TCI Friday

In my work, I have the opportunity to speak with bike shop owners all over the country. Right now, there is really only one conversation, and that is, when will things go back to normal, when will we be able to get what we need to serve our customers again? There is frustration, resignation, bewilderment.

There seem to be dominoes cascading in multiple directions, like one of those videos made my bored college kids in the ’80s. As shops worry they won’t be able to get inventory, they begin to hoard parts, which exacerbates supply issues for other shops. It also puts the hoarding shop in jeopardy of having too much inert inventory when the season ends, i.e. now. Customers who’ve been told ‘no’ by their shop strike out on their own and source parts via the internet, which keeps those dollars out of local coffers.

Suppliers sitting on bikes and components they know will all be sold consider their channel mixes. If they move more direct-to-consumer and cut out the shops, they can eke more margin from limited supply/capacity. Their material and labor costs are rising. Supply and demand exert inexorable pressure on the system.

However it pans out, I know a lot of shop owners feel burned by the manufacturers. Relationships have suffered.

For you and me, these are luxury problems. Cycling is a hobby. Very few of us get paid to ride, Most of us have a bike already.

In other ways, the industry’s current challenges will shift the retail paradigm yet again. Shops are going out of business. Others are adapting with appointment-only hours, more streamlined inventories, more focus on service. I haven’t spoken to anyone yet who really believes they have it figured out. The ones who expressed some relief at the beginning of the pandemic, as demand soared and there was less pressure to maintain a seven-day-a-week business schedule, are now beginning to worry they’ll be so starved of product in 2022 that they won’t be able to make ends meet.

It’s always funny to me that creators of ads for small-business services or banks or really any random product just love to use bike shops as sets, as emblematic somehow of a fun, lifestyle business.

This week’s TCI Friday asks, where have you been getting your stuff? Do you have a local bike shop (LBS) you support? Have you moved to online shopping only? What do you think fixes this situation? Is it a simple case of working through the back-ups at the ports, of hiring more truck drivers? I suspect the pandemic has only sped up a process the industry is struggling with, how to best get bikes and bike stuff in the hands of the people who want it in the age of the internet and a new global marketplace.

As the philosopher Ted Leo once said, “…if you’re gonna call it art, then there’s a cup in front of you,” and so I’d ask you to consider subscribing to The Cycling Independent. It’s the only way we can afford to buy the bike parts that aren’t available right now.

Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    I upgraded my bike last summer (to 11sp mech grx). I talked to a few shops and they all said we can do the work but you need to buy your own parts. I never mentioned price and never haggle with shops over price. It was all about the supply. Eventually I got all the parts and I did the entire build except the wheels and headset install.

  2. Jeff vdD says

    Whenever possible, I purchase parts through one of several LBS, for several reasons despite perhaps paying more than I would online. One, I want bike shops to exist in general so that I can see products and get service. Two, I want a bike shop to know me so that I have a chance of getting work done in a hurry if necessary. Most recently, I dropped my CX bike off on a Thu afternoon to have the bottom bracket looked at/replaced. The wrinkle was that I needed the bike back Fri afternoon in advance of a Sat morning race. They came through for me, perhaps in large part because I’d shown loyalty.

  3. bart says

    I buy everything that is attached to or installed on the bike (pumps, electronics, helmets, shoes, pedals) from my LBS. I just don’t trust myself to get the right parts otherwise and really value the great service I get. I tend to buy clothing (bibs, jerseys, base layers, jackets) online because I usually want very specific items and have a hard time finding them or sourcing through a LBS. I tend to be disappointed when I limit my clothing selection to what the LBS has available or can get. Not sure if this is a “good” mix or not.

  4. khal spencer says

    I used to order a lot online but lately, have not done that. I’ve gotten most stuff at the LBS. Fortunately, last year I didn’t need much but it was a gigantic PIA to find a 22t inner chain ring for an older mountain triple. Finally found one through The Broken Spoke here in Santa Fe. My guess is they probably had to knock someone unconscious and steal it off his bike. Just kidding. I hope.

    Separately, a small group of us who email each other and chat on Patrick O’Grady’s site have been swapping parts from our individual stashes. I recently sent Patrick a 26 mm stem. A different Pat sent me a nice saddle for my gravel bike.

    I did buy a new bike direct from the manufacturer towards the end of 2020. Its a Litespeed Gravel, but Litespeed didn’t have a dealer anywhere near me so ordering it from the factory just made sense. Its a very nice ride and indeed, my bikes got me through the pandemic so far without going stark raving mad.

    I have no idea when normal will happen. As Bruce Cockburn once sang, “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

  5. alanm9 says

    I love my LBS but they’re just too small to get parts. He just started to get a few new bikes after over a year with nothing. On the other hand I just got a complete new Ultegra drive train and brake pads and pedals with next day delivery online through the big mean A. So what can I do? I ride 5-6K miles a year and need parts to keep riding. As soon as the supply chain loosens up I’ll go back to him full time; and yes I understand I did little to help him through the pandemic. I can only thank all those people who brought their rusty dusty unridden bikes to him and kept him going with labor dollars.

  6. scottg says

    I was in a friends bike shop, stuffed full of new Giant bikes, boxes stacked on edges
    of the sales floor. My LBS was short on Shimano chains, another in the city had good
    My last build was Suntour, Mafac and Stronglight 49, the ratline is well stocked with
    old French merde and Suntour supplies are easily available.
    I do need a 4 speed freewheel to get the Simplex kit deployed.

  7. TominAlbany says

    LBS for all part and for service I can’t do (a lot of it). Online for most clothing because I can’t usually find what I want in shops and I think my LBS gave up on keeping a good inventory a while ago.

  8. Barry Johnson says

    I wish I had a reputable LBS any longer. It’s not that I live in the far reaches or whatnot, they’ve all gone to catering everything other than road bikes. I guess I make it tougher as well from being a Campag only user since 1992. It’s almost as if you HAVE to ride mtb and ebike to support your LBS in certain areas. So, in a nutshell, I’d gladly give them my money as opposed to CC and others if they had what I needed and wanted.

  9. mechanicmatt says

    LBS hooked me up with spoke nipples, derailers for 9 & 10 SPD Shimano, chains and xt 10spd cassette. Basically if I stayed away from 11 & 12 SPD stuff, they had an ok selection. I gave them all I could for business, but did have to go online for some things.

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