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How much to fix your bike? - Why I can't tell you without seeing it

Paul - 14th February 2015

How much to fix your bike? - Why I can't tell you over the phone without seeing it.

The Scenario

It's a phone call we've all taken here in the workshop - "there's… something wrong with my gears, there's a clunk/click when I pedal/freewheel, there's a rubbing sound coming from somewhere, there's a problem with my brakes, I get this strange vibration/sensation when I'm riding(?)". Followed by - "How much will it cost to fix?"

Now we all have our own subtle differences in how we respond to these calls, but the answer is essentially the same.

'We need to see the bike, to assess what it needs and so what it will cost'

Now, many people are very understanding of this, but it must be said that some are not. In fact far from it. Sometimes this answer leads to a fairly exasperated response from the caller as they feel we are being difficult, unhelpful or just simply obstinate. Nothing could be further from the truth though, it's just that years of experience have taught us that trying to provide estimates over the phone, without seeing the bike, is a fools errand.

So here, without pressure, I will attempt to provide the definitive answer.

Why I can't quote to repair your bike without seeing it - the quick answer..

  • There are just too many variables/unknowns without having the bike in front of me (straying a bit close to a Rumsfeldism)

Why I can't tell you how much your bike will cost to repair without seeing it - the complete answer..

  1. The description. So, for example lets assume you're experiencing a problem with your gears. Your description is that there is a 'clicking' and 'something doesn't feel quite right'. Now without seeing the bike what do we think this could be? Well perhaps the rear derailleur has taken a knock and is misaligned, or perhaps the derailleur cage itself is bent, the pivots corroded or the spring worn and it needs replacing? Or maybe it's not the derailleur but the cable. Maybe it's worn, corroded or frayed and is sticking and so the derailleur is not smoothly operating and thus causing the problem? Ah, but perhaps the cable is sticking, though the cause is the shifter mechanism. Which may just need lubricating or perhaps the internal mechanism of the shifter has failed and so the shifter itself needs replacing? But maybe not. Perhaps the cause is wear to the transmission, or maybe one or more stiff/seized links in the chain which possibly hasn't been lubricated (or has been over lubricated?) - this might be the cause? But can the stiff links be freed or is the chain beyond re-use and so needs to be replaced? And if so potentially the cassette/freewheel/chainset will also need to be replaced (as fitting a new chain to worn cogs will cause more problems than it will resolve). Or maybe it's none of these things? Perhaps the clicking is caused by a worn or gradually disintegrating bearing in the rear wheel - it feels like it's coming from the 'gears' but it isn't and so perhaps the rear hub needs overhauling or the rear wheel replacing? But perhaps not.. Maybe the click is caused by a worn bottom bracket or the join between one of the cranks and the BB or perhaps the pedal threads weren't greased properly when they were fitted and now they've started clicking? Or maybe not? Perhaps the cable guide under your bottom bracket has worked loose and is pivoting/moving as the cable flows through it (during a gear shift) or maybe a grove has worn into the guide which is causing the cable to stick? Or maybe it's none of these things. Perhaps it's not a derailleur equipped bike and has a hub gear - but which model of hub gear? A 30 year old Sturmey Archer 3 speed or the latest Shimano Alfine 11 Speed or one of many others? And if so what's the cause of the problem? Does the cable just need retensioning or does the hub need a full strip and overhaul or is it something else? Or maybe the 'clicking' and 'something not feeling right' are actually symptoms of 2 different problems? Even more possibilities.. I will stop here (though I could go on!). Conclusion - there are just too many potential factors to satisfactorily diagnose what the cause and solution to a problem are without having the bike in front of us.
  2. Variation in component/parts type/cost Given the description above, even if I was magically able to divine the cause of the problem without seeing the bike what about the cost of the parts required? Say you did need a new rear derailleur - which one? We stock about 20 different models ranging in cost from £15 - £80 and they're just the one's we stock.. Same goes for nearly every other component, pedals, chains, brakes, wheels etc. All are available in many different types, size and compatibilities in a wide range of prices.
  3. Because we do a full {33-Step Service} on every bike that we receive (see separate blog post if you would like to know why). A bike is a complete machine, all the different components and systems need to work together in harmony (resisting the urge to break into song here). It's no good if we guess from your description that you need a new rear tyre say but then once we have the bike in front of us discover that the wheel that the tyre is to be fitted to has a broken axle for example. We could fit the new tyre but the bike still wont work. To provide you with an accurate appraisal of what work and parts are required to it is essential that we have the bike in front of us.


Of course I have explained the above (with varying degrees of detail) to many customers over the years. Some are understanding, some not and these are some of the responses..

Why can't you just give me an estimate/average/range?

But we can! As it states on the website the cost for our 33-Step service usually averages between £50 and £100 plus the cost of any parts as required. For the reasons already detailed above though trying to be any more accurate than this without seeing the bike is a bad idea. Also experience has shown that often when you give a high/low range over the phone the customer focusses on the lower price. I've lost count of how many times I've gone to collect a bike and been told by the customer 'I was told £xx over the phone' whereas they (after pushing for a price over the phone against against our advice) had been advised it may be between £xx and £yy + parts.

I know what's wrong with it - why can't you just tell me how much..

In addition to the reasons already given. With respect! We'll be the judge of that. If I had a pound for the number of times I'd been informed by a customer they knew what the problem with their bike but when we finally got to see it found that the cause/solution was something else entirely, I'd be a rich man. This is meant as no disrespect to our many customers who are very knowledgable about their bikes but experience has shown me time and time again that quoting from a verbal third party assessment is often worse than not quoting at all!

Another shop/place told me it would be £xx without seeing it

I am just a lowly bicycle mechanic trying to do my best one day at a time 'cue violins'. If someone else has gained the ability to accurately assess and quote for bike repairs without seeing the bike then please can you ask them if they could come down to the workshop and demonstrate this skill to us?

Seriously though, I would be very cautious of anyone who claims to be able to give you a price without seeing the bike, especially if this price seems very low. Some shops will give low quote over the phone as they know that once they've got you and the bike to the shop if the job turns out to be more expensive then you are a lot less likely to change your mind/go elsewhere.

Many shops do have fixed prices for fixed jobs but again how are they able to know which work your bike will require without seeing it let alone the cost of any required parts?

If you want to get a number of quotes to compare (always a good idea) then I'd recommend taking your bike to some different bike shops and see what they say. Ideally don't just go on price but compare their assessments, what they will do and the parts that will be fitted.


Jamie King - March 16, 2015

So true! I worked in a bike shop for years and had to try and explain this to people nearly every day. It seems so completely obvious to me - why the general public feel you should just magically be able to pluck the cost out of thin air was always completely beyond me! Thanks and well done.

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