Tuesdays with Dirty: Old skills, new tools

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Yesterday I made my triumphant return to bike shop employment. Just one day a week, part time during the peak season. That’s right, while most of the country is preparing for winter and tuning up their skis, here in the desert, we are gearing up for 8 months of riding.  People have started crawling out of their air conditioned caves this past week, and they have mountain biking on their mind. The shops are slammed and the repairs seem endless.

The idea was simple. My buddy needed some extra help, and I needed a reason to stay in town on my days off. Making some extra beer money on the side doesn’t hurt either. The plan was for me to turn a wrench all day and get the crew ahead of the game for the rest of the week. Knock out all the simple stuff. Change a flat on a Huffy here, tune up a Stumpjumper there, and just keep moving along from open until close.

Now, I have worked in shops either full or part time for about ten years total. But it has been almost 4 years since I have wrenched for a paycheck. There is a certain edge you have when you turn a wrench for a living. There is an instinct and a level of efficiency that make people want to bring their bike to your shop instead doing the work themselves. I soon realized that all of the small things that used to be as involuntarily as breathing now gave me pause. Any edge I may have had in the past is now gone and it took most of a day to start feeling normal again.

Many things have changed since the last time I was behind that bike stand. For starters, the work benches are now all equipped with torque wrenches. There is so much carbon plastic floating around out there that even the best mechanic’s calibrated wrist isn’t good enough. It’s annoying to say the least. Then, for some reason there is a bag of chalk in the corner which is supposedly used for putting titanium seatposts into carbon frames.  The third observation is that everything seems to be tubeless now. While that makes for a nice low pressure and flat free ride, it also makes for about twice the work and triple the mess for something as simple as fixing a broken spoke.

Not everything was negative though. I did stumble upon what might be the greatest tool in the history of modern times. The Park MLP-1


This little gem removes SRAM quicklinks so fast and easy that it almost brought a tear to my eye. In the past I have wrestled with those sons-of-bitches forever, trying to wiggle them apart with my greasy sausage fingers. Normally I would get so fed up that I just grab a chain tool and pop it out the old fashioned way. With this little guy, it takes all of about 1 second. Thanks Park, you guys are a class act.

It was good to be back in the trenches again and I am actually looking forward to the next time. It won’t be next week due to an annual trip to Moab and Fruita, but I’ll let you know how it turns out. Until then, go check out what Angry Buddhist is serving up at  yourbikehatesyou. This site will be extra entertaining if you have ever worked in a shop. If not, then use it as a lesson in what not to do. Make note that somebody has to touch that bike to make it work, so maybe clean it before you bring it in. Always bring a six pack if you need something done in a hurry. And of course remember to always…keep it dirty

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About dirty biker

I am a fan of singletrack, singlespeeds, single women and single malt. Currently in Carbondale, CO Follow on Instagram @dirty_biker

37 Replies to “Tuesdays with Dirty: Old skills, new tools”

  1. Rock on, Garth.

    I totally agree about torque stuff, and also love that tool. Use it every day at work after school and even considered getting my own until I realized I don’t use quicklinks.

  2. Welcome home, dirty. You can never wipe that last smudge of grease your hands; it’s permanent.

  3. Quick-links have brought me to the point of tears many of times. That may be the most brilliant tool ever.

  4. I have no issues with using a torque wrench except when manufacturers make a part and specify a torque for it when there’s no way you are going to be able to fit a torque wrench on the fastener because there’s no room to get the torque wrench in there.

  5. Inspiring post. I will return to full-time wrenching in three weeks when I step out of the Lead Buyer’s role at my cooperative shop. After four years off from wrenching I face many of the same issues as you have. Great to hear that the transition is doable. I look forward to more of your tales from the bench.

  6. DB,
    I work for a bicycle company and most of my wrenches are for threading. I occasionally get to build a bike and let me tell, I was only out of the game for two years and shit changed drastically. Power torque has made it to where I can’t get a bike out of here. I don’t even want to know about hydro brakes and what it takes to bleed them nowadays. I fear having to go back into a shop and wrench. I was just getting used to 10spd campy and 7800. Good luck.

  7. Welcome back to the trenches. Wish you were here this summer…..

    Dunno on torque wrenches, this trained wrist finds them to be more problematic than problem solving. Seen too many bars etc slip at proper torque to think it’s really all that figured out. The auto industry? Sure, they’ve got it nailed. I tend to think most of the torque requirements in the bike industry are generated by corporate lawyers doing a little CYA action…..

    Eff ’em. All my carbon customers are happy, with their faces in tact, not a torque wrench in sight.

  8. Hm, I gotta side with DB on this one— the main reason I take most of my mechanical work to a pro is exactly that: I’m not sure I can hit the torque spec.

    I sold a couple of lasers to a shop that was making parts for Park Tool in St. Paul Minnesota. Damn fine outfit, near as I can tell. They do fetch a pretty penny though, don’t they?

    I rode yesterday, chilly and damp… today I’m running a load of fire wood up to the ski condo. There’s probably snow on the peaks this morning, but of course with the low gray overcast and hammering rain, you can’t see it. The autumn mud season sucks.

  9. I carry a ritchey torque key (actually a rebrand with interchangeable bits) that’s preset to 5Nm. Simplicity. When it clicks, you’re set.

    It gives peace of mind that I’m not gonna crush the composite.

    I need one of those link tools though. I love me some SRAM but their quicklinks can suck my balls. KMCs are no problem, but I tried using an SRAM black link and couldn’t for the life of me get that thing to hook up.

  10. I’ve had good luck with the SRAM quick-links. Never had an issue on my personal bikes, and back in my shop days, I’d say fewer than 1 in 10 ever gave me any amount of trouble and minor at that. I can only ever remember a couple that ever gave me real fits, and that was when they had just come out and I didn’t know the tricks to get them un-done (_light_ squeeze, push straight together. ANY twisting will keep them from opening. The KMC’s I hate. Meh. To each their own…

  11. And yes, torque wrench. Always. With the Finish Line Carbon Fiber Assembly Gel, I’ve yet to see any issues with slip, even slightly below max torque. (although this is just on personal bikes, current shop monkeys might want to weigh in on that…)

  12. porque wrenches are VERY expensive and weightsome. since i’m sure you work in a shop that loans them out to customers since they know how to do it too, you probably find them sitting out by the airchuck a lot. i’m sure this gets you hot-necked, since they are expensive and weightsome to pick up. what i have done to solve this problem is to just chop the long part (with the ball on it) off a nice boundhouse wrench, making it look like a scaled down version of its past heavy self, then you won’t be able to tighten the bolts too hard, and crack your grip tube, and as well customers won’t be leaving expensive wrenches under their hummer2 while they hit the trails for some post real-job shred.

    consider any of my mechanic knowledge yours! i will look forward to the next opportunity to tell more of what i get paid 7.00 per hour to learn! get your wrench (back) on!

  13. That MLP-1 rocks I love it- no more zip-tie, bruised fingers or tears with them quick links

  14. we’re gonna move out west one day so dominic can get a job wrenching. he’s tired of bartending. he’d rather work on bikes – and get paid for it, even if it was shit money – than sling drinks. good on you dirty for helping out your LBS. here in the nati’, everyone who works in bike shops get laid off for the winter. oh how i wanna move west….

  15. Regarding torque wrenches from back in my aviation maintenance days, I have seen way too many torque wrenches that were no near calibration requirements. Brand spank’in new Snap-on, Proto, Mac, etc that did not even meet the mfg calibration standard out of the box. If one elects to find a calibration shop take your wrench in and have it checked. You will be suprised.

  16. Typographical error. SOB. One red circle from the english teacher. “no where near calibration”

  17. I work on bikes out of the basement. Some expensive, some cheap. I did just get a compressor hooked up for the tubeless thang. Just started to use it myself (ten years after “everybody else” was on it). NO verdict yet til I get true tubeless tires on a true tubeless rim. My gehto setup seems to run 50%.

    The edge sure does get dull if you don’t work it all the time, and it sure does feel good to be in the groove.

    Never had any much trouble with the kewik link, although I like good tools.

  18. We do quite a bit of tubeless conversions at my shop, especially with all the CX races going on. They go quick after you do a few. And I also love the quick link tool as well

  19. In my experience (mtb only), a tubeless tire on a tubeless rim is fairly easy. Converting a standard tire and rim to tubeless is a pain to get the bead to seat. I’ve converted my ss to tubeless using the Stan’s rim tape (two layers), but I didn’t get a reliable seal until I put proper tubeless tires on.

    Been out of the shop for 5 years. It would take a lot of work to get the edge back…

  20. my point about the tubeless was that when you have to replace a spoke/nipple you have to break the bead, pop the tire off, get Stans all over you, remove the tape, replace the spoke, then you have to clean the rim, re-tape, re-stans and then blow the tire back on. That’s a lot more work than just taking off a tube and tire, pushing a rim strip aside and getting on with it. and now you are covered with white latex giz…

  21. Timely discussion as I’m just putting new meat on my MTB. Fucking latex all over the place. Figured I’d re-tape too, so clean the rims all nice and start taping only to be at the end of the roll. Now its off to buy new tape if I can find it nearby..

    But the last time I cleaned out the old jiz, I found no fewer than five thorns imbedded in what was a non-leaking tire.

    So there is an upside..

    I’ve been toying with the idea of returning to shop work part time. Employee discounts are real nice and you can learn a hell of a lot.

  22. dirty- You know we are in this boat together. I’m also back after 6(!) years out. People assume I’m the owner because I’m too old to be a shop rat anymore.


    Tubeless is a hassle. Not worth it in my opinion. Belt drive is a pain in the ass “solution” to chains that plain work. CO2 is a lazy/wasteful (racing aside, whiners)way to later wish you had a pump. And it is still and always the next Big Thing…

    People need us, though. We can authoritatively say “Ride your bike. Ride your bike. Ride your bike.” And we need shop pricing.

  23. @reverend— I dunno, I love my CO2 blaster thingie, it’s saved my ass a number of times. Those cheap-ass frame pumps are good for maybe 60 psi— pretty much unrideable, especially for a rear.

  24. Great piece, Dirty. This gem did it for me: “Make note that somebody has to touch that bike to make it work, so maybe clean it before you bring it in.” Sometimes they’re syphillitic and then you need to work on them ;)

  25. @mikey- don’t just love it, love the HELL out of it. But, a frame (not a mini) pump (yes, they are still made! Zefal has some acceptable models. Yay!) that is not cheap-ass works great. And keeps working. Well past 60, and on into the 100s.

    I will also now say: add-on bottle openers are posing. If one cannot (drink shitty canned beer) open one’s bottle on bike parts, one isn’t drinking or riding enough.

  26. Hey dirty, send me what you find….especially when you get that tri bike…you know the one with PISS all over it because they are training for SOMA.


    You pee yourself for a back of the pack finish? AND bring the bike in just like that? That’ll be $200.

    Thanks for the love. Can’t wait to shred this weekend. Perhaps I too will puke, and like Judi, post it.

  27. @rev— seen. You speak truth. I have a Zefal frame pump that does work okay, but frankly, The Trophy Bike is too vain to wear it. She hates to even wear that little saddle bag with the spare tube, patch kit, spoons and CO2 blaster thingie. And canned beer is best on a ride anyway, less weight than glass. I’ll bet a pedal could be used to open a bottle in an emergency. Never tried it, though.

  28. @db— thanks for the sage advice sir, but I didn’t see a single bicycle part in that video. That’s it, I’m gonna grab a bottle of Mirror Pond and try to open it with an SPD pedal.

  29. Opening beers is the only reason I use SPDs on my commuter. If it weren’t for that, I’d ride flat pedals.

    I’m in the market for a torque wrench, but only for working on the plastic bits. But an analytical scale is higher on the list.

  30. @rogbie— word. I’ve been trying for a year to convince the wife she needs a really good kitchen scale… so I can weigh bike parts on it. Especially tars, the manufacturers’ claims seem wildly inconsistent, and lying about your product’s weight to a cycling audience is pretty lame.