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Love/hate at the local bike store

The moral of today's post is that I came home with a brand new Scott road bike...that makes 3 Scotts in our house...that was (for the first time ever in my life) fit to me and setup with my own pedals, shoes, etc.. That part is awesome. But I found the whole experience of shopping to be frustrating.

I live in a rather large metro area (3rd largest in the US) so I know for a fact that it isn't for lack of options that the experience was...strange. We're talking 10 different local bike-specific stores probably. While some cities are lucky to have 2-3 options. It's more to do with where, I think, many intermediate riders land on the spectrum of bicycle rider "types." Bicycle clubs and organizations are certainly having their own problem with it. How do you classify and cater to different riders? Without being overly general or overly specific? Commuters. Recreational riders. Competitive riders. Fitness riders. The boom in cycling is giving everybody a niche. And, from my perspective, the market isn't catching up fast enough.

And, in my case, what happens if you cross from type to type in any given week? Is most of my riding with a group? Pulling the bike trailer? To get a workout in? Sometimes it varies by time of year. And it's quite a leap asking the consumer who was probably buying a bike from a big box store last time out to come into a bike shop to begin. It's intimidating, for one. If you're not informed, the worst case scenario is you have no idea what questions to ask. Or, if you are educated, how do you get the staff at the local bike shop to understand where you're coming from?

There's definitely a gray area between the cheap bikes you run out to the store and buy off the rack and the land of $5000 machines. If you're spending a grand or two...maybe even just a few hundred bucks...on a new bicycle, you expect and deserve the kind of service and help you get at the high end shops. But in my experience that just wasn't there.

And compounding the problem is that most stores are brand-specific. So, let's say you've read about 3 great bikes in your price range that you'd like to check on in person. One's a Brand X, one's a Brand Y, and another is Brand Z. Well, your store down the street only sells Brand Y bikes so you're going to be driving across town to another store to see Brand X. Maybe another bike shop sells both X and Z, but their customer service is far inferior. Do you buy Brand Y simply because you got your questions answered?

Most bike shops I walked into in the Chicago region were short on stock. New 2014 models arriving shortly and old 2013 models on clearance. There's simply no excuse for this in April when the weather is turning warm and people are thinking about buying a new bike. The showrooms should be packed with options and good deals. Not to mention fully staffed so that customers get personal attention from the time they walk in until they get a fit and ride out the door.

Who knows maybe I need to open my own shop? It wasn't that anybody wasn't friendly or fair. I got a few places who had staff unable to get specific if you had really down-and-dirty questions on gearing, sizing, a model up or down among models, etc.. That was partly due to lack of experience working in the shop and partly to what kind of rider they usually serve. If you're in a shop selling mostly training wheel bikes and cruisers, don't expect them to have much to say about aerodynamics. But, at the same time, don't walk into a racing shop and expect much more than a blank stare when you ask about putting a bell and cargo rack on it. Where does that leave Average Joe rider who sometimes wants to go fast, but mostly just wants to get to work riding over potholes?

In the end, I got what I wanted and needed, but only because I started my search armed to the teeth with information.

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