Mobile bicycle mechanic Jeff Scarberry stood in his sunny workshop in his backyard, tuning up one of the day’s many bikes he had picked up and would later drop off at customers’ homes. This has been the private shop space for Sunriver Bike Service, Scarberry’s company, since 2015. At his home in the Three River’s area south of Bend, wind blows through the surrounding pine trees while Scarberry trues wheels, realigns shifters and otherwise services the innumerable fleets often belonging to Sunriver vacation homes.
Scarberry, a cyclist who once competed in BMX and mountain bike races, isn’t exactly thrilled by the department store bicycles he repairs, but he is happy with the constant stream of work that allows him to live in a modernized log cabin on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest. He also likes getting vacationers on bikes.
“I want the families who come to Sunriver to know that I’ve worked on these bikes and that they’re safe,” Scarberry said.
The Three Rivers area resident is one of three bicycle mechanics in Central Oregon who offer repair services on the go — a growing trend that allows mechanics to be their own bosses. They also forgo the overhead of brick-and-mortar shops, which often include sizable inventory and a staff payroll. This streamlined business model also appeals to Mike Martin, who has operated Go To Bike Guy since 2013, and Nick Salerno, who launches The Reliable Wrench this month. Salerno and Martin drive mobile workshops in a customized Subaru Crosstrek and a Ram ProMaster van, respectively, and wrench in customers’ driveways. Scarberry collects clients’ bikes with his pickup and works on them in his workshop. The mobile mechanics’ service fees are comparable to those of traditional bike shops.
“I’m definitely living the dream,” Scarberry said.
A haven of beach cruisers
Scarberry, 39, worked as a land surveyor until the work dried up during the Great Recession. He worked as a bike mechanic at 4 Seasons Recreational Outfitters in Sunriver before managing a local gas station. While Scarberry learned the ins and out of running a business, he said selling countless packs of cigarettes and cases of beer began to take its toll.
“I didn’t like feeding people’s addictions,” he said. “I’d rather promote healthy lifestyles.”
Scarberry returned to 4 Seasons where he furthered his knowledge of bicycles of varying design — and quality. Working as a bike mechanic gives him satisfaction.
“Bikes are vehicles for happiness,” he said with a laugh.
At the bike shop, Scarberry saw an underserved niche among bike owners — property management companies that service vacation rentals. Unlike Bend, where many permanent residents own their bikes, Sunriver is full of vacationers. A mellow ride on a rental home’s beach cruiser is one of many activities vacationers might tick off a to-do list that may also include, say, river floating or playing pickleball. These bikes are often in disrepair, Scarberry said, adding that management companies prioritize home maintenance over troubleshooting bicycles’ noisy bottom brackets or wobbly wheels.
“I’ve definitely seen dangerous bikes,” Scarberry said with a laugh, adding that one or two out of 10 bikes might be rolling time bombs. “There are a lot of bikes that need service.”
Conventional bike shops aren’t nimble enough to offer the mobile services needed to accommodate property management needs — and deadlines, Scarberry said.
“Sometimes, there is a very small window to get in, do the repairs and get out before the next clients check in,” he said. “[I offer] a more specialized service. Sunriver is its own jewel of catering to tourism.”
This season, Scarberry has serviced about 350 bikes — and demand is just picking up, he said. Even though department store bicycles may be brand new, they often need immediate attention, Scarberry said. The bikes are often assembled without a bike mechanic’s attention to detail — or penchant for grease. He pointed to the mountain bike clamped in his work stand.
“This is a brand-new bike, and the wheels are completely out of true,” said Scarberry as he lubricated a seat tube that had nearly seized in the bike frame. Preventive maintenance is something Scarberry recommends to property managers, who may not notice mechanical issues until a crank or saddle falls off.
While he doesn’t find low-end bikes as exciting to work with as top-of-the-line race bikes, Scarberry focuses on ensuring an enjoyable experience for the people who ride them.
“I make sure the bikes are safe. My catchphrase is ‘Indirectly saving lives, one bike at a time.’”
Wind in your hair
Martin, 55, is longtime bike mechanic who owns and operates Go To Bike Guy and lives near Sunriver. He also recognized a need for a mobile bicycle repair service.
“Not having the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store is a good thing,” said Martin, who most recently worked at Hutch’s Bicycles in Bend. He tweaks about 200 bikes each week. The bikes he services are a mix of rental home bikes and privately owned ones. Martin additionally refurbishes about 500 bikes each year through Bicycle Resource of Bend, the nonprofit he co-founded in 2010 that grants bikes to people in need.
“It’s a lot,” Martin said of the workload that had him rushing out the door to his next repair job.
Customers’ garages might hold half a dozen to two dozen bikes. Martin visits such fleets one to four times a day. He parks his bike shop-equipped van in the driveway and rolls up his sleeves.
Salerno, who launches The Reliable Wrench this month, has built a bike shop into his Subaru Crosstrek, which he’s covered in an attention-grabbing wrap. Salerno, who lives in Alfalfa, hopes to cater to the following he built up at the various Bend bike shops he’s worked at since 2011.
“The most humbling thing is not someone giving you a tip but asking what your name is,” Salerno said. “Some people follow me wherever I work.”
While tinkering on occasional low-end bicycles is unavoidable, Salerno, 37, hopes to stick with high-end race bikes — particularly those for BMX, a discipline that lacks a dedicated shop in Central Oregon. He’s also intent on providing American-made components and on-site service at local bike races. Owning a mobile bicycle repair shop has been a goal for Salerno since 2011. He needed to establish a limited liability company to contract as a traveling mechanic with the U.S. National cycling team, and The Reliable Wrench was born — on paper.
Since he returned from Europe where he wrenched for the U.S. team during a race season, Salerno has worked in conventional bike shops in Bend — most recently at The Hub Cyclery. Parking is often a problem for downtown bike shop customers, however, especially if their entire fleet needs work.
By trading retail rent and other overhead for cheaper vehicle costs, mobile mechanics can widen profit margins without having to charge extra for house calls. Plus, the move to four wheels allows these mechanics an extra dose of freedom.
“Being my own boss makes a lot of sense,” Salerno said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org