Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Bike Shop - Ambassadors of Cycling

I love bike shops. Over the years, I've frequented quite a few, developed some favorites and some not-so-favorites. What separates the two? Why am I compelled I to go back to one shop time and again and others I fear like the plague? I was giving this some thought after a recent trip to my favorite shop here in Michigan, Kinetic Systems Bicycles. Thinking about what keeps me coming back to Kinetic, I've come up with a few tangible and intangible attributes that, in my mind, make a bike shop great.
  • Knowledgeable staff - This is a HUGE one. When I go to a shop, I want to feel like they have a greater knowledge of cycling than I do. This goes doubly for the mechanics. If I have a repair question on a Campagnolo drivetrain, the last thing I want is the person who is getting intimate with one of my bikes to answer my inquiry with a blank stare. I do 95% of the wrenching on my bikes, but there's still that 5% that I need some assistance on. Inevitably, that 5% will be something beyond the run of the mill repair, that's when I need the expertise of a shop. If a shop has good mechanics, they already have a head start to greatness.
  • Good bicycle selection - The shop has to have a good representation of bikes from several disciplines. I like to see a run of bikes, from entry level to break-the-bank, wipe the drool off your chin, dreams bikes. The entry/mid level bikes are most likely the bread and butter, but you need those dream bikes too. Cycling fanatics such as myself need to have something to aspire too.
  • Good accessory/component selection - This goes hand in hand with the bike selection. I may need a cheap handlebar for my commuter bike, but tomorrow I may want a $2,000 carbon wheeset for my CX bike. Plus, who doesn't love looking into the glass cabinets and ogling the carbon and Ti bike jewelry?
  • Clothing selection - This is where most shops fall flat. I have been to shops where I could get a multi-thousand dollar bike frame and outfit it with the lightest and brightest carbon and Ti goodies. But if I were to get my cycling clothing from the same shop, I would be riding around in a pair of sun-bleached Descente shorts from the Reagan era and an ancient Team Banesto jersey with some weird stain on it. Maybe there's an issue with clothing distribution and that's why this seems to be a reoccurring theme. I think a shop should carry at least one low priced line and a higher end line, and keep it somewhat up to date and in line with the seasons.
  • Spare parts - I love the shop that has "The Drawer". The place where they keep all those odd spare parts that people need once in a blue moon. Nothing comforts me more than knowing I can walk into a shop after a session of over-zealous wrenching and know that the bolt I just snapped/stripped can be replaced on the spot.
  • Atmosphere - I saved this for last since it's kind of an intangible. This is also very important. A shop could do all the above perfectly but if they are elitist, snobby, standoff-ish, etc. I won't be back. There was this one shop that I went to when I lived in St. Paul. I was just getting started in the road cycling scene and like anyone in a new sport, I was trying to find my way. They had great bikes, very knowledgable staff, good clothing, and they were really close to my house. Seemed perfect. Until I started talking to the sales associates. I was treated with indifference, almost like I wasn't welcome in this magnificent sport. I never went back. A good shop should want to share their passion for the sport, to spread it, to do otherwise seems almost counter-intuitive.
Good bike shops are enormously important to our sport. They serve as cycling ambassadors, welcoming the neophyte to our world. These shops need our support - I encourage everyone to give them your patronage whenever possible, and kudos to Kinetic Systems for getting it right!

1 comment: