The biggest problem with owning a bike shop is that you have to own a bike shop.
I’m talking about the actual brick-and-mortar sign-in-the-window the-bank-wants-its-payment bike shop, otherwise known as a big ol’ pain in the buttocks.
The margin on bike shop ownership is thinner than a roadie’s pants, and yet, in order to make that thin margin — or, at least, in order to stock name brand bikes — a shop has to have an actual brick-and-mortar store for people to come to to do business.
In many industries, this brick-and-mortar annoyance has been overcome by taking business online, but due to the draconian agreements bike shops have with bicycle manufacturers, it’s not so easy as that.
The Name of the Game
The fear in the industry is that if people could buy their Specialized Whatever on Amazon, they’d never go to a bike shop, which would ultimately hurt the industry because there would be no bike shops. Without bike shops, the fear is that there would be no hub for all things cycling, and less local advocates for cycling in the first place.
Personally, I think cycling is its own advocate, much like Katy Perry’s music, pizza, or sexual congress: enjoying these things just makes you want to enjoy them again. But the bicycle industry doesn’t agree, so we’re stuck — or, if you like, blessed — with brick and mortar bike shops forever.
Or are we?
Maybe not. Because there is a growing current in this great land of ours, and I’m not just talking about the growing current of people who like to eat pizza during sexual congress. Get ready. Are you ready? Here it is: mobile bike shops.
I likes to move it, move it
Take the benefits of a food truck and apply them to the idea of a local bike shop, and you’ve got yourself a mobile bike shop. No more will you have to go out of your way to stop by the shop. The shop will come to your house, or better yet, it’ll be parked near the trailhead on busy days.
This here’s my friend Chris. I met him racing track bikes back when I thought I could be fast (now I know better).
Chris, in conjunction with local bike shop owner and custom frame fabricator Seth Snyder of Snyder Cycles, have teamed up to bring a mobile bike shop called the Road Wrench to my beloved home of Atlanta, GA. If you need your rig spruced up, a flat tire unflatted, or a dance party (Chris is also a DJ), then the Road Wrench has got you covered.
Here’s what their truck looks like.
The Road Wrench is interesting not only for its mobility, but because it exists alongside and in conjunction with Seth’s brick-and-mortar store. But there are efforts to shed these as well.
The Uber of Bike Shops
At Interbike, I met with the fine folks from Beeline Bikes, who operate a fleet of mobile repair shops in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the cost for a single square foot of retail space compares unfavorably with the cost of building a summer home on Mars.
They’re bringing a high level of professionalism to this mobile bike shop game, with sleek trucks, a scheduling app, and even franchise opportunities. They help their franchisees buy consumables like tires and brake cables in bulk to save money, and have systems in place to prevent what they call “callback,” meaning they have a network of technicians to help franchisees fix bikes right the first time.
Here’s one of their trucks in action.
Here’s what it looks like inside a truck. Pretty sweet if you ask me.
How much travel in your pitchfork?
This article might draw the ire of the Great Armchaired Internet. When I wrote about supporting local bike shops back in 2013 (How to Support Your Local Bike Shop: Stop Wrenching at Home), it brought out more pitchforks than the last harvest before steam engines were invented.
But my opinion is that in the future, we will see all three styles of bike shops: the brick-and-mortar stores of old where you can hang out and be ignored by a “body modification” enthusiast, hybrid operations where you can be ignored by that same enthusiast in the comfort of your own driveway, and totally mobile operations.
Ultimately, I think more access to bike knowledge and adjustment is a good thing.
Hey, the future is a weird place. It’s changing everything. Cabbies are fighting Uber for the right to deliver deplorable service. I think the cabbies will probably lose, but then, maybe I just don’t like being forced to get cash to pay for the privilege of smelling barf and pee in a hand-me-down cop car.
The MP3 changed the music industry, and the record companies pitched a mighty fit, but for all their crying and lawsuits, music is still being made every day. The movie and cable TV industries fought Netflix tooth and nail, and yet it lives on.
So too will the bike shop live on. It might look a little different. It might come to your house. But either way, you can still do what you should have been doing all this time: get on your bike and ride.