In the previous installment, I addressed a few quality characteristics that I recommend looking for in a local bike shop, based on several personal experiences. Here are several more things that riders may consider important when searching for a trustworthy LBS:
Also high on my personal list for selecting a good bike shop, group rides serve as a place to get fit, learn new lines, make new friends, and have some healthy competition. It is nice to find a shop that offers regular rides during peak season, and will push you and build your confidence. You may also inadvertently learn a thing or two about bike maintenance if your trusty steed has an issue on your favorite ribbon of dirt.
Some of us are XX. Some of us are XY. Some of us are still trying to figure that out. Finding a shop that is sensitive to the different bikes, riding styles, and abilities of men/women is crucial, especially if they can look you in the eye and give you expert advice. That doesn’t mean that you need to find a shop who will point all women to a line of shiny new Juliana’s. On the contrary, an astute shop employee will take the time to fit all riders and recognize, for example, that not all women belong on women’s-specific bikes. But men, a word of advice: don’t let them talk you into riding away on a women’s bike, even if this Singletracks bike quiz says you belong on one…
Bike Fitting Services
Proper bike fit is crucial for both road and mountain bikes. Improper alignment of your lower back, hips, knees, or ankles can cause both temporarily and lifelong health issues. You’d be surprised by how just a few millimeters can make or break your positioning and comfort. Furthermore, everyone has a different riding style, which changes over time as we improve, and as we age.
Some guy eye-balling you in the parking lot is not the correct way to fit you on a bicycle, as “Dick” used to do. Singletracks has published several excellent articles in the past about how to fit yourself on a bicycle, and several reasons why you should get a professional bike fit, particularly if you have chronic pain during or between rides. I whole-heartedly agree. Get a fit. A strong LBS can offer pro-level bike adjustments, such as the studio at Wheat Ridge Cyclery in Denver, who will even add shims to your pedals to move your stance outboard.
Last spring, I was one of the first mass consumers to ride, and inadvertently test, the SRAM XX1 drivetrain, so naturally I paid a price for adopting early: the technology just wasn’t quite dialed in yet. I obliterated my freehub body climbing Palisade Rim one morning, and I took my mangled drivetrain to Over The Edge Sports (OTES) in Fruita immediately. It was the first ride of a planned epic weekend trip, and I was nervous because not many shops were familiar with the XX1 line. The OTES shop wizards, however, creatively fixed my issues in time for me to join my group at 18 Road that afternoon, and I am eternally grateful.
Lesson: an LBS with top-notch mechanics that can mitigate catastrophic failures quickly and get you back on the trail is worth its weight in, well, carbon fiber. In fact, locating a shop that can crank out your repairs in hours-to-days is a non-negotiable item when looking around for an LBS. A good LBS should stand behind their work too, and offer to repair/replace items if their craftsmanship does not hold up. They should also not be charging you (much) for warrantied item failures, though I have discovered more than a few shops that try to get away with this.
Try before your buy. We hear that phrase all too often with so many products, but it goes double for riding a mountain bike. High on your list should be a shop that carries, and rents/demos, bikes for a reasonable fee, which can be applied to the purchase of your bike once you’ve nailed down your preference. It is easy to get swept up as an armchair engineer reading articles online about what type of bicycle is best for you, but the truth is, you never know what a bike or part really feels like until you try one.
If you are considering changing a wheel size, you should definitely demo one first. Despite what you read, there are subtle nuances with wheel size, frame material, geometry, and amount of suspension that cannot be translated to the written word. Your body has to feel them. Don’t waste your money and buy a bike based on someone else’s review. Demo as many bikes as you can, and try them on the same trail, so you can compare them equally. Many shops will have a small dirt track area out back for you to whittle down your selection, but don’t rely solely on that experience for your ultimate purchase. Some shops, such as Santos Bike Shop, are built right at the trailhead for you to get some good laps in.
Road and/or Mountain Bikes?
Consider my dilemma in Florida. In some areas, there are shops that specialize primarily in only one type of cycling discipline. It is nice to find an LBS that can sell and service all of your biking needs, but you may have to find more than one shop if you have a lot of cycling hobbies. Some larger bike shops also carry other equipment, such as skis, like Sport Systems in Albuquerque, a well respected store that I use when I visit there.
For most smaller shops, however, don’t assume that the mechanic who setup your road bike understands how to dial in the compression and damping settings on your full-suspension rig. Mine didn’t. Not all shops understand the reason behind using a 170mm or 190mm hub-spacing on a fat-bike either, or how to adjust the chain line, or how to correctly tension a sliding dropout. Make sure you ask detailed questions before handing your bike over for service. You will have a bad day if you break your bike on the trail after paying to have it worked on.
All things being equal, this may be the factor that truly makes or breaks which local bike shop you elect to patronize. Jeff recently published a story about the excellent Cartecay bike shop in GA, which catalyzed me into thinking about what qualities a good bike should have. When I
lived in Florida, I took several trips to Dahlonega and Ellijay to ride the famed mountains of north Georgia, and fondly remember my experience at this particular shop. Unlike my former LBS in the Sunshine State, this place was inviting. It was friendly. I wanted to just sit down and hang out there. So I did. The fact that it cut away from the ride time I planned never crossed my mind. Despite his relatively cozy workspace, Mike Palmeri has several stools to just sit down and chat. As a local rider/hunter started talking about throwing a buck on the back of his bike trailer, I decided that it was a story I didn’t want to miss, and I’m glad I didn’t.
By comparison, my roadie-oriented LBS back home felt very sterile and rigid. At Cartecay, I felt at home, and wondered why more bike shops didn’t have more of a “coffee shop” atmosphere that invites you to hang out there and palaver. Chances are you’ll spend more, and learn more, the longer you stay. Not every shop has room for a sofa and free coffee (like this one), but your bike shop should be friendly, and the staff should be easy to approach. If you come in often, they should be glad to see you, ask about your bike, and seem interested in you as a person rather than another dollar sign. If you feel like just another customer, or that your LBS thinks your are made of money, it may be time to shop somewhere else.
Now residing in central Colorado, I am now blessed with a plethora of bike shops, and many of them have a unique vibe and cater to specific types of riders. Competition keeps pricing down, but more importantly, it promotes a different species of LBS because of the
thriving local bike culture here. The guys in my new LBS seem genuinely happy to see me when I come in. I bring them beer, and we sit and chat about everything from politics to frame geometry to weather. I hang out there almost every week for an hour or so, even if I don’t need anything, just to shoot the breeze and get to know the guys better. I try to stay out of their way, and they don’t seem to mind teaching me things. I often bring friends, who usually buy parts or even bikes, and in turn my LBS gives us good deals when we really need something. They do great custom work, and I have fun just admiring the weird and interesting things that some lucky customer will walk away with one day. They are an amazingly small shop with a huge inventory, and they have everything I need. There is no riding group, per se, which I do miss, but I ride informally with the shop guys, and that more than makes up for it. I ride with groups from other shops too, which builds unique friendships and promotes networking.
So, after a little searching, I now have most things on my list without putting up with a bunch of tomfoolery, and I truly prefer giving my LBS my patronage rather than shopping on the internet. As someone who is passionate about riding, I think picking an LBS is as important as picking your next bike. I feel lucky that I found a good one.
Writer’s note: although I have had the pleasure of visiting many different shops and demoing bikes in different places, I do not endorse a particular shop or brand per se… although some of the better ones deserve a little recognition for all of their hard work, and I’d happily point you toward the better ones.
Your turn: Do you have a good local bike shop that meets your needs? Do you have any interesting stories about a bike shop you have been to? We would love to hear them…