Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tipping the wrench?

I can relate to Fat Cyclist's experience in "strange" bike shops, how they make you feel like an idiot after asking a perfectly reasonable question.

As a loyal LBS customer, I've also had the odd transaction Fatty describes, where I paid *more* than the asking price on stuff. Somebody has to make the owner's boat payment, after all. You know that famous Karl Marx quote, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need"? Mike (the LBS owner) assures me he really needs the boat. I guess that makes me a pinko commie.

Something Fatty did not mention: I've actually had bike mechanics who refuse to accept tips from me. That's just weird. Is the practice of paying a gratuity now so rare in bike shops that mechanics don't know what they are? If you're a customer, do you tip your mechanic? If you're a mechanic, does anybody still tip?


sekotsydna said...

Tip the wrench? I had no idea. I've only been riding for a year but the thought never crossed my mind. What is the usual amount? Just a couple of bucks passed in a handshake or 15%?

Anonymous said...

The thought of tipping a mechanic never really occurred to me. After becoming "serious" about cycling a month or so ago, I've been trying to do all my own repairs and have only been paying my LBS for parts.

One somewhat uncomfortable moment was when I went in asking if they had any handlebar plugs (I had just taped my bars for the first time and - long story short - needed a single plug). This shop is known for being pretty easy-going and doing simple repairs or adjustments for no cost, so I didn't expect to pay for a used plug. When the guy handed it to me, I say "This'll work! Thanks!" and started walking. Afterwards, I realized I may have forced the guy into avoiding an awkward situation ("Hey, wait, you have to pay for that!") by just letting me go. I ease my conscience by buying all my tools and parts there.

wrench said...

It just so happens that I wrench for a living. So if I may add some feed back on this topic... Tipping is never expected but always respected. That is to say, when I work on your bike , I am not expecting you to tip me BUT it does mean alot to a wrench when he or she receives a little "thank you". As far as how much to tip, well that's on you. I've been tiped as little as $1.oo and as much as $50.00. I respected both equally. You have to remember that a wrench is a low paying gig. Other than myself, I only know a handful of wrences that are lucky enough to do what they love and make a house payment doing it.
So, If you tip the guy who washed your car, why not tip your friendly neighborhood wrench.
cl wrench4life

Fritz said...

Thanks, all, for the comments. We've all heard the stories of surly mechanics, but I've been lucky enough to know mechanics who go out of their way to be helpful and are pleasant to work with.

I don't tip all the time -- if there's a mechanic who's worked on my bike(s) consistently for a while, I'll slip him (or her) a five or ten dollar bill on occasion.

Arleigh said...

As a professional mechanic for the past 8 years I can tell you tipping is very uncommon. I would say out of the 100 bike builds or repairs that are done maybe 2 come back with a tip, or 6 pack. Normally it's the guy you do favors for or just good guy.

I've been at shops that don't allow it. Maybe they felt they paid enough to not warrant it, or it was bad class but it wasn't allowed.

Personally I have mixed feelings. Yes if I'm doing a favor I want a thank you, but money isn't always needed. A coffee sometimes is better.

Guitar Ted said...

Nuther wrench here. I get the odd tip now and again. Money, coffee, doughnuts, that sort of thing. I don't ever expect it, but I appreciate all of those and more.

I met Carlton (Bike Biz)Reid's father, Al, and he went on a rant about how you should never tip anyone for doing their job. However; he felt that if they went out of their way to help you, over and beyond, that sort of thing- then it was merited. Interesting take, I thought.

I would like to say what I do expect, and that is pleasant people "asking nicely" for what they want. I'm more apt to go way beyond for the nicely put request than I am for a rude, demanding type person. It's the dirty secret of retail that the squeaky wheel gets the (contaminated) grease, late, and with no extras.

I in no way am defending outright poor service, but there are two sides to a dance couple and to know who stepped on who's toes is not always clear at first glance.

Ron said...


Wrenching in place where slow turnaround can ruin someone's vacation, we often get tips. Much of our service is on the spot, or within a few hours, which people aren't accustomed to. They feel like they've gotten exceptional treatment, and we like to think they have.

However, we've agreed upon our own commie system of tip distribution. It all goes in a tip jar, and that goes for shared snacks and beverages. We found that otherwise some wrenches would play to the tips, neglecting the dreary work of tuning rental bikes in favor of schmoozing high-end customers. A smarmy enough wrench can get tipped out like a waiter. The tip jar keeps otherwise rational mechanics from embarrassing themselves over handouts.

Tips are appreciated, and we appreciate the thought behind gifts, especially beer that you brought from somewhere other than here (I live in Utah). However, let me echo that civility and sociability go much further than trying to grease my palm (it's already greasy). The last customer on my service list is the one who tries to bribe his way to the front of the line, on the assumption that I'm tacky and desperate enough to engage in that conspirarcy. Like many mechanics I know, I'm unimpressed by affluence.

Bicycle mechanics aren't paid well, even as the work gets more technical, but we don't have our own, extra-low minimum wage like servers do. So tipping is not expected, but gratitude and kindness are always welcome. If your express those things with cash, that's fine too.
Happy Trails,
Ron Georg

bikesgonewild said...

...never met a shop that didn't appreciate 'sierra nevada' or 'red tail' for after work...

Noah said...

I tip with beer. Usually, it's a sample pack from a local brewery. Some stout, some porter, some ale, some lager, a little something for everyone in the shop.

Did I mention that while some people ask why I bother with my LBS because of slow service, I've never had a speed issue with them? Once, it took 2 weeks go get my bike fixed there, but that was due to a funky cassette I wanted that was back-ordered everywhere.

Fritz said...

I appreciate the feedback from the pro mechanics. Thanks!

I think the shop where mechanics regularly refused my tips must have had the "no tipping" policy.

this one guy (a wrench) said...

HEY you should definitely tip your mechanic...he/she works for very little pay at a job that demands skill and smarts. Your life depends on the quality of his/her work when you are flying down that hill. And no one doesn't like quality beer or green things if you're confused as to the amount.

Jeb said...

Where I'm from tipping is considered, by most, as something annoying americans do (and expect). You only tip if it's a HUGE amount.

However, if your LBS mechanic (or some other type) goes out of their way to achieve an outcome for you, then beer, wine, chocolate or similar is appropriate.

What your LBS really, really wants is Repeat Business. If they are good, let everyone know.

cafiend said...

I almost never get a tip. When I do it's a weird moment, because it reduces me from a professional to something like a bag boy. I certainly don't mind the money, being in a notoriously low-paying business, but I still feel slightly devalued rather than rewarded. Unless it's really hefty. But that's never happened. As I said to one person who asked about tipping, "enough would be too much."

Fritz said...

one guy: -- "green things"?

Cafiend: Interesting perspective, I never thought about it from that angle.

Where I give tips, they also have my repeat business ;-)

Mike1727 said...

and herein lies another example of our two countries seperated by a common language.

Although I tip hotel porters, waiting staff and the occasional cab driver if I'm err...lubricated at Christmas I'd never think to tip anyone else. It's not because I'm stingy, we just don't really have a significant tip culture here.

We have three bike shops locally, I tip my mechanic by repeat business ;+)