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Bike mechanic in Seaforth, Ont., relies on touch, not sight, to do repairs

Jason Lamont is blind, and has relied on his sense of touch to make adjustments and repairs to hundreds of bikes at his shop, J's Bicycle Repair.

Jason Lamont has an eye condition called retinopathy of prematurity that makes him blind

Jason Lamont works on a bicycle-like contraption at his bike shop, J's Bicycle Repair, in Seaforth. (J's Bicycle Repair/Facebook)

Jason Lamont has fixed so many bikes he says he could do it with his eyes closed and with ear muffs on. 

And that's less of an exaggeration than you might think.

The 21-year-old Seaforth, Ont., man has been relying on touch, not sight, to make repairs and adjustments on hundreds of bikes over the past two summers.

"I'm totally blind," he said. "My retinas are detached from my eyes. I still have eyes, but they don't work."

The condition is called retinopathy of prematurity. And although it made it too risky for Lamont to pursue a goal of becoming a car mechanic, it didn't stop him from attending a basic bike repair course where he learned to adjust brakes, gears and change tire tubes at Ontario Cycles in Listowel. 

"They actually said 'you have a knack for this.'"

Jason Lamont, who is blind, relies on his sense of touch to repair and tune up bicycles at his bike shop, J's Bicycle Repair. (Submitted by Jason Lamont)

Lamont went on to take a two-week bike mechanic course at Winterborne Bicycle Institute in Guelph in the spring of 2019. Then, he opened his own shop.

"Everything for me is by feel. So if there's the slightest bit of play in a bearing, a set of bearings, or if they spin rough, I'm going to know that and I'm going to go 'okay, these need to come apart, we need to see what's wrong and go from there. I'm very particular about adjustments." 

How it works

Lamont runs the shop out of his parent's garage from the spring until the fall. 

Inside, his tools hang along a wall in the order they'd appear in a box set. It's a common storage method for bike shops, said Lamont, and it's particularly useful for someone relying on a sense of touch. 

"In my case, I have to feel along the wall. 'Oh, I need this size of wrench,' so I have to count all the wrenches." 

Lamont said most people don't comment on the fact he's blind, though he does often get asked if he can see light or shadows. The answer to that question, he said, is no. 

When someone pulls into the driveway, Lamont said he'll go outside with arms outstretched to find their vehicle. 

"That kind of gives them a hint that, 'okay, he maybe doesn't have any vision,'" he explained. 

"They'll put the bike out in front of me and they'll show me where it is and then they'll tell me what's wrong and I go from there." 

Tremendous support

Lamont said there are more advantages than disadvantages to being blind. Some of the difficulties though, are taking measurements and figuring out whether something is bent out of shape. 

Luckily, help isn't far away. His dad lends a hand when Lamont asks for it and his mom manages the paperwork. 

"I have tremendous support from my family," he said. 

"When I first started, I needed help a lot. I needed help to figure out how cables route, I needed help to figure out how bearings under the pedals came apart. I needed help to figure out how to adjust the bearings in wheels."

"I've gotten a lot better since I started," he added.

It's been a record year for Lamont, in part because the pandemic drove up interest in outdoor activities like cycling. He fixed about 165 bikes, compared to last year's 130. 

"Next year is just going to be better. You're building your profit, you're building your business," he said. "I've learned so much about business and customer service and how to best help people."

With files from Allison Devereaux

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