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.



Mindfulness; The Soul of Cycling

I did a dumb thing.

The other day, after a week or so of hearing my bottom bracket creak every now and then, I rushed through repacking the bearings with grease. I didn’t take time to put the bike in the work stand. Instead I left the bike in the hanging storage stand. I didn’t clean the work area and gather all the tools and supplies. Instead I rushed through and tried to work in the clutter of the bike storage room–the room that at the end of the semester and in full on shoulder season has too many pairs of gloves, toe warmers, head coverings, etc. scattered around. I wasn’t mindful.

Olof P. Nelson and trainer
Olof P. Nelson and trainer

And because I wasn’t mindful, I botched the job in big and small ways. First the small. I didn’t take the time to make sure the grease gun had plenty of grease in it. As a result I probably didn’t get a full grease purge on my Chris King bottom bracket. And because I didn’t take the time to put the bike in the work stand and to make sure I had uncluttered workspace, I made a bigger mistake.


Because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing I made a big mistake: I forgot to install one of the plastic bushings or spacers required to run the Chris King BB86 bottom bracket with Shimano cranks. Yep. And I knew something was wrong when I put it all back together, but because I wasn’t mindful, I let it go. I let the strange free play and tightness of the bottom bracket go. I tried the quick fix of loosing it bit. It kind of worked. I was in a hurry. I had other things on my mind and was looking towards a goal rather than being in the moment.

Because I wasn’t mindful, my bottom bracket made a weird moaning noise at the start of the Sunday Hammers ride. And then if felt weird; tight and then eventually loose. Then if my pedal stroke was off, it felt loose.

Today, I took the time to investigate. I was more mindful. I made sure I had all the tools. I made sure the grease gun was refilled. And that’s when I noticed what I feared; I had forgotten to install on of the plastic sleeves. But because I had done the original job in a cluttered space and wasn’t mindful, I wasn’t sure if I could find the sleeve. Was it wrapped up in a rag that was in the trash sitting out on the curb? Was it lost somewhere on the floor? Luckily for me, the sleeve was on the floor. Hopefully, despite the odd metallic smell the good folks at Chris King over engineered the bearings to compensate for my lack of mindfulness. I put some fresh grease in the bearings. I reinstalled and adjusted everything, but then I was worried about the gritty feel. Was it the bearings? The chain?

Because this time I was being mindful I took the chain off. The gritty feel was the chain. I soaked it. Brushed it. And then, I stopped being mindful. The girlfriend came home. Rather than being mindful with her–of giving her the time she deserves, I tried to split my attention between her and the final step of rinsing the chain. The result? I poured the quick link down the drain. Panic. Luckily, she was more mindful than me and urged me to use the drain trap rather than panicking and going the bike shop.

So, mindfulness. Cycling is about mindfulness. As Padrig over at Red Kite Prayer wrote a few weeks ago, group riding, any riding is about different kinds of mindfulness. A few weeks ago on a Saturday ride, a newer rider went down. He had just come off the front. We had another new rider with us. We went over a bump which for all of old hands was a known thing. Someone slowed just enough. Wheels touched. And someone went down. It’s easy to blame the guy at the back. But I bet there was a lot of non-mindfulness to go around that morning. Sometimes it takes us focusing on the moment. Sometimes it takes someone else to remind us to focus on the moment. Sometimes the universe reminds us to be mindful.

Cycling demands mindfulness. Not suffering. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of our equipment. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the road, of the weather, of the traffic. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the others in the pack–mindful of the people we ride with. Cycling demands that we’re mindful of the traditions of the ride, of the group, and of the area. And that’s why I love cycling. Because in a world that pulls me out of mindfulness, cycling pulls me into mindfulness. Sometimes cycling does it through suffering. Sometimes cycling does it through a well functioning paceline. Sometimes it does it through the sublime sunrise, or the lifting fog, or the play of light through the trees. Sometimes it does it with the horrible sound of metal, carbon, and flesh hitting the pavement. Sometimes it does it with the smiles and looks of mutual gratitude at the end of a ride. No matter how it does it, cycling always reminds me of the importance of mindfulness.