Mechanic Monday! Scott Armstrong talks opening shop at 41

The second instalment of our Mechanic Monday series, held in collaboration with PeopleForBikes, the PBMA and Abbey Bike Tools, checks in with Scott Armstrong of MJ’s Cyclery in San Diego who shares his journey through the bike biz.

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PBMA:  Can you tell us a little bit about how your shop started?

SA: Around 1985 I discovered cycling as I had several friends get into it in Junior High. I started road riding but then mountain biking was becoming a thing. I got a job cleaning up at Chain Gang in Redding, California. I coveted a Mountain Goat Whiskeytown Racer but ended up getting a Stumpjumper. I rode a bit through High School and did some racing when the now defunct Vulcan Tour came to town. I met Alexi Grewal in the pits when my friend and found him at the downtown crit. He was pretty intimidating but it inspired us.

When I went away to school I was going to be fighter pilot, having seen Top Gun. That didn’t happen but I kept riding. I ended up getting a job as a cop with the SDPD and rode regularly with friends. I began to ride with people who worked in shops and had these amazing workshops in their garages. I had always worked on my own bikes so when I needed help I asked them to show me how to do what I needed done. We did some 24-hour racing and spent a lot of time getting bikes in race shape at all hours of the night. I attended Interbike 5 or 6 times with friends as an honorary “employee” of their shops.  That was pretty fun, though Interbike has changed a lot since then.

I left the SDPD after 13 years and had to figure out what to do. I had been working with the Southern California High School Cycling League for a few years so I had more time to focus on that. A friend had been running a pop up bike shops at San Diego farmers markets and was ready to go a brick and mortar. I had some money left in my 401k from the SDPD so it seemed like a good idea to open a shop. I attended UBI in Portland for the Pro 2 week course to sharpen my skills and get something on paper, as I hadn’t worked in the industry before and figured I would need something to show customers. We have been open 4 years now and I still work as a staff member for the SoCal League 8 years later.

Some people told me I was “buying a job” when we opened. That may be true, but we opened with not much cash and a lot of sweat equity. Providing solid honest service has paid off and we are still up and running as a well-respected shop in a fairly large town.

PBMA: What advice would you give to someone considering a major career change into the cycling industry?

SA: I think I likely have a very non-traditional entry into the industry in that I opened a shop at 41 years old after only having worked in one when I was 15. Having a love of the sport definitely helped and getting some training and certification boosted my confidence. Work on anything you can and pay attention. If you need help, ask. Never be afraid to ask for help.  Any mechanic who ridicules you for asking for help isn’t your friend.

PBMA: What is your favorite tool?

SA: My favorite tool is actually two tools. The EVT mulfinger combined with a nipple shaker box. I have one I got from Wheel Fanatyk and one made locally by woman named Anna who has a business called Broken Compass. It’s got the shop logo on it. Just cleaning up that part wheel building took a lot of time out of the process, and time is money.