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Editor’s Note: Rovo Johnson has been cycling for 20 years, and he’s started a website designed to help people who want to save money when buying a bike online: RovoBikeReviews.com. That said, he still recommends buying from a local shop, and thinks there are some really good reasons to do so. The opinions expressed in this commentary are Rovo Johnson’s alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

Within the last decade, online shopping was a new realm that was only trusted for certain purchases that were nearly impossible to find locally. “The times they are a changin’,” as the song goes, because in this day and age not only are people comfortable shopping online, we do it to the point that many local stores are going out of business, unable to keep up with the race to the bottom that is online pricing.

We’re all guilty of it. Why not order from Amazon, after all? You get to enjoy low prices while lounging on your couch at home. No fighting crowds, dealing with annoying sales people, and you get to peruse 100-too-many reviews on a $5 order of socks.

I’m here to tell you that while online shopping may be a great option in some cases, as a member of the mountain biking community at large, you should consider patronizing your local bike shop (LBS)!

Without further adieu, here are the top five reasons to shop at your LBS:

5. Support Local Businesses

Times have been tough for much of the middle class, and this is especially true for small business owners. Your purchase means very little to the bottom line of a company like Amazon, but can sometimes be the difference between being able to pay the bills or not at the end of the month for struggling local shops.

On top of this, you support the economy of your local area, which indirectly benefits you, when you buy local. Other than the wholesale cost of the product, most of the purchase price will end up going into the business owner’s pockets, the pockets of his employees, and then local service companies when the shop pays for advertising, electricity, and other things of this nature. Supporting just one local shop is a contribution towards a flourishing local economy.

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

The problem is that while that business may be struggling to make ends meet, so are many consumers, perhaps yourself included. Saving a hundred bucks or more on a purchase is a no-brainer in this situation, which is what drives many people online.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider asking if the shop could offer you a discount. These are business people, after all. If they see you wanting to make a big purchase but leaving to go order off Amazon, they will likely have some wiggle room.

While local shops likely can’t fully compete, there are additional benefits to buying locally that helps bring the value in favor of your LBS, such as…

4. Maintenance, Service, and Last-Minute Purchases

While it would be great if a bike was a one-time investment, this simply is not the case. To help a bike last as long as possible, you’ll need to take care of it. There will also be the unfortunate times when things break. Sometimes a little DIY flair and elbow grease can work in these situations, but in others you’ll need someone with the proper knowledge and tools.

The only place to turn in this situation is your LBS.

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

What if you have a big race, and the day before you bend a rim or find out you’ve lost a glove? Again, you’ll be turning to your local bike shop.

This is inevitable. When this happens, two things can happen. The first is that you walk in with a bike they’ve never seen, not knowing anyone that works at the shop, and needing service regardless of the price. They will charge you accordingly.

The other situation is that you walk in with a bike you bought from them, able to greet them by name, and talk about what happened. While there is no guarantee, you will almost certainly get better pricing and more thorough service. As human beings, we help those who help us. Your LBS is no different.

Keep this in mind as you make a big purchase. You could end up saving a lot of money in the long run, clearly tilting the value in favor of buying your mountain biking gear locally.

3. Expertise

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

The owners and employees at most LBSs are completely immersed in mountain biking. They wake up and work on bicycles every single day of their lives. Along with this comes a knowledge base that is invaluable when making a huge purchase that you will be living with for years.

The bottom line is that the purchases you may make at an LBS are important, and sometimes the price tag can be quite significant. It is worth working with someone you can put a face to and trust to help you make sure you make the best decision possible.

2. Try Before You Buy

This is another invaluable part of buying local. When it comes down to it, every single person is different and has different preferences. This means that my absolute favorite riding shorts may be the bane of your existence.

Thousands of reviews make us feel safe making purchases, giving us confirmation that we are making the right decision. But consider the fact that even the highest-rated bike gets a couple one or two star reviews. Someone out there hates it for some reason.

Also, there are thousands and thousands of products that all end up with similar reviews. What do you do in this situation?

The answer is that you should be trying these things out ahead of time! One person may love a certain pair of gloves so much that they will insist they are the only pair any sane person would ever consider buying. You may find they rub between your fingers, causing worry about blisters. One person may find the newest mountain bike rides as smooth as silk, while you find it uncomfortable and too heavy.

Don’t let this be you! Head to your LBS and try these things out. Find out if you like something or not before you buy! Avoid having to deal with products you don’t like, returns, and other cumbersome aspects of online buying.

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

Absolute Bikes, Salida, Colorado. Photo: Greg Heil

1. Get Involved

I wasn’t sure whether or not to include this point because it’s an intangible benefit, but one that is so important that I decided to give it the top spot.

One of the best parts about mountain biking is the community. Whether you love the companionship, thrive on competition, or enjoying shooting the breeze about your latest gear pickups, joining ranks with other local mountain bikers has benefits for everyone.

While you may be able to find some groups on places like Meetup.com, there is no better resource for finding local mountain bikers, groups, and events than a trip to your local bike shop.

You will likely find a whole world of mountain biking adventures that you had no idea were taking place every day in your community.

Maybe you even have some ideas of your own? Go talk about them with your shop’s owner. Events and groups help bring them more exposure, so many times they are more than happy to help you organize a mountain biking event.

Buying Online

Hopefully this was a compelling case to support your LBS, but the fact of the matter is many people will still be making a least part of their purchases online. This is completely understandable. If you are already certain about what bike you want, are a review-junky, or want to make sure you save every last penny you can, buying online may be the right decision for you.

Other people may be in the unfortunate situation of not having a very good local bike shop, or even not having one at all. The only choice in this situation is to buy online. There are many good online shops to choose between, and if you find a good one they will likely offer information and assistance in your purchase just like a local shop would.

If you find yourself in any of these situations, don’t feel bad about the occasional online purchase! Do what you can to support a good local shop when you can, but don’t worry about it when you can’t!

Your Turn: What’s your opinion about shopping local VS buying online?

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# Comments

  • rbbrandon

    There are pro’s and con’s to this situation. With my local bike ship, i go in there a couple times of month, whether its a full overhaul or a quick fix, nutri bar, or just dropping off a 6 pack… i always felt like i had good rapport with the guys in my local shop…until one day.

    I needed new shoes. Needed a very basic level, MTB shoe around $100 and because they didn’t have any in stock, the shop owner tried to up-sell me on a $300 pair of shoes, which i reiterated multiple times, i did not want or need.

    It felt as if he didn’t care about my best interest at all. Keep in mind, i take these guys beer and have given them business for 2 years now.

    I have not been back since.

  • dpb1997

    Re: The Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Shop at Your Local Bike Shop.

    Before I read this article I knew I would disagree with it. The following is just my opinion.

    Item 5; is correct in that it provides work for local people interested in bikes, but that’s about it. Sure you can drop in and chat about bikes but when you need new XT SPD’s and the LBS is charging double the internet price I know where I‘m spending my money. As for the other points for justification in this item they’re limp at best.

    Item 4; if someone has no idea on how to repair a bike then the LBS is probably the place to go. However, on you tube you can find out how to do just about anything. So, is there really a need to go to the LBS? I recall a friend of mine took his bike in to the LBS a number of years back. Thinking the repairs would be $200 at most, and as advised for his $1000 bike, he nearly keeled over at the bill of $450…! This isn’t the first time I have heard of the scope creep in the repairs by LBS’s. I am sure they are finding things tough, but ripping off customers is a bad policy. Bad news spreads faster than good news. All you really need are the tools, access to the internet and the ability/motivation to do something for yourself. I guess without this you’re subject to the LBS prices.

    Items 3 & 2; well, this one made me laugh. Again if you are someone that absolutely does not have a clue I guess you’re going to the LBS and possibly get over sold. If you cannot be bothered to research on-line before buying you could be spending your money on something that isn’t right for you. Also, there are plenty of forums like this where questions and answers can be provided. Last September in a LBS in my town a rep tried to sell me a bike that was too small. The guy was doing pressure sales tactics and he incorrectly assumed I was ignorant of mountain bike technology and how geometry comes into play. That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes when bike buying, but once bitten twice shy.

    My current bike I bought on line last October without a test ride. Yes, this is a risk, but I compared the bike I had at that time and the others I have owned. Looking at the different geometries I could see what size and frame I needed. I bought the bike I wanted on line with over $3000 (Cdn) in discount (25%) and no Value Added Tax (20%). And that was after paying transport, GST and duty…! Yes, there is a risk of something going wrong and you have to return it to the store of purchase. But that savings cannot be ignored. Could the LBS have competed with that? I suspect not, but I did test the rep for discount on the bike that was $5,000 and too small and it was an indignant “no…”. I guess you got to try…

    I shall not bother with item 1, since I do not have much spare time with work.

    The facts speak for themselves the days of the LBS, and many other stores, are numbered. Just look at Sears, more store closures. Buying on-line actually contributes to the economy in many ways as well, but this never gets mentioned on bike forums. Perhaps the future is with companies like MEC or REI…? They have more buying power and are in direct competition with the LBS.

    My salary doesn’t come easy and like most people I try to avoid over spending. So, when the on-line deals are so enticing it’s hard for me to buy anywhere else than the big three. That said, you still have to shop around and compare pricing as there can be huge differences. The disappointing comment I shall finish with is; even the most expensive on-line price is still lower than the LBS in many, many cases.

    Just my thoughts…

  • mikekelly

    A compromise option is buying online from a real LBS that has a web presence. These shops supplement their income with a webstore. Most can not compete totally with the hard core no support online vendors but they come much closer and you still are supporting a brick and mortar bike shop. Places like Bikeman.com and Velomine.com come to mind as well as many others.

  • takeAkayak

    I regularly visit 7 “local” bike shops (local to the trails I ride). I have spent money in most of them, but not as much as I wanted to. More often than not, they don’t have in stock what I want. Their solution is to order it for me and have it within a week or two. Sure! I can also order it online, get it delivered to my door, and pay less.

    I most always try my luck in a LBS before I resort to shopping online. I don’t mind paying a bit more for the human interactions and precious advice I get from other bike aficionados. I always get an excellent service but, the fact that they don’t have what I need in stock is very disappointing.

    “We don’t sell enough of those” they say. Well, if you had them in stock, maybe you would sell more!

  • Marcellin

    I purchased a bike a few years back on-line from Back Country. A few reasons played a part in my decision to purchase on-line vs. LBS…
    1- price discount was significant and component package offered was to my liking.
    2- I wanted something different from a Giant, Trek or Specialized. All great bikes but my local trails are filled with such brands.
    At present locals shops to their credit have embraced my bike and they don’t seem to hold it against me that I didn’t buy from them. In hindsight I do think it would be beneficial to have that buyers relationship from the start of the process but if you do buy on-line most bike shops should focus on the big picture, treat you fairly and always have the end in mind, because we MTB’s always want to buy another bike?

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