A few weeks ago, I walked into Vecchio’s Bike Shop with a six-pack of beer, waved hi to Jim Potter, sitting at one of the service benches, and deposited the suds in the fridge at the back of the shop.
A week or so earlier, I’d come in with two forks; an old Reynolds Ouzo Pro with a tight headset crown race on it that I needed removed and put on a new Pegoretti Falz I’d bought. I didn’t have the special tool required to pull it off, so Jim graciously did the job for me on the spot, and the beer was a belated thank-you.
This act holds with advice Bicycling has offered before in several stories (including, ahem, by yours indeed). We’ve called tipping in beer time-honoured, which it is, provided specific suggestions (Duchesse de Bourgogne), and even alternatives like a fruit basket.
A qualified mea culpa: We were (mostly) wrong.
If you’re going to tip a mechanic, the best thing for the job is what you use to pay for the repair in the first place: straight cash. There are several excellent reasons for this. What if your mechanic doesn’t drink alcohol, for instance?
Find 52 weeks of tips and motivation, with space to fill in your mileage and favourite routes, with the Bicycling Training Journal.
But here’s the most salient one: Bike mechanics are paid mainly like crap. Recent surveys by the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association show that in close to half of the US shops surveyed, the best-paid mechanic on staff makes less than $30,000 a year. And that’s for the best-paid full-time wrench. Many earn less.
The PBMA data closely matches information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says median annual pay for a full-time bike repair technician in 2017, the most recent year for which we have data, was $28,390, or $13.65 an hour. In inflation-adjusted terms (based on Consumer Price Index), mechanics make the same today as 12 years ago, even as prices for big-ticket necessities like housing and healthcare have risen faster than CPI. Compared to the federal minimum wage of $7.25, that $13.65 doesn’t sound bad. But according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, $13.65 an hour is below the threshold to afford a two-bedroom apartment—with enough left over for other living expenses—in all 50 states. By comparison, mass retailer Target will pay a minimum of $15 an hour by the end of next year.