How to Help a Bike Shop Help You

I recently read a great article in a book called “On Bicycles” edited by Amy Walker.  The article entitled “How to Help a Bike Shop Help You” by Ulrike Rodrigues, touched on some very relevant, but sometimes not so obvious points, on how customers can help bike shops to help them, so I thought I would share some excerpts and paraphrase some of those thoughts with you. I would highly recommend reading the entire book, which I absolutely devoured  and loved every page of it.

As a long-time bike rider and some-time bike shop staffer and I know the hardest part of biking can be getting into a bike store. Many average folks say they feel intimidated by unfamiliar gear, jargon and particular style of customer service (in fact this is what motivated me to become a bike mechanic!). In the end we both want the same thing, for you to be riding a bike. But we can’t help you with that if you’re too nervous to walk through the door and talk to us. Remember that as the customer, you hold the power. Armed with some basic information and insider tips, you can help a bike shop help you.

Take an inventory of your needs. Before you visit a bike store,  and ask yourself what you actually want. Do you want to buy a bike, parts, accessories or just look? New or used? Pay an expert or learn how to repair it yourself?

Identify your bike style. What kind of riding will you do? How often, how far, how fast? Be realistic. What will you wear and carry? Where will you go? What are your limitations, expectations, fears, goals? How much are you willing to spend? have you budgeted for additional accessories that will enhance your safety, security and comfort? If you feel challenged by unfamiliarity, budget, age, weight, level of fitness or hipness,  share your concerns with the staff so they can set you up right. Many know a lot about bikes but not a lot about you. The more you tell them the better they can help you. 

Study some bike anatomy. Equipped with some basic knowledge, you’ll feel more confident and less intimidated. If shopping for a bike, do you know the difference between brands, styles, components? Do you know the difference between a wheel and a tire? Can you describe where the noise is coming from and when it happens?

Keep glitches in perspective. A bicycle is a simple device. Most repairs go fairly smoothly, but there are times when even the most experienced bike shop needs to take a few passes at fixing a troublesome problem. What may seem to be a small job, may actually be a very time-consuming task.

Expect biased opinions. People who are passionate about bikes can be opinionated. Friends and bike shop staff alike, may be personally biased towards what they ride, and you have biases that shape your judgments too.

Expect varying levels of service. You’ll likely receive different service from different staff on different days. Its not personal, its timing. People who work in bike shops are generally smart, passionate, underpaid and underappreciated. They work in bike shops because they love being around bikes. Some like working with machines or people or both.

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