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Naive Bike Shopper

by Just Ride the Bike, posted 20 May 2017

Contact Just Ride the Bike on twitter @justridethebike

Nervous about shopping face to face in a bike shop? Worried about being made to feel like you don't know enough. JRtB takes the first steps for you. This may or may not help. 

How hard can it be to navigate the advice of well meaning assistants in bike shops to buy wheels for a Genesis CdF 20?

There is one thing everyone riding a bike has in common with motorists. That nervous feeling about having a conversation with a mechanic. Take your car to the workshop for a service or a specific issue and you might be able to bluff out the initial chat and then rush off safe in the belief you have left your vehicle in capable hands. Ignoring the nagging voice in your mind that says: “they know you’ve no clue”. A visit to a bike shop is the same. In fact, worse.

No one really knows how cars work. But how hard can a bicycle be to understand? Well, try asking for advice in a bike shop. Anyone at all. Large chain or local independent. There is always a risk you might find the mechanic or assistant that thinks they know best. Correction, that they know you know, they know best. It is not a sexist thing either – something that probably could be levelled at the macho world of cars and their macho top gear world. In cycling, the superior air of the ‘cyclist mechanic’ is displayed like a bird of paradise strutting for David Attenborough’s delight no matter your sex, skill or bike proclivities.

I know this to be true because my bike knowledge is woeful. I am a late developer in cycling terms. No bike as a kid and I learned to ride when I was 22 and still didn’t own one until I was 43. The wheels go round, you need an allen key and a pump. That was what I knew. I have been shamed many times. But seven years on I know more and can bluff a chat about hubs, spokes, bottom brackets and rims. So, I went to test out the service behaviours of local shops by buying a set of road wheels with disc brakes for a Genesis Croix de Fer (CdF). The reason being I wanted to swap out the cyclo-cross bike wheels for road ones rather than wrestle with tyres, levers etc.

Now, before you read on think about the bike shops near you. Have you Googled them? Have you read the reviews? Do it now. They are often at different ends of the spectrum. “The staff are determined to be unhelpful” clashes with “outstanding service every time”, often applied to the same store. What if you go to them with the same specific question? How would they measure up? My experience was consistent with the reviews in my area for local shops and the anecdotal reports from friends. One shop serves superb coffee but it is provided by grumpy and superior staff. I’d never bother asking them about disc wheels for any bike. Another with its own race team has such an offhand manner that unless you are obsessed with racing or spending inordinate amounts of cash you wonder why you even look in the window, let alone go in. You are greeted with disdain. I bottled out of trying. That left four options. The two small independents I prefer. The medium in dependent and the closest branch of Evans.


The independents were superb. Made time to listen, engage, offer ideas and made me reasonable offers in terms of cost, set up and advice on the best solution. The medium was less interested, but still encouraging. Evans initially were very helpful; the manager served me for the first chat and whilst he did blind me slightly with technical talk I survived and was confident he didn’t think I was a total idiot. The catch was I had a high value Evans gift voucher – it made sense to use it. Back I went to Evans with the bike to measure, gauge and chat some more. It took a while, maybe 30-minutes of talk and searching for the right fit of kit online and ordering etc. but we did it. “Can you bring it to us in a week sir?” Of course. Problem. The day before I’m due to pick up the CdF, a call is received informing me the rotors are not available, it will be another week. No worries for me – see you in a week. I drop the bike off and wait for the call in a day or so. I get the call, but not the one I expected. It turned out I’d been sold the wrong size rotors for the brake system. “Not to worry, we can adjust it,” says the Evans guy. Hang about I think, any adjustment will mean no neat swapping in or out of the two sets of wheels, defeating the object of the whole exercise. “Can I speak to the mechanic doing the job please?” It takes seconds to realise that the sales guys do not know what they think they know and I have the superior insight – aided by the mechanic. Different rotors are fixed, the wheels are all compatible and I collect the bike 24-hours later. Job done. Evans were, in the end, great. Brilliant communication, not intimidating, but just a bit too brisk with everything and not enough checking. Cost wise it was as competitive as the two independent shops. However, in terms of service, I know for sure I would get a better deal from my favoured independent dealers.

The lesson learned is this: (1) don’t be shy about nurturing a relationship with the team behind the counter at your local independent bike shop; (2) admit what you don’t know and do ask stupid questions to ensure you learn and get the answers you need , not what you think you want to hear; (3) don’t ask for Evans vouchers ask for cash; and (4) maybe avoid being so fussy about wheels and just ride the damn bike.

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