Shopping for a Bike Shop

I've been thinking a lot about the bike shop experience recently. For the sake of full disclosure, I've got a lot of loyalty to Bike Green Lexington. One of my good friends and riding buddies works there full time. But my dedication to the shop was pretty strong shortly after it opened. Before BGL hired Jason, it was just a one guy shop. Riley (the owner) was the only person that worked there. Now it's just mostly Jason and a little bit of Riley.

What am I looking for? Obviously two things first... I like a shop where they know what they're talking about and I like a shop that has competitive prices. But for the most part, I think most shops can offer those standards.

Are they knowledgable?
There are shops that employ more "retail" type workers. They ride bikes and know product. But they don't live bikes and know the ins and outs of bike mechanics. Honestly, though, most bike shops employees are fairly knowledgable. And if you're not talking to someone who is knowledgable, chances are you're a few steps away from someone who is. If you don't have a reason to trust their answer, ask someone else who's working for their opinion.
And pricing? 
I've learned that shopping at a local shop means you'll pay a little bit more than you will on the internet, yes. But most local shops are pretty much in line with each other on costs. There are plenty of apples-to-oranges comparisons in price, for sure. But just because one shop only carries $3,000 bikes and the other carries $300 bikes doesn't mean the expensive option is a rip-off. That's probably comparing apples to oranges. Most item-for-item price comparisons come out pretty even at shops.
And it's also worth mentioning what to avoid. Avoid the butthole elitist bike shops. (I haven't seen a ton of this in Lexington, by the way.) If you're not very knowledgable and they treat you like you're stupid, they probably don't have the product you want, anyway. And if you shop there, you'll end up buying a side of beef when all you needed was a cheeseburger. Avoid department store bike shops. Don't go to Dick's Sporting Goods. I shop there for lots of things. It's a great place... just not for bikes. Avoid a shop that has a focus different than yours... They may be all about racing, all about commuting or all about riding dirt. None of those are bad things. But if you're thinking about riding your bike to work and you wander into one of those racing type shops, you have a good chance of being convinced that carbon is a great material for a commuting bike. It's not always their fault. But if they eat, sleep and breathe carbon fiber bikes, sometimes they struggle to think about anything else.

So what do I look for? I've learned that I really like a small shop. The guys at BGL know me. And I'm not just talking about being buddies and hanging out at the shop. They know my type of riding. Loyalty means that they've heard your stories. They've seen how you take care of your bikes (or don't take care of them!). They know your budget. They know you'll be back so they're not just trying to sell you this one thing to make a few extra bucks. When my bikes have a problem that's not easily identified, they listen well, and make every attempt at finding it. It's not a sales tactic. It's a customer satisfaction tactic. Being a small shop helps that customer relationship. I don't have to walk in and explain the whole situation again and again.

A small shop that knows you will say, "You need this [BLANK] because you're hard on [BLANK]'s," or "No, you need this inexpensive [BLANK], because the way you ride, this inexpensive [BLANK] would last you forever. That pricey one is overkill." A small shop will keep an eye out for a solution that's not right in front of them. A small shop that knows how much you love to ride will want you back on your bike when you're not riding it. They won't want cost or what's in stock to determine your riding. They will want you to determine your riding. A small shop needs you as much as you need them. So they'll go that extra mile. And if it's a one-or-two-guys-do-it-all shop, it means they love to ride. If they're willing to work on bikes, talk bikes and ride bikes all day, their passion will work to your benefit. They love bikes, not sales. That's a good thing.

I think it's good to try everything. Go into shops and see how they great you. See if they ask about your riding. See if they're excited to hear your answer. I know there's a lot of non-hardcore riders that read this blog, too. If you have questions let me know. For you other readers, how do you choose a shop? Anything I'm missing?

And here are my disclaimers...
For one, please buy local. There are times that I order off the web. Sometimes it can't be beat and I want to ride, not save. But lots of times its worth a call to the shop. I'm blown away by folks that end up paying a tiny bit less for something they've never seen. A local shop will back you up. A local shop will sell you what you need, not what you think you may need. At least make the call.

Also, Bike Green Lexington doesn't pay me to write this or give me free product or anything. This is purely my opinion. They did give me two schrader valve caps recently but they weren't for me. They were to deliver to another customer (See? I told you they were good.).

Get out there.


  1. I spend most of my bike money at one particular LBS, but I've purchased accessories and other bicycle stuff online when it was cheaper or more convenient or the shop didn't carry it. I'm also planning on spending some time at other shops in the area to get a feel for each one a little better -- because I'm planning some big, upcoming purchases and want to walk into it with my eyes open to all the possibilities with multiple LBSs in the area.

    I would never buy a complete bike online. I'm also partial to buying any type of bike clothing in-store, so I can see/feel it and try it on.

    If the price difference is big enough, and I know I want something specific, I feel no guilt buying something online (for example, I purchased pedals online that were over 50% cheaper than buying at the LBS, but I bought my shoes at the store because the pricing was the same). That was an extreme case of price difference -- normally it's pretty close and I'll either wait for the LBS to have a sale (to help my bottom line) or go ahead and get it locally to support their business.

    I think loyalty to a shop is important, but THEY need to earn it by being respectful, helpful, etc. And you shouldn't have to buy multiple bikes or spend thousands of dollars to get their respect. I feel like I am finally "known" at my LBS, but that has only been recently and because I've spent a lot of time there and made an investment in them. Thankfully, they seem as open to being helpful to me (one guy even offered to let me ride his personal bike to make a better decision on one I was considering buying). That was an above-and-beyond moment for me.

  2. There are two shops I try to support (there were three once upon a time, but they blew it with their pricing). However, I only use them as an occasional courtesy preferring instead my local bike co-op. They are the sweetest deal (and secret) in town.