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Do You Remember Bike Shops?

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by CGIT

The siting of your local cycle shops and their geographic relation to each other follows the same principles which govern the relative locations of ants nests in the Amazonian jungle. Bear with me. If you look at a map of ant nests they follow a loose hexagonal grid. Each nest sits in the middle of an area which shares it’s borders with several other territories. To survive each nest must defend its territory to protect its food source. A loss of area to an aggressive neighbour represents a loss of valuable resources and threatens the very survival of the nest.

Cycle shops are sited to optimise their exposure to cyclists. If sited too close together they risk competing directly for the same resources (customers), so they space themselves out. But they can’t be too far apart – if they locate themselves too far from centres of population they risk having no customers at all. It’s a fine balancing act – they want to be close to lots of people but not too close to each other. Very specialist (recumbents, cargo bikes etc) shops can survive further out because their wares are so rare that those wanting them are prepared to travel. This works if they can retain control of their niche but if the things they sell suddenly become mainstream and sold in every other bike shop they can find themselves out on a limb.


Cycling has seen a massive spike in popularity over the last few years. This is great news for anyone who loves cycling. What’s interesting about the latest figures is that this rise in cycling has been matched by a corresponding rise in the success of web based retailers. A lot of new ‘food’ has appeared on our forest floor but it hasn’t really benefited the ants.

I love bike shops. I’ll never miss the opportunity to visit a new bike shop in a new town. I love the smell of them and spotting the things which make each shop unique – how the layout and the choice of stock define each shop’s character.

Without exception good bike shops are staffed by actual cyclists, people who believe passionately in cycling. Whether it’s BMXing or track racing or just pedaling to the shops – they work in bike shops all their lives for less than the national average wages because they are bike geeks. They work in bike shops because they want to share their enthusiasm, to make a difference. To get bums on seats. They don’t do it for the money but perhaps they dreamed all along that one day – when cycling eventually hit the mainstream – that they would start earning a decent wage. Well cycling has finally hit the mainstream but not very much has changed for most independent cycle shop employees.

As fast as we are attracting new people to cycling we are losing them to internet based retailers and corporate chains. I know it’s a-dog-eat-dog-survival-of-the-fittest deal out there in the retail business jungle. But what has happened is that the success and growth in the cycle sector has been noticed by some big players and they want some of the action. The long term result of this is likely to be that, starved of resources, our local bike shops will simply go under. One by one. We could simply shrug our shoulders and say ‘c’est la vie, that’s business’.

But there’s a problem. When they disappear they probably wont come back. If they are replaced on the high street they’ll be replaced with high volume faceless chains with poorly trained staff. Your traditional independent cycle shop simply cannot compete on price with the www.retailers¬† but they are an invaluable addition to our high streets. They employ local people. They usually have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and they have a mechanic who knows what she’s doing.

People cannot be blamed for being attracted to the best deal but they should be aware that their choices can have repercussions: if you want your local bike shop to go out of business just keep buying your bikes and equipment on-line.

Cyclorama believes in bike shops, we urge you to support your local bike shop before it disappears.

Read about cycle shops in Cyclorama’s Bike Culture section

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4 Responses to “Do You Remember Bike Shops?”

  1. Greg says:

    At least in York, I doubt the bike shops are going to go out of business any time soon.

    I’m building a bike at the moment and have used a mixture of parts from the bits box, parts from friends and various cycling fora, and parts from local shops. While I do want to support local businesses, bike shops can be a bit hopeless if you want anything niche. It’s often quicker and less hassle for me to order the part from Wiggle myself, which is important when we’re talking about my main means of transport.

    My town bike is off the road until it gets a new part. I didn’t want to have to wait in for a delivery, so I went to one of the local bike shops (which shall remain nameless). It took a week for them to tell me that about a part that wasn’t the one I’d specifically asked for, and not be able to supply some basic information that I already knew from a simple google search. After that level of service, I felt no guilt in ordering my desired part from the web!

  2. Mick Allan says:

    Fair point. Not all independents are angels and not all web outfits the spawn of the devil.

    I’ve always had great service when I’ve resorted to on-line sellers and regularly suffered poor service from cycle shops over the years – frankly it’s a wonder some of them have stayed in business so long! On more than one occasion I’ve wheeled an obviously expensive bike in to a shop, wearing all the gear so it’s obvious I’m a spender and been totally ignored by staff.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the sector evolves, I think we’re going to see a big shake-up over the next few years and I just hope the good shops can hold on.

    What part was it?

  3. Greg says:

    Now I’ve started ranting, I finally gave up on a well known cycle shop in Sheffield when they tried quite hard to push a helmet on me that wasn’t even close to a good fit. When a shop starts trying to endanger me it’s time to walk away.

    The sniffy bike shop attendant is a cliche that shops need to work hard to throw off. When people can get parts cheap online, the shops need to look at their USPs:

    1) You don’t have to be at home to receive a large delivery if you buy something from a bike shop (and they have it in stock).
    2) You can try stuff on in a bike shop. Applies especially if you’re buying clothing.
    3) Bike shops can provide service. There are shops I deliberately avoid and there are shops where I’ll happily pay extra to support them. Service with a smile, wise advice and maintenance done fast when I need it are things that all endear me to certain shops and make them my first port of call.

    So in summary, a good product range helps but it’s mainly the human factor that can win me over to a shop. Having said that, I’m different to probably most of a shop’s customers if not most of their high value customers, in that I usually do my own maintenance. For people who don’t know whether their freehub is Hyperglide-C or how to use a chain whip, good and fast servicing is going to be all the more important. If they don’t know how to fix bikes, people need to be able to trust a shop to do a good job, not rip them off and not make them feel stupid because they’re not bike mechanics. That trust will make people more willing to hand over their hard-earned.

  4. Mick Allan says:

    I had a customer a few years ago who was all sweetness and light, nice bloke, friendly. Would come in, rack my not inconsiderable knowledge of cycling shoes, helmets, gloves, parts, try on items and then leave with a cheery wave and the vague suggestion that he’d buy whatever ‘at the end of the month’. Over the months I spent hours and hours talking to him. It took me ages to register that he was buying everything on-line. The final showdown was hilarious, I exposed him in front of a shop full of staff and customers – very politely I might add – and then banned him from the premises!