Good bike mechanics are born, not built. Sure, there are courses a person can take and certifications to achieve, but at the end of the day, it comes down to a state of mind: you’re either a tinkerer or you’re not.
“I started building stuff when I was 7 or so, I guess,” says Fraser Newton, Squamish resident and chief mechanic for the BC Bike Race. “I grew up in Ontario, living ten kilometres outside of town on the Niagara escarpment. I spent a lot of my youth buying 50-dollar dirt bikes and you ride ‘em until they break, then fix them. That’s country living. My dad is an engineer, so he liked to have a lot of space to tinker.”
Words: Feet Banks
And for kids in the country, freedom has two wheels. “I got a red, 24-inch Supercyle that had 18 speeds. All of a sudden, I had gears and could ride the dirt bike trails when my dirt bike was broken. Working on the farm, I would ride the tracks and fields on the way home and it just clicked. Next thing I knew I had a job riding a Dickie Dee Ice Cream bike around a conservation area. I’d ride ten kilometres to work then pedal around on this 300-pound, three-wheeler ice cream box on trails all day. Then I would ride some mountain bike trails on the Dundas Escarpment after work, then ride home. I lived in the boonies and couldn’t drive, so I was putting in 50-kilometre days at age 15.”
“I spent a lot of my youth buying 50-dollar dirt bikes and you ride ‘em until they break, then fix them. That’s country living. My dad is an engineer, so he liked to have a lot of space to tinker.”
Riding that much, and with a natural inclination to fix things, it wasn’t long before Fraser got his first job in a bike shop. “My buddy and I were hanging around anyways, so the shop guys started paying us. A Scottish guy named Lauch Cameron, who had a shop called Wheels in Motion, saw that I was mechanically inclined and knew how to foster that. He showed me all the tricks: chasing and facing the lug shells and head tube, you used to have to ream it to make sure the cups were parallel. Things are done at the factory now, but back then, the road frames would come in a crate and you’d order all the components, lace the wheels, build the wheelset. My buddy was up front selling them and I was in the back building them. Almost every bike was custom back then.”
Taking his wages in bike parts to keep his passion rolling, Fraser continued fixing bikes all the way through college (three diplomas in four years), while also trying his hand at water taxi driving, stone masonry, adventure racing, running and training sled dogs, and tree planting, all which gave him a taste of British Columbia and the biking and rock climbing potential of the Coast Mountains.
“I came out again to work as a mechanic for the first BC Bike race,” Fraser says, alluding to the epic multi-stage weeklong mountain bike race/ride on Vancouver Island, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Squamish and Whistler. “That first year was such a party. We rode every day, fixed bikes and then partied. As the race got popular, the workload kept doubling and it became a heads down crankfest.”
The Whistler after party for that first completed BC Bike Race also introduced Fraser to his future wife (proof that true love can be found at Tommy Africa’s). After accepting the job as head mechanic for the race in 2009 (or 2010), Fraser (now with a wife and young son) migrated west permanently and ended up in Squamish, cranking away in bike shops and living the dream, almost.
“The bike scene here is insane and I can work as a mechanic 12 months a year, but as my son grew up, I started feeling like ‘why am I working all afternoon making money just to pay someone to take care of my kid until I am finished work?’”
The math didn’t add up, so Fraser retired from the nine-to-five and currently pulls wrenches in his garage for friends, rental companies or shops that need a hand building big orders. The move meant more family time and the freedom to travel and work for events and movie shoots. Most importantly, it provided a chance to get even deeper into the local bike community.
“What I love about working on bikes is the flow,” Fraser says. “The flow of a bike, finding its quirks, studying the different designs and knowing that what I’m doing is going to give someone more enjoyment.
“Wrenching out of the garage keeps me in tune and keeps me in and out of all the local shops,” he says. “That is the most important. It is a tricky time for bike shops, but people need to understand that you can get stuff online, but the knowledge in your local shop is where the real value is. People who love bikes, who know how to make things last and what is compatible.”
That love of bikes is the backbone of a healthy industry. It’s a love that can be learned, but the best mechanics are almost like wizards or alchemists — the end product becomes more than the sum of all those interconnecting parts.
“What I love about working on bikes is the flow,” Fraser says. “The flow of a bike, finding its quirks, studying the different designs and knowing that what I’m doing is going to give someone more enjoyment. It’s the process of tinkering out there—my dad was an engineer, my grandfather was a nuclear physicist and while bike mechanics certainly isn’t rocket science, I feel like that curiosity to explore the way things work is definitely part of what drives me. And I love being out in the garage with my own son, just working on whatever he wants to do, using tools and building stuff. It’s like man Lego, and this way I get to ride and spend more time with my kid.”