Saturday, May 31, 2008


My daughter has learned to love mountain biking and she turns 14 on Monday, so we’ve been shopping for a new bike over the past 10 days or so. She ended up choosing a Specialized Rockhopper, which we happily brought home today.

We spent part of the afternoon converting it to presta tubes, setting up her tool bag for the season, installing a bike computer and bottle cage, and washing her old bike in preparation for sale. Bringing home a new bike is always fun. Unfortunately, shopping for one can be frustrating.

Too many bike shops across the country are plagued with shitty sales staffs. I often hear new riders complain of feeling intimidated by arrogant shop employees who speak in condescending tones and treat customers like morons. It’s a legitimate complaint. I see that kind of thing happen all the time.

We checked out bikes at six stores in Anchorage, and I was annoyed by the time I walked out of two of them (REI and the new Bicycle Shop on Dimond). Some people might think two out of six ain’t bad. I think two out of six means that 33.3 percent of the stores we visited employ at least one arrogant prick.

When anyone is shopping for a product and asking questions, sales people should tactfully assess the customer’s level of knowledge and respond accordingly—and respectfully—whether they’re selling microwave ovens, cars, bikes, or toasters.

I’ve bought many bikes over the years but I don’t do it every day, so I’m genuinely interested in what a shop employee can tell me about the new models, or how a bike fits. But I want opinions, not edicts, and I want to be heard when I express my thoughts on what I’m looking for.

I’m always interested in new information from people who spend 40 hours a week around bikes. On the other hand, I’ve considered myself a “serious” rider for 20 years and I can build a good bike from a bare frame and a pile of parts, and have a good time doing it, so I don't want to be treated like an idiot. Nobody else does, either. Regardless of their experience level.

The worst part of this problem isn’t how it turns away business from individual shops. I couldn't care less if a jackass employee hurts the owner's bottom line. The worst part is that some people who would like to try bicycling end up walking out of shops and going home, and they decide that they were right all along—the whole bike thing is too foreign, too much of a clique. They end up never discovering how much fun it is to good hooked on riding a bike.

And that’s a damned tragedy, in my opinion.


Marla said...

That's unfortunately too often the way it happens. And not just in the bike industry, but most of the outdoor industry. You're right that it turns off so many from a sport we all know is so enjoyable. And that's a shame. Retailers want their business to grow, from any standpoint. And if you continue to turn away newbies you're shooting yourself, your business and the sport in the foot. Try to remember how you felt as a consumer walking through that door. I try. And I think it's pretty cool when I see someone new get as excited about it all just like I do.

Anonymous said...

On the other daughter worked at a bike store, helping to support her bike racing habit.
She would get frustrated with people that didn't want advice. She felt people needed to spend a little more money and get a bike that really would work for them but the new customers are thinking they can go to a big box store and get something for $150 so why spend $400+ in a bike store. There by shooting themselves in the foot.
My pet peeve is the clerks who think that because I am female I can not use something as complicated as a screw driver or only talk to the male member of the group about bike parts ..... even though I do all the wrenching in the family.
It is exciting when other family members start riding..... except they get way better than you and then don't ride with you anymore. Sniff. Sniff.

Bujiatang said...

In my line of work no one trusts me. We had someone in the other day all preening about how his "New York connection" got him a black box gem...actually from the largest manufacturer of jewelry in the USA (their logo embossed and foiled onto the black box).

On Saturday I helped a couple that I've run into around town before, and it was the best. We all joked and were relaxed. We found what they wanted, and found a way to make it so it would meet budget.

Maybe when everyone checks their egos and listens to each other, everyone has a better time.

Grill Meister said...

It's too easy to echo your sentiments. I've run into the same problem over the years. Lately though it definetly seems relative to a massive generation gap. A lot of young punks think that after spending one summer working at a bike shop that they know "everything" and your just an old gray haired that just can't know anything. They haven't the slightest idea that you've been riding and racing longer than they've been on this planet.

Anonymous said...

When I wanted to start riding again after a 15 year lapse I went to a bunch of the local shops. I was quite overweight and most of the youngsters wanted nothing to do with me. I finally found a friendly staff at Sunshine Sports and consequently they got a couple grand worth of my business. They sure don't have the best selection, but having someone who would listen to me and work with me mattered a lot more. People assume from my size that I cannot ride, but I'm car free and log in from seventy to a hundred miles per week during the summer in commuting and weekend rides. Not to mention the winter. The clyde friendly selection in this berg is still horrible, but there are at least a few good places to go. I've found the folks at Chain Reaction good to deal with.