A Local Bike Shop Story

I have a special affinity for the local bike shop.  The folks who own and run these stores are on the front lines in the battle to create new cyclists and, for the most part, they do a great job.  I encourage everyone who loves cycling to find a local bike shop and support it, even if it means paying a little more. What you get back for the few extra dollars you spend far outweighs what it costs you.

Yours truly at Phat Tire in Bentonville Arkansas...a very good local bike shop.

Yours truly at Phat Tire in Bentonville Arkansas…a very good local bike shop.

That said, all local bike shops are not equally good. In fact, I’ve come to realize that some are their own worst enemies.  I had an experience yesterday I’d like to share.  It made me shake my head in disbelief.  Maybe you’ve had a similar one.  I hope not.

I needed a new rear cassette for my 15 year old Specialized Hardrock.  This is not my daily rider, but rather my winter slop bike.  I just want something simple and inexpensive.   I’d recently replaced the crank and chain and thought I could limp through the winter on the old cassette but, not surprisingly, the chain started slipping almost immediately on the worn teeth of the smallest gear…the one I use the most.  It needed to be replaced.

So I took the wheel off the bike and brought it in so that we could get it right. There were no other customers in the shop.  It’s November.  Most people are thinking of other things.  Even so, the owner appears frazzled and doesn’t recognize me.  I recognize him.  I’ve spent money in this store four or five times since moving into this apartment in  July. No problem.  I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to shopping.

So I hand him the wheel and tell him what I need.  He takes a look at it and he says “Nobody makes this old SunTour crap any more.”  His exact words.  Wow.  No kidding?

Now at this point he hasn’t asked me what I use the bike for or how much I ride. He doesn’t ask if I have other bikes. He doesn’t ask anything at all. On a previous visit, I mentioned to him that I’m an League-Certified instructor and that perhaps we could work together to drive traffic to his store.  He doesn’t remember…or maybe he does and simply doesn’t care.

So I ask him what he recommends as far as the cassette goes.  He sarcastically replies:  “A new bike.”  I look around the shop.   It’s loaded to the gills with bicycles.  It’s November and winter’s coming and there’s not another customer in sight and he probably has over 100 bicycles in inventory…high buck Treks and Surlys.  I think I understand why.  He doesn’t know how to upsell…not even a little.  In fact, he’s an oaf and I’m more embarrassed for him than I am angry about the way he’s treating me.

The great irony is that I am going to buy a new bike…a Surly Krampus…and he has one on the floor for $1700…not a bad price…but I am so put off by the way he has interacted with me up to this point that I instantly decide I’m not going to buy it from him.  I don’t tell him this.  Now it’s me who doesn’t care.

I should have just thanked him for his time and left, but instead I ask him to sell me a cassette and he finally does but not without a lecture about how disappointed I’m going to be.  Little did he know how disappointed I already was.

The moral of this story is that there are both good and bad local bike shops.  If you walk into a bad one, don’t despair. Just turn around and walk right back out. You’ll catch the vibe as soon as you walk in the door and it’s never wrong.  Your time will be better spent searching for and finding one of the many bike dealers who genuinely care about their customers and the cycling movement.  When you do, give them your business.

If you want to shortcut the process, let me know.  I go out of my way to visit bike shops while on the road, and I know good ones in many cities from coast to coast.  I’m happy to share my recommendations.


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