Find Me a Job to Pay for Sweet Bikes

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Apr 18, 2016

Hi Dave,

Where’s the best place for a bicycle enthusiast to start a career?

Heavy Industry is likely to put me in a more rural location with a salary that will allow me to buy the latest and greatest bikes.

Something in a city is more likely to assure I live near a popular trail center, but city living will cut into bike funds.

The bike industry is a possibility for me, but isn’t known to have the best paying jobs.

Please help me wisely shape my adult life around bicycles.

Hopefully Gainfully Employed

Dear Hoagie:

This is a great question and one that I think most people will struggle with at some point in their lives. Of course, those people generally come at it more from a ‘how can I best support my family’ sort of angle. But the answers are probably the same, even if you’re just trying to buy sick whips. Let’s break this down:

1 – Liking your job is a really good way to be good at it

For the last twenty years of your life you’ve probably been told that you need to “work hard so you can get a good job.”  Parents and teachers tend to talk about this endlessly. I’m betting not many people have ever taken you aside and asked you about your interests or tried to help you figure out what you might be really good at. We should all just be CEO’s, bankers, doctors, engineers or tradespeople, because that’s what it takes to get a ‘good job.’ Only parasites express an interest in history, music, social work or education. You’re obviously not a hard worker or a contributor to society if you don’t want an easy route to a high paying job.

If you look at people that are really good at their jobs, there is one common factor for most of them: They really enjoy it. It’s possible to be “pretty good” at something that you hate, but it tends to be challenging to excel at something that causes you to loiter around in bed every morning. The really good engineers that I’ve worked with get all fired up when they’re hovering over a schematic of an HVAC system. Excellent servers at restaurants that I like seem to thoroughly enjoy interacting with people while serving them food and beverages. And I’m sure that great doctors have a big old smile on their face when they’re elbows deep in a butthole. Enjoyment leads to excellence which leads to success, which will hopefully lead to a decent living and an enjoyable career. So why aren’t we encouraging this sort of success? Why is our only concern with ‘good jobs’ even if the result is misery and mediocrity?

2 – If you hate your job or the place that you live it will definitely impact your life

There are not many people out there that can eat sh!t all day at work and then head home with a smile on their face. How you spend 40-or-so hours every week is going to have an impact on the rest of your life. A new bike is not going to rescue you from the hell of a bad boss or a terrible company or living in a backwater shithole. You should worry about those things.

3 – What you do now is probably going to set the course for the rest of your life

During my years of University they pounded it into us that we’d be lucky to get a job when we got out of school. Continually hearing this led me to jump on a job offer rather than risk looking around a bit. It was decent money in a place with great riding and ended up being an okay decision, but every job since then has been derived from that experience. It’s hard to start over. It’s almost impossible to accept less money by taking a step back. You can’t always jump right into the job or career that you want right off the bat, but at least have some idea of where you want to be heading and try to make sure each job is taking you in that direction.

Of course, times are tough. You’re going to be lucky to get any job and if you get an offer you should jump on it. Kids these days.

4 – You’re going to get old

It might take 15 years. It might take 20 years. But at some point down the line, life is going to catch up to you. You’re going to ride less than you want to. You’re not going to be able to buy a new bike every year. Your priorities are going to change somewhat. There are two ways to look at this:

A – You need to make the most of things while you can. If you’re not riding every day and out every night you need to work harder at wasting your youth.

B – Future you is going to resent the sacrifices that you are making for all of this instant gratification you selfish bastard.

Looking back, I can see that I made a lot of sacrifices for my lifestyle. I have no real regrets, but as my body gets creakier and other priorities filter into my life, I start to wonder if I should have done things a little bit differently.

5 – The job is more important than the industry

One of my Co-op work experiences was in the bike industry. It was a component manufacturer located in Vancouver. We’ll call them Schmyncros.

Heading into this job was a dream come true. It actually seemed impossible to me. Somebody was going to pay me money to work on bike parts? Crazy.

So, it came as a massive shock when it ended up being a pretty terrible job. Not like, child labour in a 3rd World Country bad, but more like privileged child with a distorted worldview having his dreams crushed kind of bad. This was 1998, a few months before Schmyncros went bankrupt and was sold to Schmee-Tee for scrap. So, you know, my dreams getting crushed weren’t quite as bad as the people who lost their jobs and had to start over. But still.

I remember somebody explaining to me the economics of the ‘budget’ stem they’d recently started making. It looked pretty much the same as the really expensive one, except it didn’t have the fancy hinged front plate. I think it cost maybe 2 or 3 dollars less to make than the fancy one (maybe not even that much…I heard a rumour that the lower volume actually caused it to be more expensive to make) yet retailed for half the price. And I remember thinking that this didn’t seem like an incredibly great way to make money. And it wasn’t.

I remember the new design Engineer spending a good half a day hand assembling a rear hub to send to Mountain Bike Magazine to test. It was pretty much half Loctite by the time he finished with it, and even with that nobody was certain that the thing would stand up to even so much as a withering glance, let alone a long term magazine test. It did, amazingly, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were trying to sell more of an item that had such an insanely high return percentage and nobody in the company trusted to run on their own bikes. There couldn’t possibly be money in that. And there wasn’t.

And the most amazing thing was that this was all taking place in the shadow of a revolution happening within a 15 minute drive of the office. I was just some kid flitting about the periphery of the Shore, but in the orbit of people that were starting to make a huge impact on the sport. I remember explaining to people that there were these really incredible riders and why didn’t they just flow them a few parts?  Sure, they had a bit of a relationship with some of the locals and lots of the employees were in the thick of the Shore scene…but I distinctly remember the marketing manager/co-owner explaining to me how much more valuable it was for them to sponsor the Ralph Lauren and Cannondale XC Racing Teams than to worry about giving parts away to ‘people like that.’ With hindsight, I’d call investing in NORBA XC racing in the late 90’s as buying high. And the crazy thing is you could argue they were part of the foundation that enabled the Shore and then they decided not to bother participating just as all that work started to pay off.

I remember a shipment of rims coming in, and a few weeks later this guy phoning in complaining that his brakes were pulsating and he was treated with disdain and ridicule. “Drag your brakes down a hill, idiot.” And he phoned and phoned and nobody took it seriously. So we finally built up a wheel and me as the low man on the totem pole was told to go ride it. And the thing pulsed like crazy, causing the whole bike to vibrate and shimmy. I think we eventually caved in and sent him a new rim, but we sure made him work for it. Who knows what happened with the hundreds of other rims that were impacted.

The point is that there are a lot of really bad companies within the bike industry and working on bike parts is not automatically going to lead to a good experience. Your happiness in your job will probably depend as much on how well the company is managed and how effective your manager is as it will on the industry that you happen to be working in. And it’s shocking how quickly things can change when a new boss takes over.

In Conclusion…

  1. Don’t worry about making other people happy with your choice of job. Your happiness is what is important, not their concept of what a ‘good’ job is.
  2. Money is nice, but if you’re counting on it to make you happy, it probably won’t. Don’t let a paycheck take you down a path that you’re not terribly excited about. That new bike is only new for a few weeks.
  3. Being young, single and poor is the perfect time to take risks in life. Once you’ve created a path for yourself and are used to a paycheck, it’s hard to re-calibrate.
  4. No amount of money will make you happy if you live somewhere that you hate.
  5. Hobbies that you enjoy can only take you so far if you hate everything else about your life.
  6. Times are tough out there. Don’t get too picky.

Uncle Dave

Uncle Dave’s leg is messed up so it’s a few more weeks of dog photos on Instagram @davetolnai.  

Be sure to follow Dave on Twitter @ReallyUncleDave, especially if you have a spare ticket for the Courtney Barnett show at the Commodore tonight.  He could use one.  Feel free to e-mail him about that one as well.

One more week to get quality questions in. If you’d like to be to be in the running to win a META HT AM 650B frame send a question to Uncle Dave…


This is our third winner for our month of Commencal prizes. Once we have the fourth winner we’ll let Dave find some random way of deciding the winner. For now Hoagie – you win a pair of Commencal Ride Alpha Magnesium pedals. These retail for €99 in Commencal’s UK store. Check them out here…

On top of winning these Ride Alpha Magnesium pedals, Hoagie is in the running to win a META HT AM 650B frame.

On top of winning these Ride Alpha Magnesium pedals, Hoagie is in the running to win a META HT AM 650B frame.

Any job advice to give?

Trending on NSMB


Dirty Nomad  - April 19, 2016, 7:11 p.m.

Awesome article, nailed it


Cr4w  - April 19, 2016, 2:55 p.m.

That was awesome.


tw  - April 19, 2016, 12:35 p.m.

The one thing that eventually matters more than the bike and the money is the time to actually do the riding. ……and as you get older the additional training to make the riding more fulfilling and enjoyable.(at least in my case)

The issue more often than not is as the money increases, the amount of time to enjoy the fruits of your labor decreases……and for many so does their health.

Keep those in mind as well.


Luix  - April 19, 2016, 6:52 p.m.



ZigaK  - April 21, 2016, 11:30 p.m.

That's exactly the conclusion I came up with. Find a job that gives you a lot of free time and flexibility and is in the right location. The money is not that important. So let's say a postman, or dmv guy. Cable guy?
As life happens, you will end up in shackles, so it would be wise to have a job that let's you have bike time at work. Impossible, maybe. I'm thinking professional trail builder or forest service employee.


Merwinn  - April 19, 2016, 9:54 a.m.

Money can make your life a comfortable one, but it may not be a happy one.


ZigaK  - April 19, 2016, 8:48 a.m.

"there are a lot of really bad companies within the bike industry" … that can't be true


Luix  - April 19, 2016, 5:36 a.m.

Great piece Dirk. I personally resigned a better job position (going from working on the trenches to be a technical leader) and chose to stay working from home, skipping a three-hour daily commute to and from work in the process. I also get to pick up my kid at the kindergarten, with our bikes loaded in the van, and head for a short spin every now and then. To me, losing all of that wasn't simply worth the extra money. It will all pay even better when we move 10 minutes away from our local forest reserve in a few more months.

I know some may differ, but personally I'm not obsessed with the latest and greatest. And looking at the fiascos several friends went through for being early adopters of several technologies (this last being exacerbated by living in a third-world country, i.e. try to find a spare set of seals for a last-gen fork), I think I'm in the right lane.

As you stated, as you age, it's harder to take risks. And a family creates stronger ties to that place you like to call "home". How do I find balance? By taking short escapades to places with better trails or more mountains.

I think I wrote this before, but it's worth bringing it out again. We have a saying down here: "No tengo todo lo que quiero, pero quiero todo lo que tengo" (I don't have everything I want, but I want everything I have).


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