I’m not in the business of slagging off bike shops, it really goes against the grain and especially as they helped me out for no charge, even though I offered so I’m just going to write what I experienced and you can make up your own mind.
The bike shops I use or interact with tend to be owned or staffed by people I consider friends but after getting to know them (principally Cheltenham Cycles and Garage bikes) I’m 100% sure they treat a new comer into their stores in exactly the same way as they would me, they are those kind of people, bike enthusiasts first, just trying to make a living out of something they love. So of course with this experience in mind I kind of think all bike shops are the same. Sadly they are not.
The Olympics, Brad winning the Tour and the likes of Rapha have made cycling very fashionable and I don’t want to come across as a moaning old git but this wave of popularity has brought with it what I call “lifestyle” cyclists, those who love the look, the “rules” the latest Italian bike exotica who wouldn’t be seen dead on a bike with dirt on it and would be apoplectic if their shirts didn’t match their jersey and cap. To cater for these cyclists new shops have opened up, they usually are bright, have showrooms a clothes designer wouldn’t turn their nose up at and minimal displays of high price bikes as too many bikes would mean there wasn’t room for the fancy coffee machine and Panini bar they also have.
So it was into such a shop I popped into (around the back with the artificial grass, tables, chairs and outside café area) with a rear cassette that had come loose with the hope they could just tighten up the lock ring for me. I’d gotten there via a very muddy canal towpath so yes the tyres on my mountain bike had got mud on them and no, I hadn’t cleaned it off before hand as well, the shop is 2 minutes from the canal path and I was quite prepared to do the repair myself if I could borrow the correct tool. The one guy when I made my request basically turned away and called a young lad out, I’d already removed the wheel at this point and wobbled the cassette at him. “just needs tightening” I said and off he popped for what seemed like an eternity to the workshop. He returned with rags, a cassette tool and a chain whip (not sure what he was going to do with the whip as you don’t need it to tighten a cassette) he then tried in vane to wash off some mud from the tyre with a trickle of water from an outside tap, then wrapped the tyre in rags so he wouldn’t have to touch it. Next he wound the chain whip around the cassette (again unnecessarily) and tried to tighten the lock ring. Now fair enough, maybe he was new and nervous but two other older guys from the shop were milling around and not one spoke, there was no “where are you heading, where are you from” etc which you’d normally expect, this banter usually results in the warm feeling that is translated into sales, I know, I used to have my own shop, but there was nothing. “this cassette needs a spacer” says the young lad. “er, no it’s just loose, it’s not needed a spacer in the last couple of 1000 miles I’ve done on it”I reply. He then proceeds to try and get the cassette off, now it’s a Hope alloy freehub with a steel cassette on it, it’s not coming off without a nylon hammer and some swearing. I have to educate him on this and he says in his experience they always just pull off easily, I don’t ask him about the length of his experience but he does look about 12 (is that ageist?) He then sighs and just tightens the cassette.
I look into the shop past the muffins and espresso cups on the counter to the rows of castelli clothing and Starley road bikes on pedestals. I’d love to go in and look but I think they’d shout at me as I also have canal mud on my legs and my shorts are DHB and my jersey from On One. I feel like I need a pre operating theatre scrub and decontamination session before I can cross the threshold.
Job done I take back the now unwrapped from rags (which are now being held at arms length) wheel and ask how much I owe for the job, fairs fair they have helped me out and I didn’t have the tool to do it myself so I’m fully prepared to give them cash. “nothing” says the lad, I make sure by offering again and am told no once more. I think about buying an energy bar form the shop but It’d probably cost them more to scrub the floor clean after I’d gone than they would make on the purchase.I replace my wheel and shout thanks as I free wheel away, I get no response.
As I pedalled away I feel like a second class citizen for some reason, maybe because My face doesn’t fit, I know it takes time to build up a rapport with a shop but these guys just didn’t seem to want “my sort” in their shop.
Now you can see my dilemma, they helped me out, for free so I’m not naming because that would be unfair. The whole experience left me cold though.
Long live the traditional bike shop, I’d rather have an instant coffee or a mug with a teabag in it in a shop that you can’t get into because of the range of stuff they have in it than a bike boutique any day