To paraphrase Swiss Tony, having a good bike shop is very much like having a very good girlfriend. It is unlikely that the first one you pick is the one you’ll stay with for years and years until any hair that’s left on your head (or ears) is grey. It’s more likely that you’ll try a few, probably from differing ends of the cost, attitude and distance spectrums before settling for the one that is the nicest, and doesn’t tell you off when you go in all oiled up and dirty. There are people who have been with the same shop for years and years, even dating from before mountain bikes arrived. They are usually humpty-backed old men smelling of liniment and dubbin, and I hold in them in the same suspicious light I did that girl at school who had a boyfriend who was much, much older than her. I get the feeling that they have heard it all before and you would not be able to change their minds, either about saying hello in the lunch queue or trying tubeless tyres.
If it isn’t too psychologically hurtful, do please cast your mind back to all the shops that you have bought stuff from. The big ones with the big presence that everybody raved about but you got no satisfaction from, the homely shops that threw up surprises and pristine foam grips in a dusty box from a back room and the new one in town.
If I can tear myself away from the tortuous analogy of shops and girls I must pause to say I really like bike shops. There, I’ve said it. Rather than look on them as a necessary evil staffed by bloated capitalist pigs with BMWs and year round Mediterranean tans, I regard them as nice places where it is good to go. Better a bike shop than some faceless puppet of international commerce with their enforced cheeriness and faultless customer service.
Big chains, small multiples, independent stand-alone places, I like being in them all to be honest. I tend to follow the same routine when entering: go in: perform a fast lap to establish whether it is the sort of place where I want to spend my money, then a really slow lap looking at everything. I am not a lever-squeezer and I don’t like getting things off the shelves to pet, there’s always the chance I’ll drop something and have to buy it or it’s all tied together with previously invisible fishing line and with a clatter like a millionaire’s necklace I’ll be followed round the shop by seven different types of shifters. I do like cabinets tthough, halogen light on machined alloy, noses up against the glass, jumpers for goalposts. Once my pair of laps are done, it’s time to actually buy. Usually there was a vague need or convoluted reason why I went there in the first place. Something critical like new tyre levers or a slightly longer bottle cage bolt. Or I just make one up, a man can never have enough puncture kits. Then there are brake pads to be replenished and energy bars to consume while walking home with furtive gobbling like a bulimic with expensive tastes. So I’ve done my laps, wiped the nose-smudge off the big cabinet by the till, what now?
Fast forward a few months later, they know my name, and have ordered in a few bits for me, really high margin stuff that makes managers rub their hands together: things like obscure bolt-spacing chainrings, road bars made by mountain bike companies and freehub bodies for hubs that are older than most of the wine in my cellar (a 2004 Rosé and a cheeky 2001 Chilean Chardonnay if you’re interested). How dare the well-known fork importer and tuner ask “Does he have a beard” when I asked for some 1in steerer forks… Dragging myself back to the girl/shop parallel, I’m a normal man. While my hands do not wander, I will admit to owning a mildly wandering eye for a pretty bike shop, sure. It’s those big windows, they suck me in with their tales of huge discounts.
Once I was weak, I strayed. They had a warehouse sale. I had a spare Saturday morning. I queued in the hot, hot sun for hours, dehydrating myself quite efficiently while reveling in the very British notion of taking grim pleasure from queuing properly, damnit; trying not to gloat when others are asked ‘Have you been there for four hours too mate?’ Into the marquee in a field, sweat running and all thoughts of sensible shopping gone. Heaving with beady-eyed bargain hunters out for last season’s waterproof jacket and disc braked hybrids to fit a sub 5ft tall woman. It was too busy to do my slow/fast lap routine so I aimed for a corner, lingering near the road jerseys of long-disbanded continental road teams to get my bearings. Hanging on a wall was one of my dream frames, a carbon softtail. Dithering over the purchase I sent a text message to my ‘banker’. Waiting for the reply, and beginning to feel faint and seeing team-strip colour schemes that should only be seen at night, I meekly bought a few kilograms of energy drink powder in a flavour I knew I wouldn’t like, (but it my defence it was so jolly cheap), and headed off home. Six miles from the sofa, the text came back “Buy it. “
I think I shall hunt one down on eBay. The child doesn’t need shoes anyway.
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