Maybe we do need local bike shops

Maybe we do need local bike shops…

See, I’ve always felt that there is, and always will be, a place for real, actual, local bike shops. The kind you can walk into through a door and touch things and talk to people face to face.

In an article from People for Bikes, “Better bike lanes are an ingredient for great cities, not a recipe“, they correctly point out that bike lanes are not the be all and end all of a city that moves people around efficiently. They are a big part of that, but you need something more to sustain the decision to use a bike as your main mode of transportation. A neighborhood bike shop is one of those things.

You are brand new to cycling. You have no previous experience, and no one in your immediate circle of friends does either. Are you just going to go and order a bike from the internet? If so, are you going to get advice on what kind of bike (never mind what size you need) is best for your particular application? Are you going to know what kind of equipment you will need and what kind will make your ride more enjoyable? Are you going to be shown how to use the equipment, how to care for it, how to know what kind of air pressure to put in your tires, why the pump at the service station doesn’t work on the weird valves you have in your tubes, that you actually need to put air in the tyres on a somewhat regular basis, that your seat is far too low and your brake levers pointing towards the sky, why your bike has more than one gear?

Of course, all of this can be found on the internet, but the problem is that you need to know what you are looking for in order to find it. Essentially, you have to know at least a little about what you don’t know. You could just start by searching, “what do I need to know about cycling”, but you would at least have to know enough to sort the good advice from the bad advice from the incomprehensibly terrible advice from all the crap that is completely subjective and has less than nothing to do with being right or wrong, the internet being the glowing beacon for the brazenly ignorant that it is. It’s basically like the castle Anthrax from the Monty Python’s Holy Grail, where morons go to get excitedly spanked by the rest of the army of nitwits that live there.

The internet is better used for shopping or advice by people who have some idea of what they are talking about. Furthermore, if you have just decided to use a bike to get to work and aren’t all about cycling generally, you’ll probably not want to be trolling the internet looking through various websites and forums for advice (I know, forums and advice…) – you’ll probably have better and more interesting things to do. Answer? Bike local bike shop.

If a city is to encourage and nurture an increase in the number of its regular citizens who choose to take to the bike instead of the car, it needs networks of asphalt, but also of bricks and mortar and people who but bike shops in them. The local shop should be a place where someone who doesn’t know where to start can get started, and where they can return to when they want to take the next step. You can’t have a relationship with an online shop. You can’t take your bike there when it gets injured. The internet doesn’t remember your name, it remembers your credit card number. It doesn’t recommend roads to avoid and better routes to take. It doesn’t offer any connection to the place where you live.

If you were new to cycling and didn’t have a local shop to go to (or at least local-ish), would you feel the same about deciding to take it up? Would you be a little less comfortable about it?

For years people have either been crying tears over the death of  the local shop, or crying out for an end to “brick and mortar” bike shop. The internet is king! If I remember correctly, they were saying the same thing about car dealerships about ten years ago (which I realize is sliding into a completely different topic). The internet is certainly putting the sword to a great many local shops, and at the very least shrinking the profit margin of the rest, but I suppose you could also look at it as having the effect of getting rid of the chaff and leaving just the wheat behind. The good shops will withstand the storm, because they offer everything that the internet can’t.

The internet is getting smarter, however, and offering more, while good shops are finding it harder to keep the level or service, or staff, or level and variety of stock on hand, as they have to compensate for lower prices and less profit margin, or none at all while people shop online. (Of course, some shops have done all the right things to ensure that it’s just business as usual for them.) I’m not going to get into whether this should or shouldn’t be the case – I’m just saying that this is the reality. You might want to consider at least checking with your local shop before clicking confirm order.

We need our local bike shops. Your neighborhood and your city need their local bike shops. A good local bike shop can turn cycling from an abstract possibility into a real, tangible thing that normal people can do. It can be the hub of a cycle-friendly community. It can inspire people to keep at it and maybe learn more or ride further. For some people, cycling is a lifestyle, a political statement, and a moral imperative. For some people it is nothing more than an easier way to get to work, or maybe it’s all they can afford and it’s too far to walk. With a focal point in your neighborhood like your local bike shop, cyclists from both ends of the spectrum and everyone in between will know where to go to keep their wheels spinning and their faces grinning.


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