Photo from the CB2 Summer 2011 catalog.
It's spring (for most of us) and cycling is in the air. If you hadn't noticed, Crate & Barrel's youthfully oriented furniture spin-off CB2 has some great city bikes on its cover, and they are selling these bikes, Abuelo (means 'grandpa' in Spanish) and Abuela (grandma) almost, but not fully assembled, at their stores. Made by Florida-based Republic Bikes, Abuelo and Abuela are pretty, practical city bikes, and will satisfy the spring urge. Republic also retails (online only) other customizable city bikes. But what are you in for when you buy a bike-in-a-box online or at a CB2 store? We talked to Avery Pack, president of Republic Bike. Pack said Republic is offering a type of bike - colorful and customizable Dutch and fixie bikes - that aren't really offered by the majority of bike retailers or local bike shops.
Yet Pack was very careful to stress the importance of a local bike shop in a cyclist's life. The Abuelo and Abuela bike you purchase at CB2 will not be fully assembled, and it is up to you, as the buyer, to find a bike shop mechanic that will tighten up all the spots that need tightening and make sure the bike is truly safe and road ready.
Graphic from Republic 3D Bike Shop.
"We're not destroying the notion of the local bike shop in any way," Pack said. " We definitely are recommending that you go to a local bike shop, it's part of the ecosystem."
In other words, buying a bike in a box is a little different from walking into a bike shop. Most obviously, if you buy a bike online, you aren't able to test ride. Pack said you can take a spin on the Republic-made Abuelo and Abuela at CB2 stores. But in both cases, final tweaking of the bike at a bike shop - and developing some type of long-term relationship with a bike mechanic or store - is part of the cyclist's responsibility.
Pack said that Republic's experience with new bike buyers that buy online is that they are relatively well informed when they come to the site, and Republic's online 3D Bike Shop makes it fairly easy to customize a bike exactly how you want it. In fact, that's Republic's unique selling point - in buying a bike online, the color and accessory choices are perhaps better than what you find at a bike retailer, especially if a city bike is what you want.
Republic's Abuelo and Abuela were designed in collaboration with CB2, and their unique colors and features (such as the old-fashioned elastic bike skirt netting on the Abuela) are only available to those CB-purchased bikes.
Pack also noted that Republic is aware about the limitations of buying a bike online - you can't try before you buy, you may be uncertain or imprecise about sizing, and you'll need to have the bike looked at by a mechanic before you take it out for a spin - but he also emphasized the advantages of online buying.
"People are responding to online because these bikes are somehting they can't get anywhere else," he said. Because of the online nature of the bike-in-a-box business, Republic bikes are affordably priced ($499 for a 3-speed Dutch-style bike), and because you customize your bike, their are more options than at many bike shops.
In addition, while hardcore bike enthusiasts want to choose their components, Republic has removed some of those choices.
"We wanted people to engage with what they are buying rather than thinking about the technical aspects," Pack said.
If a bike for pleasurable city riding is in your plans, online might be the answer, and a cheaper answer, too. Just make sure you realize that finding a bike shop will be part of the equation.
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