The Local Bike Shop; Not Dead Yet

The Local Bike Shop has taken a lot of heat over the past twenty years. Like anything run by people, opinions can run high. Folks, often in the same paceline, can have very different opinions about the LBS. And then there’s the rise of the Internet bike shop and the idea took hold that the LBS is ripping us off. And yeah, the LBS can have higher prices. And yeah the Internet shops can have lower prices on most stuff and can and does have amazing deals on some items–the loss leader to get you fill your shopping cart. And yeah, the LBS often makes you wait a few days or doesn’t have the exact thing you want. But the LBS is still worth something and if you have one near you, that’s a good thing.

And yeah, I’ve done a lot of clothing, bike part, and even bike shopping online. I own a Lynskey I bought online. I’m rolling around on some Gatorskins I bought online. I’m also riding a bike I bought at the LBS. I get it from both ends–saving money and having the convenience of the local. I’ve even worked in a shop so I get it.

The past two weeks has reminded me of the value of the LBS. First, while changing my handle bar tape I saw how corroded the shifter clamp bands were getting. My LBS (BG Bicycles in Houma) ordered me some titanium Dura Ace ones–I live in Louisiana and am that guy with the corrosive sweat. A few days latter he called to say they were in so I headed down. Only thing was only one of them came in, but Rod was willing to take one band off of a set Dura Ace shifters he had in stock while he waited for the other band to arrive from California. And he helped me figure out that the Dura Ace clamp bands will fit Ultegra shifters no matter what the service manual says. Cool. I’m on the road and have shifter clamp bands that won’t rust in the Louisiana heat and humidity (it was 80 degrees today).

Then over the weekend the front shifter died. Or just kinda died. The downshift paddle on my Di2 front shifter stopped returning to neutral and thus wouldn’t initiate a shift unless I manually pulled it back out. Bummer. Especially when you’re in a paceline at 24 mph in a 15 mph headwind blowing across sugar cane fields.

A quick trip to the LBS. Rod and dosed the shifter in T9, electrical contact cleaner, etc. And we tried taking it apart, but no deal. That was Saturday. Monday afternoon, Rod calls and texts to say Shimano was sending new shifters even though the old ones are 28 months old. He says come down, I’ve got some shifters in stock and we’ll put them on; I’ll put the warranty ones in the box when they get here. Tuesday afternoon, I’m putting on new shifters, borrowing a new junction box to make the firmware updates go faster (the external battery, 2 year old derailleurs and junction box didn’t respond to the new shifters without a firmware update). An hour and half later, I’m rolling out of the shop with new shifters hooked up to my old stuff–junction box included. Try that with shifters you order off the Internets (and not have to buy the Shimano interface).

Shimano Ultegra Di2 Shifter
Shimano Ultegra Di2 Shifter

I doubt any of that would have happened without a LBS. I doubt any of the Internet shops would have helped me warranty 28 month old Ultegra Di2 shifters–one half dead the other rattling like a box of rocks. I doubt any of the Internet shops would have helped me not panic when the new shifters seemed dead.

Sure I race for BG Bicycles–if you can even call what I do racing. Sure, I’m the faculty advisor for the local collegiate cycling club. Sure, I hang out a bit and help him around the shop–changing flats, doing quick tune ups, putting together a bike, etc. And sure, he doesn’t have everything I want. Sure he couldn’t sell me the Gatorskins for the price I bought them for because he couldn’t buy for that price, but that’s ok. I’m ok with paying a bit more for some stuff and for settling for something other than that exact thing I saw on the Internets or in the magazine. But really, is that exact handlebar tape, or that exact water bottle cage, etc. really all that important? I’m ok with him being cranky at times. I’m ok with him being an opinionated ass at other times–I’m cranky and opinionated too. I’m ok with all that because, when I need a tool, or I need to use his stand, or need a repair done, or just need a part and I’m not sure what part, or need something warrantied, Rod is there. And when I want to just hang out and talk about bikes with other bike geeks on a rainy day, Rod’s shop is there. There’s a LBS down the street from him too. And that’s a good thing because sometimes, it’s good to know that there’s a person there. A person who will let you plug your new Di2 shifters into his computer and update the firmware. A person who will open his shop for the club to use as a try on station for that clothing order.

And I’m ok with buying some stuff online, and he’s more or less ok with me showing up with Gatorskin tires he knows he didn’t sell me.

So yeah, the LBS might be dead. But if you’ve got an even just ok LBS, spend some money there. Put your ego aside. They’re people too and have bad days. They’re not perfect, but neither are you. And neither are the Internet shops.



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