Winter always seems to be the time I wind up at the bike shop, whether it be an end-of-summer tune up, a random repair, or gawking at end of season bike sales. If you’re looking to buy a bike this winter, make sure to read “Buying guide for Bicycles” for in depth details. If you’re looking for ways to use your bike, read “3 Grand Bike Experiences”.
A bike shop can feel a lot like an auto mechanic shop; it’s intimidating when you have no experience buying or fixing a bike. Everything is unknown, and a worry gnaws at you that the staff will wind up being condescending or worse, rip you off.
The good news is that bike shops are much less likely to be out to scam you than an auto body shop. The staff work at a locally owned shop because biking is their passion, not their job. With just a few quick tips you can eliminate the intimidation of the bike shop, have an awesome experience, and get biking sooner!
WHY GO TO A BIKE SHOP
You might ask “If bike shops are scary, why even go? The MonstroMart sells bikes, or I can get a cheap one used online.” Both points are true, but there are good reasons to head to the shop instead.
Department store bikes are always bad, especially for the price they are sold at. Yes, always. They are constructed as cheaply as possible, with parts prone to breaking. Additionally, you’ll feel like you’re biking through sand every time you go for a ride. Save your money for a quality bike.
Buying online can lead to great deals, but it will take more time and effort to find them. For every reasonably priced bike on Craigslist there are 100 overpriced rust buckets. Local bike shops frequently have used bikes for sale, and you can be confident that they are presenting them in working condition.
Local bike shops are almost always owned and run by honest people who simply love biking. Seriously, ask a staff member a “simple” question and they’ll talk for ages! Their first goal isn’t making a sale; most non-chain shops don’t have dedicated sales people or pay on commission. They really do just want to help you find what you need by giving you way more information than you thought you needed.
You might need repairs, and lack the tools to do it yourself. The fee for repairs is usually very reasonable, the bulk of the fee will be any parts that need replacing. Honest shops will always call you before they replace any parts and inform you of the cost.
Supporting small business is awesome. Keep the local economy vibrant and support the owner’s passion for biking.
TIPS FOR INTERACTING WITH BIKE SHOP STAFF
Everyone who works there is passionate about biking! This usually means that they bike nonstop and like to geek out about premium quality bike equipment. When you ask them for help buying a bike or gear, it may seem like they are trying to pressure you to spend more. They aren’t being malicious, they want you to be satisfied with what you purchase and are seeing from their perspective instead of yours. This leads into the next point:
Be clear about what you need. If you go in and say “I need a bike” and nothing else, you might get shown a bike that the worker would love to take down an extreme mountain biking course. Consider point #1 and realize that this may not be the same bike you need. Give them more details, and ask what features you get at different price points.
Be firm about your needs, be flexible on price. If you want a bike for riding around with your chums on lazy Sunday mornings, don’t get talked into buying an expensive road bike just because it's faster and shinier. If you tell the staff this and they show you two cruisers and highly recommends the more expensive as the better value, consider it objectively and take time to think about it. But do know that:
Expensive bikes have diminishing returns. In other words, a $500 bike will be much better than a $200 bike. A $1200 bike will be a little better than a $900 bike. It's a good idea to buy a bike that you will be excited to ride, and spending a more for quality is worth it, but don’t go nuts on your first bike. Unless you are an avid cyclist who wants to start participating in races and other high level adventures, keep the cost reasonable.
Always test ride. I’ve never encountered a shop that doesn’t do test rides, and you shouldn’t buy a bike without taking it for a spin. Try a few different styles of bike (road bike, commuter (hybrid) bike, mountain bike, etc) to see what you like best and will suit your needs. You might think you want a tiny road bike, but decide that a commuter bike feels better to you.
Wait a few days before buying. Despite all I’ve said, I’m aware that a bike shop can still be a high pressure place. Before buying a bike (or even other gear), wait at least 2 or 3 days after test riding. This will give you time to process what you learned while at the shop, and do some more comparison shopping to confirm if you found the right bike.
Be aware of gender dynamics. Cycling still has a reputation for being a male-dominated activity. This is getting less true every year, but there is a good chance that most staff at the bike shop you visit will be male. Speaking for my gender, know that it's a bit easy to get in a bubble of privilege since we rarely get called out on it.
If you are a woman, the staff may assume:
You want a “comfy” slow-riding bike
You want a feminine colored bike
You won't be biking long distances
You know very little about biking
You need a pannier solely to carry groceries*
The male bike shop worker probably doesn’t know his assumptions any more than I know my own, just know that he probably isn’t trying to make your experience unpleasant. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t experience outright discrimination or dismissal as a woman in a bike shop, but I truly hope that it is not common. Luckily, more and more bike shops everywhere have female staff; ask to speak with another woman if it will make you more comfortable**. It may also help if you bring a friend along with you for support, male or female.
My perspective and the advice I can give is obviously limited on this subject, so please leave comments if you have tips for other women breaking into the cycling world!
Even beyond commuting, you can do so many fun things with a bike. Armed with all this knowledge, I hope you’re now able to strut into a bike shop with more confidence than before and start adventuring!