Friday Group Ride #362

Friday Group Ride #362

I know people are already doing it, buying bikes online, even high-end bikes. Competitive Cyclist, Wrench Science, and others may have already cracked the code on how to deliver a bike via the Internet and your local freight service. It sort of boggles my mind.

Just speaking for myself, a bike is very personal. I want to have touched and ridden it, or at least ridden something very close to it. I wonder if there are folks test-riding at shops and buying online. It would be naive to think there are not, but it’s hard to imagine someone would take that kind of advantage of their local shop, too. You’re right. I’m just being naive.

Canyon has not yet arrived in the US, and their delays have left an opening, maybe even a panic, for the big brands to get into the direct-to-consumer channel, but it is unclear just how large a portion of their business has actually traveled through this channel. Mobile shops like Beeline and VeloFix have been announced as delivery partners, too, but again, it’s not clear to me how many are actually taking advantage.

I have biases, myself, toward the local bike shop, toward a more personal bike buying experience in general, but I might be a fuddy-duddy. I can’t entirely see what I gain from buying a bike online, but I know what I lose. I don’t get to touch it. I don’t get to ride it. I need to have it fit myself. I don’t get to know someone who knows more about it than I do. And of course, I deny my local shop the business they need to go on selling bikes to kids, organizing group rides, and reminding people on main street that bikes are a thing.

This week’s Friday Group Ride asks, would you buy a bike online? Have you already done it? Did it go well? Poorly? Would you do it again? What was your motivation? Cost? Convenience? Choice?

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  1. TomInAlbany

    I have not. I haven’t considered it. I’m (sort of) in the market for a new road bike. Something that matches my 52 year old body better than my 18 year old Serotta Ti. (A beautiful bike, by the way. I just can’t make it fit any more, though.) Like you, I want to touch it and test ride it and work with a fitter to make it good right away.

    I’m not considering buying on-line. I know people who’ve done it, though. They bought Surly bikes. They’re really happy. YMMV

  2. Kimball

    In my experience the more expensive the bike the less likely you will get to ride it before buying. Shops just can not afford to stock the full size range of the upper end models so its far from a sure thing you’ll find one in your size. You’re taking a leap of faith whether you order through a shop, ordering on line, or going custom.

    1. Shawn

      True. In the mtb world, there are regular demo days where you can try out the high end stuff before buying.

      So on the other side of the issue, if you tried out your dream ride at Yeti’s demo day, then it makes little sense to choose the LBS over your retirement fund or your child’s education savings account —
      unless you are a new rider or don’t know the difference between Torx and hex.

  3. Miles Archer

    If certain things happen, I would be looking to buy a folding bike (bromton or similar). I haven’t particularly looked at my local shops for a folding bike, so they may have them. The closest place that sells bromptons is 30 miles away. If I can’t find a local (within 10 miles) I’ll probably buy via Amazon.

  4. Chuck

    The times are changing. The LBS as you/we know/knew it will have to change too. Like the rest of brick-and-mortar retail. For better or worse. Consumers (especially younger ones) and pricing are driving the change. Adapt or die. I envision the “LBS of the future” as more of a “virtual gateway” to different bikes rather than a physical showroom. More emphasis on service (and mobile “house call” service). More about the “cycling experience.” Would I buy a bike online? Yes. The “right” bike. Like a Sarto or Divo, either of which would be custom and bought solely on reputation of the brand. Although bought through my LBS (when my wife worked there before the LBS got bought by Trek), my Felt FC frameset was essentially bought without having test riding beforehand. I’d sat on a Felt F4 in the store but hadn’t actually ridden it.

  5. Chris Cochrane

    I sort of ordered a bike on line, in that I had never seen one before and certainly didn’t ride it before I ordered. I had my heart set on a ‘lifetime’ bike. It had to be metal, close to level top tube, comfortable geometry, and make my heart all a-flutter.

    I spoke to a custom builder I had always admired but his wait was over a year. In the end, I ordered from 22 Bicycles and it happened that one of their off-the-rack geometries fit me well. I traded dozens of emails with the owners of the company about drivetrain, cockpit, and all the other things (except geometry) that we vacillate about with new bikes.

    About 3 months after I first reached out to 22, my bike was delivered to my home. It was exactly as I wanted it.

    Since I received it though, every tune up, new chain, fresh tire, or re-wrap of bar tape has come from my local shop. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  6. Dusty Nickle

    I am torn. I can’t afford a “real bike” for myself from the LBS. That being said, all of children’s bikes have come from the LBS. I ride a 20 year old Cannondale snatched from the jaws of a landfill. So, I WANT to buy from the LBS but prices may force me to the net. I still go to the shop for repairs and parts, the things I need help with. There will always be a place for the expertise that comes with a shop. I also don’t ride the brand the local shop sells. It’s fine for my kids who haven’t developed a preference yet but the lack of Brand choice is a contributor as well.

  7. DavidB.

    Shops need to change with the market. Amazon/internet sets the prices for items. LBS can complain forever about MSRP. That change has happened, there will be no going back. Some observations from a LBS. Can you order quicker than Amazon, for equal or less? Remember almost no shop delivers to your door. Thus a special order requires another trip, more time. Looking at a picture in a catalog or on a screen in a LBS is different from your phone/tablet/PC, how? The “leap” is mentioned above. Today we all make those “leaps” online for many items. A bicycle is no different. The time of making a “leap” at a LBS is ending. Add into how many shops are uneducated and inexperienced in product. People do the research online. Making the purchase is a logical extension.
    Canyon’s impact may be large. They will need to have delivery up and going promptly. The product is very well spec’d and aggressively priced. I look forward to others thought and experiences.

  8. Josh

    I would love to buy a brand new high end build from my LBS. They could perform a fit, make sure the size was 100%, and customize the cranks, stem, bars, etc, all to my fit and taste. The LBS then could count on all my return business when I need brake pads and when I am too lazy to replace the cables myself.
    But when faced with my inability to pay 8K-10K for a bicycle, the same level bike I can buy online for 4-5K, of the cost online is a lot easier to convince the wife about than the evils of online sales. I feel bad for the LBS owners and the wrenches who I pay to fix the things I can not, but it is the big brands, with the prices they charge, that is killing the LBS.
    If you compare a Canyon or a YT with similar builds from Trek or Specialized, The online bikes cost 50%, perform at the same level, and leave me with money for my wife and children.
    I think LBS need to find a new business model. I will gladly pay for mechanical support. I like the ability to buy repair parts instantly for the days I need to get on the bike immediately. But when I have to balance my family’s needs versus the needs of the LBS, my family will always come out on top.
    I wish I made enough money to support legacy LBS system,

  9. Maxwell

    Three of the 7 bikes in my household I bought online, all since 2014. Two completes and one frame, and all components I bought online as well. A few parts I took to a LBS to install. Each time I paid ~50% below MSRP. Let’s call that a total of $5000 saved. Nothing will ever convince me that I should have given that money away.

    1. TomInAlbany

      Just wondering if you bought the bikes from the manufacturers? I’m wondering if they’re underselling their distributors if you could get it for 50% MSRP. Thanks.

  10. DavidB.

    A view from the LBS side. Retail has changed and will never go back to what it was. Amazon/internet determines the price or value of goods. Cheaper is better. MSRP means nothing. Is Amazon better at being a LBS? For example a consumer can just as easily look at pictures at home rather than in a shop. An order from home will arrive on time, on the door step. Will the shop take longer, fail to contact, mean another trip to pick up. Does the LBS staff have real world experience and knowledge of products. Are they just retelling information easily found on the web. Do not get me wrong. Really good, focused, funded, stocked, merchandised and staffed LBS will always exist. For the others….
    Canyon may change things. The race to control distribution is on in the US cycling industry. See Fuji’s purchase of Performance, Trek buying more shops, Giant concept stores. Will the consumer benefit. Who knows. Canyon if able to offer the same bicycles as in Europe for the same prices will be very competitive from day one.
    My thirty odd years around cycling has seen a lot of change. Yet successful LBS are still the same. I look forward to read more from others.

    1. Tyler

      Speaking from someone ‘in the industry’, do you think that these “other shops” will become strictly service outlets for those that have purchased goods online? And if so, how does that impact your role at the shop? I guess the question I am trying to ask is: If you were not trying to sell any particular product, just service itself, what changes for you?

  11. Lyford

    Bought two slightly used bikes on ebay having never ridden either of them. Delighted with both. I could not have afforded them new, and the used selection is slim in these parts.

    Living in a rural area, test-riding new or used bikes takes a lot of driving. All that time has value. I’m lucky in that my reach and stack numbers are fairly normal, so I’m not too worried about a fit problem if I do my homework.

  12. Fausto

    Would never but like many, I have close ties to LBS owners who are generous to me so I don’t need too. I do purchase online clothing that they don’t can’t get for me. Many shops are their own worst enemy and when the entire retail sector is changing, only the wicked smart will survive (and the rich, many shops in my area were funded by Wall Street types who cashed out to pursue the cycling bug). As a consumer though, I would not waste a shops time researching and then save the money online, but would research online and buy in store. Fair for shops to charge more for installs on euro purhcased groups that riders buy at cost. I am in a different part of retail and don’t know how any of the shops stay alive, it is a rough life.

    1. Winky

      The whole “mate’s rates” thing at the LBS also puts me off. “You? I don’t know you, so fuck you….you pay full whack. That way I can give deep discounts to my buddies.”

  13. Lyford

    Another factor is that I don’t think a test ride is all-important. As humans we are easily influenced and biased. When I was shopping for a se kayak I’d go to demo days where I could paddle several different boats one after another. If at the end of the day I went back and took the first boat out again, my perceptions were often very different than they had been.

    With bicycles, there are many variables in play. One study showed that 5psi in the tires had the same percieved effect as going from a “race” to an “endurance” model. Something as simple as the color or the feel of the bar tape can affect the overall impression of the bike. Blind comparisons would be better, but they have disadvantages…….

    And I suspect your standards are higher than mine. I’m not looking for a transcendent experience. Good is probably good enough. At a good price it’s even better.

  14. Winky

    I specced and bought my last road bike online. I knew exactly what I wanted, and no local bike shop would have been able to assemble it in any reasonable timeframe. Lead times for parts into my LBS are an order of magnitude longer than for any online shop. If I was buying “off the shelf” a LBS might be a reasonable option.

    1. Winky

      Actually, now I think about it my last 3 road bikes have all been bought “sight-unseen”. The first two over the phone and the latest one on the internet. My mountain-bike was bought on the phone, too. My vintage “wall-art” Wiler was also a web purchase. The only bike I currently have that I bought from a bike shop is my touring bike.

    1. Winky

      None of my online purchases have been for price. It’s just that the LBS didn’t have anything I wanted. And I don’t like being “advised” by shop attendants.

  15. Rich

    I bought both my road bikes used from a classified bike website as framesets. One Ti and one carbon. All the parts on line. I’ve had each for over 10 years. Got a great price with extra high end components added. A little bit of a gamble but at the price I couldn’t go wrong. Where I live we have 4 bike shops. None organize any rides, Maybe one shop will do a clinic. They barley support the local club on the century. Why would I shop there?

  16. Michael

    I guess I buy my bikes online, but that is through my favorite builder. He knows my size and we discuss the bike I want and then he builds it. Then I keep it for 15-20 years. I typically want something my LBS doesn’t have, and something that may not even be made commercially at the time. I bring the bike to the LBS for service sometimes, if it is something for which I don’t have a tool, and I buy parts and tires and such from the LBS. They don’t mind my buying the bike elsewhere, since they don’t have an equivalent, and they know I am a good customer for what they DO have. To go to the next town with a bike shop – well, that is a couple hours’ drive, so I don’t do that. I do browse in bike stores if I happen to be in a big city, just to see what is out there now. So I think one thing a few readers have highlighted that wasn’t considered in RObot’s piece is that the story is very different if you live in a limited market, say a small town surrounded by several hours worth of only tiny hamlets. Online starts looking REALLY good then.

  17. Rick

    Folks are certainly “already doing it”. I worked as the lead mechanic for CompetitiveCyclist for over 12 years and we started in 2000. This was going on before us and it’s only gonna get bigger. I now work for a small-town LBS and do very little high-end. I know that shops can still make it focussing on the high-end but it takes a real go-getter!

  18. Flame Rouge

    I think you remember a bike shop that is nearly extinct: happy to see you whether or not you’re buying today, a diverse collection of parts, bikes from a variety of builders (not manufacturers), and hard earned knowledge. These shops existed long before the Bike Industry.

    Now we’ve got shops dominated by Trek, Cannondale, Giant and Specialized. It’s all business. And the prices are ridiculous.

    Why should I pay full price for parts when I can get the *exact* same thing delivered to my door in 2 days for 25-50% less?

    Even paying for service is even becoming a joke. Watch a video. There are a few things I won’t/can’t do, like facing a bottom bracket, or I don’t have the tool because I wouldn’t use it enough to buy it.

    As for bike fitting, most are a joke. Fitness and flexibility change over time. Maybe you shouldn’t but a bike for today’s fitness, you should stretch and grow stronger. Today’s fit will hopefully be totally wrong in few months, and definitely in a year or two.

    The LBS has either been killed by the Bike Industry or committed suicide by screwing its customers. Good riddance.

  19. AG

    I think a big issue is that good bikes have become incredibly expensive. A mid-grade but good quality full-sus mountain bike will cost at least $4k. Step up a bit in components and $6k is easy to pay (also these are often the bikes being reviewed on online magazines so there is a marketing push for these bikes and parts…Padraig just reviewed a $400 saddle). Add to that the constantly changing technologies, bottom bracket types, hub spacing, wheel sizes, etc etc etc, and it isn’t hard to see why folks are looking for deals that the LBS just can’t provide. I think it’s very much low-class to try a bike at the LBS but then buy online, but I can see why people do it, if at least to save the $500 tax on a $6k bike. It’s kind of a snake eating its tail thing, isn’t it?

  20. Mark

    A similar refrain to many others here.

    I’ve been cycling for 30 years, am 6’4″, and live in a rural area. We have one shop that I might consider an LBS, but they don’t stock anything above the midrange, and they certainly don’t stock a size that would fit me. From what I understand of the bike business, they’d have to commit to anticipating to sell a high-end bike (in an obscure size) the year before, and then eat the cost if it doesn’t sell, if they want to have one on the floor — hoping that I or someone like me will come in to buy it. Why would they do that?

    Don’t get me started on “I don’t get to know someone who knows more about it than I do”. Trust me, when the salespeople are earning minimum wage or close to it and the only thing they understand about the varying level of bikes is 105 versus Ultegra or carbon versus aluminum, I’m damn sure I know more about the bike than the salesperson. I hope that’s not the case in larger cities.

    Would I buy a bike online? I haven’t yet, not by the question that I think you’re asking regarding Canyon and the like. But my last three bikes have been bought online either through online forums or a Craigslist seller who’s willing to ship, so in that case I think I already have.

  21. Kevin

    I think the LBS of the future will be more of a front door to online ordering of fully customized bikes sold basically at cost. You can get a highly accurate fitting and then discuss what they offer, spec out the stem, saddle, tires, etc., and then purchase for delivery. With that purchase maybe you’ll get free tune ups for life. They’ll do maintenance and sell clothing and helmets that you can try on. Fitting rooms and mirrors. Maybe espresso and beer. Organized group rides. More of a lifestyle shop and hangout than showroom. What I’m getting at is us paying for services more than for hardware.

  22. Lyford

    I do think that demoing at a LBS with no intent to buy and then buying online is unethical. But if a manufacturer rep shows up with a trailer full of bikes and has an open demo day, I think it’s fine to ride and then go to whatever vendor works for you.

    More demo days might be part of the new business model. In more populated areas, brands could have some large regional demo centers that you could visit knowing they’d have every model and size in stock. Ride whatever you want. Purchase from whoever you want, but you’d automatically get quotes from your nearst affiliated LBSs.

    Smaller brands could have “ambassador” programs with happy costomes willing to show thier personal bikes to prospective buyers. Not sure how you avoid advertising to thieves that way, but it has worked in other industries.

  23. Gerb61

    Sure order from Amazon and have it delivered to your door. I work in a LBS and have seen the results of this firsthand. One fellow shifted his rear derailleur into his spokes and did approximately $150.00 dollars damage on his first ride. Hope he got a nice discount online. I’ve seen bikes brought into the shop that have been ridden with the forks turned around backwards. Gears that defy shifting, inoperable brakes and 6ft. tall people on bikes suitable for a 5ft. tall person. Then there are the folks with the $5000.00 carbon road bikes who don’t even know how to put air in their tires. Keeps our repair business booming at least.

    1. wayno

      Don’t disagree there are lots of horror stories out there. But for the typical RKP reader, tensioning derailleurs and having the fork the right way is a non-issue, for the true enthusiast, a 90% built bike from Jenson, CC and soon Canyon is well within the spec of most abilities.

  24. Jeff

    Good LBS experience: Told the owner I was looking for an entry-level track bike to begin learning at a velodrome. He knew he didn’t have anything in stock within my budget, so he showed me something suitable on the computer from a brand he dealt in. Offered to order it and let me ride it, with no deposit and no agreement to buy it. We did that, and I asked for some fitting and component changes, which he did at something close to his cost. I probably paid $100 more than I would have for something comparable online, including the subbed parts, and then I would have had to do the mechanic work myself. I did not turn into a track racer, but I still have and love the bike, which I ride on the road now.

    This is what it takes to make it worthwhile to buy at an LBS. I don’t think it’s a common experience. I have bought online (used) and made the necessary modifications myself, and been equally happy. With my track bike, it made all the difference that the owner happened to be in the store when I came in. He took over from his salesman, who had been trying to upsell me to something I didn’t want.

  25. Tyler

    Yes, I have bought 3 bikes via online retailers. For the first two bikes cost was the number one selling point. Saving over $500 was something I could not pass up as a newer rider with very limited funds. A second major point was not being comfortable with the 2 big name local shops in my area (just North of Cincinnati). With the exception of my latest MTB (Niner Jet 9), I have bought pretty much everything from my local shop I discovered about 2 and a half years ago. This local shop has changed how I buy everything. I can get instant reviews and comparisons, a solid discount, and plenty of support. Lucky for me this particular shop has at least 2 major brands and access to 2 or 3 smaller brands to choose from. I can’t really see myself buying online again when this shop makes everything so easy and straight forward.

  26. Aron Green

    So I actually did. From CC. In 2013. I seem to buy a new road frame every ten years and it was a little early. The previous frame was a Merlin Cielo meticulously spec’d and almost daily visits to the shop to choose components and energetically work on fit. I still love that bike and the one before (a Merckx ti bike that was my college race frame) but the fit of the Merlin only worked when I was in race form and felt at home in crit’s. I’m a Campy kinda guy and I was intrigued by all carbon and Comp Cyclist had this blowout deal on a Ridley. I took the bait. It was a mast bike and I was concerned. I couldn’t be more happy and fit was perfect. The online shop asked for some measurements and I gave them and measured my other bikes and said what I wanted. I was between sizes but several emails and phone calls solved the issues. Yes purchasing a bike is deeply personal, but the Ridley fits like my Merckx and has been as enjoyable as any other bike I have owned. Its getting time for a new bike and this problem has reared its head again… LBS, online, or luckily custom and I am not sure which will win. At the time of purchase the driving factor was cost… now that is not so much an issue but the online option is definitely still in the equation.

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