TCI Friday

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Yesterday on the Paceline we had a discussion (read: I went on a rant) about the current state of bicycle retail. It’s a thing I think about a lot, and I understand that I’m sometimes a broken record on the subject. The thing is, so many of my friends are bike shop owners, people who’ve dedicated their lives not to making money (because if you wanted to make money you would never open a bike shop), but to growing the thing we all love, to trying, day-after-day to change people’s lives for the better, with bikes.

Stevil and I recorded a whole episode of Revolting (Episode 37, out mid-summer) about bike shops, what makes a good one, where to find them, etc. But in light of the rapidly changing landscape for my friends and their businesses, I wanted to get your input on what you want/need from your local bike shop (LBS), sometimes also known as an IBD (Independent Bicycle Dealer), the challenge there being that, increasingly, bike shops are not independent but tethered closely to the biggest bike brands. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll just lump them all in together.

Here are the things I want/need:

  1. A Good Mechanic – Bikes are getting more and more complicated to work on. Developments like electronic shifting, hydraulic braking and internal routing have upped the ante for the home mechanic significantly. I was never god’s gift to the manual arts, so I need someone local who know how to put me straight when, invariably, I get it wrong.
  2. Friends – As a regular shop visitor, I need to feel some level of friendship from the people there. They don’t have to ride with me or come to my birthday party, but I want to know something about them, and I want them to know something about me. Mostly, I need to feel like they’re on my side and want to help me get the good stuff out of riding bikes.
  3. Cool Stuff – Nothing bums me out harder than going into a bike shop (essentially the candy shop) and seeing zero stuff I’d like to have. I’m looking for a product offering that is non-homogenous. I like to see variety, not necessarily quantity, and I want the stuff that’s there be stuff the staff is stoked about.
  4. Trust – I’m separating from the friend-factor, and here’s why. A LOT of people come to me for bike advice. I am going to send them to a local bike shop, and I need to trust that they’re going to be treated well and guided to the right choice, even if the person I’m sending is not remotely as knowledgeable as I am. This is a trust not only that my friends will have a good experience, but that the shop will do the right things to welcome a novice into the fold of the bike riding community.

Having made that list, I expected to think, “Well, that’s a tall order,” but it’s really not. The most challenging one is probably the good mechanic. They are awfully hard to find and keep. They don’t get paid enough. Shops often make the mistake of undercharging for service. Customers often make the mistake of thinking paying less for mechanical work gets the same result as paying more.

There. That’s my list. Now it’s your turn. What makes a bike shop great? What am I missing? What are the other essential ingredients of an outstanding bike shop? Is there one near you, and what is their name? Let’s rep the folks doing the good work.

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Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    At this point, my bar is pretty low. I’d like to be able to walk in and buy an 11 speed chain.

    But I am routinely disappointed that shops don’t stock even simple things like that. Even before the pandemic.

  2. Barry Johnson says

    Stocking the basics. Just as Jlaufolff put it. 9 types of kids horns and 14 types of bells but no chains or cassettes.

    Another reality in the Greater Salt Lake area. Shops with uber road bikes ($8k+) with zero components available yet always with “We can order that for you”. Yeah, so can I.

    Another one is going in with my Ritchey 11 x Record bike with rim brakes and suffering the deluge of comments about why I haven’t upgraded to disc and the like. The lack of appreciation for maintaining a quality machine over the years is lost on these kids to the latest and so called greatest at all costs to keep up with the Joneses. G.A.S is sickening in the cycling world.

  3. khal spencer says

    It would be nice if the local shops can still stock parts and do service on older models. I’m not talking about my 1978 Motobecane Mirage. I am talking about stuff since the 21st Century hit us. You know, 9 speed? Rim brakes? Yes, I know shops are at the mercy of parts suppliers but still, is there anything they can do to keep us rolling on older stock? Ok, so if we cannot get Shimano 9 speed STI, can we get a substitute?

    One local shop here, Broken Spoke, jumped right up and agreed they could replace the seals and rebuild the Fox fork on my 2005 Stumpjumper Expert after a couple other shops said the forks would have to be sent out to the West Coast. Got it back in a week and it rides fine.

    New technology is great, but bikes are expensive enough that keeping an older example that is in good shape rolling down the road would do a lot to make bicycling a pastime available to those who are not in the top few percent.

  4. alanm9 says

    Danny and Tracy at Bull Run Bicycles have 1 through 4 nailed. Wonderful people, cool shop, can fix anything. Having parts on hand is a different matter; they’re so small that they are last in the pecking order, but I don’t fault them for it. If you can get a part on your own, Danny will install it, no complaints. Another shop I go to is bigger, less friendly, has large inventory, and serves craft beer and good coffee. If I could put those two together, heaven.

  5. albanybenn says

    I echo a number of the comments above. Several shops in the Albany NY area have nice stock of bikes, but extremely limited parts supply. I too ride a couple bikes that are 10 years old, 9 speed Deore. Shops do not have parts. If they order it’s always significantly more expensive than if I order them.

  6. bart says

    For me it all about the quality of the mechanic. One of my favorite mechanics left his LBS a few years ago and started his own mobile bike service. I use his service, as well as the services at several other shops in the area. They each have the things they seem to be best at. My bikes are old and use strange parts so I’ve learned to work with the shop/mechanic before I bring my bike in to make sure they have the parts that are needed or can order them ahead of time. I realize there are mark-ups on parts compared to what I could buy them for directly, but I just consider that to be part of the cost of the good mechanics.

  7. cumberland says

    It’s to the point now and coming very soon that boutique, dedicated brand shops don’t make sense anymore. My best shop example is one I experienced where they weren’t beholden to any brand. They either guided you to a purchase online or accepted your bring a trailer purchase. They would then charge you for the services provided as well as charging for the shipping from wherever they found the parts. Essentially, doing what you would do at home, but a slight charge on top of cost. This, to me, is the perfect shop. Listen to what I want, purchase it, provide service for the purchase. This seems simple on the surface, but man oh man there are so many shops that do not do this simple thing.

  8. eborling says

    Having basic parts on hand is key for me. I hate to be the online guy, but if I am looking for something basic like a chain and you have to order it, and I have to come back down and pick it up…I might as well have it delivered to my house in less time and for less money. I know that is not a particularly popular opinion around here, but it is what it is. I do feel for the shops as there have been 8700 different standards that have come through since my day of shop employment when sealed BBs first hit the scene but we still had a stock of French thread BB cups.

    Also, don’t be a dick. Like Robot said about the trust thing…yeah it’s fine if you are nice to me because you know who I am, but when I send somebody down there I want to trust that they are being treated with respect.

    Don’t be a dick part 2. If we are being honest, bike mechanics are the lowest form of mechanics. I was one for years, and thought I was cool at the time, but in no other form of mechanic-ing do they let complete noobs work on customers’ bikes. Compared to auto mechanics, or airplane mechanics, bike mechanic-ing is super simple, so let’s get off the high horse.

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