A quarter century of bicycle repair

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Thank you for visiting my blog. You can also find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Davefixesbikes

My work is by appointment only. E-mail me at davidhoffman @ magma . ca  or message me on Facebook to find out when my next available day is.

Servicing bicycles has been my bread-n-butter since 1992 and by now I have tens of thousands of hours of this work behind me.

Look at the table of contents on the left of this page to see old and new entries. They dwell on bicycling, small town movie theatres, solar electricity, social assistance (2-2 May Day) and creating a local safe bicycling map (2-3 SF Bike map).

Living in downtown Ottawa since the mid-1970s, we relocated 70 km southwest to Smiths Falls, still beside the Rideau Canal, in June 2010. We moved because it was time to buy a house and our new town had houses we could afford. So, I got to keep my overhead low. After the green discounts I donate to all customers for furthering the use of a green technology--bicycles--my labour charge is currently $12/hour.  What I charge is based on my thrifty overhead. If you come to feel I'm charging too little (I hear that sometimes), gratuities are graciously accepted! And disclosed on my income taxes. 

Smiths Falls is like an 80-block sampling of many Ottawa neighbourhoods, parts like The Glebe or Nepean, and then parts like out at the edge of town. Only, without the constant traffic and noise. 

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development said in 2014 that  nearly 40 per cent of Canada's population lives in a city where house prices are seriously or severely unaffordable. But we already have a skewed economy. If wage rates kept up with worker efficiency improvements since the 1970s, minimum wage would be around $20 an hour. And, currently, Canadian companies are hoarding over $600 billion in cash, equivalent to about a third of our annual GDP.

Right away, some of my Ottawa clients 'followed' me out here. Some already have reasons to travel this way. Others live close enough not to mind the drive. Frankly, it can take as long to drive from Kanata to Old Ottawa East as it does to drive from Kanata to Smiths Falls during rush hour, but the scenery is much better. 

I seldom provide pick up and delivery to downtown Ottawa but I also know my mechanic future lies around my new town. Smiths Falls had three bike-selling big box stores and one high-end bike shop when we moved here. In 2010 the only local used bike seller sold his stock to an out-of-town buyer, leaving me with an opening to be what most bicycle-owning local families require: an affordable mechanic very familiar with what most of them ride.

The rule of thumb about big box store bikes is that there is a bottleneck at the end of the supply chain. These retailers skimp on assembly and tuning. Most of their new bikes actually still need a tune-up the moment they leave the store. It doesn't take long--under an hour--to get these new mounts to their peak performance, which might not be spectacular but a bike owner still deserves to get the most out of the purchase. I spent a year building bikes in big box stores, first as a subcontractor and then as a contractor. The reason I didn't make better money is because I took more time than I got paid for to do that extra work, even though the pay rate was by the bike, not by the hour. Why? Because I'm a bicycle mechanic. The result? At the last store for which I was the contractor, Zellers at Billings Bridge, the bike return rate dropped from over 10 percent to less than 1 percent.

What holds true about big box store bikes is also true about post-warranty bikes of higher quality. There is a culture of disposability in the bike industry from factory to retailer. Stores are more inclined to tell you to scrap your bike and buy a new one rather than re-invest in replacement parts or even cleaning it off. It takes lots of familiarity with the hardware to know whether or not what you are told is true. 

What I really didn't like about assembling bikes in big box stores is that every day felt like I was on a field trip, away from my workshop. What I didn't like about working in a regular bike shop, which I did afterwards briefly, was the added layer of the bike shop owner between me and my clients. By then I had developed my own agenda and realized my own workshop is where I really belong.

For instance, could I do this anywhere else?

Three 5-speed derailleurs and three caliper brake levers bolted to a crank chain ring, braced with bottle cage straps. A chain is routed through the derailleur pulleys and held in tension by the derailleur pivot springs. An enclosed gear shift cable runs from each derailleur to an adjacent brake lever with the cable end capped to prevent fraying. Medium is chrome steel, steel, plastic and aluminum. That one sold at an Ottawa Arts Council fundraiser back in 2007. I have built and sold a half-dozen more since then, and still have two on hand for sale. 

But I digress. Here are some bikes I put together from discarded and donated parts, which kept them out of the landfill and kept global coal and iron ore in the ground.


This Raleigh started out as a three-speed with rod brakes and chrome steel wheel rims (thanks, Bhat Boy!). I converted it into a single-speed with cable brakes and alloy rim wheels. This also required drilling a hole in the bike frame to add the rear caliper brake.

Here, the 10-speed's handle bars and seat was replaced by BMX bars and a banana seat, creating a Mustang bike. You can still buy 24 x 1 3/8 inch tires for the wheels it uses. There have been 3-speed and more recently 6-speed Mustang bikes but never a dual-derailleur 10-speed one. Banana seats are still being manufactured today.

Another smaller Mustang, this time a 1-speed with coaster brake. The chrome fork came from an adult 10-speed. The original chain ring was replaced with a smaller one, effectively giving the bike a 'lower' gear that limits the top speed but makes it easier to pedal in start-and-stop traffic. I sold it to someone who frequents the Manx Pub on Elgin Street where I would often see it locked up.

Each of these bikes took at least 10 hours to rebuild. That included selecting parts, selecting other parts because the first ones would not fit, cleaning and repair, replacing axles and bearings and nuts and bolts and of course some road-testing.

Moving from Ottawa to Smiths Falls gave me a good reason to cull an accumulation of frames, wheels and parts that I couldn't or didn't want to bring. This is stuff that quite frankly I should have discarded sooner as it wasn't in good shape. I made sure it got recycled, though, by giving it to scrap metal collectors who sell the metal. It must have been a few hundred pounds of steel and aluminum! 

Soon after arriving in Smiths Falls I built another bike for someone in Ottawa. His son had outgrown a bike I built for him a few years earlier and so I transplanted as much as I could from the old frame to a new, taller one. Here's the end result.

I transplanted the old bike's handle bars, stem, seat, wheels, pedal crank and brakes onto this frame. Originally it had slim 23 mm wide road tires but the transplanted wheels have fatter 38 mm commuter tires. I replaced the rear one with a 35 mm tire which fits much better.

By September 2010 I had been sharing business cards in local conversations and sharing my activities locally on Facebook but I ordered an advert in one local weekly newspaper, Smiths Falls This Week.  

If you need a bike serviced or want one built, and if you have questions or comments, contact me at davidhoffman@magma.ca or call me at 613-283-7635. From Ottawa, its a local call. My current rates are $12/hr.