Friday Group Ride #336

Friday Group Ride #336

I was reading an interesting piece about struggles within the bike industry when I happened upon the phrase “Reversal of Trust.” In addition to being a great expression, independent of its meaning (and being a great name for an ’80s hardcore band), in the piece, “Reversal of Trust” describes the process by which bike shop customers stopped trusting their local bike shop and put their trust in on-line retailers.

Much of this process, it seems, has been price driven. If a on-line retailer can sell a product for 30-50% off, then the price the local shop are asking is clearly extortionate, and if they are willing to overcharge for this one thing, one would be foolish to pay their prices for anything. Further, if I can’t trust them to charge a reasonable price, I can’t trust them to advise me on needed repairs.

Writing purely from a consumer’s point-of-view, you might read this as the Internet creating more independent and well-informed consumers, and they may be true to an extent. The problem from the LBS’s standpoint is that they are paying higher wholesales in many cases than their on-line competition AND higher overheads, because they maintain a presence (and pay taxes) in their local communities.*

This week’s Group Ride asks, have you experienced this “reversal of trust” from either the shop side or the customer side? When did it happen? Do you think it was price-driven? Relatedly, do you participate in any activities or events put on by your local shop? Is there ANYTHING that takes you through their doors?

* I should own my bias here, as many of my day job customers and friends own bike shops or work in them.

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  1. Michael

    I purchase frames via LBS. I order parts via Internet, though not without offering said LBS a chance to match within 10%. I get bikes built and serviced at my LBS.

    I’ve even gotten the LBS to order a group set via an online discounter, upcharge me 10% and build the bike.

    Long live my LBS

  2. Nik

    I don’t trust bike stores any more because every time I had some work done at an LBS, they screwed something up in a really obvious way.

    One LBS (Wheelsmith in Palo Alto, CA) installed a bottom bracket of the wrong size (68mm vs 73mm or something like that. My request to them was: please replace this worn-out BB). When I picked up the bike and pointed out that the front derailleur didn’t work properly, they said it was my fault because my bottom bracket was the wrong size. Then I had to point out that they chose that particular BB to install.

    Once, my wife’s had the LBS replace the brake pads, and when we picked up the bike, the brake shoes on the rear wheel were loose. Someone could apparently not be bothered to tighten the bolt that holds the shoe to the caliper. I guess they just don’t care if the bike is safe to ride, because they’re not the ones riding it.

    The worst by far is Element Cycles in Redmond, WA. I bought a Norco Threshold CX bike there and the list of things they screwed up is too long to post here. The highlights are: (1) wrong cassette installed when assembling the bike. (2) cassette lockring not tightened properly. (3) crank installed such that it would barely turn. (4) brake hoods stretched out while working on brake levers. (5) messed up the rear brake disk to the point where the rear brake had virtually no braking power. That last one is what drove me over the edge, so I ended up returning the bike and getting my money back.

    I’ve had minor annoyances with other shops, such as removing wheel sensors and re-routing them to a location where they don’t work, and polishing the frame with some kind of sticky substance such that the frame would attract lots of dust.

    I am much better off doing the work myself. I pity the fool who has to take their bike to an LBS to do some simple thing like installing a new chain or replacing other parts of the drivetrain. If I do it at home, I save the time and hassle of driving to the store, driving home, coming back another day to pick up the bike, and driving home again.

    The prices are another matter. Of course it doesn’t feel good when I buy a pair of Shimano M-520 pedals for $65 and later see them on Amazon for $35. Part of that is apparently the screwed up nature of Shimano’s distributors and pricing. But I also noticed at REI that their markup on bike parts is 100%: their internal catalog of parts they can order shows the price REI sells, and they sell it to me for twice that much.

    I go to the one LBS that I trust for clothing, because I like some of the stuff Specialized makes (winter shoes, rain jackets, gloves) and you can’t buy it anywhere else.

    1. Chris

      Guess what, you’re the guy no-one wants to see in their shop, bike or otherwise. Self absorbed, could of done better by yourself. Take your business where nobody cares. Simpatico

    2. Padraig

      I’m going to let this comment fly, but not without a defense. Insulting anyone—authors or readers—isn’t what we do here. Nik reported his experience and his dissatisfaction. We asked the question and he responded. To upbraid him now is patently douchey. If you don’t like what he had to say, go support your local shop.

  3. Kevin

    I use my LBS for when I need a part NOW or want to feel/try on before I buy, or if I get advice regarding my purchase. If I need (for example) a new chain and know what speed/model I want – to the internet! This is purely a financial decision as I feel there should be a value-add for going to my LBS and paying the higher prices. I’ll never go in for advice, pick out an item, then buy online. The LBS earned their extra cost by providing a service.

    That said, the LBS that I used to go to and whose team I race for this year (but not moving forward) has absolutely lost my trust, and it is tangentially related to money, but not the price of goods. Three stories to illustrate:

    1. A friend of mine had a laundry list of parts she needed to buy due to a theft – something like a dozen different components. She wrote them all down, went in with her list and said “I need these.” A couple weeks later they had two of those items for her, both of which they had in stock the first day she went in. The others they would have had to special order, so just ignored.

    2. Another friend had a bolt break on her seatpost. She brought it in and they said there was nothing to do and offered to sell her a new post. I sent her to ACE for a 5 cent replacement.

    3. My wife bought a new bike from them for full price. Several years later the left shifter stopped working out of the blue. I looked into it and there’s a known issue with the shifter breaking and Shimano tends to replace it. I take it in and talk with the owner, letting him know what I found. He point blank said he wouldn’t try to warranty it with Shimano but would give us a “really good deal” on a new shifter – 25% off. I called Shimano myself later that day and had a replacement in hand 2 days later.

  4. Michael

    My experience with my favorite local bike shop has only been good. They do good work, and when they screw up, they admit it and are truly apologetic and make it right. There are a few items I buy online – they don’t carry much in the way of apparel, and some standard parts that wear out regularly, such as chains and pads (they don’t tend to carry upper-end parts, so would only order them the same way I do online). Having a shop I can stop into and borrow a tool quickly (they have a customer work bench) or even grab a tube with a promise to pay back later int he day after I get back from my ride is well worth a bit higher price for some items.

  5. AG

    I want to love my LBS’s, I really do. But time and time again, I find that they just don’t have enough choice of product at the store. Many times I have looked online at some big-brand product, Specialized, Bontrager, Shimano, etc, (not boutique stuff) that I really want to check out, only to go to the shop to find out that they don’t have that model or size, or spec. But, they can look online from the same big-brand website and order it for me. Umm, yeah…I could have done that too, right? Also, LBS’s are getting to be more one-brand kind of stores so you are out of luck if you go to the Trek store if you would like to compare a Specialized product. It is getting frustrating to read about all this great new gear, only to be told by the LBS that they have to order it. I can do that myself, thank you.

    I also sympathize with the stories of bad service and repair. I have had many experiences where I could have fixed a problem myself better than how the shop did the work. One time, I bought a new set of disk brake pads and asked the service guy if they are difficult to install (this was 8 years ago, and I was new to disc brakes). He took them, installed them in front of me, then added $30 to my ticket for pad installation. It took him 3 minutes. Really? Maybe he was trying to embarrass me (it worked).

    There are some good and friendly shops that I will go out of my way to get to. But now I pretty much go to the LBS to buy some not very essential item that I might need for the weekend, like a seat bag, tubes, handlebar tape…that kind of thing.

  6. Girl

    My LBS is somewhat mixed, trending toward more good experiences over bad. (The shop changed ownership and the new owners aren’t as cheap as the old one.)

    First, my mechanic is a good guy. He’s been wrenching for as long as I’ve been riding and knows about “old” bikes. (I still ride a beater 26’er mtn bike and he keeps it clicking along.) He also can take care of my disk brakes and my tubeless tires on my new bikes. I trust his repairs since he does good work.

    The store, itself, has a somewhat limited stock of small parts and apparel. I try to buy from them, but sometimes they don’t have what I’m looking for, so I get it off the internet. The LBS will order stuff for me and the prices are about what I can get them for from Amazon. I will say that my first MIPS helmet came from the internet, but now the LBS is carrying MIPS helmets–and not the $250 jobbies, but mid-range helmets. The store owner told me that she stocks what will sell, and she can sell more “regular” helmets to “regular” people than fancy aero helmets to Freds.

    The new owners are far more interested in engaging the local bicycle community than the previous owner, so I appreciate their efforts. I’m still not sporting the store’s “kit” but I will steer customers their way.

    And it’s only 2 miles from my house.

  7. Jay

    There are factors beyond the control of the LBS. Very few are incompetent when it comes to repairs in my experience. The industry itself sometimes works against them. My LBS used to offer Fuji, Specialized, and Trek bicycles. Several years ago they were put in the position of having to drop Trek because the financial commitment required to continue as a Trek dealer exceeded what they could expect to do in terms of sales. In addition, I have experienced a dearth of inventory options when looking to purchase a new bike. But, in their attempt to work with me I discovered that the model that I wanted simply wasn’t available, anywhere in the US. The reality seems to be that some models are produced in limited numbers and it is entirely possible that you may never find that bike in any LBS. Aside from clothing items I buy everything else through my LBS. I go to the weekly shop rides when I am able.
    I don’t envy the guy trying to make a living via the LBS. While there are good and bad shops (in terms of service, integrity, etc.) they operate in an environment in which their margins are so thin it’s amazing that there any still out there, especially considering the factors working against them.

  8. scott g.

    My LBS is excellent. If the LBSs list of regular vendors has it, I order it there.
    Only bought 1 bike at an LBS (not the one above), the rest have been from the maker or used.

  9. Dave

    “Further, if I can’t trust them to charge a reasonable price, I can’t trust them to advise me on needed repairs.”

    That’s quite a leap of logic that frankly doesn’t make sense to me. Market forces drive price, not some sense of right or wrong.

    I live in rural North Texas, at least an hour from a bicycle shop, so out of convenience I shop almost exclusively online. I do all my own routine maintenance and repairs. However, probably within the next couple of years I’ll be overhauling components as I reach the 50,000 mile mark on my Ti framed bike (that I purchased directly from the manufacturer due to no local dealer). I’m not sure how I’ll handle replacement at that time.

  10. Chris

    My cycling career has taken place in two cities – one of about 2 million people and the second (and current) of about 150,000. I was fortunate that each of these offered a variety of bike shops. Some of these earned my trust through knowledgable staff, fair treatment, and community involvement. Others did not.

    I am a huge supporter of local shops in general and, other than my custom hand-made frame, have made all of my bike-related purchases at my local shops for the last several years.

    That said, there are one or two shops locally that have not earned my trust and would not be missed if/when they go out of business. In defending the noble LBS, we should still allow natural selection to take its course.

  11. Alan

    Love my local bike shop (Peloton Fort Collins), also my team sponsor. They find serious issues I miss, and don’t screw me over. I would NEVER buy a bike without trying it, so online is out. Can’t even imagine buying a bike that way.

    Caveat, I live in Colorado and competition is cutthroat here. So they have many great mechanics.

  12. spiff

    For me it’s not about trust but attitude. If they look down their nose at my Campy request and don’t listen to my argument on why I like using it, then I’m out. It’s gotten better here in DC, but so has the raise of service only shops.

    1. Aar

      You know, I have felt the same about Campy my entire cycling life. However, I’ve recently been going through very expensive drivetrain parts so quickly that my core Campy loyalty has been reduced to thumb button shifting on Ergopower levers. With Shimano’s power meter crank and SRAM’s wireless shifting, I’m starting to consider “the dark side” (i.e. Non-Campy). Do any other Campy devotees care to share their thoughts along these lines?

    2. Dan

      @Aar, I rode Campy Ergo 9 and 10 speed groups until a year ago. I ride used equipment and I could see the parts I needed on Ebay drying up. The new Campy 11 speed groups seemed very expensive even though they will last a decade. I switched to used 10 speed SRAM, mostly Rival and Force. The SRAM stuff works great and used parts are plentiful on Ebay. And yes, since the friction shifting era ended I see LBS’s turning up their noses at Campy. It’s been Shimano only, they have no idea how superior Campy is. Sad.

    3. Aar

      Dan: Thanks for your input. My Campy 9 & 10 speed Ergopower worked flawlessly. The derailleurs lasted 30K+ miles and, as long as I replaced chains every 3K miles, so did my cogsets and chainrings. It rarely required adjustment. With 11 speed, I’m replacing chains every 1K and have trouble getting 10K out of chainrings and cogsets. Adjustments are required frequently. These parts are darn expensive.

      As much as I grates against my blue Campy blood, I’m afraid I’m going to pony up for a Shimano DA R9100-D power meter crankset instead of replacing my current chainrings when they wear out.

  13. Rockies

    A lot of what has been said above hold true where I live in Western Canada. There is one issue that really, really gives me grief that has not been mentioned: bike fitting. Specialist bike shops (as opposed to Walmart and other department stores) should always put people on the correct frame size with an appropriate length stem and a good approximation of correct seat and pedal/cleat position (I know knee over spindle is personally variable but a starting point is required). I have seen a lot of people who show up on rides with a bike that is either way too big (think 5’10” lady with really long legs on a bike with a top tube that was way to long and a bike that was subsequently squirrelly on descents because a shop based the bike size on average proportions and a male friend, also 5’10”, with the opposite problem of short legs and long body on too small a frame). Both of these people were steered to a really good bike fitter who got them on a proper sized frame with proper seat placement and improved their power, handling and enjoyment of the bike. The problem I have with this is that there are not many people I can send to this fitter. The bikes his shop sells start at the at the high end of the medium price range and go up from there. Not everyone is in that income or spending bracket. On the other hand I can’t send them to another shop knowing they could end up spending money on a bike not right for them. I have managed to get a couple people to get a bike fitting from the good fitter, buy a bike elsewhere and then have the fitter check the and adjust the fit. This doesn’t happen often. As a side note, the fitter I like does more that half his business fixing fits on bikes purchased elsewhere but as he says: you can only do so much when a bike is wrong and often you can’t make some fits work.

    Having said all of the above, too many people leave bike shops that supposedly know what they are doing (they will be the first ones to tell you that) with the wrong bike. This hurts the industry in general and local bike shop business in particular. It also means that I’m not about to tell people not to shop on line.

  14. Jeff

    When I was buying my first modern entry level road bike, while living in Lake Elsinore, CA, I went to every shop in a 20 mile radius. I was not so much shopping for product as I was looking for a store that I wanted to support. A newbie it was clear when my ignorant questions and looking at entry level was not given the time of day from the employees. Until then, my last road bike was a ’71 Nishiki I got from my dad. So my bike knowledge was on par with stem shifters and 5 cog cassettes.

    At 6’4″, I knew I needed probably the largest size bike sold, between 60-64cm, a size most shops do not stock.

    I found the right combination of courtesy, help and inventory at Jenson USA’s store front in Corona,CA. I didn’t know they were an online retailer as well. I bought a year old model at a discount and spent quite a bit on all accessories, shoes, pedals, cages, bottles, clothing, etc.

    At the end of the day I was an entry level bicyclist.

    Upgrades are natural over time for anyone in just about any enthusiast activity.

    Offer a “demo bike” trade up program if within 6 months of purchase from that location. So if you buy a demo (slightly used) you can trade it in at a predetermined rate of ~10%/mo so if the customer wants to scratch the itch to upgrade they do it as soon as possible. Maintaining value in the demo bike.

  15. Gary

    I can say only good things about The Pedaler in El Sobrante CA. Their people have a deep wealth of knowledge about old bikes and new, and they are happy to spend whatever time is necessary to make sure their customers–long-time riders and beginners alike– both understand and are happy with their choices. Fine mechanical work at a fair price. Try to find that online.

  16. Dan

    In the early 1980’s I had very good LBS’s in Toga in New York and Yellow Jersey in Madison Wisconsin. The problem with other LBS’s is that you have to put up with what product lines they are carrying right now. They might carry what you use right now but next time you need it they may be carrying another line. Since I have inner tubes and tires that I want, I buy a few of these at a time online and have the spares at home ready to use. I have ridden Campagnolo and now Sram and the LBS has nothing for me, it’s Shimano only for them. I have always kept a stock of spare components that I used to buy from online retailers and now on Ebay. Ebay has a slightly used version of whatever you need at a great price. I have always done most of my own maintenance but when I do use a LBS I get tired of the bottom bracket that comes loose on the first ride and the wheel that looked true leaving the shop but wasn’t de-stressed so it goes back out of true on the first ride. I make sure I have the tools to work on my bike and do all the work myself, including building my own wheels.

    In short, I am my own LBS. Online retailers and Ebay are my suppliers. I have the spare part I need right now and I can make the repair correctly, the first time.

    I would love to have a Toga or Yellow Jersey local to me now but that is sadly not the case.

  17. Aar

    I am still an LBS customer for all of their core competencies – service, fitting and cockpit parts. I even still shop all three of my LBSes before buying parts and accessories online.

    However, they lost most of my clothing, parts and accessories business when they stopped being able to get the exact pieces I order within a week.

    In most cases, LBS employees and owners are living their dreams and they are being squeezed very hard in the internet age. Competent LBS owners and employees could all earn a better living in other industries. They choose to remain in the industry out of a passion for cycling and they are core to the cycling culture. IMHO, we should do every practical thing we can to support them. I wish my local market would support them to the point that they can stock the brands I use.

  18. gmknobl

    I’m on the cusp of a reversal myself. Here’s the situation. I had a semi-custom bike build up by an LBS. After about 150 miles or so of using, both wheels were out of true, noticeably. No prob; take it in for the free true. These are fully spoked wheels meant to be bomb-proof, not low spoke count ones. Another 150 miles and the rear is out again. Take it back again, commenting that this shouldn’t be happening. They fix it for free with a thank you by me. Another 150 and again, it’s out to the point where it rubs the brakes. I take it back and ask if they can replace it because clearly something isn’t right. I’m not THAT hard on my bike and am running on normal country roads, not hitting any potholes either. They told me they would not replace it but offered to tear down and rebuild replacing the spokes. Okay. After another 150, same thing. Clearly, something they cannot find is causing a problem. These are experienced builders of wheels so this shouldn’t be happening unless something is wrong with the parts. I ask to have the wheel replaced, with no cost to me because, y’know, I paid for these brand new wheels and this one isn’t working. No was the clear answer. They will not replace the clearly defective part, imo. Instead, they send it back to the manus for the components, or so I thought. I got back the bike again that supposedly the one manu (there are multiple parts from different companies though) built up. I may have missed one trueing here as my memory is now fuzzy as well as irritated. Regardless, they claim they cannot find anything wrong so they won’t replace the wheel for free. They claim they must send things to the manus to see if they can find anything and supposedly did but those manus can’t find anything so they won’t replace anything.

    From my perspective, I’ve paid for something that is not working so I should get a replacement as this one is bad. Now, that said, if it works this time I’ll be happy but c’mon, history repeated itself so many times that I don’t expect this. They won’t swallow the cost but even after paying for it, I’m supposed to buy a new wheel when I’m not doing anything wrong? This seems like a failure on their part regardless of their financial situation. The customer is supposed to be right, especially in these situations.

    Am I out of line here, assuming I am correct in my details? What gives? Am I being unreasonable? I certainly can’t go to another LBS and expect them to give me a free wheel. HELP!

    1. Jonathan

      This is where you cut your losses, fire that shop, and move on to another wheelbuilder.

      Take the parts you’ve already paid for and take them somewhere else. Ask around for good local wheelbuilders. Sure, you’ll have to pay for the labor to get them rebuilt but you’re in a holding pattern of dissatisfaction with your current guys.

      Here’s what I reckon has happened: they’ve used the wrong length spokes and refuse to admit their error. A decent builder will spot this right away and sort you out. A mate of mine is a wheelbuilder (in Perth, Australia, if you’re local) and he spends a significant amount of his time fixing other people’s (and manufacturer’s) mistakes.

  19. Lyford

    “Local” bike shops are at least a half-hour drive distant, so with normal business hours I can often get something delivered before I can get to a store. Being open later than 5 one weeknight would help.

    I’ve been happy with service work done at the LBS. Parts orders have been less successful, with orders lost. By contrast, my local independepent book store has online ordering that consistently works well.

    I now buy a lot of my cycling gear and parts used on ebay or Craigslist. I do think it is unethical to try an item at the LBS, using their inventory and time, and then buy the same item new somewhere else.

    The stores do organize rides and help with community events, and I think that’s worth supporting.

    It’s not so much an issue of price as it is selection and convenience. I’ll pay a higher price if they have what I want. But if it’s less convenient and more expensive, that’s a hard sell.

  20. Winky

    My main gripe with my LBS was when they don’t follow up on ordered parts. I would still be waiting for a wheelset if I hadn’t asked what the hell was going on. They stock very little, and delivery of ordered parts is very slow, even without unusual hold-ups. I don’t understand why online shops are so much faster than distributors. Oh, and they always run out of my sizes in gloves and clothing. I’m average size so they typically say “Oh your size is very popular. We’ve sold out. Only XXXL and XXS left, sorry.” Ummm….. so why don’t they stock more of the popular sizes? Zero logic in their excuse.

    The servicing is good, though. I think they have good mechanics.

  21. SBC

    Mine is an embarrassment of riches – Pony Shop and Velosmith Bicycle Studio – in particular, here in Illinois, to name my two favorites. My experience in general, and this goes for roofing, new windows, car repair, lawn mowers, you name it, is that it helps to have done some research or know something on the topic at hand when you want some work done or need a new something or the other. Same for bikes. Moreover, if living fully is about human connections, get to know the people at your LBS and then you will want to support them.

  22. Jeff

    I do feel for the LBS. But they really do not stock that much of what I’m interested in. I used to wonder why, but then finally realized it is the wrong part of the bell curve. It is hard to stock and make money on some part that has 4 SKUs and 7 colors, etc.

    So it is not a lack of trust. If one prefers to do their own wrenching, it is hard to compete with less convenient, slower and usually significantly more expensive. For some items it makes sense to shop local, but only when the factors are close to balanced.

    However in the past 18 months I’ve bought two complete bikes from frame builders. One was local. Does that count?

  23. Tyler Lovett

    Did not have a chance to read through all of these comments, but trust me, I will.

    My LBS (BikeFix in West Chester, Ohio) has been absolutely perfect to me. If I need parts, they order them for me or already have them in stock. If my bike needs service the folks there will either teach me how to fix it (you don’t get that anywhere else) or will do a 11/10 job making my bike perfect again. This shop hosts FTP testing for die-hard riders and chain lube / flat fixing lessons for newer riders. I can walk in there and talk about anything but bikes and be welcome all day long. I find there prices to be very fair.

    I know bad shops exist, I’ve been in them and gave them my business. What I am attempting to convey is the idea that you have to give other shops a chance. One or two might suck, it happens, but you can find a good shop if you keep looking.

    I don’t know where I would be without my LBS.

  24. Aaron Thomas Smith

    I used to run a shop, and so have a few connections and friendships in my local community.

    Now I am the typical sales ‘rep’ that hangs out at shops and tries to drum up business for his own brand. I’m fairly well known locally and am offered discounts up to and including cost when I need something taken care of by one of our many fabulous LBS’s.

    That said – I always turn them down and insist on paying full price. Bicycle shops are wonderful places that help grow our cycling community. The Internet may offer a discount, but it certainly has it’s own price.

    I know what it takes to run a shop and so feel it’s my turn to be the ‘good customer’.

  25. mrt2

    I am still committed to my local bike shop but not exclusively. A good deal is still a good deal, and on some items, notably apparel, bike shops just can’t compete. I just cannot see paying $80 to $100 for a jersey and the same for some shorts when the same items are available all day long online for half that, or less. Now, I do sometimes find deals from local vendors, and when I do, I buy.

    I usually buy things like lube, degreaser, and tools locally, and my wife bought me a bike repair stand from a LBS after finding the price locally was competitive with the online price for the same item.

    I am pretty happy with my LBS for repairs and mods to my family’s bikes, and wouldn’t use anyone else. (crossing my fingers the shop stays in business and the head mechanic doesn’t quit). I had them mod a vintage Peugeot and was more than satisfied with the results. We modded my wife’s road bike slightly to give her more of a hybrid gearing as it better suited her riding style. We discussed a number of different ways to do it, but settled on a cost effective approach that kept the existing shifters, but removed the big chainring, and changed out the rear derailleur and cassette. A lot of shop owners and mechanics would shrug their shoulders and suggest my wife learn to shift better, or suggest she buy a new bike, but these guys understood that she loves this bike (which from her perspective is almost new) and needs to figure out a cost effective way to make it work for her. Since they offered reasonable advise and solutions to problems I brought them and it is only fair that if I pick their brains, that I pay them both for the parts and to do the work.

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