Stranger in a Strange Bike Shop

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.

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