Bike shop advice

Just coming off a depressing weekend, bike-wise. I’ve had a nagging virus of some kind for several days, which has left me very congested. So, to give my meds a chance to work, I decided to take the weekend off from riding.

However, that meant I could give the bike some attention. I did some adjustments to the brakes and the new wheel, but I’ll have to run it into the bike shop for some repairs that I’m not confident to do myself. Which gives rise to a question at the back of my mind — one that is shared by at least one other reader of this blog:

How much can we lean on our shop for good advice?

It seems that in the shop where I bought my bike they are often quick to want to sell me something instead of helping me work through the problem. I’m just not sure if what they’re telling me is a necessity, or if it’s a way for them to pad their sales receipts.

I like the shop. It’s large, well-stocked, and the service done on my bike is generally done well. But they’d rather have me bring the bike to them so they can work on it — and sell me some parts — rather than discuss possible solutions that I might be able to handle on my own. I understand their motivation for this, but they could enhance their customer loyalty — mine — if they’d answer some questions first.

How’s your relationship with your bike shop? Have you ever been oversold, or can you depend on their advice?

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7 thoughts on “Bike shop advice

  1. I found the difference in establishing a relationship with the head wrench. However, that came, no let’s rephrase, comes with a price. That price is sometimes a case of beer (imports prefered), sometimes a bill discreetly slipped into his palms.

    Ever since I started doing that I find him very willing to talk me through issues, and in the case with the deraileur cable he even invited me to do the work in the shop, so when I got stuck, he could walk me through.

    Now, when he is not there, I am at the mercy of the rest of the staff, which I find are sometimes trained to be better sales people then mechanics. In other words, luck of the draw and greasing the wheels are helpful, but no guarantee.

  2. I’ve always gotten good advice from my local bike shop, and the good people there usually offered me ways to repair rather than replace, even when doing so cost them a small sale.

    But this is a fun question. It prompts me to wonder how we decide what professional advice we expect to get for free.

    Does it have something to do with thinking that tasks we can do on our own–or tasks we THINK we should be able to do on our own–should come more cheaply than more complicated things? We don’t expect a surgeon to give us advice for free on a coronary bypass (okay, I don’t anyway), and I might hope a plumber might have some free advice for repairing a leaking faucet, but I don’t expect that same plumber to tell me in great detail how to replace all plumbing in my entire home. And I can count on one syllable all the free advice I’ve received from lawyers ;)

    The next question for me is to ask myself what sorts of things that impinge on my profession that I’d be willing to dispense for free, and the tentative answer is that I’d prefer to get paid.

    Anyway, your post got me thinking. Thanks!

    • I’m a wrench myself and the above comment is commonly heard around the workstand. Most everything has a cost, and us not charging for time spent (explaining/educating/etc) devalues the profession. This isn’t to say that I don’t give hook-ups or free advice, I do but…. sometimes those are paid for in a different economy, i.e. Hoegaarden (my choice), returned favors/advice from the customer’s profession, friendliness and a good (non-expectant or entitled) attitude go a long way too.

  3. I have found in my in-exact, anecdotal way that smaller bike shops tend to have better repair service. They don’t sell a large volume of bikes and generally carry only one or two brands, and have a few racks of accessories (as opposed to aisles!). Since they don’t sell on volume, service is their bread & butter.

    One leading indicator for me is whether the mechanic is a good wheelbuilder. When you’ve build thousands of wheels, you’ve probably worked through more mechanical situations than most. You know what works and might work (eg mixing Campy & Shimano drivetrain parts).

    More and more shops rely on factory-built wheels (Zipp, DT Swiss, Mavic, Reynolds), but small shops tend to build their own – they can get the same weight savings and often better build for less money. And they don’t tie up their money on factory wheel inventory (which they can’t afford to).

    I can do most things on my own except headsets and wheelbuilding (I can tune one but no patience to build one).

  4. I’m not entirely sure. I often suspect the same sort of behavior from my bike shop. At the same time, there have been multiple occasions where the mechanics have does something without charging me or thrown in a spare part for free or at cost just because it was last year’s thing and the last one on the shelf. I appreciate that.

  5. Glad you asked! There are a number of bike shops in my area. I do not drive, I only bike so it is key for me to know each shop’s nuances (and nuisances). My ‘preferred’ shop is about 8 miles away from my house, and I literally need to pass 3 other bike shops to get there.

    The first one, I have had very bad experiences in. When I first brought my first bike in there, an aluminum entry-level ‘sport’ road bike, I had the distinct sensation of being sneered at. Also they are always trying to top off the sale with some socks or something. Or, when I come in to just look at things, maybe some lights, or a bike lock, the kid who works there hovers over me. Doesn’t ask if I need anything, just hovers to make sure I am not shoplifting or something. It’s unbelievably rude. And the kid is like ten or fifteen years younger than me, too (I’m 27). I just don’t go there any more, at all. If I got a flat and had no tubes I would push my bike 8 miles before I would go there, that’s how put out I have been by that place over the year or so I had been going there. Whenever anyone brings up bike shops, I make a point to tell them to go anywhere but Papa Wheelie’s.

    The second shop I pass is this new Trek Store. I’ve been in there and it’s a big shop and they have a good selection of things, so I go there if I need accel gels or something. I applied there when they opened but they said they were only hiring sales people, not bicycle people. The owner doesn’t even ride. I’ll spend maybe $10 a month there but that’s it. Lame.

    The third place I pass is great, they always have the obscure part that you need. Bicycle Bob’s stocks weird English three-speed parts and everything, and he’s more than happy to order anything else you need. He likes keeping weird parts in stock, so he’s cool about orders. Also he cuts me like 10% deals every time, because I’m awesome. Some people go to the bike shop, ask a ton of questions about bike stuff, then go online to buy whatever they decided on. That’s a total jerk move, because you spent the bike shop guy’s time, and were right there in the shop, and then went and made the purchase somewhere else. Part of what you are paying for in a bike shop is that service and expertise. I guess it’s not as bad as buying something online, then bringing it to the bike shop and asking them to install it. Anyway, I digress. This bike shop likes me because I so all my research online, THEN go to the store and say “I want THIS” and know exactly what I want. They get a $300 sale or whatever with no work, so they cut me a huge deal every time.

    So the fourth bike shop I first checked out, even though there are three within a mile or two of my house, because they were a sponsor for my team. I came in ready to spend money on upgrading my bike. I had heard some new wheels might be good or something, but the mechanic said ‘nah, you don’t need that’ and totally avoided selling me anything. I left without buying anything, but I did feel like I had a really great experience because the shop guys just wanted to talk bikes, not sell me a bunch of crap I didn’t need. It was because of this that I kept coming back and a few months later bought a bike that was about about twice what I could afford (and have been very happy with the purchase in the two years since then).

  6. If you’re in Austin, I can assure you there’s no shortage of excellent bike shops. Find one that fits your personality. But as riders, we need to be good customers, too.

    Every shop wrench can tell you about customers who take up hours of his (or increasingly, her) time for “advice” before buying parts or entire components elsewhere for the lowest price on the internet. And as far as taking a wrench’s time and then asking for a discount, well, that’s just tacky.

    Like bars , coffehouses, or bookstores, we go to bike shops for atmosphere & dialogue as much as product, but we need to keep in mind the proprietors and employees have to make a living too. Since bike shops don’t usually accept tips, I recommend showing consideration in the form of your business.

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