For a long time I thought that all bike shops and all bike mechanics were pretty much the same wherever you went. I thought we were all supposed to be part of this one world bike community. A place where we could all live happily and peacefully. A place where when we saw a fellow cyclist at the side of the road with a flat, we might stop and offer the use of our pump, maybe help put a chain back on.
I always considered the local bike shop and the bike mechanics laboring away inside like little wizards, a place of tranquility and peaceful serenity. I loved going into new shops and talking shop with the guys covered in oil behind the counter, or shooting the breeze with the owner.
It was good fun and an enclave against the harsh English, Scottish, US, or Dutch weather. (Depending on where I was living at the time: As a fulltime writer, my only requirements for work are a chair, a laptop, decent internet, and good quality coffee…lots of good quality coffee. It’s made it easier over the years to move around and live in different places. I even lived in New York for a small period of time once. It was ok, but I missed home, so I came back.)
It was also a great way to find out what was going on in the local biking scene. Those local independently owned bike shops really have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on. It’s also made it easier to get some really good advice over the years about purchasing upgrades and keeping my bike going.
The first time I ever went into a proper bike shop as a grown-up was when I was living in Dublin, Ireland. I had myself a really nice gray Hybrid city type bike, and it was saving me lots of time going to and from work, and also a small fortune on transport costs. (This was when I still had to work for the man.)
Anyway one night, I was travelling home in a blizzard when I got a flat. The snow was wet and it was melting the moment it hit the street, so not only was it snowing, but it was wet, cold, and I was soaked to the bone and all I had on was my suit. Normally this wasn’t an issue on my forty minute ride home, but with a flat, and having to walk, it was pretty f***** miserable.
So I took a chance, and called in at the local bike shop to see if they could help me. Well, guess what they could. While someone fitted a new tube, the manager made me coffee and insisted I stand in front of the fire. Thus began a relationship that lasted for many years until I moved away somewhere else…
And here’s where we get the point of this article.
I know live in a place that is predominantly considered to be road bike territory. This should be an issue for a mountain biker, but not for me. You see, I have no issue whatsoever carving out or making my own trails down mountains. I actually think it’s a lot of fun searching for ways to find your own trails. There’s a small posse of us committed mountain bikers and we have a lot of fun scouring the local country in our search for fun and adrenaline.
The problem with that is that it makes using the local bike shops a bit of a nightmare to buy a new mountain bike. But recently I had to. I finally had to put my trusty Kona Shred on the next boat to Valhalla due to a cracked frame. Like a boy in a man’s world, I said goodbye to my last set of 26” wheels, and started looking for a decent sub $1000 all-rounder. Of course I looked on the internet, did my research and then went to try some bikes out in the local shops. That was easier said than done. If I had wanted a road bike, I would be in heaven. Every local bike shop had road bikes crammed from corner to corner, but their selection of mountain bikes was sparse, to say the least. And of course none of them stocked Konas, which are my personal brand of choice. (I just like them, I really do. And that’s strange for someone like me, because I’m not a brand junkie, I’m really not, but I love my Konas.)
I’m also not the type of person who’ll buy something like a bike off the internet. I prefer to buy local where and when I can.
But in this case I couldn’t.
I was left with one option. I had to buy my new bike from the ‘local’ branch of a big Department store. The thing about this was they actually sell some pretty decent bikes. I opted for a bike made by a company called Voodoo, and a bike named Bizango. Now, for the price it’s a pretty awesome bike. So much so, that in the UK it won ‘mountain bike of the year,’ two years in a row, a few years back.
The bonus for me, was that the bike had been designed by a guy called Joe Murray, who had also designed several bikes for Kona over the years, before he ventured out on his own and started Voodoo.
To finish the longest ever introduction to anything I’ve ever written. I bought the bike. And it was and is, a really good bike. It’s a lot of bike for not very much money, relatively speaking.
But before we go any further, I feel I have to make this point first.
Local Bike Shops are the lifeblood of local biking communities. They need and deserve your support. The majority of them will bend over backwards to try and meet the demands and needs of their local customers. Most of them really know what they’re at as well. There are very few of them out there that are in it for the money. That’s part of the reason why so many are going out of business, or close up shop less than 18 months after they started out.
These days with the way the internet has gone, more and more people are choosing to buy their gear online, and their bikes online as well. It’s tough at the coal face for a lot of our Local Bike Shops. Where they survive and thrive is by offering a value service that is second to none. That’s why given the choice I will always go local first to buy a new bike. This time round I just couldn’t because the Local Bike Shops didn’t have what I needed.
But most people, I believe, want to support not only their local businesses, but also their local bike shops. Certainly this has always been my experience. But there are some worrying statistics out there. Despite the fact that more people are cycling than ever before, there are less bike shops now than at any point since the 1970s. No sh*t. So why the disconnect? It’s a good question.
Part of it is due to rise of municipal or leisure biking. People out there want bike they can cruise to work on ride around at…well…their leisure. Not everyone needs or wants a 257 speed road bike, or a full suspension carbon mountain bike. Some of them literally just want something with pedals and 2 wheels.
This is where I believe the problems have started with Local Bike Shops. Did you know that in the USA alone, over the last 20 years, there are approximately 33% less independent bike shops than there used to be? Why? Are the Local Bike Shops going out of business because they can’t compete with cheap department store bikes? Maybe, but I think that only covers some of the issues. You see, I think there’s a bit of a snob or elitist attitude grown up around some bike shops. Some shops have signs that say they won’t service department store bikes, or even no brand bikes. Tome this is like asking to have your shop close shop permanently.
Sure people can buy their bikes online are at the chain department store, but they’ll have a hell of a time buying spares or trying to get it service there. Isn’t this where the Local Bike Shop should excel with their excellent knowledge, experience and ability to keep your bike on the road? You’d think so wouldn’t you? But then from my own personal experience with my Bizango, I know that isn’t the case.
Bear in mind that before I go any further, I have over 20 something years experience of….no Holy Sh*t, it’s 30 years now. I have over 30 years experience of riding BMX, Road bikes, and primarily Mountain bikes. I am no stranger to wrapping my bikes around trees or wiping out like an adrenaline junkie with a bad habit always looking for that new high. But I like to keep my business local, where I can and support the local guys where I can…
Enter the Local Bike Shop and the Local Bike Mechanics.
Now, I could have gone back to the large chain store that also sold windscreen wipers, radios and tents for garden parties to get the bike serviced the first time it was due. But I chose not to. I also didn’t choose to do it myself. I like having a pro mech look my ride over every once in a while. It’s good for my bike, and also for the local economy.
So I duly took it one of the local bike shops….walked out with it ten minutes later, put it back on the rack and drove to the next shop. At that shop it took me fifteen minutes before I decided to drive to the next shop. It wasn’t until I got to the fifth shop, that I ended up leaving my bike in to get the once over…
I didn’t get I really didn’t.
It was the attitude that absolutely killed me. Where was the sense of community, the shared passion…In less than 2 hours, I’d had a selection of looks and narky comments that quite frankly incensed me. The biggest question for me though, was when had I become the enemy?
With the way the economy is, and the speed with which small independent bike shops open and shut, you’d think they’d want to do more to keep their business. Of course, it wasn’t just this one experience that tickled my anger buds. This was just the last straw. Because for me a good local bike shop is worth its weight in gold. So here are 10 sins committed by local bike shops, and local bike mechanics that are literally driving the lifeblood of money away from their doors.
10 Sins Of Local Bike Shops And Bike Mechanics
1 – When a customer walks through the door, at least acknowledge them.
Would that be so hard? I know, we’re cyclists, we’re all kind of about kicking back and embracing that laid back ‘hey we’re all in this together’ vibe. But would kill someone working in the shop to at least say hello? Instead of just carting on the conversation on the phone or chatting with the buddy beside you the least you could do is try and be friendly, and not treat the guy walking through the door like he’s an inconvenience. Seriously that’s the kind of shit I’d expect from a national Chain department store, not from the locals. I couldn’t even get the store clerk to come over and at least say hi when I walked in with my Bizango. He seemed far more interested in telling his buddy about a bike race he just won, and how many of the other racers were riding cheap bikes. The thing was I knew the race he was talking about. Except it wasn’t a race. It had been a charity cycle round a lake. People had their kids with them…
2 – I am not your enemy because I bought a bike from the Chain store.
I am not your enemy because my bike isn’t the brand you carry. I’m in your shop ain’t I? I’m here to give you money, not the other way round. I didn’t buy my bike and bring it to your shop to spite you. Neither did anyone else. And you know what, if someone does walk into your shop with a chain store department bike, maybe they just didn’t know any better. It’s not like you spend a fortune advertising your shop. People buy bikes in department stores because they don’t know any better, or because you didn’t have the bike they wanted. Besides, people covet what they see every day. They bought their bike from the chain store because that’s where they think you get bikes from.
3 – You tell people the bikes they have aren’t any good when they walk into the shop.
It’s entirely possible someone wanting to get their bike serviced has absolutely no intention of competing in races and have no interest in beating someone else’s time on Strava. Maybe they wanted a cheap bike so they could take their kids to the park on Sundays. Maybe they couldn’t afford your cheapest bike. In either case, they’ve arrived in your shop for help, and try and put business your way. Raising eyebrows, openly mocking their bikes, looking at them like they’re idiots means they’ll never come back.
4 – You assume you know more than the guy your serving.
Well it’s a pretty good bet you do, let’s face it but not always. Like me for instance. One of the mechanics in the bike shop looked at my bike and within 10 seconds was telling me I would probably need new front forks because quote, ‘those chain store bikes have really cheap materials in them. Those front forks you have aren’t spring driven garbage that ain’t worth sh*t. You’ll kill yourself using them. I got a cheap decent air filled pair in the back you can have. You probably won’t be able to tell the difference anyway. But then I guess that’s why you bought from ********.’ Ahhhm, yeah, no. If he’d bothered to look, he would have seen they were actually some pretty nifty Suntour Raidon forks. No, not the best in the world, but not the worst, by a long shot. He did not get my business.
5 – You tell them their cheap department bought bike was made in China from inferior materials.
What isn’t made in China? Seriously. Don’t take your customers on guilt trips because they bought a cheap mass market steel piece of junk from elsewhere. Everyone makes mistakes. My first bike cost me $250, and yes, it didn’t last 6 months, but it was all I could afford. Maybe it’s all they could afford, you know what I’m saying?
6 – Don’t embarrass people by saying you won’t service cheap bikes.
Yes, we know, you’re a pro shop. But most of your customers don’t. A lot of people with bikes couldn’t tell you the difference between a brake caliper and a 27.5. Educate them, help them bit don’t mock them.
7 – You try and sell them junk. Oh yeah.
One of my local bike shops closed recently. It was sad to see, but I wasn’t surprised. I went in looking for a new mountain bike. The guy told me about a great bike he had going for $600. It wasn’t. It was junk. By assuming he could sell pieces of crap at inflated prices basing his business strategy on buyers ignorance, he soon found no one was going to his shop. It’s amazing how quick word can get around isn’t it. This brings me nicely to my next point.
8 – Don’t automatically assume your customers don’t know what they want or need.
Because it’s really annoying. My wife went to a local shop in the UK once looking for a small frame Mens bike as from years of experience she preferred mens bike to the female ones, and the sales rep constantly kept telling her she should buy a Womens bike. Needless to say they didn’t get the sale.
9 – Thinking that people who buy their bikes from a department store deliberately ignored your shop and when they finally came to you they should look at the ground in shame.
Maybe they didn’t know you were around. Maybe they didn’t know you were the friendly local bike shop. Or maybe it’s because the last time they came in, the mechanic who talked to them treated them with utter contempt for having a steel framed bike. How about instead you put a massive sign in your window sating you’ll happily service anything going. Would it kill to greet your customers with a warm smile? It’s about investing in your business, try it out. Just see what it’s like to not intimidate someone who’s probably already out of there comfort zone just by being in a proper bike shop.
10 – Maybe stock some low end bikes.
How much business do you turn away because you don’t sell any bikes for less than $800? Did it ever occur to you that maybe people buy bikes from the big department store chains because ethey’re cheap? You don’t have to compete with the big low quality stores directly. But how about getting some cheaper ones in and modifying them so they’re better bikes, and pitching that fact to potential customers. ‘So yeah, this bike is $150 more than the one in….but we’ve put some customer tires and played with the gears for you, so it’s actually a much better value bike.’ Try it. You’d be amazed what a loyal customer base can do for your business.