A pokey spoke is the litmus test.
Like playing in traffic, or eating at a restaurant run by a skinny chef, it’s a bad idea to let anyone who’s unfamiliar with this most ubiquitous of shop tools fix your bike. No exceptions. Ever. The “mechanic” in question might try to overwhelm you with technical vocabulary, or distract you with stories of decades past, but if they’ve never ground an old spoke to a fine point, they’re an imposter, and they’re not to be trusted.
At a glance, it looks like a poor man’s dental pick. Lying on a shop bench, it’s easily mistaken for debris left over from past projects. But in the hands of a master, it’s transformed into a surgical instrument.
There’s no point in trying to list every use for the pokey spoke. From preparing the ends of a freshly cut brake housing to picking glass out of tires and cleaning dirt from the heads of bolts, it’s a tool with too many uses to ever be pigeonholed. And that’s the beauty of it—it’s so incredibly versatile that its operation reveals the true character of the person grasping it. The creativity with which it’s used shows the imagination of the mechanic. It requires a delicate touch, and conversely, a strong grip. The deftness of each movement is a product of the years of experience leading up to that moment. And that’s why it’s so effective at separating the veteran wrenches from the fakers.
There’re a handful of traits that distinguish the best bike mechanics. They’re rarely friendly, which is a byproduct of fixing other people’s bikes when they’d rather be out riding. They’re generally dirty, thanks largely to customers who are deathly afraid of rinsing their ride before bringing it in for repairs. And they’re often short with their words, which tends to undermine the fact that they possess an encyclopedic knowledge of all things bike related.
Most of us, when our bikes break, will fix the problems we can solve, but there’s a point where our schedules and our patience simply can’t take it anymore. That’s when you turn to your trusted local wrench. Next time you do, ask them about their favorite use for their pokey spoke. If they respond with a blank stare, you’d better run. But if you see a twinkle in their eye as they formulate their response, you’ll know they’re the real deal. Under the gruff demeanor and grease-stained hands lies a surgeon, so be thankful you’ve found a good one.