The Bike Mechanic and the Professor

Electric bike repair and the future of academia.

September 19, 2019

Want to understand what the life of a professor will be like in the future? Spend some time with your local bike mechanic.

Up until very recently, the role of bike mechanic had not changed all that much in decades. Bicycle technology steadily evolved, and bike mechanics had to keep up with those changes to practice their craft.

In the last couple of years, everything about the role of being a bike mechanic has changed. The reason for this change is the growing popularity of electric bikes. In the US, sales of electric bikes rose 73% last year. This growth compares to an 8% decline in sales for traditional bikes.

Buying an electric bike is a major purchase. E-bike riders tend to put lots of miles on their bikes, requiring more frequent servicing. That servicing is more complicated.

The bike mechanic must not only work on all the traditional parts of the bike that need fixing (derailleur, brakes, cables, shifters, chain, etc.), they must now be able to diagnose and repair electric motors, controllers, and sensors.

The complexity of electric bikes also changes the relationship between the bike mechanic and the bike owner. As bike mechanics who are certified to work on e-bikes are often the most knowledgeable person at a bike shop about electric bikes, they are spending more time speaking with potential and existing e-bike owners.

Today, the person who fixes your electric bike is often the same person who talks to you about how to keep the bike in good repair.

The successful bike mechanic of the future will not only need to retain expertise in traditional bike repair. They will also need to become experts in electric motors and control systems.

The bike mechanic of tomorrow will spend ever-more time interacting with potential and existing e-bike owners, coaching them on which e-bike to buy, how to maintain the bike, and on which accessories or upgrades to consider.

Like bike mechanics, the role of the professor is also changing.

The traditional work that professors have always done is not going away. Professors will continue to plan and teach their courses, as well as engage in scholarship and service. Professors will continue to advise and mentor students, engage in research, and serve on committees.

Added to all this faculty work, will be an increasing requirement that professors take on new tasks. These new tasks will go beyond the administrative work that departmental staff once handled, as administrative support roles are disappearing.

Professors will increasingly need to become adept at a range of educational technologies to practice their craft. Tomorrow’s professor will need to be as comfortable teaching online as they are in a physical classroom. Online instruction involves the mastery of both asynchronous teaching platforms (discussion boards, online assessments, etc.) and synchronous platforms (such as Zoom).

Technology makes teaching more resource-intensive and complicated. There is wide variation in the availability of people support that is available to faculty across colleges and universities to assist with integrating new technologies into teaching. At many schools - if not most - professors are mainly on their own when it comes to utilizing educational technologies.

The complexification of the faculty role goes well beyond teaching.

Engagement in scholarship has moved beyond the traditional channels of conferences, journals, and books. The work of knowledge creation now encompasses a bewildering away of possible digital platforms and channels. The pressure for faculty to engage both scholarly and popular audiences with their research is only growing more intense.

In the case of bike mechanics and professors, technological changes serve to increase the value of the people involved in the work. Technology does not replace or substitute for the bike mechanic or the professor. Instead, new technologies make the role of the bike mechanic and the professor more crucial than ever. The catch is that the people doing this work need to know and do more.

Has your faculty job gotten more complicated over your career?

How can we train tomorrow’s faculty to thrive in an academic world that makes an ever-growing number of demands on professors?

What else do you think we can learn about the future of academia from the people who keep our e-bikes running?

Are you an e-bike riding academic?


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