Bricks and mortar or the internet? The answer isn't an encouraging one for local bike shops. Photo: iStock
I appear to be running out of local bicycle shops.
For years I was a regular customer at King of the Mountain cyclery in Sydney’s Neutral Bay, a few kilometres from my home. It got better when they opened a second shop in Crow’s Nest, which was even closer. Then, after a bit of rumour and stock scarcity, they closed.
Next closest was Cranks North Sydney, near one of the northern approaches to the Harbour Bridge. They serviced my bike a few times, sold me some new chainrings, built me a back wheel, and started to become my new “local bike shop”.
Then last month, after a bit of rumour and stock scarcity, they closed.
Anecdotally, there seems to be a fair bit of flux in the bicycle retail business lately, including in Melbourne, with the BSC Bikes chain closing last June.
Of course, there are many reasons why a bike shop might shut down. Businesses wax and wane, it’s the nature of good old/bad old capitalism. But a lot of people say there is one major reason why bike shops are currently struggling: Online shopping.
The interweb has revolutionised shopping for cyclists, with stuff arriving at your door, nicely priced, after just a few clicks of the mouse.
I do the odd bit of internet shopping, mostly for staple or replacement items – tyres, tubes, water bottles, Ass(os) cream, socks, maybe the odd bit of hardware (like a pump).
But I also frequent several bike shops, and am busy auditioning for a new LBS. Here are my six reasons why bricks and mortar matters:
1. Customer advice. Sure, everyone has an opinion, and you can get plenty of bad advice in a bike shop. But some of the items that have made cycling immeasurably better for me have been found through LBS advice. My SMP saddle. Gel handlebar pads. Mavic Open Pro rims (strong as!). Sugoi midzero knee warmers. Connex Quicklinks.
2. Instant availability. I know some cyclists are organised to the point of obsessive/compulsive, with all their consumables neatly stacked and ready for use. Not me. I’m just back from grabbing a few much-needed essentials for my second annual tilt at the Audax Alpine Classic.
3. Loyalty discounts. In my experience, if you cultivate a relationship with a bike shop, things start getting cheaper. Especially if it’s something they made for you, which you then managed to break (Open Pro rims 0, NSW potholes 1).
4. Fitting. Mostly I’m XL, I can be XXL, and I have bizarrely been L on a few occasions. And that’s not even due to pre-Audax dieting (I miss that nightly beer). I’d rather spend a bit more on stuff that fits, than take a punt on something that comes up short on my gorilla-length arms.
5. Serendipity. Internet shopping tries the old “people who bought this also bought …” trick on you, but there’s nothing like a stroll around a store to find out about things you never knew about, things you keep forgetting you need, or things you don’t really need but buy anyway 'cos they’re just so shmick.
6. Bike servicing. Sure, there are a few outfits that do servicing only, or even have a commercial tie-in with online stores. But retail and workshops tend to go hand-in-hand. A good suburban density of such shops is invaluable, especially if you just need to nip in to get something adjusted with a weird tool you never normally need.
So, I keep going to bike shops. And sometimes, when I buy something online, I buy it from an Australian bike shop’s virtual operation, at a cheaper rate. I’ve even had a shop offer to match their online price, and save all the mucking about with stamps.
We all make our own decisions on these matters, and I’m not saying anyone is right or wrong. Except in one regard. If you see a product in a bike store, and the staff recommend it, or let you try it on, and you benefit from this experience, don’t then say “I’ll think about it” and go find it cheaper online.
It’s a process known as “showrooming”. Some might compare it with a word for illegal behaviour that also begins with “s”.