THE MR FIX IT OF MT ROSKILL
Ben Marshall has over 20 years experience as a bike technician and has worked with some
of the best triathletes in the world.
No shortcuts. That was the first lesson Ben Marshall learned in his first full-time job as a bike mechanic. Today Ben runs Performance Bicycle Tuning out of an industrial unit in Mt Roskill in Auckland and he still swears by that motto.
“A lot of mechanics take shortcuts,” says Ben. “‘Do it once and do it right’ was my first boss’s motto.”
Ben was into triathlons as a teenager. Growing up he competed against guys like Cameron Brown, Jamie Hunt, the junior world duathlon champ and Paul Amey who went on to represent Great Britain. “When I was racing if I got a top ten finish I was ecstatic because the standard was so high,” he says. “As a nipper I dreamed of making the New Zealand team for the junior world championships but I wasn't quite good enough. In the qualifying race I had a really good swim and bike and then blew up on the run. I passed out at the finish line. That’s when I decided to spend more time fixing bikes rather than riding them.”
He’d been working part-time at his local bike store, Triaction Cycles in Balmoral and they took him on as a trainee.
“When I finished school I knew I didn't want a suit job. I worked with some really good guys at Triaction, local guys who were A-grade cyclists and really good mechanics. I learned a lot from them and got a grounding in the principles and values of a good mechanic. They taught me the basics and to respect every bike you work on because they are potentially dangerous machines. You’re travelling at high speed on this lightweight frame with skinny wheels so you have to make sure everything is bolted together properly and checked and double checked.”
After three years working at Triaction, Ben moved to Everything Bikes in Royal Oak. He started as a junior mechanic even though he had three years of experience. “I started at the bottom again working on cheap bikes and doing basic repairs. I’d spend some days fixing punctures all day. Within a few years I was promoted to the Store Manager role so I got off the tools for a while. The manager’s role was a good experience but it wasn't quite what I was after.”
Ben took some time out from all things bike related in his early 30s to do photography. “A friend of mine was a photographer and I’d messed around with a camera when I was in school. I did weddings and family portraits. At that stage of my mechanic’s career I felt a bit stuck and I felt I’d gone as far as I could. I knew there was way more to bike mechanics than what I was doing but unfortunately most bike owners didn't see the value in anything other than fixing bikes and fixing them fast.”
One day a mate of his rang to ask him if he could have a look at his bike for him. “I still had some of my gear so he took it around to my house and I had a go at it. I enjoyed working on it so much I decided to contract myself out to some bike stores. That was the start of Performance Bicycle Tuning. That was in 2002 and I worked with Pack ‘n Pedal, Cyco and a few other independent stores around Auckland.”
He also started working at Woodhill Mountain Bike Park, servicing the hire bikes every Friday before the weekend rush. “I’d work on 30 or 40 bikes and then go for a ride in the forest. It was good times. They were hire bikes so they were getting thrashed. Working on a mountain bike is slightly more demanding because of the loads and stresses put on bikes. In saying that mountain biking has got more refined recently. Bikes are more expensive and high performance and trails are getting faster and better so bikes are not getting as beaten up as they used to. Still there are always people out there who are hard on their bikes so there’s always plenty of work.”
While Ben grew up cycling on the road, his time working at Woodhill converted him to the joys of mountain biking. “I was in Rotorua a few weeks ago and did eight runs on the gondola. That was great fun just hooning it downhill with gravity as your friend for once. Rotorua is my favourite place to go mountain biking. It’s just so nice down there. It would be cool if we were able to carve it out of Rotorua and move it somewhere in South Auckland.”
After three years of driving out to Woodhill every Friday and contracting to different bike shops, some of Ben’s cycling buddies asked him why he didn't go out on his own. So he did. “I started working out of my carport and soon old friends of mine and new customers were dropping their bikes off to me. The business grew quickly through word of mouth. I do my utmost to make sure every bike leaves the workshop in a better condition than when it came in. When a bike is as clean and crisp and as close to new as possible, they perform really well. Some of the Ironman competitors are a bit OCD about their figures and they say that a well serviced bike with a clean drive system, a new chain and new tyres can gain you an extra 15 watts. So there’s definitely some gains to be made in terms of performance.”
While most of Ben’s training was on the job, he started doing training courses with Sheppard Industries on Shimano components in 1997. He’s done a course every year since and he’s been a tutor since 2007. On the job training is still hard to beat says Ben but Cornerstone Education offer a NZQA accredited Bicycle Mechanic Training course that is highly regarded in the industry. As for the career prospects, like any job it’s what you make of it.
“It’s an enjoyable business. I’ve got to travel and I’ve worked with some of the big names in the tri world. I’ve worked on bikes for Cameron Brown, Craig Alexander and Terenzo Bozzone and lots of good age groupers. It’s not a job where you’re going to make squillions of dollars but you can make it work for you.”