Hipsters are scary. Hipsters with beards are scarier. Hipsters in a bike shop are the scariest. But they shouldn’t be.
Have you ever walked into a bike shop and been made to feel like a complete plebe for not understanding the nuanced inner workings of a highly sophisticated machine? Me too. It’s very annoying.
Let’s consider for a moment the treatment of our other most common means of transport: the car. Have you ever taken your car into the mechanic and felt insecure for not being able to diagnose and solve your own problem? Hell no! They take you in, console you for your awful luck, offer you some coffee, and relieve you of a few hundred dollars. And somehow we see this all as justified. Because those mechanics understand that what they do is a highly skilled labor.
But the thing that many riders don’t realize is that not all bike shops are created equal. Just like you wouldn’t trust your Maserati to Jiffy Lube, the degree of prowess varies across bike shops. Most people riding bikes worth several thousand dollars don’t trust them to just anyone.
In America, 45% of bike shops identify as “Maintenance and Service Shops.” These are the ones run by mechanics (hipsters), and they tend to cater to a higher level of clientele, who are riding more expensive rigs, expect better service and are willing to pay for it.
But for the rest of us, we don’t need that sort of thing. For utilitarian bike riders who need to get from A to B comfortably and effectively or recreational riders who enjoy weekend rides that don’t include the threat of a bonk, we need to be able to get our bikes serviced, without condescension.
So I give you my reader’s guide to finding the right bike shop, and evading hipsters looking down their mustaches at you:
First thing’s first, You have to choose the right shop. And it won’t necessarily just be the one closest to you. The best shops are the ones that are brightly lit, stocked with lots of bikes, and well-staffed. Here are things to look for:
1. Someone greets you quickly after you walk in. If you go inside, and are left standing there, limply holding your bike praying for help, just leave, and go find help elsewhere.
2. The shop is well stocked with plenty of bikes of different varieties (road, mountain, commuter, etc.). A shop that doesn’t carry much inventory is likely to be one of those “service shops.” Which means it will likely be more expensive.
3. The shop is well lit. Every store in the world should heed this advice. How can you expect someone to work on your bike if they don’t have adequate lighting.
Make sure the mechanics treat you with respect. This is much more difficult to find and goes way bey0nd just talking to them. Some easy questions to ask that will help you decide:
1. Do you feel like you’re being judged? They are mechanics, it is their job to know more than you. If they need to make you feel dumb for needing help, they misunderstand the purpose of a mechanic. If you feel judged, move on.
2. Are they patient with you in diagnosing the problem?
3. How long is the turnaround? The best bike shops have 48-hour guarantees. Granted these are the best, but you should not have to wait more than a few days to get your bike back.
4. When you pick your bike up, do they go over what went wrong, and how to prevent it in the future? This one is the most important. You don’t want to have to come back in a few weeks with the same issue. Make sure they tell you what you need to know to take care of your bike better in the future.
Price matters. Ask your mechanic how much it will cost before you leave your bike with them. They may not be able to give you an exact amount, but they should give you a pretty good idea. Instruct them to call you before doing anything that will drive the cost up. Nothing is more maddening than picking your bike up and being told that they discovered five other problems that they went ahead and solved for an extra $200 without asking.
The dirty little secret: Bike Co-ops. Have you ever heard of a bike co-op? They are one of the greatest kept secrets in the bike world, except that unlike most others, the fact that they’re a secret sucks and really just costs you money.
A bike co-op is a place that offers (mostly used) parts and bikes at highly discounted rates and allows you to learn how to work on your bike yourself. They usually offer classes that will teach you how to wrench your own ride. They’ll have tools and maintenance supplies, and usually, a staff that is willing to give you some advice (although they won’t fix your bike for you, the entire concept of a bike co-op is that you learn how to do things yourself).
Co-ops are places for you to learn, and they are way less expensive than most retail shops. You will benefit by understanding how your bike works (as only a mechanic can), and you will be able to better discern what you are looking for when it comes time for a professional mechanic.
Be discerning with your bike. You rely on it, and you shouldn’t just leave it with anyone. Find a shop that meets your needs and budget, and if nothing else, a place where you can go to pick up parts etc. to work on it yourself.