard

Ravi's office

Working bikes

The parts of the wheel

Matt providing tips on front brake

The bike mechanics class

How to assess for damage

Working on brakes

Eugene teaching Omar

Annual members meeting for CBN do-it-yourself bike shop Feb 13

For those out there who are interested in learning and working on their bike in a community environment, you might consider attending CBN's annual membership meeting coming up next week Monday. It's not too late!

The Community Bicycle Network would like to announce our Annual General Meeting. It will
be held on Monday February 13th, 2012 at 6:30 pm. The meeting will be held in the CBN shop at 761 Queen St. W. All CBN members are invited to attend and vote on the next board of directors. CBN will be open from 4:30-6:30 pm on February 13th for anyone interested in joining to purchase a membership. The suggested donation is $5.

CBN has a lot of important planning to do in 2012. Our lease is up in December and we'll be
looking for a new space. We continue to expand our workshop programs (teaching bike mechanic skills as well as safe cycling) and divert hundreds of bikes and bike parts from landfill. There will be spaces on the board opening up, and lots of other volunteer opportunities such as outreach at community events, updating the website and other media, designing a t-shirt, stripping bike donations and much, much more.

We are requesting that you share this press release with your community contacts including
posting it on your website, calendar, list serve, bulletin board etc. Please consider attending yourself or recommending it to someone you know. If there are any questions please contact

Thank you,

No more dirty pants: upgrading a city bike to chaincase

My new chaincase came from Hoopdriver Bicycles and made by Velo Orange. Not cheap but good quality.

Us North Americans tend to underestimate the lowly chainguard (and fenders for that matter) on the bicycle. I'm a firm believer in clean pants and figure it can't be all that hard to produce a good chainguard that's going to keep them clean. Instead we've now got plenty of "city bikes" on the market (commendable for sure) that still lack a good chainguard. For example, Linus and Public bikes are two popular city bikes being seen all over Toronto. They've got fenders, racks, upright handlebars and simple, rational gearing. Yet they still lack a proper chainguard. Instead all they do is protect pant legs for just a small part of the turn. If your pants can still get oily or get jammed in the gears why bother at all?

I had previously blogged about my first attempt at clean pants using auto loom to cover the chain. It wasn't a failure though it might require occasional replacement of the loom as you can see how mine cracked (though it still worked), or find more flexible loom.

I wasn't sure how it would stand up in winter so I decided to splurge for the chaincase.

A chain cover that will work in a pinch

[Update: note that my homemade version started to degrade after a few weeks (photo). I'm not sure if the Biologic version works better or not since I've just never tried it out. Since this I've moved on to sturdier chain cases.]

My homemade chain cover

I'm always tweaking my bikes. For some time I've been looking for a good chain cover; something to protect my pants while riding my trusty city/beater bike, which was born as a 80s Norco yellow mountain bike and which I overhauled. Somehow I ended up going to an auto shop to whip up what you see in the photo above; a chain hugged by some wire conduit.

My current chain guard came from CBN's DIY tool rental where I installed it a couple years ago. It sort of works but I still get oil on my pants when the wind picks up and blows the fabric into the chain at the bottom. Or worse, the fabric gets caught between the chain and the chain guard. So I've wanted something better for some time, and I thought I was finally onto something better but cheap.

The Dutch solved this problem long ago with their completely enclosed chain case (like in this photo). I like that approach but I likely can't install one on my beater. So instead I have coveted the Velo Orange "porteur-style" chain case which looks like it would handily do the job and look really spiffy. But it may be too nice on a beater bike. So I've kept looking for the perfect chain cover. That's when I found this "amazing" new chain cover being sold Biologic, the Freedrive Chain Cover. It's a cover that attaches onto the chain and moves with it. It looks awesome and it's cheap. Some Dahon Bicycle models now have it installed, and it's been talked about in the ever geeky Bike Forum. And it's only 20 dollars.

I looked for some reviews of the product and that's when I came across this video by a young fixie trickster, who had installed what looked quite similar on his fixie, but - as he explains - was actually purchased at an auto store. In the auto industry it's known as "wire conduit" or "wire loom". Apparently this trick has been known by BMXers for a few decades. Thanks Kareem, you've just saved me $15!

So I went to my local Portuguese auto / hardware corner store and purchased the only available loom in basic black. I cleaned my chain, wiped off all excess oil, and snapped the loom onto the chain. Once the chain was covered I overlapped the loom and cut off the excess. I kept the old chain guard for added protection.

Amazingly the loom stays on and it's fairly quiet - except for a pleasant clicking sound. After a couple weeks the loom has started to crack but it's still protecting my pants. Perhaps the Biologic version is a bit tougher. I suspect that winter will be a lot rougher on it when the chain may become compacted with snow and allow it to rust even faster. I will experiment until I either find a cheaper knock-off of the porteur chain guard or cave in and by Velo Orange's version. But at the same time I hope the auto loom chain cover takes off as a fashion statement. Perhaps I should buy a lime green version.

Parts Unknown: some photos of the shop

Parts Unknown is closing after 18 years in Kensington Market to make way for a condo development. Martin Reis took some great photos.

People taking a look around at the deals (including Mike the Bike, another "back alley" bike mechanic in Kensington Market).

Stepping into the shop, surrounded by frames and parts.


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