My buddy Joseph at the local bike shop, Decatur Bikes. Photo: mudhunny.


Want to start a heated discussion among mountain bikers? Just ask a group of riders where they buy their MTB gear. Supporting the local bike shop is a rallying cry for many while value-conscious riders flock to internet retailers in search of the best deals. We’ve actually been asking mountain bikers (anonymously) about their shopping habits for several years now and today I’d like to share some of our findings.

How do mountain bikers decide where to shop?

We asked singletracks members what was most important to them in deciding where to spend their cash and according to the more than 2,500 respondents, product selection is #1 (31%). Coming in a close second, is lowest prices (27%), neither of which bodes well for the higher-overhead, small mom & pop bike shop. Still, the next most popular responses – great customer service, relationship with the retailer, and speed/convenience – add up to 41% and are all attributes typically associated with the local bike shop.

Given mountain bikers’ priorities in choosing where to buy gear, you’d think big box / chain bike shops would have an edge over the local bike shop and online retailers since they’re able to offer a wide selection, competitive prices, and an opportunity to provide great service plus convenience. But it turns out that’s not the case.

Where do mountain bikers shop primarily?

Clearly most riders don’t buy all their bike gear in the same place every time so we asked folks where they shopped the most (nearly 3,500 responses). A big majority – 62% – said their primary bike gear outlet is the local bike shop. A quarter (25%) of our members reported turning to the internet for most purchases which is still less than half as many as the local bike shop customers.And the big box/chain stores like REI, Performance Bike, and general sporting goods stores? Only 13% reported relying on these stores as their primary source of bikes and equipment.

So local bike shops should be doing great, right? Yes and no. We also asked our members if they had purchased bike gear online in the last 12 months and 54% said yes. So, while the local bike shop may still be the primary avenue for buying gear, most Singletracks members still buy at least some of their gear online.


The good news for local bike shop owners is the percentage of mountain bikers who reported shopping online has stayed fairly constant over the past 3 years. It will be interesting to see how or if smart phones will change things as customers start relying on instant price comparison more and more.

Overall, local bike shops seem to be trending upward in terms of mountain bikers’ primary place to buy gear. In 2009, 58% of members preferred to shop locally; by 2011 that percentage increased to 65%. That growth seemed to come at the expense of both the large chain retailers and online retailers alike.

In terms of the factors affecting mountain bikers’ decisions around where to shop, the trends aren’t so clear (partly because we only looked at data for the past 3 calendar years). There was, however, a slight downward trend in the importance of good selection (31% -> 29% -> 27%) and convenience (4% -> 4% -> 2%). In 2011, low prices just barely edged out wide selection in terms of importance, though in 2010 the order was flipped.

So if you’re a local bike shop owner or internet retailer, what to do with this data? Clearly the signals are mixed, though it appears there are opportunities for everyone. My prediction: local bike shops will start acting more like internet retailers while online sellers will try to offer services that are similar to local vendors.

As consumers, we can all do our part to help grow the sport, regardless of where we shop. That’ll result in a bigger pie for everyone – local and virtual alike!

# Comments

  • BikerPanda

    I went to the LBS last week to pick up some cleaning tablets for my Osprey pack. I picked up a small pack with about 5-8 tablets inside.

    Most people at this LBS know my face so we are always talking about latest rides, work, and whatever else comes up.

    The clerk helping me was having trouble ringing in the price. I asked what was the issue, thinking he was scrolling through the BILLIONS of Smiths in the registry. He said “naw, I cant find the price. cheapest I see online is about 9 bucks so Im going to sell them to you for that.”

    With instant access to prices, not only was I shocked that he price matched it, it solidified my judgement to use them. It was amazing customer service IMO.

  • mtbgreg1

    Without an LBS in my hometown anymore, I’ve been doing a lot more shopping online lately.

  • maineskiaddict

    I am fortunate enough to have 2 very good shops around me. One has a significant online site and, truthfully, they do most of their business via the internet but the shop itself has quite the selection and 5 or 6 die hard mountain bikers. They will price match some of their competition without question. (or prompting)

    The other shop caters more to the roadie but has one of the best bike techs I have met. Tough decisions on which to support.

  • treky92

    I am in the same boat as Greg. With the nearest bike shop about 30 minutes away and in the opposite direction of the main trails I ride so I do much of my shopping online. If I were to buy a new bike I would go through the bike shop, but to travel over there for tubes, chain lube, or other small necessities would be excessive IMO

  • Travis_Man

    Maybe another factor besides the ones you itemized would be the experience level of the mountain/road biker, tech skills & spare time available. Over the past 8-10 years, I’ve been more comfortable (& willing) to do more installs/repairs/maintenance myself, so I tend to look for best price for everything (which at times is the LBS!). I still rely on the LBS for a bunch of stuff, particularly things I don’t understand well or don’t have the tools to mess with.

  • Yeti_Tom

    I live in an area with half a dozen+ mountain bike/single track trails within a 10 to 30 minute drive.

    Also 10+ bike shops and a national/state wide chain or two.

    Many of the “big” shops seemed to build monuments to themselves(ie. giant stores), so I can see the need for huge markups but I feel no obligation to buy from them.

    Ultimately I prefer to shop the smaller local out of the way shops that aren’t in the “high rent districts”.

    Just like anything else I find you have to shop around around for the best deal if thats what your looking for. Thats what makes internet shopping so easy and appealing.

    When I built up my yeti last year, 95% of the parts where purchased online. Many shops didn”t seem to carry the parts I wanted OR if they did the parts were a least 50% more.

    Found out later that one shop did have the fox fork I ended up buying online at a competitive price, but their website is so outdated and difficult to navigate that
    I never knew. Sure I could have spent an hour calling around but it was much easier to purchase online.

    Another shop did have a front derailleur(I ordered wrong one online) at a very
    competitive price and even stayed open 5 minutes past their close so I could pick up.
    However, the same shop did not have even 1- 6″ rotor in stock! I do continue to buy clothing and minor parts from them.

    I’d prefer to buy parts locally, but I think many shops prefer to sell whole bikes and service them, like a car dealer. Bike parts seem to be an after thought. Kind of like, “Yeah we can get that but, its gonna cost you”.

    If your in dire need of a part you may have no choice but to buy at a local shop
    (if they have it!), otherwise your better off buying online.

  • Jared13

    That’s awesome! My LBS matched another local retailers price on Shot Bloks for me. It saved me a trip across town and I’d rather buy from the bike store.

    That’s funny, I’m about the exact opposite. I buy tubes, lubes, and the small items like specialty tools from the LBS and usually anything that I need to try on (gloves, shorts, etc). Then if I need to replace the gloves, shorts, etc, I’ll look for them online. I go for a 1:1 ratio on money spent at the LBS vs online. It keeps me from going nuts when buying stuff both at the LBS and when I’m searching online 😀

  • dhavener

    For me, making the decision between LBS, REI, and the internet is fairly complicated. With the efforts that my local bike shops are making, it’s definitely getting more difficult by the day. I have a few rules that I try and stick to but, as always, they’re made to be broken:

    1) If I need something fairly generic like a hydration pack, thule/yakima rack, etc. I’ll go to a big box store like REI simply because of selection. REI has so much more inventory on hand for things like that; they can afford to have more brands and models in stock than the vast majority of LBS’s. Their prices may be a bit higher than the internet but I can look, touch, try on, and compare items first hand. Also, because they’re “big evil corporations” I don’t feel so bad about using them as a showroom for the internet.

    2) If I need anything that is even remotely specialized or intricate like components, lighting, etc. I’ll go to the LBS. I do this for a few reasons. First is the fact that these people all ride, work on, and are generally nutty about bikes (mostly MTBs). You really can’t beat their knowledge of features, compatibility, etc. Most people at the big box stores have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to components. Secondly, the components and accessories stocked by my LBS cover a broad spectrum: from Sram to Shimano, x7 to x0 and LX to XTR; compare this to my local REI and it’s just embarrassing, for REI. Plus, customer service/warranty claims, price matching, and great techs further the advantage over the big box boys.

    3) The internet definitely has its place. If I know exactly what I want, and can wait for it, I’ll probably go to the internet. Paying three times as much for a bearing at an LBS vs. the Manufacturer’s website just doesn’t work for me. At the end of the day, this is not a cheap sport and most of us are on a budget. If I can save some cash buying certain things from internet retailers, I’ll be more likely and able to spend a bit more on that shiny new crankset at my LBS. And I might even let them install it.

    Just my 2 cents

  • fat_billy

    I look on line and price the item. My LBS match the online prices usually if they can. They can’t get close on close out items but they try and if it’s just a little I go ahead and buy. Sales tax is less than UPS unless free shipping and don’t mind waiting 5 days. I like to support my LBS so they stay around. Later,

  • mickeydesadist

    My LBS has great personal service and honest advice. The selection is totally appropriat to the area riding. I will not go on line to shop as they can get stuff fast enough.

  • crossroads

    Intersting article…I’ve been researching about opening an LBS and talking with the shop I deal with about 30 min from where I live. There isn’t anything readily available to the area and the national forest trails nearby. The next closest shop is an hour away, so my area seems like an ideal spot for a new shop. I’ve been researching alot lately and see the need for exceptional service, possibly internet purchases and the need to create a “hang out” which I’m all for, currently looking at a space that will allow for a decent lounge. Plus I’m ready for a career change, not going to get rich from it and will have long hours, which I’m used to, but at least I’d enjoy the line of work.

    Margins are thin and you have to be competitive with internet sales but the LBS provides a service and the opportunity to connect with the local area and the bike industry that online can’t provide.

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