Bike shops are an essential to every type of rider and the cycling community. They provide indispensable services like repairs, professional advice, social connections, and the sale of accessories, parts, and bikes, but not all are created equal. Let’s explore some ingredients that make a shop great.
Window and curb appeal
You can’t judge a book by its cover. But how a shop looks from the outside is a glimpse of what’s inside. Some argue that curb appeal isn’t important, but I believe it is. Every shop has dedicated customers, but people come and go and neighbourhoods change. A shop needs to attract new customers to thrive and keep the doors open.
What is visible from the outside is the stuff of dreams. How many of you fell in love with a bike through a shop window? A carefully orchestrated scene draws you in and provides an immediate sense of the shop before you. If you’re a city commuter or mountain biker and see only road stuff, that’s a clue the shop may not be for you. Never hurts to check it out, though. I visit every new bike shop I come across when travelling.
The staff and sales
Other than a visual first impression of the shop from the exterior, the staff is an important component in the great bike shop equation. Do you feel welcome when you enter the store? Are you allowed a moment to take in the shop and discover your surroundings before someone asks if you need help? Any women on staff?
With the growing success of women’s road racing and the triumph of last year’s Tour de France Femmes, it’s more important than ever to have women represented on staff. They aren’t present just to work with female customers either. A handful of male customers may prefer to buy their gear from another male, but most just want a qualified person to steer them in the right direction. Having men and women on staff send the message that the shop caters to both.
Experienced staff provide the right amount of guidance and advice in many cycling-themed subjects, such as the bike that best fits your needs and budget, a proper fitting helmet and lights for safety. Non-sale related information such as the best places to ride and who has the best coffee and cake along the route goes a long way in creating a customer for life. The staff should be interested in enhancing your shop experience and creating a relationship with you that goes beyond hard currency.
Skilled bike mechanics
When you aren’t comfortable working on your own bike at home, having a skilled mechanic nearby is vital to keep your bike in top shape and you rolling. Unfortunately, not all mechanics share the same level of competence. As a customer, it‘s inconvenient and expensive to return your bike repeatedly for service.
A mechanic’s job is to spot things on the bike that need attention before it becomes a bigger issue. This comes from experience and training. Bicycle technology and components are constantly developing. Quality shops require their service personnel to hone and keep their skills up to date through professional certification programs done online and in shop. Not everyone has the latest and greatest on their bike. A skilled mechanic should be able to fix the old and new.
Products for all budgets and testing
New riders to the sport can be scared away by the sticker shock of some of today’s high-end bicycles, clothing, and accessories. None of us started out on the most expensive equipment. Flashy bikes and gear are great to look at, but aren’t budget-friendly for the majority. A great shop carries quality bikes, tools, clothing and accessories suitable for every customer.
Shops with saddle and wheel testing programs are fantastic. Have you ever purchased a pricey saddle only to find out it wasn’t for you? The same goes for a set of wheels. These aren’t inexpensive items and it’s hard to tell if it’s for you until you try them. A great bike shop asks you to leave a deposit or pay a small fee to try one of their test saddles or wheel sets. If you buy in the end, most apply this fee to the purchase price.
Test riding a complete bike before purchase is imperative. Almost every shop, great or not, offers this service. Steer away from those that don’t. Framesets are a different matter. You need to know what you’re purchasing, as test rides aren’t an option.
Not all women need a women’s specific bike, but some do. It boils down to their height, inseam, stack and reach measurements. Specialized has moved away from women’s-specific sizing in their bike lineup for a generalised system based on rider measurements only; something to keep in mind ladies, if shopping around.
Women do have special needs in clothing, in particular, riding shorts. We require a chamois that has different densities over specific zones and antibacterial properties. A great shop answers this demand with more than one option, price point, or colour. Women are also treated as knowledgeable cycling equals to their male counterparts.
A great bike shop invests in the surrounding cycling community by organising group rides of different levels led by staff members. This attracts cyclists to the shop and is the perfect opportunity for more experienced riders to teach and encourage those new to the sport. It’s important for accomplished riders to pay it forward, as most of us got our start in a local shop group ride.
If getting into competition is a goal, a great shop may sponsor their own cycling team. You don’t have to be ready for the Tour de France to race. There are events for different levels and riders earn points as they progress to a more advanced category. Racing alongside shop staff members and proudly sporting their jersey is a fantastic way to build community solidarity and advertise the shop.
Curious riders want to learn how to work on their own bikes. Great shops offer free classes led by their mechanics for its customers to learn how to wrench on their own bikes. Women hesitant to pick up a wrench may find women’s only mechanics classes to their liking. Ideally led by a female mechanic, it’s an excellent opportunity for female customers to become self-sufficient for roadside repairs, punctures and more.
- Beverages: Who doesn’t enjoy a favourite hot beverage when shopping? Shops need an espresso machine to make coffee, hot chocolate or tea for customers as they stroll the shop floor. Cyclists go hand-in-hand with bidons, so filtered water should be at their disposal.
- Secure bike parking: Anyone want to leave their bike outside? I didn’t think so. Secure bike parking, preferably inside, should be accessible to customers so they can shop in confidence.
- Live race coverage: You come for the bikes, service and accessories, but there is no reason you can’t catch up on live race coverage or a classic replay on the shop’s tv while you’re there. It’s inspiring, a great conversation starter, and showcases the gear the pros use that is also on sale in the shop.
- Decoration: Free space on the shop’s walls (and ceiling) should be filled with cycling memorabilia, posters, jerseys, caps, bottles and even a vintage bike or two to create an eye-catching cycling ambiance.
Did we miss something? Let us know what you think makes a bike shop great or tell us your favourite shop!