Bike Shop Owner to Cyclists: "Use Us or Lose Us."

urbane scyclist
CC BY 2.0. An urban cyclist employee taking picture of Lloyd Alter

If you want to have a bikeable city, support your local independent bike dealer and repair shop.

The Internet is eating everything, including the independent bike shop. Carlton Reid, who knows the bike biz (he wrote Bike Boom and Roads were not built for cars), now writes in BikeBiz about the real danger in this.

Clearly, online ordering has changed the marketplace for bicycles. Consumers may say this is a good thing, but I argue that – in many ways, and most especially for consumers – it’s not.

He published an article by an anonymous bike shop owner who explains how the industry traditionally worked; the customer paid for the manufacturer's cost, the distributor margin and the retailer margin. But buying online is cheaper when Amazon is the distributor and there is no retailer, as much as 30 percent less.

The anonymous owner lists a lot of technical points of interest to bike shop owners, but then gets down to the meat of it for bike riders:

You'll miss us when we're gone.

The idea that manufacturers and distributors can communicate directly with our customers as well as we can is laughable. The passion, determination, heritage and hard work that our customers demand – and which we give in spades – cannot be downloaded as an attachment from a supplier’s HQ.
Dukes bikes

© Duke's Cycle

This is very true. I bought my latest bike at Duke's in Toronto, which has been in operation since 1914 and survived burning to the ground a few years ago. They took a long time to pick the bike and fit it to my short body, accessorized it exactly the way I wanted it, and told me to come back in the fall for a free tuneup and adjustment. It didn't occur to me to buy online; I like to look my bike salesperson in the face. As our author notes,

Customers justifiably want real-world humans to consult with, and get enthused by, and, if necessary, to complain to if things go wrong.

Indeed. I recently took my bike in for a winter tuneup at a shop closer to home, Dave- fix my bike. Dave and I somehow got into a conversation about climate change and he asked me my opinion on some very technical issues that I couldn't answer; perhaps he should be writing and I should be learning how to fix bikes. He wasn't happy with the way the bike was set up and readjusted everything; when I got on it it felt like I was on an e-bike, it was so much easier. It felt like it went uphill by itself.

Our anonymous writer notes that bike shops offer:

  • Great products and real-world product knowledge
  • Stores in which to display product that people can touch and try out and connect to
  • Workshops, coaching, bike-fitting, cafes, group-rides, holidays, advice, support, humour
  • Passion and the skills to communicate, enthuse, and tell stories that resonate
  • Sound judgement to help customers get the best experience from products that suit them best
  • Customer service – a friendly face when things go wrong. (You’ll search in vain for a telephone number on

This isn't just about convenience and money, it's about urban life.

This is certainly true of the bike shops I frequent. At TreeHugger, we try and make a big deal about supporting walkable neighbourhoods and local merchants. But if we also want to have bikeable cities, the bike shop is perhaps one of the most important local merchants around.

Our anonymous author is calling for independent bike dealers to do a boycott of internet sourced products for a week.

During this week we refuse, en masse, to touch internet-sourced products and bikes. No servicing of them, no passing on advice about them, no nothing. Blank them. It may even mean that people are discouraged from turning up on online-only bikes during shop-organised rides. Tough love.

I think that's got it backward and will only alienate cyclists. I think it is up to us, the consumers, to boycott internet sourced bikes. It is up to us to support our local independent bike dealer and repair shop. It is up to us to realize that there is a real price to be paid for that bargain bike, because our author is right when he says, "Use us or lose us."

urbane scyclist
CC BY 2.0. An urban cyclist employee taking picture of Lloyd Alter

An urban cyclist employee taking picture of Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The other day when my nose was falling off from the cold, I was able to stop at the Urbane Cyclist co-op and get fitted with a balaclava that I could breathe through and continue my ride home. Try doing that on the Internet.

The internet won't fix your bike. Support your local bike shop.