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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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