In my last post, I talked with some of my favorite mechanics about finding the right motorcycle mechanic for you — specifically, what to look for when you’re meeting a mechanic for the first time.
From that discussion, it became clear that being a “good” mechanic is really less about the mechanic’s knowledge (though that is important), and more about the quality of the relationship between the mechanic and you, the customer. If you don’t understand each other, communicate well or respect each other, it’s likely you’ll run into problems.
Not to mention, I always feel somewhat awkward when I’m working with mechanics. I’m always unsure about protocol, such as exactly how many times in a week it’s okay to call for an update… 😉
So, in this post, we’ll bring my mechanic friends back to talk about what YOU can do to be your mechanic’s favorite customer.
In case you didn’t read the first post (though you really should!), here are the awesome mechanics I reached out to for advice:
What kind of customer do you love to work with?
Starting off on a positive note, I asked the mechanics what kind of customer they liked to work with. For Joe and Jeff, the best customers recognize and respect their expertise:
A customer who understands that good quality work isn’t fast or cheap. We’ve spent many years learning our crafts. so customers who know and respect that are a pleasure to work with.
Sofi answered that she likes to work with customers that are passionate and who she has a personal connection with, but “there are many qualities I have loved over the years from different customers. It’s quicker to say what I don’t like!”
I love it when I see passion from them, whether they are newbies eager to learn or experts who I can learn from. I love it when they give me a hug and we talk about life before we even start on their bike, because they are more of a friend than a customer.
Kevin also said he likes to see passion from his customers, but passion without funding can make a relationship turn sour quickly.
The ones that are enthusiastic and positive and have money. I know that sounds greedy, but there is really nothing worse than when you get a customer and they have all these great ideas, or just need basic repairs even, but don’t have the budget to pull it off. It leads to cutting corners, and cutting corners causes problems.
At this point if it’s bad enough I’ll tell them to go somewhere else. I know that sounds mean, and I really do try and work with them (like hold the bike while they save up, payment plans, etc.) but the job is worth doing the right way or not at all. When I’ve worked at shops who do this in the past, it always comes back on us.
What’s the number one thing a customer can do to piss you off?
How could I not ask?!? This was one of my burning questions, since the last thing I want to do when I find a mechanic I like is to frustrate them. Thankfully, everything on the list seems pretty avoidable…
Sofi said that the number one thing a customer can do to frustrate her is expecting work to be done for free:
It sucks when you give a price for a specific job, but after the work is started the customer keeps adding more things and expects it to be the same price you quoted. I don’t work for free. Unless I want to… Editor’s note: For charity builds, etc. 😉
Constantly asking for updates is Joe and Jeff’s pet peeve:
The occasional call to check in is fine, but give us a little space to do the job right.
And Kevin’s number one frustration is when people don’t trust him to do his job:
I don’t like pushy customers. I don’t mind being told, ‘can you just handle this’— that actually makes my life a lot easier — but more along the lines of customers who come at me and say things like, ‘Well, my friend said it’s done like this,’ or, ‘I watched this video about such and such…’ It can be overwhelming.
I don’t mind input and questions, but please let me do my job and trust me. If I have questions I will ask, and if I need to watch a video, I’ll most likely be able to find it myself.
Kevin also added that customers who don’t pay their bill on time or leave their bikes in his shop for weeks without paying for storage also grind his gears.
What kinds of maintenance do you think most riders should do themselves?
One topic I was really interested in getting a mechanic’s opinion about was at-home motorcycle maintenance. After all, if you do most of your maintenance at home, aren’t you undercutting your mechanic, in a way? Turns out, that’s not what my mechanic friends thought at all.
Sofi and the Second Gear guys both listed some basic maintenance that they thought riders should do, such as oil and filter changes, adjusting your chain, checking your fluids, and checking your tires.
They also agreed that more advanced basics are great too, “if you have tools, time and space,” said Joe and Jeff.
They considered “advanced basics” to include changing brake pads, lubing/adjusting cables, cleaning your carbs, changing your chain and sprockets, and changing light bulbs.
“All these normal wear items are pretty simple, but a shop will charge you $100/hr for it,” said Sofi.
“It’s really not hard to do with a few basic tools and the owners manual,” said Joe and Jeff. “Everything that needs to be done can be found step by step on YouTube or in a forum.”
Kevin, however, had a gentle reminder to not get in over your head:
The most important thing is that if you do not feel comfortable with it, don’t do it,” he said. “This old timer once told me the worst person that works on his own rig is ‘the guy who knows just enough to screw something up bad.’
So, if you do work on your own bike, be sure to take it at your own pace, and if you do want to do something that you’re not comfortable with, be sure to do your research, consult a mentor, or, even better, attend a garage night that covers what you’d like to accomplish.
What’s the one thing you wish your customers knew about your job?
I really loved the answers I got from this question. I know that personally I daydream about being a mechanic and working with engine grease all day, but responses to this question helped remind me that all labor is hard labor — even when you love it.
Kevin spoke right to the heart of this:
There is a lot of romance out there surrounding bikes and whatnot these days, but I assure you that on a day-to-day basis I have to work on bikes that I’m not totally in love with, or do jobs that downright suck. They are dirty, painful and frustrating. Remember, I don’t get the bikes that are pretty and run great.
Joe and Jeff agreed that it’s not all a modern craftsman fairytale:
It’s not as easy at it looks. Most of the work is invisible to the customer and a lot of that work, especially on vintage bikes, is research and computer time. Finding obscure parts or interchangeable items for discontinued parts takes a lot of time that we don’t usually charge for. Think of that before you complain about the bill.
And, speaking of bills, don’t assume that your mechanic is making great money. Sofi said, “I don’t make good money — I have three jobs. I do this because I enjoy the challenge, the community and their company.”
And Kevin agreed. “If I did this because I wanted to make money, I would literally be doing anything else,” he said. “I do it because I want to help people, I’m good at it, and I’m ok with just having a modest life because it makes me happy.”
What can customers do to make your life easier?
For my final question, I wanted to give the mechanics an opportunity to call out any aspect of the mechanic-customer relationship that I had missed.
Jeff and Joe, however, had a fairly simple request:
Don’t ever say ‘This should be easy for you.’ That’s the kiss of death. It usually means the customer doesn’t know anything about bikes or whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Please don’t say that.
This is great advice, not only for working with a mechanic but for working with anyone whose field you don’t have experience with. Never assume that a task is going to be easy unless you’ve done it yourself. But even then, when it comes to motorcycles, don’t jinx it 😉
Sofi also had a simple request: to listen to your mechanic when it comes to timelines. “Trust us when we say how long it’s going to take,” she said. “We never know what we are getting into until we get it apart.”
Kevin’s advice, though, was more philosophical, and a great way to end this post:
I’m not your enemy. Often people see their mechanic as someone standing across from them with their bike in the middle, the bike is the problem. But it’s not something between us. We are standing side by side, and the bike is a problem that we have to approach together. Work in tangent with me and things will go way smoother.
Be patient, pay your bill on time, don’t be pushy, pick up your bike when it’s done. Don’t make your responsibility my responsibility. I’m here to help you, and sometimes that can be a financial strain, but remember that we are on the same team. I want to eat and you want your bike fixed. Let’s figure out what we can do to make that happen.
I don’t think there’s much else to say.
Of course, the advice I’ve shared with you in this post (and the previous one) is only from three mechanics and one customer. Many people will find that it resonates with them, but others might not.
And that’s okay — what I’ve learned from these conversations is that working with a mechanic is a relationship, and different people have different ways of being in relationships. Just make sure you find a relationship you are happy with, and the rest will take care of itself.
Ride safe friends! And as always, feel free to share your thoughts and questions with me in the comments, or by giving me a shout at Ask Ridewell.
Again, many thanks to Joe and Jeff, Sofi, and Kevin for sharing their thoughts! If you’d like to get in touch with them or find out more about their work, here’s the links: