Bike Mechanic Tipping Etiquette for Dummies

02.25.2016 | 7:09 pm

It’s a well-known fact that bike shops are flush with cash, and the people who work in these bike shops have a very similar problem: so much money and time on their hands that they are frequently left at a loss: vacation in France, Italy, Spain, Mallorca, or all of them in turn?

Thus, it is entirely unnecessary to tip people who work at bike shops. They’re doing just fine. Pretty much like servers and other restaurant workers: hey, they’re getting paid.

The New Basic Rule

I should probably make it clear at this point that I don’t work at a bike shop. I’ve never worked at a bike shop. I’ve never even worked at any job where I get tips (though now that I think about it, I should totally have a tip jar in this blog).

So I’m probably about the worst person in the world to be writing this post. But that’s been true of pretty much everything I’ve ever written about bicycles, and it’s never stopped me before.

Weirdly, if you go to the Internet, people seem to think the idea of tipping your bike mechanic is odd at best, usually unneccessary, and definitely not expected. Something you do maybe when a mechanic goes above and beyond

This is, quite simply, both horrible and stupid.

The accepted common wisdom, it seems to me, is that if your mechanic does a good job, they get nothing. If they do an amazing job, a miraculous job, you give them some beer.

The common wisdom notes that bike shop mechanics are happy to receive the beer. I would assert that the mechanics are simply being polite, in the same way that anytime anyone gives you anything, you act happy to receive it.

Here’s an interesting fact you may not have considered, however: rent, groceries, and utilities cannot be bartered for beer. 

As it turns out, beer is not as much of a fungible as some of us think.

You may be even more interested to discover this surprising fact: if a mechanic would like a beer, they can obtain a beer…with money.

Thus — and I’m just throwing this out here — unless you have a specific understanding of your mechanic’s wants and needs (for example, if you know for a fact that a mechanic loves burritos from Mountain West Burritos and is going to be working through lunch on your bike, and has furthermore asked you to buy her a burrito), how about tipping your mechanic using this clever sing-a-long algorithm I’ve developed (and also use for tipping food servers):

Round it, double it, drop a digit.

For example, if you’re getting a $53 tune-up, round it to the nearest ten to $50, double it to $100, and then drop the final digit. Ta-da: $10, and easy to do in your head.

And yes, for those of you who like to do real math, I’m simply advocating a twenty-ish percent tip. That extra five percent (more than 15% I mean) makes the number easier to figure out, won’t hurt you financially, and will help the person who’s working for you.

Naturally, you’re going to need to apply some intelligence here. Like, suppose you’re buying a $5000 bike and are having it built up. Am I really suggesting you tip $1000 here?

No, I am not.

What I’m suggesting is that you find out how much the bike shop charges for a bike build (in Utah, that’s around $150-$250), and tip 20% on that. $30-$50. Tip 20% on the labor. That’s not so much, and it feels fair to both you and the mechanic, since the work the mechanic is doing doesn’t vary hugely based on the selling price of the bike.

Repeat after me: Round it, double it, drop a digit.

Special Cases

So, that’s that. Tip 20%. Simple. I’m not sure how I stretched that into so many words, but that can be said of about 88% of my posts.

But there are times when 20% is not enough. When you need to step up and tip exorbitantly. For example:

The Tire of 1000 Thorns: If you rode your bike through a field of goatheads, then bring your bike to the bike shop to fix the flat, you should tip $0.25 per thorn removed. If you do the math and it makes more sense to just buy a new tire…buy a new tire. I’m guessing your mechanic will be grateful.

Build Salvaging: So you just built a wheel. Awesome. Except the tension on the spokes won’t balance out. And for some stupid reason, it just won’t true.

You know what you should do? You should take it to your mechanic. And then pay a 30% tip over the charge of a complete wheel build, because there is no way it isn’t going to take longer to fix your build than it would to build it in the first place. 

And if you stand around and ask questions and try to justify how you messed this wheel up so badly, you need to up that tip to 50%.

Divining Rod Diagnosis: If you provide only a vague idea of what’s wrong when you leave your bike with the mechanic (“There’s a weird scratchy clunky sound coming from from the crankset, but it might be the seatpost, or the headset,”) you put your mechanic in the position of needing to figure out not only how to fix your bike, but also what needs fixing, and probably under what circumstances the problem even occurs.

The proper tip for this kind of detective work is one dollar for every minute spent trying to make sense of the strange sounds you made. And if it turns out that the problem was in an area of the bike other than where you said it would be, tack on an additional $5.00. A “misguided guidance” penalty, if you will.

Beyond the Call of Duty Repair: If your mechanic discovers a serious problem with your bike and corrects it before things go all pear-shaped on you, thereby preventing a walk of shame or death, add $20 to the tip. Which is a ridiculously cheap price to pay for avoiding a walk of shame or faceplant, when you think about it.

Emergency Stand-Swap Repair: If you arrive in a bike shop with need for emergency repairs, managing to get the mechanic to take another bike out of the stand and replace it with yours, it’s your responsibility to pay the tip for both your work and the work being done on the bike you just supplanted. Because you know the other person’s going to be mad and not leave a tip when they get to the shop in twenty minutes and find their bike isn’t done.

“One More Thing” Repair: When you get to the shop to pick up your completed bike and then remember something else you need done, tip triple. That will help your memory improve next time.

Naturally, none of this is necessary, because bike mechanics are already ridiculously well-paid for their experience and ability. Still, I guess you could use it as a guide to tipping bike shop mechanics.

You know, if you feel like making these one-percenters even more ridiculously rich. 



  1. Comment by Jim Tolar | 02.25.2016 | 7:27 pm


    This is an excellent post. I will bookmark it a consult it every time I take my bike in to the shop.


  2. Comment by rb | 02.25.2016 | 7:38 pm

    Fantastic post. I am a beer/food tipper. Or I should say I was, until now.

    Corollary to the fact that all these folks with greasy hands are 1%ers…

    THEY HOLD YOUR LIFE IN THEIR HANDS! Seriously. Those screws, stops, pads, and nipples they tune so carefully KEEP YOU ALIVE when you’re trying to navigate a downhill trail, or say, STOP before getting run over by a car.

    They should absolutely be tipped, and never bargained with. Sure, ask for their advice on where to get the best deal, or if the Brand A is a better buy than brand B…but bargaining on work is a strict No No.

    Also be nice to race directors.

    rant over.

  3. Comment by RunningBehind | 02.25.2016 | 8:38 pm

    Here’s my question:

    Why is the act of navigating the bike shop / customer relationship so complicated in the first place?

    I love my local bike shop, but dread every time I need to go there to ask a question or have something fixed.

    This is a fantastic question. I’m not sure I know the answer definitively, but will try to sorta-kinda address it in a future post. – FC

  4. Comment by DanO | 02.25.2016 | 9:57 pm

    Thank you Fatty! Any thought about the big bike shop where you may not know who did the work? Do you ask the person to give the tip to them? I have been a beer tipper to date.

    When I’m at a larger shop (rarely, since I stick to a couple of shops and know people at them), I’ve found that saying, “Hey, can you make sure the guy who worked on this gets this ten-spot?” gets a “Sure thing.” There’s no way for me to know for sure it worked, but I’ve done what I can. – FC

  5. Comment by miles archer | 02.26.2016 | 9:29 am

    Not something I’ve ever even considered before.

    I have the same thought as DanO

    I guess the best thing to do is hand some cash to the person who gives me my bike back and expect they’ll pass it to the actual mechanic.

    I loved the little shop that I used to go to where the owner was one of the mechanics, but he closed his shop down.

  6. Comment by Twenty Sixer | 02.26.2016 | 9:34 am

    … or just bloody learn how to fix things properly yourself. Imho if someone can’t fix a bike that same someone should not be riding that bike. Period.

    Do you eat things? Do you use plumbing or software or the Internet or electricity or furniture other people design, build and repair? – FC

  7. Comment by Mike Reynolds | 02.26.2016 | 10:16 am

    “If you can’t fix your bike you shouldn’t be riding that bike” says someone above. Okay, hand your car back to the dealership and get the heating and/or air conditioning taken out of your house. And go and craft you own paper pen an ink because you clearly have no right to use the computer you posted that comment with

    I am a bit mechanic an I take pride in my work, I get paid maybe 30% less than my skill an experience would get me in some other line o work but, as I said, I take pride on it an I log it.
    I don’t drink alcohol. I’ve been given it an I’ve said thanks an filed it down the drain or given it away to someone else.

  8. Comment by Mike Reynolds | 02.26.2016 | 10:17 am

    One thing with computers. I need to check the autocorrect before hitting submit.

  9. Comment by GenghisKhan | 02.26.2016 | 10:45 am

    @ Mike Reynolds, re. auto correct, seems like something you should fix… :o)

  10. Comment by Former Mechanic | 02.26.2016 | 12:16 pm

    I worked as a mechanic for several years in a DC shop where many customers were very well-off. The shop is consistently recognized as an excellent shop and the mechanics did great work, but tips were not the norm and certainly were not expected the way a server/bartender would expect a tip.

    In our shop at least we loved getting tipped with beer, but the only people that did it were the ones that knew us/we knew them, and they knew we were beer drinkers. Those same people would stop by from time to time just to drop off a six-pack of a beer they knew we liked, or they thought we should try. I can promise you this: whenever they came in with their bikes, everything else was put on hold to help them out and small to medium fixes were usually done for free.

    I don’t think the majority of mechanics expect tips, but they remember those who do tip. The two things I would say definitely deserve a generous tip are wheel builds and any time a mechanic drops what they’re doing to help you then and there.

    Get to know your mechanic(s) well and they’ll treat your bikes like their own, rather than another task to get through.

  11. Comment by Arizona Guy | 02.26.2016 | 1:20 pm

    I’m a gray(ish) haired rider who brings in my carbon bikes now and then for service ( I do most basic work myself ). While I’m far from a 1%, I figure i have more scratch in my pocket than the bike messengers, students and clueless casual riders who make up most of the service base.

    I flip at least $10 and usually $20 to anybody who works on my bikes… sort of a social obligation.

    Funny thing is – I think I save money because the wrenches know me and I get a lot of tickets with smaller bills than I expect for some reason…

    I have experienced a similar phenomenon. – FC

  12. Comment by spaceyace | 02.26.2016 | 1:29 pm

    “Pretty much like servers and other restaurant workers: hey, they’re getting paid.”
    No. Servers are paid a minimum wage of $2.13, while employers of bike mechanics would be required to pay at least the regular federal minimum wage. Not to say that minimum wage is a living wage or that tipping your mechanic is a bad idea…but it’s not the same thing.
    To echo RunningBehind, would love to see another post about how to navigate your LBS. Frankly, I’ve been treated poorly or indifferently at a few and have consequently decided to learn a lot about bike mech on my own. If I’ve broken some unspoken rule, would like to know what it is.

    Here, “pretty much like…” does not mean “just like.” – FC

  13. Comment by Fred | 02.26.2016 | 1:36 pm

    Interesting. I live in a tourist town which basically lives off of tips, and I never heard of tipping the mechanic before. At least not in cash. Of course I have heard of tipping in beer. We are not Luddites.

    I used to be of the persuasion that the only acceptable time to take your bike into the shop was for work on the headset or bottom bracket. You should be able to do everything else yourself.

    Nowadays, bikes have gotten sooo sophisticated, with such tight clearances, and often requiring special tools, that I am embarrassed about how little I can still do myself.

    That having been said, if you have to take your bike in so that the mechanic can turn the barrel adjuster on your rear derailleur 1/8 of a turn, you should have to tip $100.00.

  14. Comment by Kelly I | 02.26.2016 | 2:25 pm

    I am among those who dread needing bike shop service. I’m a serious rider who puts in serious miles. My bike is very important to me. Unfortunately, I’m a female who rides a recumbent. Two strikes against me when entering an unknown shop.

    I drive 10 hours round trip twice a year to a friendly shop owner who understands. That’s desperate.

    I practically grovel if forced to use a local shop. Short version of a long story is a LBS installed a new fork for me, installing the headset races upside down. Yes, I could tell immediately. It took three return trips before the owner dismantled the headset and corrected the problem. Would that have happened if a man riding a diamond frame bike needed a new fork installed? Would he have gotten the run around?

    Staying on topic, yes, I tip. Perhaps too much because I’m busy kowtowing anyone who will work with me.

  15. Comment by Evan | 02.26.2016 | 4:41 pm

    Great post. This is the type that those that don’t do it, stop and say “Huh, never thought of that (face palm). Glad someone pointed this out.”

    (Hard to type with a palm in my face.)

  16. Comment by Sean | 02.28.2016 | 10:36 am

    Seems like an asinine concept. I don’t tip my car mechanic, I shouldn’t tip a bike mechanic. I’m paying (usually significantly) for a skilled service that they are being fairly compensated for. There’s no need for me to pay 20% extra for a chain change, just as you wouldn’t suggest I pay 20% more for an alignment on my car.

    If they do something above and beyond what I paid them to do, then they get a tip. That’s easy.

  17. Comment by den | 02.28.2016 | 12:57 pm

    Tipping is absolutely bad for everyone, for one simple reason – noone is showing tip income in their tax declaration.

  18. Comment by Bertram | 02.28.2016 | 1:07 pm

    You Americans are strange. Do you also tip your lawyer, your banker and your police officers? How about paying the mechanic (or any worker) a hourly wage he can live from?

  19. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 02.28.2016 | 6:48 pm

    Getting to this late in the discussion…

    I’ve supported my LBS by buying (so far) 4 pretty high end bikes, lots of accessories and consumables, etc. My community is small, and yet the turnover in the guys I see in the back room wrenching is high, and I’m not in there enough to get a rapport going. I pay the price they ask, no arguments, but don’t tip on routine work.

    I can think of a few times they adjusted a derailleur for free, or fixed one of my screwups where it would have been appropriate to tip, and will do so in the future. Good thoughts!

  20. Comment by leroy | 02.28.2016 | 11:24 pm

    Bertram – I agree we Americans are strange. Someday, we may sort things out. Some days, I am more optimistic than others. But until we figure things out on a macro level, tipping your mechanic, although imperfect, is a good idea. Just my two cents.

  21. Comment by AKChick | 02.29.2016 | 11:26 am

    You know, I would have to echo some of the other posters on the LBS phenomenon that staff can be rather unfriendly or maybe cool might be a better term.

    There is one LBS in my town that I really don’t like going to because I don’t know if I’ll get the friendly guy or the guy who looks at me and makes a snap judgment since I do not look like a regular cyclist, i.e., I’m not rail thin. Usually, the unfriendly folks are men. I am a woman. Coincidence?

    My favorite shop doesn’t have the hotshot mechanics, but its the customer service far outweighs the other shop. Guess where I usually go and where I’ve bought three of my four bikes? Yeah, their mechanics don’t see many high end road bikes, but they will talk to you like a normal person, and I have never felt like they were talking down to me. The nice shop also has two very, very experienced women cyclists who work there – both are warm, friendly and will spend a ton of time with you.

    So I feel like the unfriendly shops usually have younger men working at them (not always though) who think they are God’s gift to cycling. How do you address that? I’m not sure.

    Also, I had NO clue about tipping bike mechanics. I feel terrible! I will remember to do that the next time I take one of my bikes in.

    We had the first annual Fat Bike Expo and Ride last Saturday in Anchorage. It was pretty awesome. :) It was also some of the iciest conditions I’ve ever seen. Crazy weather right now. We should be in the teens and lower, but we’ve been in the upper 30’s and 40’s. Climate change sucks.

  22. Comment by santiago | 02.29.2016 | 12:31 pm

    I worked as a bike mechanic in Argentina and never got a tip, except for a few emergency repairs. Do you in USA tip any employed worker?

  23. Comment by LT | 02.29.2016 | 1:11 pm

    I believe in trying to have the same tech always work on my bike. If that tech leaves I bluntly ask who he would trust to wrench on his personal equipment.

    I don’t tip my tech in cash, but when we ride bikes together, drinks and food is always on me. Sometimes I bring him back cool swag from bike adventures. For major repairs/wheel builds I get him a 6 of good beer. For a full custom build it is a bottle of scotch. Randomly I will swing by the shop and drop off a 12 pack to load up the shop fridge.

    Basically I try to treat them like a friend doing me a favor.

  24. Comment by Barry | 02.29.2016 | 3:32 pm

    Tipping in any profession IS weird.

    Maybe bike shops should just charge customers what is needed to pay employees a livable wage. If a shop owner can’t make a living without paying his employees adequately, they shouldn’t be running a business.

  25. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate NY) | 03.1.2016 | 10:44 am

    One important case you left out. The emergency “it broke right before a race and I need it now or I can’t race” case.

    This is also a true test of how service oriented your mechanic is.

  26. Comment by Barry | 03.1.2016 | 3:17 pm

    …and if your father is a multimillionaire you can just work the night shift.

  27. Comment by Dan | 03.5.2016 | 4:44 am

    I disagree with tipping for anything other than the “above and beyond” tier of service. I don’t like the idea that a 20 percent tip over and above the shop labor charge becomes the norm and then, if I don’t tip, I’m seen as a cheap dirtbag. I don’t want to have to always factor in the cost of the tip over and above the listed/quoted price. The restaurant industry in the US has already painted themselves into this corner. Charge me the appropriate labor rate for the technical complexity, skills and time required for the work that I’m having done and pay the mechanic an appropriate wage for his/her time, training, technical skills, and contribution. DO NOT try to make a tip on top of that the norm where if I don’t tip that I’m ripping off the mechanic.

  28. Comment by Ez | 03.8.2016 | 12:35 am

    And clean your bike b4 you drop it off. Don’t come fresh from the trail with a covered in mud bike asking to fix this or that.

    A good point! – FC

  29. Comment by L'Hippo | 03.12.2016 | 9:54 am

    Why embroil another commercial transaction with some sort of gratuity? We have too many of those now. I think that doing a good job is to be expected. If they do a great job, or a poor job, tell them and/or their boss and let them handle the instant bonus/variable compensation.

    Because they’re skilled workers, doing something we need to have done. But they’re getting paid far too little, working for people who can’t afford to pay them more. If we don’t help, they won’t get helped. There’s no “embroiling;” this isn’t a complicated, fraught transaction. It’s doing a little thing to improve the life of someone who has improved yours. – FC

  30. Comment by Barry | 03.14.2016 | 1:17 pm

    Essentially, this article is asking individuals to compensate for a broken geopolitical-political economic system.

    The mechanics don’t make much money for a valuable skill. Many bicycle shops are struggling. What about the factory workers actually making bicycles, components, etc.? So who is making money in the bicycle industry?

    How about thinking about solutions to the underlying problems?

    I agree, but — and I am not kidding here — I’m a pretty small thinker, and recognize that I’m best at small solutions. This is what I can do while I hope for big thinkers (like you maybe) to do the heavy mental lifting. When a big thinker comes up with a far-reaching and permanent solution, I’ll be happy to get behind that solution and make some noise about supporting it. Meanwhile, I think helping the guys who do a good job for not enough money right now is better than doing nothing. – FC

  31. Comment by Barry | 03.14.2016 | 1:32 pm

    The reality is that most people only look after their own economic situation.

    That may be true for the world in general, but it’s not true here. Look at how much good Friends of Fatty have done, how much they’ve donated, for good causes. Around here, I think we’re practical idealists. – FC

  32. Comment by Barry | 03.15.2016 | 1:08 pm

    I appreciate that you are offering a solution for an immediate need. It is just that I don’t believe it will stop the bleeding, but it may slow the bleeding. It is part of “game theory”.

    The mechanics mostly don’t have control of their work environment. They don’t determine what bikes and products are sold. They don’t make repair policy and so on. They have to live with decisions made by the shop owner, including how much they are paid. It is some what demeaning to have to relay on tips because you can not negotiate a fair price directly with the customer.

    Perhaps in more established cycling areas, clubs could help fund cycling co-ops. Help a group of mechanics develop business skills and provide capital. There are a lot of details, but it could be done. People would have to really be able to cooperate with each other.

    What do the mechanics have to say about a long term solution?


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