Stranger in a Strange Bike Shop

10.17.2007 | 8:42 pm

As you are no doubt aware, I am a famous and beloved figure in the cycling community. I am regarded as both insightful and witty. Knowledgeable and self-deprecating. Gruff yet tender. Well-known yet easily accessible. And very, very prolific.

In short, I am the cyclist everyone remembers Bob Roll as being, back before he was primarily known for babysitting Al Trautwig through the Tour de France (and — hilariously! — mispronouncing the name of the race, in the name of never ever ever burying a very old hatchet).

As such, I am comfortable in practically any bike-related situation. I am happy to join a group ride even if I don’t know anyone; I know  I will either hang and find someone with something interesting to say or I will get dropped and turn on my iPod.

I am comfortable meeting strangers on the road and trail. After all, we’re doing the exact same thing at the same place at the same time, so we must have other stuff in common.

I am comfortable giving directions to cyclists, both on the road and off, though I am generally quite certain that my directions are wrong. I figure that even though I am probably giving people directions to a place other than where they want to go, once they arrive at the place to which I have directed them, they will be glad of the journey. Plus, there’s relatively little chance I’ll ever run into them.

I am not, however, comfortable going into a bike shop where nobody knows who I am. I hate going into foreign shops. And by “foreign shops,” I don’t mean “shops in a foreign land,” I mean “any shop besides the one where I don’t have to tell them how to set up my brakes or what height to set my saddle, because they already know.”

I have my reasons.

Establishing Credibility Without Coming Off As A Vain, Boring Turd
When I walk into a bike shop, I don’t really need much. I just want to be revered as the famous and beloved cycling personality that I am. Would it be too much, for example, for the senior staff to drop whatever they’re doing — which, yes, includes helping other customers — and come attend to my needs? (That question was rhetorical. You shouldn’t feel compelled to answer it.)

Also, a comfy chair and a backrub while I wait for my bike would be nice. And I wouldn’t mind it if someone would come up and revere me a little bit. You know, ask for an autograph, beg me to tell some of my favorite biking stories, that kind of thing.

Instead, for some reason, I think I give off a strange “I don’t know anything at all about bikes” vibe to bike shop employees. Maybe it’s my gut. Maybe it’s the Dockers. Maybe it’s the male pattern baldness (yes, I shave my head, but you can still tell I have male pattern baldness). But they always act like I don’t know anything about bikes.

When I moved to Washington a few years back, for example, there was a bike shop about a mile away from my home. I came in, figuring this was destined to be my home away from home.

Instead, when I said I wanted some advice on a good lube for riding in Washington, they gave me a look that was specially designed to make me feel like I was retarded.

Of course, I wanted to explain that I actually know quite a bit about bikes. That I’ve been riding for years and years and years. I am not just a guy who casually and occasionally rides, either. I ride all the time. I talk about bikes all the time. I’m the guy in the neighborhood everyone asks their bike questions to. I’m the bike shops favorite kind of customer.

And I would have liked to explain this to them. But I just couldn’t find an opening. For some reason, it’s not easy to go into a bike shop and announce, “Hi, I’m a really experienced cyclist, so please accept me into the pack. You may, in fact, want to treat me as the alpha male.”

So I’m working on a couple introductions to make it clear that I’m really into cycling the next time I go into a strange bike shop. Tell me what you think:

  • The Casually Hardcore Opening: “Hi, how’s it going?” (Wait for response.) “Oh, good. Hey, I was thinking of doing an easy century today, and wanted to know if you had any route suggestions.” (Wait for response.) “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. I meant an easy mountain bike century. You know, something with no more than 14,000 feet of climbing.”
  • The Know-it-All Opening: “Hey, how’s it going?” (wait for response, but don’t appear to pay attention.) “I see — without needing to walk around or glance at any of the price tags — that most of your bikes here are in the $400 to $1200 range. Is that what your customers tend to want? (Don’t wait for a response.) Where do they go to get their second bike, when they fall in love with riding and want something nicer than what you’ve got here?
  • The Put-Them-on-the-Defensive Opening: “Hey, this is a cute shop. You got anyone here who isn’t just doing this as his summer job?”

Some of these are still a work in progress. 

Frequent Buyer Discount, Or Lack Thereof
When I go into my LBS, I know that I’m going to get the best deal possible. Better than the best deal possible, even. If that’s possible. Which, I guess, it is not.


Here, nearly word-for-word, is the conversation I had with Racer when it was time to settle up and pay for my new Fillmore. I’m not saying what the actual numbers were, because I have a feeling Racer’s wife would not approve.

Racer: “That will be $XXX.00.”

Me: “What?”

Racer: “OK, I’ll drop it by $50.00″

Me: “That’s not what I meant. I don’t mind if you make a little bit of profit when you sell me a bike, Racer.”

Racer: “Whatever.”

Me: “Charge me $100 above that price. That’s the lowest I’d feel good about paying.”

Racer: “I’ll add $25.”

Me: “$75.”

Racer: “I’ll add $50, but that’s my final offer.”

Me: “This has been a very weird transaction.”

I don’t expect this kind of discount from anywhere but my local bike shop, but I’m pretty sure that non-local bike shops (NLBS) make up for the discounts they give to their friends by overcharging interloper customers.

Last week, I’m pretty sure I paid $8.00 for a tube, for example. 

I Feel Old
I realize that bike shops tend to hire younger people. They work for cheap, and they don’t have to feed a family. But I swear that when I go into most bike shops, they are staffed by teenagers exclusively. Looking for a light setup for the Kokopelli Trail Race last year, I went into a shop near where I work and — I swear I am not making this up — the kid in the shop tried to get me to buy a couple of commuter lights.

He simply didn’t have a point of reference for any kind of riding that didn’t involve mad skillz on the halfpipe while wearing Vans and a BMX helmet.

I realize that I am 41. But please, bike shop owners who have never met me, have the courtesy to do the following:

  • Have someone at the shop who is older than 20. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve somehow managed to stumble upon a boy scout troop.
  • Forbid all your employees from ever calling anyone “sir.” I don’t know anyone who likes to be called “sir.” I understand the military is considering no longer using the word “sir.”
  • Tell your employees that not everyone over 40 will necessarily want a hybrid, cruiser, or recumbent.

The Solution
Of course, I wouldn’t gripe and gripe and gripe if I didn’t have a solution. What I’d like to propose is a universal LBS members card. This is not something you could apply for, but when an LBS owner / manager feels you have become a truly loyal customer, he (I’d say “or she,” but I’ve so far never met a female LBS owner. Are there any, or are women too smart for that?) could issue you this card in a super-secret ceremony involving things like taking oaths, reciting slogans, and swearing to obey the law of the pack.

Then, whenever you’re at an NLBS, you could just show your card, therefore avoiding the posturing and hint-dropping. The card, in effect, would say, “This guy rides. Treat him / her like one of your own.” And then the NLBS employees could relax, joke around with you, call you by your first name, and give you the good buddy discount.

Oh, also, there would be a super-secret-bonus version of the card that tells the NLBS that the carrier is a much-beloved cycling celebrity, and that, as such, a comfy chair and backrub may be in order.


  1. Comment by TIMK | 10.19.2007 | 6:15 am

    “The Put-Them-on-the-Defensive Opening: “Hey, this is a cute shop. You got anyone here who isn’t just doing this as his summer job?””

    If I were not taking a bike in for service, I would certainly use this line.

  2. Comment by axel | 10.19.2007 | 6:35 am

    My technique is to start the shopping by asking for spokes. Spokes are perfect in that they are not expensive, they indicate that you take your bike seriously and they are not available on a rack in the middle of the store, but back in the shop. Anyone who confidently orders 3 235mm spokes will immediately be recognized as a serious rider and treated with the proper respect for the price of less than $2.
    If you are not in the mood to get more spokes, turn down the ones they have as ‘low quality’ and proceed with the rest of your shopping…

  3. Comment by hellkitty | 10.19.2007 | 6:49 am

    Try going into the LBS being a female. They NEVER take you seriously, no matter what.

  4. Comment by | 10.19.2007 | 6:56 am

    Hey Fatty, I have a great hybrid recumbent cruiser that I am trying to sell. You know anyone interested??
    *Hybrid Recumbent Cruiser – That would be interesting.

  5. Comment by dug | 10.19.2007 | 7:07 am

    i think i see your problem. you should never under any circumstances go into anything other than your LBS. it’s very much like infidelity.

  6. Comment by mark | 10.19.2007 | 7:22 am

    This is exactly why anything I can’t fix myself goes to Brian’s Pro Bike Service (Brian knew and rode with Bob Roll back when Bob blew his entire earnings for one season on a new Ducati and had to spend the off-season crashing on friends’ couches because he had no money for a place to live). If Brian can’t fix it, then it can’t be fixed and he’ll tell you as much. And he doesn’t mess around with $10 to true a wheel and $35 for a tuneup or whatever the going rate is; everything is a flat hourly rate, and you get to stand there and watch him do it, since he has no room in his garage to store your bike after repairing it. The upside to standing there and watching him repair your bike is that you get to see how the repair is done while listening to stories about Bob “out of control” Roll and other inside dirt on the pro peleton.

    When it came time to buy a road bike this year, I drove 400 miles to buy from Racer. I have no idea what the “Fatty” discount is, but the “friends of fatty” discount and service were worth the trip. That’s not to say I don’t have good shops locally–I buy enough accessories and replacement parts from to qualify for a discount at my preferred shop, but I don’t ask them to install anything that I buy simply because I’m a cheaper mechanic and Brian’s cheaper and better.

  7. Comment by Less Fat Mike | 10.19.2007 | 7:28 am

    Fatty, you’ve described a specific case of a very common problem. I first noticed this effect at my local Home Depot/Lowes. Before I finished my master bathroom and became somewhat know to the sales people in most of the sections, I thought the response from Lowe’s employees depended on the day of the week (I would often go in during my lunch hour to pick up a bathtup drain kit or some GFI plugs). It wasn’t until I made a Saturday visit while in Business Casual that I found the true predictor of how the Lowes people would act.
    Obviously you need to bring a Fat Cyclist jersey to work or keep it in your favorite commute vehicle. Just make sure you’re wearing it when you enter a Bike Shop other that Racer. I know what your thinking; by April, women, children and the teenage staff could be traumatized by your lack of fitness. It’s a small price to pay for acceptance.

  8. Comment by LanterneRouge | 10.19.2007 | 7:34 am

    Thought I clicked on BSNYC for minute there.

  9. Comment by Al Maviva | 10.19.2007 | 7:46 am

    A beloved cycling celebrity? You mean… Heywood Jablowme? I think I know you.

    I have two regular LBS’s, one is a local, one is club affiliated. Most roadracers I know are in sort of similar circumstances. (Of course our *real* LBS is, because when you burn through 1-2 gruppos per year, you can’t afford to pay anything near retail for the stuff, so we screw our local LBS’s in favor of benefitting some website that is screwing Shimano and Campy over… but I digress).

    I get a nice discount at the local-est LBS, but because it’s a recreational rider oriented shop, it ain’t much of a discount. I mainly hang out there because I ride and sometimes race with the guys and gals that hang out there, and we all drink an absolute s***load of free coffee, which almost makes up for the crummy discount. I mean, c’mon, a half dozen local road and MTB racers are putting the owner’s kids through *good* private schools. You actually can make money in the bike industry if you inspire 50% loyalty from a dozen racers. Trust me, I’ve seen it in action. On the plus side, the mechanics are pretty good because they are used to their normal clientele getting a once-per-decade $25 tuneup or trying to haggle over the price of a new tube to replace the one that dryrotted out sometime between when Giuseppe Campagnolo installed the original, and this morning’s attempted annual ride around the block. The mechs don’t like those customers coming back to complain about a $8 repair, so they do it right the first time, even if it’s a ridiculously complex job. (“Here, glue these tubeless tires onto my $3000 carbon fiber rims. They’d better be straight, tight, adhere perfectly, have no extra glue spilled on the rim, and come off like Lindsey Lohan’s clothes if I need to do a quick change.”) The mechs will even show you how to do a lot of work, and if the shop suddenly gets hit with customers – like on a Friday at 3:00 before a long weekend – the coffee-sucking racers chip in and do the easy repairs to help the mechs out. So you pay near retail, do work for free the shop profits from, and get free coffee in return. Nice.

    My other LBS, the race oriented shop, has a tremendous discount. I mean a really amazing discount. They also like to have you in the shop while they work on your bike. You can step into the rear and watch – but don’t lift a hand. These are talented, gifted race mechanics. They will fix your bike. Did you buy a coffee for them at Starbucks and bring it in as a token of respect? I hope so. They are artistes, and you do not treat artistes without respect. Meanwhile, the manager – a fair racer himself – will slap you on the back. “C’mon, let me show you this new gruppo I got from SRAM. It’s totally sweet.” Shorts, new tubes, the latest tires, a little upgrade to your Powertap (called SRM)… he has it all, and at a great discount. In fact, if you want it today, he will be happy to sell it on easy terms. Wait, here, I have the paperwork in my back pocket. Oh, you like the Cervelo? I think you’d look good on that. We have one in your size in the back. I was just going to build it up. Want to help me? We’ll see how light we can make it if we substitute Ti nuts and bolts for steel. It’ll be cool.

    So after visiting that shop, riding home on your new Cervelo, you have plenty of time to think about the $3,000 savings. It poses a problem – you told the wife you were only stopping in to get a badly bent wheel trued. Oh well, maybe she won’t notice.

    Then later that night, as you are trying to get the garden hose to spray enough water to put out the bike clothes fire on the lawn in front of your house, it occurs to you – maybe an LBS can be too good.

    Then you have a flat one day and have to stop in a rival club’s LBS. Hah, they won’t know you there. You’ll get a fair deal, not have to fix any bikes for free, not buy more than you wanted… it’ll be great. Unfortunately, you are flying the club colors and you will need to buy a new tube to get home. The tubes are kept in the back room. They don’t let you back there. As you wait for the guy to get back with the tube, you remember a guy on your club slept with the LBS owner’s daughter, who keeps the books at the shop, and it ended badly. The clerk returns, he’s unfortunately out of Quality Bikes generic 700×23 tubes, they don’t have the Specialized or the Salsa tubes. They do have just this one tube left, it’s a very special high end roadracing lightweight tube that was woven from silk by young asian children who were shackled to the workbench until they learned to make tubes that are more supple than air itself, and lighter too. It’s made by a Belgian company you have never heard of. The clerk asks how far you have to go. You tell the truth – and as you tell him your town’s name, you realize it’s a $40 cab ride. You ask how much the tube costs – he tells you $37, because it comes bundled with a special repair kit.

    You pay it. That night as you are ordering the same tube off ProBikeKit for $3.99 – it really is a wonderful tube – you think fondly of your LBS’es, and wonder if it wouldn’t be nice to go unrecognized in a bike shop for once.

  10. Comment by Uphill Battle | 10.19.2007 | 7:46 am

    Hell Kitty,
    Funny, we must frequent the same bikeshop!

  11. Comment by Canadian roadie | 10.19.2007 | 8:04 am

    I have a friend (female) who recently went to pick up her new Cervelo from the shop (it’s the only shop that sells them). She walked in and while waiting, made a comment that one of the other Cervelo’s look “sweet” and inquired about the price. The guy who was working looked her up and down, put on his you’ve-got-to-be-joking-me face and said, “It’s probably out of your range”, then asked which bike she was picking up. She said it was great to see his jaw hit the floor when she pointed to her bike and said, “That one.”

  12. Comment by Kris | 10.19.2007 | 8:04 am

    Fatty, are you telling me you don’t have a RealCyclist membership card? I’ve had mine for years. Works great! I flash it and avoid all of the problems you mentioned. Plus there are other perks. Most shops have a secret, members only room for RealCyclists. I get a full massage, a cold or hot beverage of my choice, a full pasta bar, and a selection of current cycling magazines before they get all ratty. Oops, I think by saying this I broke one of the secret oaths. ;-)

  13. Comment by hades | 10.19.2007 | 8:11 am

    You’re right, sometimes its hard to be accpeted immediately. However, merely asking about a good MTB ride usually gets you some respect… go with the self-deprecating opening: “Hi, I’m from _____, and I’m not used to the (choose one:) roots/ sand/ climbs/ tortoises/ ebola virus out here, can you tell me a good 10-20mile trail ride that I can handle on a single speed? Oh, and yeah, I need a tube.”. Or Just wear some brightly colored cleats (or similarly ridiculous cycling apparel – home made knickers are part of my MO)… this will indicate that not only are you serious, but you are so serious that you don’t care what you look like to non-cycling folks.

    Shameless plug: My LBS, Wersell’s in Toledo Ohio ( has female owner, Jill who is the greatest. I ride with their head mechanic Matt all the time as he is my age (mid-30s). Great shop, nice folks, only a few summer-job teens. Stop in and say hi, if you’re in the area. They liked my FC jersey too, so you know they have good taste.

  14. Comment by Big Boned | 10.19.2007 | 8:11 am

    Yes, there are female LBS owners. The shop I help out at (I hesitate to say “work at” because I don’t have much time to spend there and don’t often get paid in $$) has a female owner. Well, actually, she’s a part-owner, but she’s cool and she actually rides. I’ve done some 24 hour AR’s with her and she’s solid. I was trying to get her on my RAAM team a couple years ago, that didn’t work out, but she’s talking about doing it next year. We’ll see.
    That shop has the best bike selection (and wrench) in DC, so if you ever get out here, let me know. I’ll show you around, make sure that you get the respect a “much-beloved cycling celebrity” is entitled to, and introduce you to the owner. You’ll be charmed, I’m sure.

  15. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 10.19.2007 | 8:15 am

    Female LBS owner:

  16. Comment by RW | 10.19.2007 | 8:17 am

    I like your list of things bike shops should have the courtesy to do. Perhaps this is a list you could develop in another post?

    I would add “Forbid your under-age employees from using ridiculous sales lines”

    We have a limited number of bike shops in my town. I went to get some new pedals and shoes. The shop “on the hill” was very friendly and the under-20’s guy at the counter was quickly pushed aside by an older guy who realised I was serious. He helped me choose and buy the pedals I needed but they didn’t have the shoes in my size. We also had a fun discussion about cyclo-cross!

    However, without my shoes I rode off to one of the other shops which, just as in your article, was exclusively staffed by young men who knew nothing. This in itself was bad enough but I nearly puked when I was proudly told that “the guys from the shop on the hill always come here to buy their shoes”.

    Like heck they do!

  17. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 10.19.2007 | 8:18 am

    Oops, I almost forgot the another LBS with a female co-owner:

  18. Comment by Jessi | 10.19.2007 | 8:41 am

    corvallis cyclery

    This is the best LBS in our town. They’ve had guys working at this shop for 30 years. And they have college degrees. They’ve got young folk too, but someone’s gotta step up eventually, and might as well start training them now.

    Full disclosure: my hubby works there

    P.S. as many of the employees are also cute, single males, they take every female very seriously. Maybe too seriously.

  19. Comment by Clydesteve | 10.19.2007 | 8:48 am

    yes, it is asking too much.

    seriously, you don’t have your card, huh? Another hazard is a new hardcore employee that does not know you are in the club. That happened to me a couple months ago in my LBS.

    I came in with a wheel I had purchased from them after my bike wreck. It had come out of true on my first century – inadequate spoke tension. I normally true my own wheels, but thought they owed me one, so I am talking to JJ, who take care of me and runs the shop when the owner is out. This other tool busts in, looks at the wheel, and asks me what brand of bike I have.

    I tell him, and he says “we don’t even carry that brand of bike”.

    “Fine”, I say, “but a wheel is a wheel, and this wheel did not come stock on that bike, can we get back to something besides your thin product line?” JJ is standing in the background, where he had been elbowed, looking somewhere in between bemused and embarassed.

    “We don’t carry those wheels either – you did not get them here. You will have to pay to get it trued.”

    Finally, JJ has had enough, and he steps in – “This guy is a regular, a good customer. He special-ordered these wheels so I could charge his insurance company an onerous price and make an obscene profit. We true and tension it for free.”

    Heh. He may still work there, but I haven’t seen that guy since. Probably the owners’ MBA son-in-law or something.

  20. Comment by Miguel | 10.19.2007 | 8:53 am

    I like it! An excellent plan. I hope that you had a pleasant time writing it up, sir.

  21. Comment by sasquatch | 10.19.2007 | 9:08 am

    Even for a gifted writer, this piece is over the top. Put it on the list for your Greatest Hits album. Thanks.

  22. Comment by BurkeInTheOzarks | 10.19.2007 | 9:43 am

    Kris, the first rule of RealCyclist Club is you don’t talk about RealCyclist Club…

  23. Comment by randomduck | 10.19.2007 | 9:47 am

    I know how you feel with this stuff. In fact, my LBS is still in Utah, even though I left 14 years ago! I raced for them when I was a teenager, and the owner has known me since I was 11, so it’s still a place to go where they know how I ride, what I like and don’t like, and so forth.

    Sure, I now have a couple LBS locations here in DC, and they do me right. But my original, beloved LBS in Salt Lake City is still the place to go where they know me, and they always make me feel like part of the family.

    And the same goes for ski shops, too. There’s only one place here in the greater DC/MD/VA area I trust with my boots and skis. Again, this is coming from a racing background, and my needs (especially for boots) are very particular. And it took forever to find good bootfitters out here who understood how my feet work.

  24. Comment by chtrich | 10.19.2007 | 10:18 am

    Excellent post. One of the better one’s of late.
    The Trek store of American Fork has a husband and wife as owners and they are both easily over 40. I’ve always seen one or the other one in there when I’ve stopped in. I’m not promoting the store at all (very pricy), but just mentioning a female owner, and employees that are not teenagers. (like Bike Peddler).

  25. Comment by C-Fiddy | 10.19.2007 | 10:23 am

    Add Brilliant to insightful and witty, (if you haven’t already).
    I think it would be a better world if this were made required reading for every new shop hire. You know, in the “training manual”. I’m not getting younger either and go into my own shop feeling like Rodney Dangerfield. “I tell ya, no respect!”

  26. Comment by Al Maviva | 10.19.2007 | 10:25 am

    Big Boned Writes:

    >>That shop has the best bike selection (and wrench) in DC, so if you ever get out here, let me know. I’ll show you around, make sure that you get the respect a “much-beloved cycling celebrity” is entitled to, and introduce you to the owner. You’ll be charmed, I’m sure.

    He’s right. And I’m sure your wife probably won’t notice the new Pinarello.

  27. Comment by bikemike | 10.19.2007 | 10:25 am

    been working in a bike shop for 19 years and it gets freakier every year.
    you want to see how strange bike people truly are, wait until you go to interbike next year. the concentration of strange is like eating chocolate cake with a chocolate fork and then rinsing with chocolate listerine. too much.

  28. Comment by dpcowboy | 10.19.2007 | 10:38 am

    Fatty, great story. Thanks.
    I had an experience with THE big banana LBS who does tri-eat-a-lot work here in San Diego County. Great reputation…so I brought in my classic 80’s steel Pogliaghi and wanted a pair of Campy SR Aero brake levers put on. New tape, I’d have even sprung for a drive train overhaul or whatever else they wanted to sell. Don’t care how much…wanted New Old Stock, though.
    They told me no.
    They don’t work on “old” bikes there. When I asked where else to go (barely disguising my glee!) they told me they didn’t know….well…maybe the cruiser store down the street (this was a beach community). I now couldn’t stop laughing, and walked out.
    I saw one of their local hotshot 20 year old ‘employees’ (i.e.: glorified wrench) at a time trial a year later. I smoked him by about two minutes…he couldn’t wait to talk to me then. I asked him if he was still wrenching at (N****, name withheld to protect the stuck-up, holier than thou LBS)
    and he looked at me and said he was…did a double take…and then asked if he knew me!
    I laughed harder than before.
    True revenge (like the Cervelo story above, or hellkitty) is for the patient.

    Hey, can I get a UPSable address for the Hinault photo?


  29. Comment by pipebaum | 10.19.2007 | 10:40 am

    My question is what to do if you have multiple LBS? I have three good bike shops within ten minutes of my house. They are all good at certain things. Is it better to focus on earning your LBS position at one shop, or do you spread your business around?

  30. Comment by eunicesara | 10.19.2007 | 10:53 am

    Having recently escaped retail where I was the tool department manager and (remain) female, I like your casually hard core opening. You don’t treat me like I’m stupid and I’ll get you what you want, fast, so you can get back to turning wrenches, demolishing walls, or whatever you had to stop doing because you needed something.
    Meanwhile. Still bike shopping. WAY below your budgets! I stopped at a bike shop in another town last week and AMAZING! they were closed that day because of a bike event in another part of the state. Wow. Bike shop employees who ride bikes. What are the chances?

  31. Pingback by | The RocBike Review » Links Of The Day: 19 October 2007 | 10.19.2007 | 11:33 am

    [...] Stranger in a Strange Bike Shop [...]

  32. Comment by Kris | 10.19.2007 | 12:01 pm

    “Kris, the first rule of RealCyclist Club is you don’t talk about RealCyclist Club…”

    Right, NOW I remember the oath! And I don’t care what the rules say, I’m not giving up the card! You’ll have to hunt me down, run me off the road (making it look like an accident – people who know me say that won’t be hard), and pry it from between my cold, dead, lycra-clad thighs (I keep that card SAFE!).

  33. Comment by leroy | 10.19.2007 | 12:04 pm

    I went into a great LBS this week.

    The woman behind the cash register — the widow of the man who founded the shop in the 1950s — asked “How can we help you young man”?

    That made my day. I haven’t been called a young man for more than 20 years.

    I think I need a new bike before I get old.

  34. Comment by Sprocketboy | 10.19.2007 | 12:11 pm

    I share your concern about foreign bike shops. I have gotten really tired about going to different shop for some minor work and being treated as a nuisance. At my LBS, which is actually one of the big big big chains, they always seem happy to see me and are keen to help out with my projects. I give my mechanic Belgian beer after he built up my S-Works Tarmac.

    There was a recall on the stem and I had to take the bike in to another shop to get an approved replacement. The mechanic looked at the bike and his first comment was “Who put this together?” Of course there was nothing wrong with the way the bike was put together but I guess they like to stick it in when there is a high-end bike in question. Another time I needed the Campy drivetrain on my custom Marinoni adjusted and popped into a different shop for a quick tune-up. The mechanic looked like he was 17 and made some comments about how the derailleur might be hard to adjust since the equipment was all so old. Of course, that was 5,000 kms ago and no problems since, including a ride up the Stelvio Pass.

    On the other hand, the friendliest mechanic I ever met at a foreign bike shop did such a good job reinstalling the crankset on my bike that it fell off two weeks later one-quarter of the way into a hilly century ride.

  35. Comment by DOM | 10.19.2007 | 12:36 pm

    I like hellkitty’s idea, try going into a shop as a woman. That will have to make a great post or two. Please include pictures.

  36. Comment by Rio's Rider | 10.19.2007 | 12:55 pm

    Do not dis Bike Peddler! That is the one shop I (a female) can walk into where they will drop whatever they are doing and help me out. And I always get a good discount. I love those guys! Sure, they have some younger guys working there, but Kenny and Parrish rock!
    Fatty, good reading. I always enjoy your work!

  37. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 10.19.2007 | 1:19 pm

    Al and Randomduck, hands-down, the worst bike shopes I’ve ever shopped at (exept a bike-board-blade here in Ut that is, thankfully, out of business) were in the DC metro area. I used to go to a different shop everytime just to try to find a good one.

  38. Comment by Bobby | 10.19.2007 | 1:21 pm

    The last two places i’ve lived, i have been lucky enough to live or work walking distance (frame of reference only) from a homegrown local bike shop….full of weenies.

    I have ended up traveling at least 12 miles to get to a bike shop that I would feel committed to.

    How far can you go before you’re not allowed to call it a Local bike shop and call it a ROOTWBS (Relatively Out of the Way Bike Shop…?)

  39. Comment by Bobby | 10.19.2007 | 1:30 pm


    Kidding…everyone in here is being pretty defensive about a simple comment (made in parenthesis no less.)

  40. Comment by MTB W | 10.19.2007 | 2:35 pm

    FC, another excellent post! Wow, LBS sure hits a nerve. I thought I found a LBS but it didn’t last for long after the employees graduated from high school. Have to break in a whole new set of “employees”! Seriously, I haven’t been able to find a store with more than 1-2 “adult” employees. As to NLBS, I think the key is not to look at the stuff on the aisles when you walk in – if you do, the employees will think you are fascinated by shiny stuff and not a real cyclist. You have to walk right to the back where the wrenches work, look at the bike they are working on and make a witty (or denigrating) comment about it or its components. Then (if they are also real cyclists) they will take notice of you (unless you make a derogatory comment about the bike/components and its their bike!).

    On a side note, FC, you say you are “very, very prolific”? Well you may be prolific, but, no disrepect intended, I think Al takes the cake on this, well illustrated by his above comments. The rest of us just type in his shadow.

  41. Comment by monkeywebb | 10.19.2007 | 2:49 pm

    My loyalty is not to a local shop, but to a local shop manager. I’ve followed him to four different shops in the past 20+ years. In that time I’ve purchased a scant 3 bikes, all from him (yes I’m poor)…but I’ve helped him sell more than a couple dozen to other family/friends/acquaintances. In exchange I get excellent deals and customer service. I love having someone on the other side of the cash register who is will to say “this is shiny but frivolous, this is shiny and great, and this one is not shiny but works just as well and costs half as much.” My favorite recent quote: “You want this one. It costs twice as much, but it’s worth it. I’ll put it in the back and call you in two weeks when it goes on clearance. Of course, you’ll still get your discount.”

    My loyalty to John at Sports Ltd is quite similar to my loyalty to the best local burrito joint. I would have to be offered a free burrito to go somewhere else. A Chipotle opened here yesterday, and I dutifully went to get a free burrito for lunch…and then another for dinner. But it will be a long time before I pay for one there.

    Sadly, since no LBS has offered me a free burrito, all I have purchased at the other four shops in town are tubes when I flat out near them.

  42. Comment by Marrock | 10.19.2007 | 2:57 pm

    Got two LBSes here, one a half mile away that’s great for buying water bottles and cages, maybe the occasional tube or a ridiculously overpriced Trek, and then there the shop about five miles away that you go to when you need real work done properly…

    That’s the one I prefer since the very first time I went in there they treated me like I was a regular customer, answered all my stupid questions, and even thought my girlfriend’s folding trike was something interesting.

  43. Comment by eclecticdeb | 10.19.2007 | 4:59 pm

    Har! Teenage workers. When I bought my new bike, the first person that came to help me was about 15. I told him in my most respectful voice….don’t take this the wrong way, but if i’m going to think about dropping some serious coin on a bike, i want to talk to someone that can at least drink legally.

    Doesn’t help that i’m a middle-aged, little-more-than-slightly-overweight woman.

  44. Comment by Not a cyclist..... | 10.19.2007 | 5:20 pm

    There’s another woman owner bike shop in the DC area…I’ve never been there, but at least there are a few chicks crazy enough to venture into staking out some territory in such a male dominated industry.

  45. Comment by Uncle Bob | 10.19.2007 | 6:03 pm

    When I started bike commuting again I decided to check out my options, doing a little shopping at each LBS within half-an-hour’s ride of my home. I ride a folding bike with 406mm wheels and hub gears, and by far the most useful shop is one that mainly specialises in BMX. The staff are young, dress rather oddly and sport a combination of tats and strange facial hair, but they’re amiable, polite (Aussie-style anyway…) and seem to know their stuff. The first time I walked in, I was a bit taken aback by the music, posters and general vibe, but it would have been a mistake to judge the book by its cover. I’m not sure that I’d trust them to service my gear hub, but then I’m not sure that I’d trust *any* LBS with that; I’d probably have to go back to the dealer.

  46. Comment by Bitter (formerly known as Lissee) | 10.19.2007 | 6:37 pm

    You are toooo funny Fatty! he he

  47. Comment by UtRacerDad | 10.19.2007 | 7:18 pm

    The funny thing is that I was standing in the shop watching racer build a particular filmore when this particular situation took place, and I do have to say that I have had the exact conversation as well :). Oh and as to female LBS owners, there is one in training in said shop, but she has already decided that she can’t open a LBS anywhere in utah, she doesn’t want to compete with her favorite bike shop.

  48. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 10.19.2007 | 8:50 pm

    Al, that’s another superpower you automatically receive when wearing a Fat Cyclist jersey… they may not know you at the non-local LBS, but seeing you in FC kit tells them you’re a real rider with real affiliations. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

    Fatty, you must be from another planet. There is no way LBS’s around the globe could form any sort of secret society. They protect “their” loyal customers like a mountain lion protecting its cubs. I’d be surprised if you could get someone in an LBS to even acknowledge that there’s another LBS in the next suburb over let alone creata a buddy system for customers.

    As for using those opening lines, I’m guessing you haven’t done much field testing since you haven’t blogged about having your head smashed in after attempting #3. That’s borderline suicidal.

    Bobby, my LBS is 12 miles away. 20 years ago I travelled nearly 20 miles, passing about 5 or 6 other shops to get to “my” LBS.

    But like Al said PROBIKEKIT.COM is my real LBS. Except for clothing items because of the sizing fluctuations.

  49. Comment by Harp | 10.19.2007 | 9:47 pm

    I feel guilty about going anywhere other than me lbs

  50. Comment by Mike Roadie | 10.20.2007 | 7:08 am

    Let’s face it, on what most LBSs make and have to pay in rent in a metro type area, all they can afford are pimplefaces to work there. I used to go to a close LBS because they had a wrench there who was about 60 and was a master—truly. When they moved, I searched and and searched until I was happy. Now I carry the owner’s cell phone number with me so I don’t have to deal with the nitwits. It’s very subjective, though, my riding buddy HATES that shop!!!!

  51. Comment by fatty | 10.20.2007 | 8:20 am

    i should mention that i have to go through 8 cities (alpine, highland, american fork, lehi, pleasant grove, lindon, orem, provo) to get to racers. there are at least five bike shops on the way. it’s a 40 minute drive. if i need anything more than a consumable, though, that’s where i go. because, in addition to my other endearing qualities, i am extremely loyal.

    i am going there today, in fact. for a very, very exciting reason. i won’t explain why, but this link may give you a clue:

  52. Comment by Greg Raisman | 10.20.2007 | 9:09 am


    You should being a short, plump American in a Dutch bike shop… who happens to be the bike safety specialist for the City of Portland in Traffic Operations. That was a fun experience when my wife and I were in Utrecht this summer.

    It was almost as much fun as visiting bike shops anywhere in America outside of Portland.

    By the way — I love my recumbent — but really want one of these!

    Greg Raisman
    Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership
    Portland Office of Transportation

  53. Comment by Night Hawk | 10.20.2007 | 9:20 am

    Dallas has two bike shops owned or part owned by women. B&B in the south and the world renowned (just ask them) RBM in the north.

    RBM is filled with mature employees that will be glad to point to the picture of the local hero in one of his seven yellow jerseys while they pick your pocket.

    I would walk the forty miles home rather than shop there.

    B&B on the other hand go so fast I can’t even keep up with them in the store.

    So I too, drive further than I can ride in four hours to support a shop that is my LBS.

  54. Comment by vanetten | 10.20.2007 | 11:07 am

    A great shop in the SF Bay Area, owned by women and staffed by “the last great mechanic” (Tim Parker, Bicycling mag May 2002) is Left Coast Cyclery.

  55. Comment by domestique | 10.20.2007 | 12:29 pm

    There are three bike shops within 10 miles of me. I go to these shops if I need a tube or something minor. I never go to these shops for their expertise (mechanical or otherwise) or to buy a bike. When I need that, I take the time to drive the 40 miles to my favorite LBS where the staff is a mixture of both younger & older personel. All of them are knowledgeable (not just the older ones). When I walk in this shop, I’m greeted by my first name & the people there are genuinely interested in what I’ve been doing & what I need. That’s what keeps me a loyal customer.

  56. Comment by Uphill Battle | 10.20.2007 | 2:53 pm

    Fatty, that bike doesn’t have any wheels, or a seat, well it doesn’t have any of the important parts.

  57. Comment by leroy | 10.20.2007 | 5:38 pm

    Fatty, I’m with Uphill Battle on the analysis of your new bike.

    Honestly, don’t you think eliminating the wheels, cranks and chain is going a little bit too far in trying to keep the weight down?

  58. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 10.21.2007 | 5:31 am

    I had one of those surreal transactions Friday at my LBS. I went in to discuss the splendid performance of one of my training partners at the Masters World Track Championships (he’s got 4 Gold with 1 event still to ride).

    I spotted the bargain bin had a new bunch of stuff in it so I set myself up with 2 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of gloves for $40. While I was waiting to pay I was gazing wistfully at the sunglasses cabinet, pining the demise of my $35 pair when the shop owner popped the cabinet open and asked which pair I wanted to try on.

    “No thanks, my budget doesn’t go that far this month.”
    “White or blue?”
    “White or blue?”
    “They’re $250.”
    “Have you got $100 cash?”
    “Umm… $65. I’ll come back tomorrow with the rest.”
    “$65 will, white or blue.”

    I know I race in one of his jerseys and I’m quite a big billboard but I’m in about the 5th tier of the sponsorship pyramid, which means I get to wear the colours and the real racers don’t kick sand in my face while anyone’s looking. It’s weird but he’s given away more stuff than I’ve paid for this year. He obviously thinks I’m going to win races this track season and make his jersey famous. Either that or he thinks I’m going to win lotto and buy a stable full of Pinarellos.

  59. Comment by | 10.21.2007 | 4:44 pm

    Oh, by the way…
    Bob Roll… heh heh heh… classic! Tour de France (twoer DEE frantz). CLASSIC! I just watched the final stage again today. Never gets old.

  60. Comment by Philthy in Oz | 10.21.2007 | 6:20 pm

    I rang a shop looking for a pair of Schwalbe tyres a while ago as my usual shop didn’t have them in stock. “Do you have any “Shwalbee” marathons in stock?” I asked. “You mean ‘Shworbal’?” came the response. Apart from feeling humiliated by the shop guy I also felt embarrassed that I had been pronouncing this brand name incorrectly for so long. I faltered through the rest of the conversation and hung up. Then I checked the spelling on the manufacturers website. Guess who was wrong?
    I won’t ever be buying from that shop for three reasons:
    1. The sales guy made me feel like an idiot despite the opposite being true,
    2. The sales guy didn’t know enough about his product and yet had the gall to correct someone (incorrectly)
    3. I don’t like doing financial transactions with people that can’t read

  61. Comment by Dawnawanna | 10.22.2007 | 7:24 am

    I once had to take a male friend with me to a bike shop in order to convince the mechanic to correctly repair my bike. The mechanic just wouldn’t listen to a female. Convinced me to never again take my bike to this particular shop, even though I bought my bike there.

    I take my bike to a mechanic/shop owner that has been riding longer than I’ve been alive. I also know that he can ride most people around here into the ground. He even takes the time to show me how to do bike work. Since the owner sold his big shop with tons of inventory he’s now in a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop, where you have to step over parts to move around. He pretty much just does repairs to stay busy during retirement. Most of the time I have to convince him to let me pay for the work. The other cool thing is that when my husband went in to the shop to order some bike stuff for me, the owner knew what I needed and what I would want.

  62. Pingback by The Daily Spin News - We search the Web for Top Cycling News so you don’t have to! » Saving Cash during the Winter, Fat Cyclist “A Stranger in a Strange Bike Shop”, and Mayo Cleared | 10.22.2007 | 4:08 pm

    [...] Read more @ Fat Cyclist [...]

  63. Comment by Nancy | 10.22.2007 | 9:12 pm

    Yes women own bike shops, at least in Kansas City they do. Cute is not the word though…artistic fits better. They are in the arts district.

  64. Comment by jacquie phelan | 10.23.2007 | 4:48 am

    I’ve been working on a book lately, but after reading you my dear, I need to shrivel up and die. But please look at the cartoon that is alongside my blog, it’s sort of the condensed version of this incredibly funny and articulate rant.
    I mean, piece of literature that really should be in “Fellownews” or Dirtrag, and WELL PAID DAMMNIT
    You do truly rock, and you got yerslf another groupie

  65. Comment by Steve | 10.23.2007 | 7:44 am

    I found out this past summer how my LBS worked. When they asked me if I wanted to start working there, I jumped on it. Well, it turns out I was already getting the employee discount on everything other than bikes and food. And even then I was getting a hell of a deal. I still work for them and what is nice about it is that when I come in with Calculus III work that is due the next morning, Bill (our beloved head mechanic) tells me to “Sit you but down and finish that homework. Not that it is going to do you any good as you are an art major who will work in a bike shop for the rest of his life.” The last part of that was under his breath. Ah Bill.

  66. Comment by David (The FredCast) | 10.23.2007 | 3:03 pm

    You are the first person to actually put into words the exact problem I’ve been having for nearly (ouch) 20 years!

    It didn’t matter when I was the marketing director for a major bike component brand or when I was the creator and president of another major bike component brand. It doesn’t even matter now that I am the producer and host of several fairly (ahem) popular bicycling podcasts. Every single time I walk into a bike shop, they somehow think I am a known-nothing doofus.

    It’s even worse if I walk in with my wife and/or kids.

    So please sign me up for an LBS membership card. It sure would short circuit those conversations when the pimply-faced kid at my local bike shop looks at the presta valve tubes in my hand and asks, ‘are you sure you want THOSE tubes?’

    And like you, I’m still looking for that comfy chair and back rub. ;-)

  67. Comment by System6 | 10.24.2007 | 1:05 pm

    So now it all starts to make sense.

    The LBS I ride from has:
    a) super location with lots of money living nearby
    b) a cavernous store
    c) very few bikes
    d) not much in the repair queue; but they can’t true my wheel until week after next, maybe
    e) weekday hours from like 10 to 4, unless they close early, and weekends they’re open only for a quick pee before the saturday club ride
    f) a new and bigger shop under construction across the street

    So I’m thinking they:
    a) don’t need to earn money, as it is rumored that the owner’s wife has a trust fund, you know
    or -
    b) sell drugs out the back door and are doing just fine, thank you very much

    Clearly, there’s a party going on and my UCI card isn’t good enough for admittance. Maybe if I’d placed better than mid-pack in any races this season they’d invite me inside for the pig roast and wet jersey contest….

  68. Comment by buffalo2wheeler | 10.24.2007 | 1:32 pm

    Great essay/rant/manifesto.

  69. Comment by singlespeed stu | 10.27.2007 | 2:20 pm

    Hi, i just wanted to respond in defence to the hard working under paid teenagers who work in bike shops!!

    I am 23 and have been working in bike shops for ten years (yes i realise perhaps i should try to aspire to more), during those ten years i have been spoken to in the most shocking manner! I know a hell of a lot!! when i was 16 i had a cytec mechanic qualification. People still refused to listen to me when i explained what they needed to get to fix there bike or when i tell them to STOP JET WASHING AROUND BEARINGS!!

    Even earlier today as a senior supervisor at 23, an ignorant older man would not listen to me when i told him i didnt have the spokes in the correct length but i was willing to cut them to the length he wanted and rethread them! Free of charge!!
    He was rude and condescending as most older cyclists are when talking to myself or to any of the other hard working employees that are under the magic ‘know all the answers’ age of 20.

    I do hope that anyone reading my little rant will take on board what im saying and give a little respect to the young people who get talked down to all day whilst simply trying to serve the customer!!

    Anyway apologies on the rant.

    Happy cycling.


  70. Pingback by The Spokesmen Podcast » Blog Archive » The Spokesmen 25 - October 29, 2007 | 10.29.2007 | 10:06 pm

    [...] Fat Cyclist Blog Post About Bike Shops [...]

  71. Comment by x2fast | 11.26.2007 | 3:11 pm

    yep….great way to keep the local bike shop in business. there is absolutely no sense in the owner of the store to make a profit to cover overheard, keep fresh inventory, pay employees, etc. Maybe the low profit margin the owner earns due to being beat down by every consumer entering a BICYCLE store who thinks they deserve a discount because they own a Bicycle is the reason we see $7 an hour bike shop personel. Do you feel you should get a discount on gas and oil because you own a car? Do you ask for a discount at McDonalds because you grace them with your presence? Be happy there is a bike shop locally and pay retail….it’s not that bad. Do you need the money that bad or would you like to see the bike shop stay in businees?

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  74. Comment by Jack McRobw | 10.25.2008 | 7:23 pm

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  75. Comment by cycling monkey | 05.5.2011 | 4:42 pm

    if it makes you feel any better i just wouldn’t want to sell you anything, let alone give you a discount. bike shops have enough trouble staying open given the low (or no) overhead of all the internet based sales sites, and every guy who buys one bike and a few accessories thinks the next time they walk in they will get a discount.

    if you want lower prices, take it up with manufacturers. seriously. why is it that a car costs ~$8,000-$30,000 brand new, is warrantied in most cases 30-50k miles, can run for 3k + miles between regular maintenance, and will typically have a life of 200k miles? meanwhile bikes (for nice ones) cost $2-5k, cost considerably less to manufacture, have flimsy parts in comparison to cars (which have tons of r&d in each part [way more than bikes] to make them light, efficient, and durable) which require frequent replacement following failure. if cars where made a well as bikes they’d be getting recalled left and right. bottom line is manufacturers charge out the wazhoo for bike frames/parts to dealers, who then have to chew on a shoelace to make profit. put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    additionally, maybe you should think for a moment about the fact that bike shop employees (who do usually love cycling) spend ALL DAY EVERY DAY around bikes (and the range of weird customers that covet them), and maybe they are not interested in some weirdo who hangs out for extended periods of time trying to talk about “this or that” cycling related topic. there are actually 12 of you in each square mile, and it is hard to get through a shift without being harassed by you.


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