How to Work With a Bike Shop

Find a Good Store and Then Help Them Help You

Bike shops can be the best place in the world for cyclists. It's somewhere to pass the hours happily talking with the staff about this new bike or that, or a magical spot to bring your broken-down baby so that some wizard at the workstand can make it whole again. Or they can be unpleasant and intimidating, filled with expensive, space-age gear with astronomical price tags and employees who disdain their customers.

Here's how to find a great bike shop where you feel happy and understood, and what you should do to get the most out of your relationship with them.

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Treat Them Like Your Family Doctor.

Bike mechanic
(c) Dr. Starbuck/Flickr

For the best relationship with your local bike shop, think about them they way you think about your family doctor.  This should not be a one-hit transaction, in and out and then you never see them again like buying a bike at a big box store.  This can be a happy affair that goes on for many years, where you are viewed as not just a customer but a friend. 

For the most positive and beneficial interactions with your bike shop, just like you would with your doctor, be honest with them about everything so they can be most helpful to you. It just makes things harder if you're not telling them the truth about stuff like your bike maintenance habits, or the frequency and type of riding you do. All of these affect the condition of your bike.

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      Don't Pump the Bike Shop for Information and Then Buy Online.

      St. Louis Bikeworks

      It's real easy to look at the price of something at the bike shop, or even get sized for a bike, then go home and buy it online. Sure it might seem cheaper from some anonymous web outlet.  But don't do it. It's not in your best interest and the cost is about the same in the end. 

      Think of it this way: the slightly higher price tag includes access to a helpful friendly staff, available to answer questions on any bike topic you can think of. They will also work on your bike and consciously or not, will do a better job on equipment they've also sold. And I guarantee that bike shops go out of their way to help regular customers - extra work that doesn't get billed and parts thrown in free all for people who are regular patrons at their shop.

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        Don't Be Afraid to Ask Their Opinion.

        bike buying photo - man in bike shop
        Photodisc/Getty Images - Thomas Northcut

        People who work at bike shops are usually like you: they generally love riding bikes and enjoy talking about them too. One of the best ways to get tied in is to get an opinion from them about something.  A simple question like, "What's your opinion of this new Trek versus the Cannondale?" will be a great way to get started in what may be a very interesting conversation.  Plus, you may find out more about a third bike that you've not even considered.

        When you're buying, be straight with them about your price range. They don't want to waste their time or yours showing you stuff you're not interested in. Plus, they understand budgets. Their goal is to help you get into the best bike you can afford. View them as your partner in that.

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        When It's Time to Move On

        In a remote area, you may have little choice in bike shops. It's the local guy or nothing. But most of us have at least a couple in easy driving distance to choose from. And in big cities there can be dozens of shops. So when is time to look elsewhere? Here's how to tell:

        • Staff who are rude, arrogant or condescending. Even if you know very little about bikes, there is no excuse for an employee to treat you like you're stupid. Good ones can explain even complicated things.
        • Shoddy or delayed work. Barring unusual circumstances, work should be consistently done right and delivered on time.
        • Constant unreasonable pushing for higher ticket sales. A little upselling is okay, but good staff who understand your budget will help you work within it.
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        Finding a Shop: Ask Other Cyclists Where They Go

        If you don't feel good at your current bike shop, don't be afraid to shop around and visit other places.  You want one that fits you and your personality and the type of riding you do.  Some stores may focus more on one type of riding than other, i.e., road vs. mountain vs. casual, and the culture there may reflect that. 

        It's a little like dating. You want to go where you feel comfortable, where you feel genuinely welcome, and not disdained or intimidated. You're the customer and it's your money, so it is completely reasonable to expect that you'll enjoy the experience and to believe that the staff has your best interests at heart.

        Ask other local cyclists where they go. They'll tell you about stores they like and ones they don't.

        Online sources for reference and feedback like Yelp, etc., can be helpful too.