How much to fix my girlfriend’s crappy bike?

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The author sets out on his girlfriend's lady bike. Photo by ST Tonio.

My girlfriend’s bike is a piece of crap. It’s heavy and slow, and the front brakes rub against the front wheel, which makes it even slower, and seemingly heavier. The gears don’t shift, and the brakes are unreliable. She really needs a new bike, but neither of us is going to buy one any time soon.

The trouble is, repairs to older bikes can add up quickly, and you can effectively total your bike just by getting it tuned up. This model was a hand-me-down from her mother’s college days (!), so I wasn’t about to spend a bundle on it.

So, my plan—okay, my freaking miserable Brokelyn assignment—was to find out how little I could spend to make the bike more road-worthy. The miserable part: riding this beast to eight different bike shops in four different neighborhoods to get the answer.


To eliminate as many variables as possible, but to allow each shop to solve the machine’s problems in its own way, I simply asked for the cheapest tune-up that would make the bike safer and easier to ride.

I started out in Williamsburg by visiting both B’s Bikes (262 Driggs Ave.) and Bicycle Doctor.

B’s Bikes was the cheaper (and friendlier) option, with a $60 tune-up that included bottom bracket, drive train and headset cleaning, wheel truing, as well as hub, derailleur and brake adjustments. Essentially $12 per repair, as the mechanic explained. He did not specify whether I could break the tune-up down to those individual repairs, but it seemed possible.

The guy at Bicycle Doctor (133 Grand St.)—it may have been the doctor himself—wanted $70 for the tune-up, which included more or less the same repairs as B’s Bikes, and he recommended another $30 in new parts, including new brake and derailleur cables. He let me know that he could do a whole lot of work on the bike and replace parts, but I would still have a piece of shit bike on my hands, and I would be $100 poorer. I appreciated his honesty, and I probably should have stopped there, but my mission was not yet through.

Next, I slogged over to Park Slope to see if a fancier neighborhood might yield a cheaper bike shop. This apparent paradox is true for wine shops, so why not bike shops?

Photo by Timothy Vollmer.
Dixon's mural. Photo by Timothy Vollmer.

It wasn’t true at Brooklyn Bicycles (375 9th St.). The young salesman took a good look at the bike and recommended I get the “deluxe” tune-up, in which they clean out the drive train, true the wheels, and adjust, lube and clean “everything” for $85. A better bet, pricewise at least, turned out to be Dixon’s (792 Union St.), where the mechanic quoted me $30-$40 to true up the wheels, and adjust the brakes and the rear derailleur. He decided that the front derailleur was a lost cause, and that the bottom bracket and headset didn’t really need cleaning.

Still in search of a deal, I headed off to Brooklyn Bike Center (673 Coney Island Ave.) There, I was told a tune up would cost me $50, plus maybe $6 for a new derailleur cable if the current one couldn’t be adjusted. I trekked still further South, flying through red lights on Flatbush Avenue to Larry’s Cycles (1854 Flatbush Ave.), where they also quoted me $50 for a full tune up (brakes, derailleurs, cleaning, wheel truing) without even looking at the bike. It was nice to know that I had trekked from the Queens border, damn near to the Atlantic Ocean to find out what I could have found out with a phone call. So, I continued back the way I came, huffing and puffing up Flatbush, hoping that I don’t get killed by an off-duty cop, or, more likely, by someone making a U-turn across all four lanes of traffic, which seems to be the thing to do in South Brooklyn.

I had my best luck in Fort Greene, of all places. Bicycle Station (171 Park Ave.), is a friendly neighborhood outpost in the no-man’s-land tucked between the BQE and the Navy Yard. The guy said a tune-up would run me $45, plus the cost of new brake pads. When I entered the shop he was in the process of flirting with a customer, and I bolted before he could tell me the price of the brake pads. Some things are more important than money.

Bespoke Bicycles, photo by Lesterhead.
Bespoke Bicycles, photo by Robin Lester.

From there I pedaled over to Bespoke (64-B Lafayette Ave.) where the friendly mechanics didn’t quote a flat price on the tune-up, but instead looked at the bike and told me which specific repairs would need to be done. They said they could do a few minor tweaks to the bike (brakes, derailleurs, chain cleaning) for just $18. If I wanted my wheels trued, it would be another $15, but they said it wasn’t really necessary.

What did I learn? That the definition of “necessary” bike repairs can be highly subjective, and that crisscrossing Brooklyn in search of the most affordable diagnosis will only make you loathe a hated bicycle even more. For my girlfriend’s sake and mine, I may wind up skipping the tune-up altogether and just putting the money toward a better bike. But that that’ll be another story altogether.

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  1. Hit up youtube, there’s great videos on there on how to do all kinds of bike maintenance and repair.

    If you’ve got a spare 15 minutes, and a standard tool set, you can do most of this stuff. Bikes are simple.

  2. weird, we went to college together and worked at two different coops. and now we both live in brooklyn and write for two different brooklyn-based blogs.

  3. Nice piece, which pretty much confirmed my thoughts about our lovely borough’s bike shops—that is, just go to Bicycle Station.

    It might help the average reader (and the author) understand necessity if you discussed what these repairs actually consist of. I’m guessing most riders/readers don’t really know what truing a wheel consists is and when it’s necessary. (In a nutshell, it means straightening the wheel.) I didn’t really know what a bottom bracket was until I took one apart. A great follow-up piece would describe the basics of bike repair.

    By and large, I’ve found the two most helpful resources on bike repair to be the Park Tools website: and the late, great Sheldon Brown’s website:

  4. 1) None of the prices seem bad for NYC, as these shops pay high rents.

    2) Some shops have better mechanics. Sure, a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean better service, but you should be getting the low-down on the workmanship not just prices. A faulty repair can end-up putting you in danger.

    3) In general, building a relationship with a shop gets you cheaper and even an occasional no-charge fix ’em up (for small adjustments). Most bike shops take care of their regular customers.

    4) Shops aside, you do save a lot of money and get the best service if you learn to do it yourself. Tools and the time to learn wrenching can be expensive, but it’s an investment that pays off over time.

    5) Last advice… get your girlfriend a new bike! She deserves it!

  5. NEVER EVER go to Brooklyn Bike Center (673 Coney Island Ave.) — the proprietor is a real… hmm… well, let’s just say she’s not a nice person and she DOES NOT stand behind her work. Simple as that. Crap work and their basic policy is “as-is.” It’s a real shame cuz she would be my neighborhood bike shop!

    I bought a new bike at Brooklyn Bike & Board on Vanderbilt this summer. Those guys are awesome. The bike was a decent price and they stand behind their stuff — i ran into a manuf. fault (nothing bad, more annoying — at least until it totally busted). They took lots of time and energy to diagnose, then fixed what was wrong… replaced the part. For free! Yeah, that’s the warranty deal, but they didn’t even try to up sell or pull any shenanigans. Good guys, nice shop. Go there. :-)

  6. Oh yeah — and Brooklyn Bike & Board were the guys that actually fixed the problem with my OLD bike too — AFTER i paid the biznatch on Coney Island Avenue my hard earned money.

    That’s part of the reason I bought my new bike with those guys. Oh, they are pretty intense bike guys (fixie types), so don’t be intimidated cuz yer not “cool enough” or whatever… they’re not like that at all. If you want a pink comfort cruiser with 80 gears, I don’t know if they’d have one, but they’d probably point you to a place that did.

  7. That’s a nice bike, fix it up for the girl, it just needs some adjustments.

    Bring it over here to queens, I’ll fix it up in 5 mins.

    It’s what I do

  8. That’s a Mercier mixte frame Model 111 dating from the 1970s. I’m in the process of restoring one to rideable condition and it’s well worth doing.

    A couple of things to be aware of:

    1. The headset is French standard as is the stem. However, the ball bearings are standard and easily replaceable in needed.

    2. The bottom bracket is also French threaded. This means that the fixed cup (on the chainwheel side) is right-hand threaded (as opposed to ISO (normal) standard which is left-hand threaded). This is important if removal is needed.

    Fully tuned, the Mercier is a nice ride.

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