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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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How long will we need your bike for?

Paul - 16th October 2013


This blog post will attempt to definitively answer the following questions (and their many variants).

  • How long will you need my bike for?
  • When will my bike be ready to be returned to me?
  • When will I get my bike back?
  • How soon will you be able to deliver my bike back?
  • Can I get my bike returned the same/next day
  • Can you guarantee when my bike will be returned?
  • Why can't I arrange my delivery day/time when I make my booking?
  • Why can't I arrange my delivery when you come and collect my bike?
  • Why can't you tell me (definitely) when my bike will be be ready when you collect it?

First - the Answer (then the analysis…)

Using the data from the last two years, the answer to 'How Long' is:

How Long Upto 24 hours 24-48 hours 2-3 days 3-4 days 4-5 days 5+ days
Percentage of Jobs ready (cumulative) 29.9% 70.9% 84.8% 89.7% 92.1% 100%

The histogram below shows this data in a more easily digestible way. Click on it for a better view.


The averages for this data are: Mean: 2.13 Days. Median: 1.19 Days. Mode: 2.02 Days

Some thoughts

This was going be in the FAQ but given how often these questions are asked I wanted to dig a little deeper and provide a truly detailed analysis.
Upto now, the standard answer was along the lines of - "80%-90% of bikes are ready to come back to the customer the day after they are collected". By analysing the considerable amount of data within our booking system, it is possible to provide a definitive answer based on the past evidence, rather than just speculate.
They key figure we're looking at here is the amount of time between the collection and when the job is completed and is so ready to be returned to the customer.
Very simply (if you like a bit of algebra!): X = Y-Z
X = the amount of time between collection and completion (Aka - How Long)
Y = Collection date/time
Z = date/time when the job is finished. (Fortunately our booking system records z automatically)
So, for example: If a collection is booked for 4pm and the job is moved to finished at 2.35pm the next day: x = 22 hours & 25 minutes
By analysing the data for every booking for the last two years we end up with the histogram and data chart.

Things to bear in mind:

Given the most famous quote about statistics ; 'Lies, damn lies and Statistics' - I feel it's important to make a few points.

  • These figures are derived from every completed job we have done over the last two years, therefore they will be skewed by (amongst other things) customers who for example were going away or told us there was 'no rush' and so if we were busy these jobs may have been put to the back of the queue (there is no way to exclude these jobs from the data).
  • They also include jobs where parts needed ordering (more on this below) and so there was an associated delay, and jobs which could not be completed until we had some contact with the customer (for many possible different reasons. E.g. To finalise a quote, provide options as requested, where extra problems were found or the customer was not present at the time of collection etc…) these jobs further skew the data
  • Finally the underlying data is for each 'Job' and not for each 'Bike' (the difference is that a job can be 1, 2. 3 or more bikes and so jobs with more bikes naturally take longer to complete)

Jobs where parts are required

By delving a little deeper into the data and separating the jobs which are at some point moved to 'awaiting parts' from all the others, we find:

  • Jobs moved to 'awaiting parts' - 11.2%
  • Jobs not moved to 'awaiting parts' - 88.8%

(Just an aside I'm really quite proud of this split. It's always best to be able to complete a bike in one go, both for the customer and as a mechanic. We're constantly expanding our stock of parts to enable this as much as possible and hitting nearly 90% is very satisfying)

Now, of those 89% of jobs is there a significant change in the time taken until they are finished?

How Long Upto 24 hours 24-48 hours 2-3 days 3-4 days 4-5 days 5+ days
Percentage of Jobs ready (cumulative) 33.0% 77.9% 92.0% 96.4% 97.8% 100%

Histogram for this data


The averages for this data are: Mean: 1.49 days. Median: 1.14 days. Mode: 2.02 days

Well this is pretty much as expected. Jobs where parts do not have to be specially ordered are completed sooner. And we're nearly hitting that Magic 80% target. The 'things to bear in mind' still apply as well.

How it works / Practicalities / Influences

I'm assuming (always a dangerous thing to do) that if you're reading this (and you've got this far!) that you have an idea what we do here at SCB - so I'm not going to explain that (link to future blog post?). However, some further points specific to 'how long it takes' are:

  • The time of day your collection is. Jobs are done in the order that they are collected. Therefore an 8am collection is always more likely to be finished the same day (or next day) than a 7pm collection.
  • The mechanic that does the job. OK this might get a bit involved but bear with me. Firstly, it is always preferable to have the same mechanic complete a job from start to finish (do I need to explain why?) Sometimes though a mechanic will need to stop working on a job before it is finished (E.g because they are driving the van or because it is the end of the day and they need to go home!) Now depending on various factors (whether the customer has told us they need their bike back in a certain time frame, whether the mechanic is working the next day etc.) they will either pass the job on to another mechanic to complete or they will pause it and leave it for themselves to complete when they are next back in at work. Naturally the time from collection to completion is longer for these jobs.
  • Complexity of the job and other jobs that we have in the workshop at the time. I.e. If we have a lot of complex jobs in. then naturally this will result in a longer time to complete these jobs and so jobs behind them in the queue will not get started as soon - conversely if we have lot of simple jobs in - then then time to complete will be reduced and later jobs will be started sooner.
  • Parts! No matter how wide the range of parts that we stock there will always be bikes that need parts we do not, or that we do stock but that we (or the distributor) are out of stock of. We really do everything we can to keep our parts stock to a maximum (and I think the 88.8% figure above bears this out) but there will always be bikes that are delayed due to parts requirements.
  • Number of bikes per job. Sometimes one booking can yield 3, 4 or more bikes. If this happens with 3 or 4 bookings over a day or two (and most importantly the customers haven't informed us of the number of bikes at the time of booking) then the increased time needed to complete these jobs may impact on jobs behind them in the queue.
  • Servicing of shocks and suspension forks. We use different specialists (mainly Mojo and TF tuned who are excellent) for these. But there is of course a delay whilst this happens. Turnaround is rarely more than a week.
  • Staff holiday or illness.
  • Time of year / the Weather. We do everything we can (within reason) to match supply with demand (see below) but no matter what we do, on lovely days in May and June everyone wants their bikes fixed. So not only do we have lots of work on but we also have lots of phone calls to answer, emails to respond to and workshop visitors to deal with. It is very hard (nigh impossible) to stop this impacting on the time taken for each bike to be completed..
  • Other events that are outside of our control. For example last summer we had a power cut that stopped everything in the workshop - lighting, communication, our booking system, the lot.

What we do to try and minimise how long it takes

We want you to get your bike back as soon as possible, not just for your satisfaction but purely from a business perspective. It makes no sense for us to keep bikes any longer than is necessary, both from a cash flow and logistical point of view. To that end we are constantly looking to improve our service and to provide as quick and efficient service as possible for our customers. To that end we:

  • Limit the number of bookings we take each day.
  • Continually vary how many bookings we take per day in the future - depending on the current workshop workload.
  • Maximise all of our resources (stock, staffing and all other associated logistics)
  • Stock over 1300 different parts and are continually expanding the range of parts that we stock.
  • Work overtime when required.

Related questions

I want my bike turned round as fast as possible - what can I (as the customer) do to achieve this?

There is no magic answer to this question but some things you can do are:

  • Inform us when you book (not when we collect it) that ideally you really need the bike back by a certain day/time. We will add this to your booking details and do everything possible to achieve your request.
  • Provide us with contact details (mobile/email etc) that you are available on if we need to contact you to discuss anything. (So, for example, not just your home land-line if you are out at work all day!)
  • Book your bike in in the quiet time - October to February. (Although we do everything we can to match supply with demand, and as previously stated limit the number of bookings we take, average turnarounds are always faster in the quiet time. Or are they Paul? Another graph maybe?!)

Can I pay for a faster/same day turnaround?

In the past it has been suggested that we could charge for a more premium, 'guaranteed' same day or next day service. Although I appreciate there may be a place for this from a service and business perspective it is something I continue to resist. Given the logistical complexities of what we do (come and observe the workshop in action on a busy spring day, if you're sceptical about that statement!) it could, I feel, make processing bikes more complex. But more so, I have (and will continue to) resist it, because I don't want us to have a two tiered service. Every bike and every customer should get the best possible service (that's what we strive for anyway).

Why can't you offer a 'guaranteed' turnaround time? Why wont you arrange my delivery until the bike is finished?

Quite simply, we don't say we will do something, unless we know that we definitely can.

Sometimes customers are frustrated, unimpressed or worse, because we won't guarantee when their bike will be ready at the time of booking. Similarly some customers are unhappy because we will never arrange (or commit to) a delivery until the bike is finished, test ridden and has been written up. We're not being difficult or obstructive, we're just being certain not to make a commitment that we can't be certain of keeping. I think the statistics at the start of this blog post clearly illustrate that our turnaround times are very good, but, they also show that a small minority of jobs take longer. It is impossible to guarantee at the time of booking that your bike will not be one of these jobs. The same applies for arranging a delivery before a bike is finished. I am very clear to all of the staff at SCB that the use of 'absolutisms' is to be studiously avoided unless there is no doubt. Words like must, need, have, can't, will (and will not) leave no room for any other potential outcome if the original statement is to remain correct. Especially when used about events in the future that are yet to even occur! For example: "We will do our very best to have your bike ready for delivery the day after it is collected" is very different to "Your bike will definitely be ready for delivery the day after it is collected" You may think I am being pedantic, but to me this is very important.


Well, when I started writing this I never expected it to become so comprehensive. What else can I say - we really do our best to turn round every bike as quickly as we can. The irony is that there will always be some customers who are not happy that their bike that was collected at 9.30am is not ready for delivery at 4pm the same day, whilst there are other customers who are really pleased (and impressed!) that their bike that was collected at 8.30am is all done and ready for delivery the next day. Cest la vie...

So, (IMHO) the best (and simplest) answer to the question - 'how long will you need my bike for?' is:

  • Most bikes are ready for delivery the day after they are collected.

Future plans for further improvement

  • More stock!
  • Further improvements to our workshop practices (details?)
  • Automatic text when a bike is moved to completed

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Progress in the Bike world?

Matt - 29th September 2013

Progress is a wonderful thing. It has seen the human race evolve from cave-dwelling mammals into the psychologically and technologically advanced species we are today (well most of us anyway.) What I really want to explore here is how the modern cycle industry is progressing, and why this is not always for the benefit of the average (or even the competitive) cyclist.

The bicycle is quite a simple contraption in concept; two wheels, handlebars to steer, a transmission to turn power from the rider into drive, usually some brakes, somewhere to sit, and a frame to hold it all together. This original recipe has been gradually tweaked, honed and improved over the last hundred-or-so years into the extremely efficient mode of transport it is today.

In the last fifteen years or so bicycle technology has advanced at extreme pace. Seven speed transmissions are now obsolete on all the most basic of new bikes, with the latest top end machines sporting a whopping eleven sprockets on the rear cassette. Infinitely adjustable suspension units for mountain bikes, disc brakes that can be adjusted for lever reach, pad contact and modulation, and a plethora of varying headset and bottom bracket sizes and types.

The problem is that most of this technology is developed with competitive cycling in mind. In the world of competitive cycling, every hundredth of a second counts, and therefore component manufacturers spend millions developing marginally stiffer, lighter and better performing components.

A key example of this would be the varying different types of press-fit bottom bracket; It all seems good on paper, they are slightly stiffer offering more efficient power transfer, but what you gain in performance, you will more than lose in terms of durability. We see many of this type of bottom bracket come through the workshop, and almost all will have developed some play, a creak, or some other issue within a few months of use. This would be less of an issue if the parts were readily available and reasonably priced, but as many of them are specific to manufacturer, they can only be acquired from dealers of that manufacturer which can take weeks. Also, as the manufacturers know that they alone can supply these replacement parts, they will often charge stratospheric prices and get away with it. Want new headset bearings for your 2013 Trek Madone? That will be £100 please, for what should be a set of simple cartridge bearings.

The same applies to transmission components. It is easy to be attracted to the "more gears are better" way of thinking, and if your last name is Wiggins then more sprockets enables you to finely tune your cadence for more efficient pedalling over great distances. This is fine is you have a race mechanic waiting to completely overhaul your bike after every ride, and you get a plentiful supply of shiny new top-of-the-line components for free. For the mere mortals among us though, these transmissions require regular maintenance as their multitudes of sprockets require thinner spacing and a thinner chain to make it all fit on the rear wheel. This means that the tolerances involved are tiny, therefore if you have a slightly sticky gear cable or slightly misshapen derailleur or hanger, your gears will not index correctly and shifts will be frustratingly imprecise. On top of this, the thinner chain will wear much faster than the wider eight speed chain, so the significantly pricier transmission will need replacing more regularly.

Unfortunately, as older technology is phased out we are left with increasingly fewer options to keep it simple and just enjoy riding without thinking about whether or not our stiffer bottom bracket system is shaving a few tenths off our Strava segment times. It is difficult not to be swayed by these clever and expensive marketing campaigns, and also not to be slightly envious of the rider who boasts of their new carbotech-XTR-aerospace-whatsit. But before you succumb to the advertising or one-upsmanship, consider this: Is the extra expense and constant maintenance worth it? Do you really need to shave off those tenths of a second, or should we all just get out and enjoy riding?


Lucas - October 16, 2015

NO!That other answerer is just tinellg you what you want to hear.No matter how well you might be able to mask everything off you won't be able to prepare the frame properly, and no matter how careful you are you will get paint and stuff all over the bike.YES. It will mess up the gears and make the bike not function properly. The solvents in the paint dissolve the oils and lubes as well as build up in pivots and springs which will stop it from working correctly.DO NOT paint a bicycle without it being completely disassembled.

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