A couple of summers ago I was half-way through a long training ride when my derailleur stopped working. At 5:40 p.m. I limped into the closest local bike shop (or LBS) I could find.
“I’m sorry to come by so late,” I said, “and I don’t have any ID or money, but can you take a look at my bike?” They didn’t know me and it was a Saturday evening, 20-minutes before quitting time. Still, that mechanic did not blink.
“Sure,” he said.
By 6 p.m. my gears were still not working. That’s when George, the shop owner, took over. George had already cleaned up for the day, but a pair of purple latex gloves was all that he needed to get back to work. For the next half hour I watched him systematically go through my drivetrain until he discovered the problem.
This was Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance in action.
“It’s good enough for now, but I’ll have to install a new front derailleur when you can leave it with me for a couple of days,” George said.
I offered to call my wife to get my credit card, but George waved me off.
“No worries. We’ll settle up when you come back,” George said.
“But you don’t even know me,” I replied.
George just smiled. “That’s fine. Pay me when you’re back in the shop. I figure if you stiff me it’s your karma, not mine.”
I don’t think my experience was that unusual. Most Local Bike Shops (That's LBS in my lingo) make you feel welcome and are happy to help. Shopping at your LBS is like buying books at your local bookshop, that other LBS: You get opinions, passion, and assistance. You also get to be a locavore.
With the holidays coming up you may be thinking of a bike gift (for yourself or your cycle-phile friend). If you’re looking for the lowest price then you should probably just fire up your internet browser. When it comes to a helmet or a light, on-line is the cheapest way to go. The problem is, if we only focus on the dollars and the cents, there won’t be any bike shops around when you need them. Like when your cable goes slack or your wheel starts to wobble. As Kate, an experienced mechanic, once told me, “You can’t outsource a repair. It’s a hands-on kind of thing.” This is one of those times where virtual just doesn’t cut it.
Everyone I know who rides more than a few times a month has their favorite LBS. Like local coffee shops (or LCS’s), each has its own vibe. Some are high tech, with video equipment to make sure your bike fits properly. Others are old school, with creaky wooden floorboards and walls plastered with black and white photos of racers straining for the finish line.
So how do you choose a LBS? Here’s my checklist: do you feel comfortable when you walk in the door, is the vibe friendly, and is the store close enough to home that you can get there pretty easily (preferably by riding or walking)?
At my LBS I have dropped off my bike for a repair on New Year’s Eve and picked it up before closing time. I have been given a loaner bike for over a month when mine needed a part that was on back-order. And after my third flat on a cold and wet ride, Mark, the manager of my LBS, pedaled home to get his car so he could give me a ride home.
If you want to be treated like a VIP at your LBS it doesn’t take much. The way to good karma is simple: be loyal, bring pastry or pizza from time to time, and always remember to give thanks.
So readers, what’s your LBS story?
Jonathan Simmons is an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For The Ride” will be published next March.