The ONE thing to do when you walk into a bike shop

Cycling / Ideas & Advice

Over the many years I’ve spent working in bike shops, I’ve learned a lot about how to take care of my customers. That said, I’ve also learned a lot of things customers can do to ensure they get the best possible experience and walk out the door feeling good about their cycling gear purchase, whether it’s a $5 bike tube or a $5,000 road bike.

OK. So what is the ONE thing you should always do when you walk into a bike shop?

When the tech or owner asks what you’re looking for, tell them! 

I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to replying “I’m just looking”. It’s a good answer, but never 100% true. I am always on the lookout for something new, old, or irresistibly discounted! If your local bike shop is a good one, they handle things a little different than a typical retail store (like we do at EMS). You won’t be experiencing a hard sell approach. The employees in bike shops aren‘t on commission. They are making less than they would at any other sales position but do it because they love riding and talking about bikes as well as inspiring other people to ride more and drive less. Give them a few minutes to talk about what they know about riding. Let them ask some questions about your riding. Let your guard down a little and talk about your goals and even your fears. You may find a new riding buddy or at the very least, some helpful suggestions or advice for your next ride.

I’ll be the first to tell you that some bike techs and shop owners can be intimidating, whether they look like they came straight off the Tour de France or they came straight out of a gladiator movie. The bottom line is, EVERY bike shop wants a great relationship with its customers, and like any relationship, it’s a two-way street. If you want to be able to feel good every time you walk in AND out of your local bike shop, here are five other ideas to bring along on your next visit:

1) Don’t believe every article or review you read (good or bad) about new bikes, cycling accessories or bike components.

Whether it is online or in a magazine, take the advice with a grain of salt. If you do a Google search for a particular model or part, look at 3-4 of the results. One or two reports on an issue? No problem. A large number of online posts are written by self proclaimed experts that have spent little or no time on a wide enough range of products to have an informed opinion. Think of the guy who has only driven one brand of truck his whole life and insists that every other brand is junk. Reviews can be helpful, but if the reviewer is at a higher experience level or has a different riding style, a bike that doesn’t meet his/her off-the-charts standards may stil provide you with years of great performance while YOUR standards grow.

2) Don’t make your decision based on what kind of bike the salesperson rides

I get asked what kind of bike I ride a lot, and I always spend a few minutes qualifying my answer. I spend 80% of my trail riding on a rigid single speed mountain bike. No gears, no shocks. I have been riding them in all types of terrain and mountain bike races for the last 11 years. Is it the right choice for most of my customers? Hell no. A good bike shop experience will involve you getting interviewed for about 10-15 minutes. Where do you ride, how often, how fast, what are you riding now, etc. The goal is to find the bike that suits all of YOUR needs. You can ask the salesperson what they ride, but chances are it won’t help you out a lot in your final decision unless you have the same skills and plan to ride the same terrain.

3) Be honest about an online sale

Everybody wants a great deal and if you are up front with the shop, more often than not, they can help you out. Let them know that you saw this great piece of gear online for a great price. A good store will give you service and try to meet you part way or match the price.  When it comes to establishing a good relationship with a local bike shop, I can’t stress this enough: DO NOT USE THEM AS A FITTING ROOM FOR A COMPETITOR THAT DOESN’T SERVICE YOU. Remember- if you come into a shop looking for advice that you can’t get somewhere else, it should be worth something to you. Think of it as a small tip for the local guy.

4) Keep your “expert” in check

Most new bike shop customers bring an “expert” along with them the first time they shop for a bike. Sometimes it works great, but more often than not, the proces becomes about making the “expert” feel good when it should be all about the person buying the bike. A better approach is to ask your expert to recommend a shop or two. After you have visited the shops and chosen which one you want to buy from, leave the expert at home.  Let the bike tech do his/her job and help you narrow down the shop-full of road bike, mountain bike and hybrid bike options to a few choices you feel good about, and then run those choices by your friend and/or significant other. You’lll be amazed how much easier the process will be and how much better you’ll all feel about the buying experience.

5) Stay away from “JRA”

Every bike tech has a few choice stories from customers seeking service for their mangled bikes that start out with “I was just riding along…” We call this JRA and I beg you to never let the words leave your mouth.  It is very rare for modern bikes to break due to defects in material or workmanship. The majority of component or frame failures involves lack of maintenance or rider error. If you are up front with your shop they will be MUCH better equipped to fix your problem, help you avoid the situation in the future and get you back on your bike ASAP.

 If you follow this advice, you will develop a long and happy relationship with your local bike shop. One final tip–if you REALLY want to make your bike tech happy, bring them a coffee! All of the bike shop employees I hang out with LOVE coffee and doesn’t EVERY relationship need a little surprise gift out of nowhere every once in a while?

Jeff Juneau

Jeff is an avid cyclist who started his retail bicycle career 20 years ago after falling in love with trail riding. Racing mountain bikes soon followed along with countless miles on road bikes for training. Jeff is the Bicycle Technician at the Eastern Mountain Sports in Concord NH and is training for his first Ironman 70.3.