Bike shops attitude?

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Anonymous's picture

"After reading the thread on shop suggestions, I'm inclined to ask: What is it about the attitude of some bike shops that assume that all customers are idiots, and don't know anything about cycling? It really gets to me. I have an ever-growing list of bike shops I try to avoid. Just a few days ago, I found the bike I was looking to buy at one of those shops, and although I bought the bike, I was reminded why I avoid going into that shop. Its like my 35+ years experience with cycling (including working as bike mechanic at both shops and racing teams) and my plans on what I will be using that bike for are irrelevant. Their word is all that matters. There are also shops that do sloppy work, and when you point it out to them, they claim that that's the way it is supposed to be. I could start listing some of my experiences and/or shop names, but that would be a very looooong post, so I won't. But do others, specially those who are experienced riders and mechanics, feel the same way?

Joao ""hey! check out my new ranting hat!"" de Souza"

Anonymous's picture
Robert Rakowitz (not verified)
Attitdue and conduct

Not only is attitude at some shops bad, but what I really hate is when they try and take advantage of someone's limited knowledge to use inferior parts.

I only had this pointed out to me at a certain shop that I took my bike into for a tune up, only to find out that the original builder on it went cheap on cables and had things all out of whack (poorly wrapped handlebars and missing pieces!).

The new mechanic was good enough to get everything back the way it should have been - all for the price of a standard tune up.

Finding a good mechanic and LBS is a lot like dating me thinks.

Anonymous's picture
bike man (not verified)

"Maybe because 95% of customers are idiots? So, you can do quite well without the 5% that know better and never come back.

In Berkeley I helped out a buddy at a local shop, and to be fair, customers aren't always the greatest either.
The JRA thing is true. I was ""just riding along"" and all of a sudden... my bike exploded ...won't you replace it for free?

If 95% of people won't know what kind of cable I used, does it make sense to use the good one?
Just a thought. Obviously there are good people out there."

Anonymous's picture
Joao (not verified)

> Maybe because 95% of customers are idiots?

I have worked in bike shops. Yes, some customers ARE idiots. But its not 95%, and it doesn't give them an excuse to treat ALL customers as idiots.

Anonymous's picture
Chana (not verified)

"""Maybe because 95% of customers are idiots? ... If 95% of people won't know what kind of cable I used, does it make sense to use the good one?""

Maybe you should open a bike shop. You seem to have the right attitude.

I'm a new rider and just learning how to take care of my bike. That makes me unknowledgeable about bicycles. It does not make me an idiot, thank you very much. I think it would be very helpful if bike shop owners (and, apparently, other bike riders) learned the distinction between these two things.

Mostly this sort of thing comes down to personality and character. Some people have integrity, others don't. It seems a disproportionate number of people who don't, own bike shops. :(


Anonymous's picture
Gary Katz (not verified)
Quality Cable

If 95% of people won't know what kind of cable I used, does it make sense to use the good one?

Yes, it does make sense, because

a. The customer will enjoy using the bike more
b. There will be less chance of a broken cable, which will prevent the customer from cursing you out and finding another shop
c. It's the right thing to do.
d. All of the above

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

"I've spent some time thinking about this too. Why is it that of so many bike shops, so few cultivate a culture of knowledge and excellence?

I think it comes down to a few things:

1. Low salaries & high turnover make for low employee retention, retained knowledge, low bar for training.

I don't think it comes as a surprise to anyone that the salaries in bike sales and service are pretty damn low. And a lot of people who like bikes/ride bikes/race bikes go into selling bikes on a whim. These two conditions lead to high staff turn-over at bike shops. This has two detrimental effects -- first, the institutional knowledge that is retained is low. In every good bike shop, someone should know how to overhaul a Sturmey-Archer AW, but teaching someone new to do that every 6 months is not cost-effective. Second, because of the hiring practices in a bike shop, the bar is set pretty low for training. It would be one thing if every new bike shop employee were quizzed on the width and threading of an Italian bb shell (70mm, and RH, both sides) and the common descriptions and ERTRO measurements of all tires (should know, at minimum 349mm, 406mm, 559mm, 571mm, 590mm, 622mm, 630mm, and extra credit for 584mm ""six-fifty-bee"") but that's not really practical if you're hiring part-time college students

The very best bike shops seem to either be one-man shows, or manage to retain their employees and thus retain, to a great extent, their institutional knowledge. This is what makes them useful to experienced cyclists. I don't need to know the difference between a 105 rear derailleur and an Ultegra*, but if you can tell me that a conical v-brake washer works great as a self-centering mount for nutted brakes on the back side of a recessed fork, that's worth a lot.

* weight (10g) and better seals for the pulley bearings.

2. Desire to sell new, supposedly-improved, products + uninformed knowledge base = unwillingness to contradict utter marketing blather

The lack of institutional knowledge is insidious, because it leads to the other problem I encounter in bike shops -- the total inability to look at manufacturer and distributor advertising claims with appropriate skepticism. It seems to me, from talking to 99% of all bike shop employees, that they get their information exclusively from manufacturer reps, and maybe the occasional glance at Bicycling magazine. This, combined with the aforementioned lack of training, makes sales reps suceptible to spurious manufacturer claims. This is why you can't have a serious conversation about the merits of a product with most bike sales people. They'll just say that the 2005 model is faster, lighter, and the chicks dig it. I know it's shallow, but I could just never bring myself to buy a bike or wheelset from a sales rep who keeps talking about ""improved vertical compliance"" in the chainstays or who claims that the wheels are ""vertically compliant but laterally stiff."" Now, I recognize that this may not materially affect the products available at the LBS, but it sure does make the buying experience less pleasant. If you've ever overheard a sales rep sell a wheelset to someone, after you've read The Book, you just cringe. And I would argue that this mindset is one of the drivers of selling pre-built wheelsets as opposed to hubs/spokes/rims. It's convenient for the bike shop, and all those straight-pull spokes look cool, but the ultimate product is worse.

3. Catering to specialized-knowledge cyclists not really that profitable

And, it may be (though I have no proof) that some of us are just a drain on bike shops. If 5% of the cycling population are extremely educated consumers, it may be easier just to satisfy the other 95%. I buy quite a bit of stuff from bike shops - tubes, tires, chains, fenders, the occasional seatpost, because I like to try out new bars & stems, seats etc. I probably spend $1000-2000 per year on just stuff, exc"

Anonymous's picture
Robert Rakowitz (not verified)
Good analysis...

"Amazing how the last step in the value chain linking consumer to bike manufacturer totally dictates the nature of the experience.

Also funny how Bike Man tries to justify LBS attitudes with a customer segmentation model.

BUT, he's directionally wrong. I am willing to wager that your heavy and experienced riders make up 60%+ of revenue at most LBS's. I would venture to also say that these consumers are knowledgeable and understand the difference between a stainless steel cable and a stock cable.

In fact Mr. Bike Man - your thoughts merely demonstrate that most LBS compete for newie/casual riders. Once someone commits time and effort to the sport, they realize that selection of an LBS means taking the L out of it; it's no longer 'oh they're close' - a decision making process you might use for a supermarket or drycleaner.

But thank you for confirming that the bike shop industry is made up of people who just really don't give a damn.

Which takes me back to my original post - find a good mechanic and stick with him.

Oh and by the way newbie/uniformed doesn't imply idiot per Chana's point. Most consumers will learn and move on....

It all comes back to business and the way that they incent employees. But I will leave this topic with a quote from advertising:

""The consumer isn't a moron. She is your wife."" - David Ogilvy


Anonymous's picture
Fixer (not verified)
Greener Pa$ture$

I am willing to wager that your heavy and experienced riders make up 60%+ of revenue at most LBS's.

I'm not so sure about that. I believe it's the folks just getting into the sport that buy the most stuff. That certainly seems to be the target for most of the ads I see. I'm pretty sure this is an Accepted Principle in the industry.

Take me, for instance. I can hardly remember the last time I was in a bike shop. I've got a few bikes, a closetful of jerseys, shoes, shorts, winter gear, etc. I might buy some tires, tubes and water bottles here and there, but it's mostly mail order, because I already know exactly what I want, and where to get it cheaper, fast. Newbies are still acquiring this stuff, and often need service and advice.

I would venture to also say that these consumers are knowledgeable and understand the difference between a stainless steel cable and a stock cable.

All cables are wound stainless steel. Better ones are drawn through a die to make them smoother and tighter, but they're all stainless. A cable's job is a very simple one, so no need for Hi Tech there.

Anonymous's picture
bike man (not verified)
not what I meant?


I don't think my sarcasm came across very well... as I didn't mean to offend you or anyone else on the list. I guess I shouldn't have use a charged word like idiot.

I do agree with almost all the posts here.
Someone recently did a bad job on my bike when I asked them to replace a cable when I was in a hurry and figured it was worth it to farm out the job while I did other things. So that example was tops on my list... and I will not go back to that shop now that I think I know how they treat customers. (Like idiots, to use the word)

I think the experienced cyclist can be a great source of income for a shop, and I have seen shops that survive on that. But there has to be something with the dynamics in NYC that create these shops that this list seems to 'not like to a major extent.'

I, like others, drop tons of money each year on schwag, without buying new bikes. In other places I have lived, most of that $ went to the local shops, where I gleaned knowledge along with my new parts. And sometimes, they learned from me. A seemingly great business model.

But since I have moved to Manhattan, most of my business goes on-line (performance, licktons, etc). I quickly got tired of people in shops telling me I was wrong, or giving me info I knew was wrong.

In a way, car dealers aren't much different. Repeat business seems to be a great idea, but many dealers don't seem to get the idea. And cars cost a lot more...

Anyway, I am still looking for a bike shop to call home in the area.

Anonymous's picture
Robert Rakowitz (not verified)

Sorry if I went off the deep end too.

I just get frustrated by an inefficient service industry that impinges on my ability to enjoy the one sport I have taken to since high school - heck, cycling has helped me quit smoking and just become healthier and more sane.

So, when I found out that my original LBS had skimped on cable - both on quality and in terms of not stretching them, and then also left out parts (that one had my mouth agape) - I was livid. Needless to say, after an overhaul and befriending a mechanic, I've received good service.

I agree - gear is all online purchases for me - split between Nashbar and Performance mainly. And yes, that’s where most of the monthly purchases go…the joke amongst friends and colleagues is “how are you pimping your bike now?”

However, as I am afraid of screwing up all things mechanical - especially when owned (apartment, electronic equipment...and eek, yes - my bike), I prefer to go the professional route. I am hapless, and could see myself doing a really bad adjustment, and ending up say going over the side of the GWB into the Hudson because of it.

So, that's how I rely on the LBS - service. Maybe I should have enrolled in more shop classes as a kid. Or perhaps I should seek out a bike maintenance class if available.

As far as the metrics on revenue and profit margins, from what I have heard, the better sale for the owner is in service, not in product where margins are lower. The service client count is largely commuters/delivery, but the higher ticket services come from heavy recreational users. I've only spoken with a few owners, so I can't vouch for the entire LBS industry, but this is what I've been told.

Such a great sport, its a shame that there are scammers and charlatans looking to rip people off.

No offense was taken by the post, but you hit on a great insight though! Most LBS staff think newbie = ignorant = idiot = sheep to shear.

Biker/buyer beware.

I've recently been impressed, but I don't want to jinx it.

Anonymous's picture
Judith Tripp (not verified)
Christian's e-mails

Christian: Most of the time I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. I wish you owned a bike shop, I'd come there!

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

"Sorry Judith -- upon re-reading that was a bit dense with silly technical details. My only defense is that some of those references were jokes aimed at Peter, Evan, Chainwheel, Fixer, and Joao, whose earlier posts made it clear that they also read and are intimately familiar with ""The Book"" (_The Bicycle Wheel_ by Jobst Brandt ISBN 0-960723-66-8).

I do hope that the general jist of the post was clear, however. :)

And I'm really flattered that you'd come to a shop of mine! We'd have good coffee and comfy chairs!

- Christian


Anonymous's picture
Peter Storey (not verified)
Let me guess about those chairs . . .

"""Pre-softened"" stretched leather with large copper rivets perhaps?"

Anonymous's picture
Joao (not verified)

Christian Edstrom wrote:
> upon re-reading that was a bit dense with silly
> technical details. My only defense is that some of those
> references were jokes aimed at Peter, Evan, Chainwheel,
> Fixer, and Joao, whose earlier posts made it clear that
> they also read and are intimately
> familiar with ""The Book"" (_The Bicycle Wheel_ by Jobst
> Brandt

Gaaaahhhhh!!!! Jobst is actually the exacty type of person I'm talking about. Yes, he does know a lot about physics and the physical propperties of a wheel, yet his is an obnoxious jerk. Anyone who fails to see that the sweet holly light of the universe shines out of his ass is a target of ridicule in his point of view.

Yet I fully agree with you on your opinion of Sheldon Brown. He knows more about bikes than just about everyone in the planet without a PHD in cycling physics, his website is my and a lot of cycling entusiasts' bible, and he is more than willing to explain to the absolute newbie the most simple concepts in detail and with total patience."

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

> Gaaaahhhhh!!!! Jobst is actually the exacty type of
> person I'm talking about. Yes, he does know a lot
> about physics and the physical propperties of a wheel,
> yet his is an obnoxious jerk.

Aw, don't get too caught up in Jobst's r.b.t. persona... Every time I've asked him a question, he's responded completely, succinctly, and affably. And I've found that he goes out of his way to explain things to new riders. I think he only shows his teeth to those people who continue to spout nonsense, in the face of all evidence/physics/engineering to the contrary.

In that sense, Jobst is removing the mystery around bikes, and making everyone more educated. This seems directly contradictory to your bike shop employee example, to me. In addition, as opposed to most bike shop salesguys, Jobst is right 99% of the time. That counts for a lot too.

I don't know if you're interested, but if you haven't read the book, I'll loan it to you. I think it will raise your esteem of Jobst considerably.

- Christian

Anonymous's picture
Joao (not verified)

He also shows his teeth whenever anyone disagrees with him on anything. Yes he knows a lot, but his persona as you put it is how I know him, and its not a pleasant one. Yes, I have met people who are major jerks online, and turned out to be quite pleasent in real life. But since I haven't met Jobst in real life yet, I only have his online persona to go by.

Thanks for the offer on the book. Yes, I have read it, and yes I learned a lot from it.

Anonymous's picture
Judith Tripp (not verified)
Coffee in bike shops

Now I'm REALLY hopeful that some day you may open a bike shop. Coffee and comfortable chairs! Fantastic!

Anonymous's picture
ME (not verified)
It's about the Bike - Shop

"As a fairly experienced cyclist who grew up in Manhattan, I would never purchase a new bicycle here unless I had no other choice.

For stock bicycles like Cannondale, Trek, and the like, you have your choice of shops that are willing to screw you out of your money and dignity: Toga, Larry and Jeff's, Sid's, and a few others.

For a custom bike: Conrad's is more than willing to treat you like a poverty case that does not belong in their shop. Do not even bother bringing in your stock bike for a tune up unless you want to pay ""through-the-nose"" and wait a month even during the off season.

I just purchase every part that I can install and/or service on-line and do the work myself. If I need a special order part I go to BikeWorks and ask Dave, the owner, to put it on his weekly QBP order and it usually comes in within a few days.

All the service I cannot complete myself (for lack of tools, room, or my wife threatening me with divorce if I get grease on one more thing in the apartment) I bring to BikeWorks. The prices are fair, the service is great, and the bike is completed when promised. When I bring them my ""nice bike"" (not the street bike) then I just ask them to hang it from the ceiling before and after they work on it so it does not get banged up with all the other ""street bikes"" that are the main source of income for the shop and are piled up all over the place.

I am more than happy to support my local bike shop as long as they do not treat me like an idiot."

Anonymous's picture
frank (not verified)

"whining as you do, it's no wonder you receive the treatment you do. however, i especially take issue w/ your comments re conrad's. i have always found that john has had my best interests at heart and, more importantly, has occasionally stopped me from foolishly spending money to acquire the latest and greatest really useless bike bauble. as for the ""stock bike"" issue, i have one of those as well and john has always been happy to accomodate me with service on the stock bike. btw, i feel that when you name names, you should also provide your own..."

Anonymous's picture
ME (not verified)
It's about Customer Service

"I am not whining but rather sharing my experiences as others have on this board. I am sure John at Conrad's has been more than happy to help you once you have spent probably $5,000 on a custom Seven with Dura Ace or Campy Record. Please know that I am not the first to mention on this board a bad experience with Conrad's or any of the other shops I have mentioned. Why not do a search of old posts?

If you read this entire post, you will see that the common theme is that ""most"" NYC bike shops try to extort money from those who are not ""in the know"" while not servicing knowledgeable people that could be loyal repeat customers. With many serious cyclists always falling prey to ""upgrade-itis"" I am amazed that more shops do not do more to help them and their everyday need for tires, tubes, small parts, and service.

I manage a computer help desk and it is the people we help not the computers. I hire employees based on their customer service skills first and their technical knowledge second. I can teach anyone to fix computers but I cannot teach someone how to have a customer service personality.

It was mentioned earlier in this post that most bicycle retail sales people do not even know the technical issues when it comes to bicycles they sell. They just regurgitate what they were told by the manufacturers representative or read it from the book. If this is the truth then why not at least be cordial and helpful to customers even if you do not know all of the technical information?"

Anonymous's picture
Ivy (not verified)
you think you've got it rough?

Please. Don't even get me started on the way most of these places treat women. If you think that they are reluctant to treat you with respect, imagine the way most of these folks talk down to a young, but fairly knowledgable, woman. There is one place in particular (can you guess which one?) that I won't even set foot in anymore.

Anonymous's picture
Joao (not verified)

Okay, I'm not a woman, but I do speak with a heavy foreign accent. To a surprisingly high number of people out there, an accent is a sign of lack of inteligence.

Now a foreign woman at one of these bike shops, that would be a hellish experience.

Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)
Foo, that's an easy one ...

... Toga, no question.

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