What do we want in a Local Bike Shop?

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about trends in bike shops.  Here’s a taste:

Around the country, bike shops are shifting gears. The National Bicycle Dealers Association 2013 survey of 4,000 establishments found that 12% have coffee bars, 11% offer spinning classes and almost 5% serve beer. About 1% offer massages, yoga or full-service restaurants.

I hope that Australia does not follow this particular trend.  Sure, bike shops can benefit from engaging with their customers on more than one level and that benefit goes both ways.  But there’s a limit, surely.

They don’t have shops like they used to

In the 1980’s Newcastle NSW was second to only Adelaide SA for the number of bike shops per capita.  There was a dominant LBS owned by a famous cyclist.  Great range, good prices and nice staff.  Families bought bike after bike from there; 2 or more per generation.  But the only things I ever bought there were New-Old Stock (NOS) parts to upgrade my existing bike; a Sugino triple crankset, 105 brake levers, Deore front and rear derailleurs.  In hindsight, I should have bought a brand name bike from him, but I convinced myself that a custom bike would be a better choice.

Sadly, I purchased my custom bike from what I later discovered was one of the most complained-about bike shops in Newcastle.  The wheels went out of true within metres of the shop, the frame weighed a ton, flexed like a slinky and was missing braze-ons for the shifters, bottle cages and a dérailleur hanger.  I had bought a dud for the same money that I could have bought a proper machine.

Then there was “Dodgy Maurice”.  His hovel of a bike shop was my favourite because there was always so much to discover in there.  Invariably Maurice would show off some exotic groupset, frame, pedals or wheels and would always make the same two statements about the item [read with an outrageous French accent]:

  1. “zis is the only one in Australia…”, and;
  2. “…but you cannot buy.”

If you were prepared to dig around the dusty cabinets you could find some parts for that old bike.  It was a bizarre experience that I couldn’t help but share with my cycling friends.

Europa Cycles had unusual and exotic bikes and beards.  These guys were serious, the brands were serious and the prices were serious.  The mechanic rode a fixie to work 2 decades before it was fashionable.  The first shop was in the middle of Hunter Street near a liquor store; an odd place for either since no-one lived in the city.  They moved next to the Greater Union Cinemas in King Street.  They once let me use their workshop to re-lace my rear wheel onto a new rim after I’d slammed into a gutter sideways, only charging me for 6 new spokes and a few minutes of truing and centring instead of a full hour.

Canberra’s bike shops are generally very good. (Oddly enough, one of the few that does serve coffee is the one I would not recommend as the staff are too busy chatting to themselves to bother serving customers.) It is easy to find a shop that you like and just spend all of your money.  My current favourites are The Cyclery (who service my Cannondale) and Bike Culture (from whom I bought my Trek Domane 4.5).  No coffee, no masseur, no chakra realignments.  But both have very knowledgeable staff, a great range of stuff and comprehensive bike fitting services.  (Have I mentioned how essential comprehensive bike fitting is yet?)  What else could you possibly want from your LBS?

As Bernard Black once said, “Coffee and books is a fad!”  If I hang out at a bike shop it’s because I want to explore all the cool bikes, cool accessories and cool tools, not drink free trade mocha lattes.  That’s for the end of the ride.

BTW, I hoping to visit some groovy bike shops in Japan, including the “Above Bike Shop” in Kawasaki, home of the “Starf***ers” brand crankset.  Worth the price of the tickets alone.

2011 London riots looted bike shop
“I asked for SOY!” 2011 London riots looted bike shop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)