I can't tell you how many people come to the shop and say more or less exactly that. And it's a good start... at least I know you're not there to buy a headlight or test ride folding bikes. But it's amazing how many possibilities that simple sentence can represent. So here are some thoughts about how we can work together to get your bike what it really needs.
First, think about how long it has been since the bike has been serviced, and how much use it's had since then. Did you bring it in to us last March, and have us lube it and adjust all the systems, then life got in the way and you only got to ride it 4 or 5 times before it went into the garage for the winter? Or has it been ridden almost every day for three years in all weather on your commute and hasn't been touched by a mechanic that whole time? Each of these and everything in between starts with "my bike needs a tuneup" it seems. So think about your bike's history and try to fill me in on it. To help you, I'm going to ask you questions about that, so I can get a better sense of what "tuneup" is going to mean. I can tell a lot by looking at the bike, but words help too.
Second, are there any particular problems you have had with the bike lately? Are there any odd noises it's making? Don't worry about not knowing the right words to use to describe it... telling me "the gear thingies slip" at least points me in the right direction. Obviously, the more you can narrow down the symptoms helps... "the gear thingies slip when I'm shifting" is different from "the gear thingies slip when I climb", and will lead me to look for different possible problems. Again, there's likely to be some question and answer involved in this process, along with some explanation. As much as possible, I try to tell people what I think the problem is, and how I plan to solve it, when they bring the bike in. Some folks like that, while others' eyes simply glaze over, at which point, I cut the explanation short.
Speaking of "gear thingies"... please don't be surprised or offended if I patiently give you the correct terminology. I figure if I use the words "derailleur" and "shifter" often enough, and point out what I'm referring to, it will eventually make it easier to communicate. On the other hand, if you feel I'm bandying about jargon too much, just ask me to clarify what the heck it is I'm talking about.
Finally, it's a big help if you understand that when you bring us a bike to repair, we prefer to take a few minutes looking it over with you there, so we can discuss what we feel the bike needs with you. This saves us guessing, or trying to reach you later with questions. It also helps you to know right up front what to expect in terms of how much it's going to cost, and how long it's going to take.
Which is where we'll pick up on installment number three... soon!