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Bike shops for bike commuters

by Richard Masoner

A common refrain on this site and elsewhere is that many bike shops don’t serve the needs of the bike commuter or utility cyclist. Many are interested in the high end, which has been the bread and butter for most of the bike industry over the past thirty years and which continues to provide most of the income to the bike industry. While revenue for the Local Bike Shop has remained steady over the past decade, the actual number of bikes sold has actually dropped. The industry makes up for it through consolidation (fewer shops) and higher prices, but the reality is that the bike industry has shrunk since the 90s.

At the recent Bicycle Leadership Conference in San Diego and at other forums, some industry leaders have started issuing calls for change — to make the bike shop experience more user friendly and to more actively promote cycling as transportation instead of just recreation.

I know there are a few bike shops that “get it,” especially in cities where utility cycling is almost common. One of these is Rapid Transit Cycles in Chicago. On the shop blog, the owner writes:

At this shop, we want to invite, not intimidate the beginner; listen, not preach to the curious; and salute, not marginalize the commuter.

Commuting cyclists have been our bread and butter since 1994. They have told us what bikes they want to see at our store. They have come back and informed us, in no uncertain terms, which products were simply crap. They have recommended street-tested items for us to sell. They have dripped salty slush on our floor and leaned their mud-spattered bikes against our displays. With a glint of hope in their eyes, they have brought their pretzeled wheels for us to fix. The grime from their chains has clogged and corroded our drain.

They are our heroes. Rapid Transit Cycleshop is, has been, and always will be a bike shop crazy in love with commuters.

You can read the complete post here, but this is a local shop that obviously gets it. I know CBB has at least one regular reader who patronizes Rapid Transit. What about the rest of you? Is your local bike shop a hindrance or a help in your journey to utility cycling bliss?

Be sure not to miss this comic by long time bike commuter Rick Scott.

Yehuda Moon - confusing the customer

 
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19 Responses to “Bike shops for bike commuters”

  1. Quinn says:

    I am glad to see that my favorite LBS is carrying, more and more bikes like the Rocky Mountain Burough (bad a**), the SE Lager and the new Urban Series by Felt, also they have No issues with special ordering anything the customer is looking for.

  2. Justyna says:

    Shucks, Fritz, I’m blushing!
    Thanks. I look forward to serving the growing throngs of Chicago’s bike commuters for many years to come.

  3. Brian says:

    Where we live now (Pittsburgh) has some great local bike shops. However, before moving here we lived in a small flat town in Ohio. The owner was constantly complaining about:

    1) people with crappy Wal-Mart bikes getting repairs
    2) young kids trying to make single-speeds and fixies
    3) anybody who wasn’t buying something new

    He was just so grizzled about the whole affair after 20 years in the biz. It was very off-putting and if it wasn’t the only shop in town I wouldn’t have gone there. He warmed up to me, but only because I was there so much.

    I think this shop fits the description here…perfectly.

  4. Mike Myers says:

    I live in a county of 100,000 or so people. We have two bike shops. One is a hole in the wall that stays in business despite having a very limited selection and non-existent customer service. The other is a Waterford/Gunnar/Co-Motion/Litespeed/Rans/Cattrike/Trek/Raleigh/Giant dealer. This shop is located directly on a major Rails to Trails in a county filled with retirees. I’d say that 80% of his business is selling $300 Trek hybrids to seniors to ride on the trail. I had no problem ordering what I wanted when I did my Gunnar and Surly builds, but I had to walk him through the QBP catalog and make sure I got my parts.

    There is NO commuter market here. Bike commuters here are either folks who live a long way from work and use the commute as a workout, or people without licenses. The former ride road bikes and the latter are on ‘mart bikes. If my LBS stocked a fully specced commuter bike it would just sit because the people who need it(‘mart bike short distance guys) can’t or won’t afford it.

    A commuter specific shop would have to be in a hip city.

  5. Nathan says:

    We have several bike shops in the cluster of Western suburbs of Chicago. I’ll describe my main three, which are within 15 miles of my home.

    1) The one I bought my bike from was supportive of bike commuters and did have some good options for us. I bought one of the cheaper hybrids because I was new to the game. But, they did have a Specialized Globe City bike for $600 (which I now consider a good deal). They are ready to order anything you want from QBP without much mark-up. Everyone who works there seems to be interested in all types of biking, but mostly road and mountain.

    2) The proprietor is extremely charismatic and friendly. He is ready to sell you a bike anytime, but if you want to hang out and never buy anything, he’s okay with that too. He put up money for our “Bike to School Day” event at the highschool. He says road bikes are a religion and everything else is a cult. He stocks the latest in carbon frames, etc. Priortiy on Euro stuff. I can get stuff fixed for free there. I can borrow bikes. I can barter for better prices on stuff I need. It is hard to get functional stuff like winter cycling apparel, or weird commuter stuff. However, cyclist of all types seem to hang out out there. That’s what he attracts.

    3) Lastly, a Trek dealership which supported our “Bike to School Day” event at the local highschool and gave us literature from Trek (one world, two wheels). They carry mostly Trek. They also have training camps in their shop for road people. They specialize in adaptive mobility for handicapped, and recumbants. I haven’t bought anything from the shop, but have worked with them on promoting bike infrastructure in the community. They have been in the city for ages. Philosophically, they seem to support the commuter, but I’m not sure about their product line.

    In summary, the local shops are still focused moslty on biking as a sport, but the commuter is becoming more important to them. However, not our bike shops, but our winter weather this year has been our biggest challenge lately.

  6. Eric S says:

    Let me shout out to Willow Glen Cycles here in San Jose, CA. They have a lot of great commuter bikes and accessories and the main wrench, Tahn, is a diehard utility/commuter cyclist as well as a fantastically knowledgable and skilled mechanic. They stock droolworthy (to us!) stuff like B&M generators, wooden fenders, oversize porteur front racks, and city bikes by Breezer and Batavus. Intersection of Willow & Lincoln

    (no affiliation just a happy customer)

  7. Tim Grahl says:

    Great post and very inspiring. It’s nice to see this shop recognizing and catering to the most important riders.

  8. lady clay says:

    A shout-out here to Bicycle South in Decatur, GA (we’re part of greater Atlanta). They carry a good range of hybrid, cruiser, folders, single-speed and other commuting-suitable bikes, as well as racks and bags. Better still, they really try to fit the bicycle to the rider’s needs and budget – I’ve gotten a $400 bike there and a $1300 bike there and got the same great service for both.

  9. dan says:

    being redundant…

    The best way to get your LBS to become “commuter friendly” is to buy ALL of your item sthere. Impress on them your needs, and being everyone you kow that wants to commute to them. If people constantly ask for it, they will start to get it.

  10. redcliffs says:

    Well, I don’t know how popular this will be, but the most commuter-friendly, everyday rider-friendly, just plain friendly-friendly LBS in the Boulder, CO area, IMHO, is Performance Bike. They’re my LBS for simple reasons — they sell affordable level, everyday gear as well as top-notch stuff, they’ll adjust a finicky derailleur for free while you wait, they have a great return policy (of course, they can afford to), and the folks there are knowledgeable and want to help. The same cannot be said for other close-by shops, especially Louisville Cyclery (I live in Louisville and tried, for quite some time, to make them my regular LBS, but a combination of snootiness and ignorant wrenching lead me away in a hurry…)

  11. AncientCommuter says:

    Here in Portland, OR, we have a zillion bike shops, each populated with 50 fancy road bikes, 10 fancy mountain bikes, 5 fancy cyclocross bikes, 3 cranky techs, and 3 emaciated, pimpled, rude, and supercilious teenage salespeople who barely deign to speak to commuters.

    At the same time, we have so many commuters on the streets there is actually a bike rush hour and bike traffic on my route. I think we ALL buy our stuff mail order, or make it.

    I tried butting my head against the pimply salespeople to get helpful info and or good commuting equipment out of them for years. Now I just do it all online and ride happily. I felt guilty about not supporting my local bike shops for a while, but what’s the point? They couldn’t give a rat’s a– about commuters.

  12. Joe says:

    We’ve got a great, commuter friendly shop here in Atlanta–Intown Bicycles.http://www.intownbicycles.com/. From their website: “We’re especially passionate about bicycle transportation here at Intown Bicycles. We bike commute ourselves, and love helping other people do it too. We also love launching new bike riders. We carry a lot of bikes and things for more casual biking as well as gear for the enthusiast. ”

    I love Mike, the owner. He’s an incredibly friendly guy, orders special stuff–even small parts–with little to no markup, and persuaded me to buy the cheaper bike b/c it would be better for my needs. There are more popular shops in town, and cheaper shops, but this one is the best for commuters and people who want reliable, friendly service.

  13. If you’re ever on Vancouver island check out North Park Bike Shop in Victoria, BC. The owner is super friendly and loves commuting. They market to commuters and carry a wide range of hybrids, trailers, etc.

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