Monday, November 27, 2006

Bike Shop Curmudgeon

Those of us that live in the particular area of the city that I live in and are avid cyclists recently had an unexpected surprise. We learned that the proprietor of a long-time area bike shop had decided to abruptly close up his shop. Since there is another bike shop – one of the big national bike chain stores – not more than ¾ of a mile from his location, you might wonder why this is a big deal to us. It’s because this guy’s store was designed to serve cycling connoisseurs. He carried high-end stuff, and was an expert mechanic. The problem is that the shop owner had a real “attitude” towards his customers and his prices tended to be a little high. Anyone who had recently visited his store would always regale us on the next group ride about how rude or opinionated the guy had been. Nevertheless, if you had some really tricky repair work to be done or wanted an informed opinion about any of the million bits of cycling minutia, he was the guy to talk to.

When I became a serious cyclist about a decade ago, I realized that I needed to become my own bike mechanic. Even though I’m not very mechanically inclined, I learned to do all of my own basic maintenance. The only things I’m not comfortable with at this point are: 1) building or truing wheels; and 2) installing or working on headsets. Still, there were many times over the years when I found it helpful to drop into the store and seek advice about some bike job I was working on, or to get him to true up a wheel. When I got hit by a car in 2003 (no injuries, thankfully), he used his precision measuring tools to confirm for me that my frame had not been bent. And if I needed new shoes, I could go to his store to actually try them on instead of taking my chances that a mail-order pair would fit.

Now we lose all that. No matter how much we all complained about his “style” of serving his customers, there is a consensus among all of us that live in this area that we’re really going to miss this guy and his store. We complain about it regularly now on rides, even though he’s only been closed about three weeks. So, the next time you’re tempted to mail-order a new chain or cassette in order to save a few bucks, think about that local bike shop guy and about how much you would miss him if he left. I find myself wishing now that I’d patronized him a little more frequently, and the cheaper mail-order shops less so.

Speaking (above) about “becoming my own bike mechanic,” the best tool that I’ve found in this regard is the book “Zinn and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance”. It’s by Leonard Zinn who is the technical guru featured in VeloNews (at least he used to be, I haven’t read that mag recently), and is an excellent “how-to” guide for almost everything you could want to do to your bike.

1 comment:

IM Able said...

I heard something about how they closed over a dispute regarding the longstanding lease, although that's pure rumor. I've had excellent interactions with Andy Lowe (of LoweRiders in Downingtown). There are, of course, many shops in between Wilmington and here, but Andy just started a new road biking clinic in conjunction with the Penn State cycling team. Should be interesting.

Anyway, just wanted to drop a line and hope to see you out on the road sometime -- I've been known to skulk around Rt. 52 and 100 on pretty days!