From the Bike Shop: Your bike is terminal.

Having a full frame shop in the back of the retail shop, it’s pretty common for us to get referrals for frame repairs. Even though I don’t work in the frame shop often, I have become pretty adept at some tasks. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish with a rubber mallet, a cheater bar, and a few fixtures to hold a frame. These are often jobs that I don’t allow a customer to see, since I like to have proper concentration when applying controlled violence. There are other people who handle welding and brazing.

One has to be careful when quoting estimates, because these jobs eat up labour hours. Sometimes I have to tell a customer straight to their face that repairing their old frame will exceed the cost of replacement several times over, which is a concept that some people find hard to accept.

Sometimes we get jobs that seem easy to the layperson, such that the customer is incredulous at a quote even though 2 other shops wouldn’t touch it (or, touched it and made the situation worse). A stuck seat post or stem can be bad news. At the extremes, we’ve had to melt them out of the frame, which means a repaint too.

One thing that ends up at the shop fairly frequently are badly twisted rear derailleur hangers. Lightly damaged hangers can be fixed with an alignment tool in 5min; for aluminium and carbon framesets, the hanger is usually modular and replaceable. So it’s the customers with really eff’ed up steel frames that call us. The customer comes in with the derailleur twisted into the spokes, the hanger pulled back like a pulltab on a pop can. Actually, I’m pretty good at these jobs now after watching Bill Davidson’s technique a couple times. I don’t know why, but more than half of the steel frames that needed the special treatment have been Lemonds. Since my shop doesn’t sell Lemond, that means that all those were referrals from other shops. Either the metal in Lemond dropouts is overly soft, or there’s a bike assembler out there who needs to pay more attention to the derailleur limit screws.

Today I spent 90min carefully removing the bottle bosses from a carbon Colnago with a Dremel tool. As typical for carbon and aluminium frames, the bolts for the water bottle cages thread into rivnut sunk into holes bored into the frame tube. On occasion, these rivnuts will work their way loose and just rotate freely in the frame. Sometimes you can tighten them up with a rivnut installation tool (and few shops have one); then sometimes like today you have to remove the original rivnut so you can put new ones in. Between my time and the time it took Bill to prep the bike afterwards and install new rivnuts with a little epoxy for good measure, there are almost 3hrs of work invested. When dealing with carbon tubes, you can’t rush things because of the risk of damaging the composite laminate. Based on that, that job should be no less than $250. In the case of a $6000 premium road bike, that makes sense, but it takes the same amount of skill, tooling, and time to fix a Trek 2200 that some random guy got as a bargain off of Craigslist.

Occasionally there’s the customer who thinks the quoted estimate is some price-gouging scam. Well, I suppose if the customer doesn’t like my quote for a shifter overhaul, he’ll probably go for a second opinion at another shop who’ll give similar price. Human nature being what it is, that customer isn’t going to back to my shop if he’s already at that other store. Why make 3 trips when you’ve already made two? But for frame repair, as I mentioned, we are usually the last stop for difficult fixes. In which case, it’s not uncommon for someone to bring a bike back after having shopped the job all around town. But don’t worry, we’re not gonna make a fortune on frame repairs, since every repair is unique and often time-consuming. We like helping people, but there’s more money in building new frames than fixing old ones. Because fixing is more difficult. In fact, a lot of old school frame builders honed their skills at repairs first.

Another interesting story concerns a mail order titanium bike that had a small crack at the seat tube/top tube weld. The customer was sure we could just zip it up with a quick weld in a jiffy. Now titanium is a tricky material, and Bill tried to make it clear that such a repair, done right, was neither cheap nor quick. The customer listened, but it was like he was sure we were making mountains out of molehills. He just sort of nodded that he understood and declined to have us make the repair, which was fine because as I said, it’s hard to charge enough to really make repairs profitable. But then a few months later, the customer brought the bike back, saying that he was ready for us to do the repair. As I wrote out the work order, I looked at the bike and then did a double-take. Turning back to the customer, I asked if the quote that he had been given was before or after he had tried to fix the problem himself.

He had apparently tried to halt the spread of the fracture with epoxy slathered across the weld. When that hadn’t worked, he added a strip of steel about ¾” wide by 1/16” thick, bent it to fit the angle between the top tube and seat tube, and then secured it in place with two hose-clamps. By this time, the weld had spread across the top half of the weld, clearly invading portions of the seat tube towards the seat stays. As a mechanic and not a member of the frame shop proper, I don’t get the final word on those repairs, but I knew that the crack had gone beyond a difficult repair. It was what I call a frame-killer.

Your bike is terminally ill; I am sorry for your loss.

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