Yes, that apostrophe is correctly placed and no I’m not cursing. ‘Cept maybe under my breath.
Non-cyclists frequently ask me why bikes cost so much. I’ve got a dozen different answers, but the truest of the bunch is also the least satisfying of all. I’ve worked in a part of the market where bikes cost a fair bit less than they do in bike shops. My experience there taught me that there is a good reason why a quality bike costs as much as it does.
In the mid 1990s Dick’s was a regional sporting goods chain with a dozen or so locations when they expanded out of their Mid-Atlantic base into New England. It was a big push and their West Springfield store was not only the largest Dick’s ever at roughly 55k square feet, it was the first to offer bikes and exercise equipment.
I was hired to run the bike “department.” The line I was fed was that we would be just like a specialty bike shop, but within a much larger business. We would be able to special order parts and do upgrades, but we wouldn’t have any repair business to speak of beyond our 30-day checks. The store manager who hired me promised that we’d have first-rate lines, though nothing imported. My responsibilities would include training the staff and setting our quality standards. As new stores prepared to open (they were beginning a big expansion throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic), I’d be moved into a training role that would see me travel to all the new bike departments and train them.
I thought, This is the break I’ve been waiting for.
Of course, reality did little more than make a glancing introduction to the promises the manager made. Our “shop” carried Diamondback, Balance and one or two others, but our maintstays were those two. Our shop was a room smaller than some walk-in closets with a Park workstand with two arms, a few Park tools, a couple of screwdrivers and some Aqua Net hairspray. For anything more complicated than a bike assembly I had to bring in my own tools, and being a race mechanic, I had a pretty bomber tool kit that looked like a badass briefcase.
I took the job with Dick’s because I believed in their stated goal of bridging the divide between the mass merchant and the specialty retailer. Most Huffy bikes are ridden fewer than 100 miles in their lives before being parked for good, pandemics aside. My experience told me that if someone had more fun on their bike they would ride it more. I saw this as an opportunity to bring better bikes to people who wouldn’t otherwise walk in a bike shop. Because the most expensive bike we sold went for roughly $700, we weren’t a big threat to most bike shops.
Knowing that we were unlikely to have many people come back for their 30-day checkup, something I hated doing anyway, I resolved to make sure that every bike that left the store was so thoroughly assembled as not to need any further check. Mostly, that meant making sure all the cables were properly adjusted. Mostly.
Because Dick’s soon had more than a dozen locations selling bikes, they suddenly gained buying power that most shops couldn’t touch and because they were focused on a slice of the market—better than mass merchant, but not really bike shop—that almost no one else was, they leapt at purchases that made sense to no one else.
Case in point: Diamondback produced a couple of hybrids, the Boardwalk and Parkplace, that were fairly popular, but one year they overproduced by probably double what they should have. When those bikes went on closeout to dealers, Dick’s buyers offered to buy the whole lot, so long as they received an even deeper discount.
Suddenly Dick’s had hundreds of Boardwalks and Parkplaces at roughly 60 percent of their suggested retail. It was an incredible opportunity for Dick’s customers. Saving people money like that felt dynamite.
But there were times when it felt like we were doing little more than saving people money. I’m someone who believes in quality, in doing a job well and spending more for something that will last longer. Working at Dick’s quickly became an affront to all of that.