Who fixed YOUR bicycle?

Who fixed YOUR bicycle?One of my Hydraulics Pro Club members from the UK, Albin Draper sent me this little gem recently:

“I’ve had an apprentice Hydraulic Tech for nearly a year now. Unfortunately I had no part in his selection. Should I have been afforded this, my first question would have been: “Who repaired your bicycle?” I did in fact ask him this after having him for two months. His reply: nobody. Parents dumped it and bought a new one! Had I heard this answer at the interview stage, he would have been rejected.” 

‘Who repaired your bicycle?’ is a great qualifying question for this type of position-on a number of levels. It goes to mechanical aptitude for sure. But it also goes deeper. As in this case, the candidate’s answer reveals level of interest, or rather disinterest, in a machine of sorts, and behavioral conditioning to ‘pluck and chuck’ rather than salvage and repair. Two things that may be hard or even impossible to change, depending on the personality. And not a great starting point for any type of mechanical technician.

But it’s not entirely this young man’s fault. Those of us in the west live in a throw away society these days. Made possible by the rise and rise of cheap manufacturing, mainly out of China. When I was a kid, a kid’s bike was relatively expensive. If it broke you weren’t getting a new one in a hurry. So you either walked or figured out how to fix it. Meaning you had an incentive to become a bike mechanic. Not so these days; kid’s bikes are as cheap as chips. And this of course skews the economics of repair versus replacement.

With advances in manufacturing technology (not just cheap manufacturing) this has pervaded the hydraulics biz too. Particularly in the smaller, low-tech end of the market. Aluminium gear pumps have been a throw away item for years. Monoblock directional valves, agricultural cylinders, even the gerotor motor are all a ‘part-changer’s’ dream these days. And this is actually a good thing. Because it has expanded the market.

When I think back to the evolution of the combine harvesters my father owned, in the ’70’s the only hydraulics on them was to raise and lower the front. Then in the ’80’s hydrostatic transmissions for the ground drive hit the scene in a big way-but all the other rotary drives remained belts and chains. Now, any farmer or contractor who owns a modern, $250K combine harvester should also be invested in Insider Secrets to Hydraulics, Preventing Hydraulic Failures and The Hydraulic Troubleshooting Handbook

Cheap bikes and relatively cheap hydraulics are both good for the skilled hydraulics pro. Cheap hydraulics means the pie gets bigger. And cheap bikes means the supply of us is somewhat handicapped. Frustrating if you’re trying to find a good young lad to employ though!

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