OK, you’ve freed your bike from the storage cobwebs. This year, you will use it. But you’ll need to get it cleaned up and make sure it’s a safe ride that won’t break down miles from home. How do you choose a bike shop? Or — more to the point for regular cyclists who need periodic service — what makes a great bike shop?
“I get asked all the time about what the best bike shop is, and it’s sort of a hard question,” says Tom Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog. Out of many possible factors, he advises following one simple rule: “I think the best answer in almost all cases it’s the one closest to you. One of the most important things about a bike shop is, if your bike is broken, it will be easy to get it there.”
A quick Google search will pin down more than two dozen bike shops on the map of Seattle and its environs, and we’re lucky to have such choices. “Not every place in the world has so many small neighborhood shops,” says Fucoloro.
You will recognize a few names — like the multiple REI locations — but most of these shops are stand-alone small businesses. Even if you find one online that appeals, all the web browsing in the interworld won’t stand up to the ultimate test: Pedal down and check it out.
Finding a cycling friend
Cyclists typically look for a few basic services at a bike shop, like accessible hours, affordability and a convenient location. But the main criteria? Friendly, knowledgeable staff.
Renton cyclist Matthew Wong describes the good feeling he gets “when you walk in the door and they greet you by name.”
Wong is a ride leader with Cascade Bicycle Club, a group that responded enthusiastically when a reporter posted to their Facebook page in search of opinions about what makes a great shop. Steve says it’s staff “listening to a customer and their needs and wants,” while Jackie cites “someone who treats you like a cycling friend.” Thomas says the baseline is “a mechanic who remembers you and your bike,” and “extra points if they make you feel special.” David wants a shop that “lacks the elitist attitude.”
The ride-leader group, comprising volunteers who offer free daily rides through the bike club, counts many veteran cyclists in its numbers, but ride leaders also interact with cyclists at all levels.
For Wong, the bike-service person should “know their stuff and share their knowledge with you in just the right amounts,” with an ability to “gauge you and speak at your level.”
Fucoloro agrees that in a bike shop there should be “no such thing as a stupid question.”
Too many cyclists carry unfortunate memories of tech-speak or mansplaining that hindered communication. Ride leader Jaime says a red flag goes up “if I’m asking questions and the employee looks at my husband as they answer.” Cory agrees, wanting someone to “look me in the eye and talk bikes.” She asks, “wouldn’t it be nice to see a woman working at a bike shop?”
“One of the most important attributes for me,” says ride leader Pam Means, “is a shop that takes the time to learn what type of cyclist you are or want to be so that they can properly guide you toward purchasing the best equipment for you.”
Matching service to your needs
A shop scores extra points for carrying quality gear or having community-focused policies.
Means thinks many bike shops miss out on business opportunities, such as carrying an inventory of things she might need. “I don’t buy a bike every season, but I do look for clothing and accessories.” She’d also like it if a shop offered service reminders. “Send out reminders for tune ups and other critical maintenance items such as disc brake bleeds, brake pad and chain checks, tire wear,” she advises.
What’s important to you? A woman-owned shop? One that helps you find a bike that fits? Perhaps a shop that sells used bikes, or one that has an expert bike fitter?
If you are a cycling activist, maybe you want to support a shop that gives free bikes to kids, offers do-it-yourself classes or raises money for cycling organizations and causes.
Some value a shop that builds its own bikes or focuses on a certain type of bike and rider. There are shops for family bikes, e-bikes, touring bikes and mountain bikes.
E-bikes are dramatically changing the industry, says Fucoloro. “It will be interesting to watch which shops make the leap to service e-bikes and which ones kind of hold out and don’t,” he says. “Servicing e-bikes is kind of a whole different universe.”
With so many factors to consider, there’s one that pushes the shop from good to great: getting you back on the road.
Sometimes that’s just a quick, easy on-the-spot fix. Ride leader Astrid values a shop that will “do minor things, like a quick derailleur adjustment, for free.” And, she says, the best ones would do that for a first-time customer coming in off the street. Many cyclists cite those quick fixes as the key to creating a loyal customer — maybe with a bit of learning involved, so that next time, you can do it yourself.