After the last stage of my Tour De Jeux gave me a flat tire on my real bike, I started dreaming of a bike repair game. A dirty game with fuzzy deductive puzzles as you eliminate the many possible causes of similar symptoms. As far as I know, such a game does not exist. But I saw two upcoming games with similar names: Bicycle Mechanic Simulator and Bike Mechanic Simulator 2023. Alas, I’m afraid they’re PlayWay style sims where you just click stuff in order and then everything works tickety-boo. It’s not the bike repair I know and grudgingly enjoy.
In both games, you’ll run your own bike workshop. You will assemble bikes, repair bikes and collect bikes. I’m vague because all I have to do for now is the bit of marketing material on the Steam pages for Bike Mechanic Simulator 2023 (due to launch in 2023, obvs) and Bicycle Mechanic Simulator (launch TBA). Looks like they might fall into the standard form of the ‘X Simulation games made by companies like PlayWay, but hopefully not.
Even the most detailed simulator is abstract, cutting and simplifying the elements because we cannot run real-time reality on a desktop PC. The interesting decision is where you draw that jagged line. For me PlayWay style sims cut too much. They often turn complex and fuzzy procedures into a series of tasks where you click on the bit you are told to click in the order you are told to click on it until it is all done, like PowerPoint presentations with real-time 3D graphics. While I understand the appeal of a soft game dressed up as your hobby, it’s not what I dream of.
I think repairing bikes could create some interesting and challenging puzzles with investigative diagnosis, careful procedures, some bodges ability, and the risk of screwing up. A bicycle is basically a fairly simple mechanical device: tubes, a few parts that spin or spin, then a cable, chain, rubber, bolts, levers, and bearings to tie them together and keep you going. In theory, this device should be simple to repair. In reality, ah!
So many processes are analog, involving feel, balance or intuition, and adapt to the needs and desires of each rider. Running a wobbly wheel by tightening specific spokes, for example, is magic as far as I’m concerned. Then you have the mysteries of components following many incompatible competing standards, and the ability to put things together incorrectly (God help you if you forget which parts are threaded to screw in the opposite direction and try to muscle yourself in), and invisible mistakes like rotting your brakes from the inside out by using the wrong type of hydraulic fluid. Little is just “do this until it’s done”.
My heart sank a little when the Bicycle Mechanic Simulator trailer hinted that the game could automatically thread the chain through a rear derailleur (the bit that changes the gears of a rear wheel) for you. If you can’t make the rookie mistake of picking a wrong route through the spring jaws and not noticing until you hear a hellish rattle, is it even a bike repair? But again, I’m just guessing from screenshots and short trailers.
Maybe these games will make you forget the order of reassembly of a freewheel’s nuts, bearings, seals and the like, as I certainly did (always take a picture!). Maybe you’ll be free to pump the hydraulic brakes while the wheel is off, spraying mineral oil around your living room (welp). Maybe you can overtighten a fender bolt until the friction melts the plastic washer (shut up, okay). Listen, a pro shop once admitted to being so baffled by the brakes on my old bike that they just banged on a few washers to forcefully adjust the spacing. It wasn’t elegant but hey, it worked. They would earn a ★☆☆ rating for this puzzle solution.
My most/least favorite part of bike repair is identifying problems not obvious by sound. Turn a pedal lightly by hand and listen for squeaks, scrapes, squeaks or rubs. Bring your ear closer and try to isolate it. Now press that part, squeeze them, spin that part, and wiggle them around (remembering that not all moves are bad). But maybe an annoying noise only occurs when you actually drive or drive hard. It can be difficult to hear while riding because not only are many parts lumped together, but noises can travel through a bike frame and sound like they’re coming from somewhere else. Hell, maybe you’re perplexed because a mysterious squeak isn’t the bike at all, it’s the cleat of your bike shoe. (And while I have no experience with carbon fiber, I know that a common technique for assessing suspicious cracks is to tap it to check for a different sound.) This sonic process is sometimes frustrating to work with but always enjoyable to solve. I could enjoy that a lot in a video game.
Is My Vague Wishing Game actually edutainment? Do I want edutainment? Maybe. But I think there’s a lot of fun and confusing potential in intricate repairs, elusive faults, abused bikes and esoteric vintage components (like retro-direct gearing where you sometimes pedal backwards and reinventions modern of it). And what will you do if a customer wants their bike customized in a way that will probably cause them problems later on? Good story and personality opportunities with repeat customers too – and humor if you need to fix their horrible DIY bodges. Some bikes seem to be held together by cable ties, frame bags, oily clumps of dog hair and a wishful thinking.
Like many who got back into cycling during Covid-19, I had a neglected bike that needed work – and the repair shops were late with all of us. So, like other brave lunatics, I tried to fix some bits myself. I sought advice, mind. While normally I learn by breaking things and then fixing them while I fix them in a panic, waiting weeks for a professional backup made this too risky. The biggest resource was London Bike Kitchen’s Hex Education, a course of lessons on Zoom. It gave me enough confidence in the fundamentals to then tackle bigger tasks with the help of Sheldon Brown’s encyclopedic knowledge and Park Tool’s YouTube videos. Now, when I broke stuff, I felt equipped to recover (I like LBK’s motto: “fix shit or cry try”). I’m still a long way from being an expert, and probably haven’t reached simple proficiency yet (I leave heavy work on my best bike to professionals), but I’m able and happy to fix a lot of things by myself. I even worked on bikes for my buddies, and they’re all alive. Currently alive. It feels good. Currently.