Thursday, December 14, 2006

The tentative utlity cyclist gift guide: Where to buy

In response to my Nashbar-centric rack and pannier recommendation, Jim pointed out that you're more likely to talk to living person and maybe even the owner of the joint when you call a smaller outfit. And he's right. If I had remained on hold with Nashbar to learn the fate of the LDT rack, how much information could the operator have provided? Would he or she be able to talk knowingly about factory retooling in Guangdong Province or whatever it is that's disrupted the supply chain? Probably not.

In my defense, I aimed to provide suggestions that would get folks into utility cycling on the cheap. Nevertheless, I understand the arguments against spending money at a big national mail order house. If you are fond of your community and wish it to prosper, it makes sense to trade at a locally-owned bike shop. Your dollars will hang around instead of splitting town. Plus, this late in the holiday shopping game, it's probably easier to walk into a brick and mortar store instead of praying that the UPS delivery bicycle will pull up in front of the house with your gifts by Friday.

Unfortunately, at many local shops, bicycles are regarded as toys, exercise equipment or sporting goods — not vehicles. It's the nature of the business, I'm told. The real profit is in expensive bicycles with polonium frames, 802.11g wireless derailleurs and tires no wider than a human hair. While they must be good for something, these light, fast and expensive machines make lousy utility cycles. A dealer whose bottom line depends on moving high dollar machines isn't going to devote much floorspace to utility cycling accessories. If a customer drops $2,000 on a bicycle, better to have a boxes of $400 cycling shoes nearby rather than $20 panniers.

I'm lucky that the folks at my LBS understand that I use my bikes to haul groceries and commute to work. If you're not so lucky and can't spend your money at home, consider sending it to Minneapolis or West Newton.


Jim said...

Thanks for the plug. It may (or may not) interest you to know that I sometimes buy inventory for resale from one of the big discount mail-order operations. They tend to get a lot of discontinued or otherwise underappreciated merchandise (most things I like are underappreciated or get discontinued) and sell it for a bargain price. I generally wait for a "sale" (there's one almost weekly) and/or a 20% coupon, and go nuts. Often, I can then mark the product up to its original MSRP and still make a decent profit. It is really amazing that I can sometimes beat the wholesale price by buying from Nashbar. OTOH, sometimes their advertised discounts are not really discounts. I tell all my Nashbar-inclined customers to check with me first. Often I can match/beat their price while still making a reasonable margin. Right now, I can beat Nashbar by a huge amount on 105 front derailleurs, LX rear derailleurs, and SRAM PC-991 chains.

Jack said...

Here are some other reasons to shop at a local bike shop:

1. The clerk/owner may suggest a superior alternative to the product you're looking for. That won't happen with a catalog.

2. The clerk/owner may offer you a used product that can save you big bucks. I had this happen with a set of handlebars. Instead of spending $39, I spent $10 for the same thing. Wow!

3. The clerk/owner often enjoys discussing the minutia of bicycling and can offer you tips on repairing and adjusting your bike.

4. The money stays local, which is important for someone like myself who owns a business and depends upon local businesses to pay the bills.

5. Visiting the local bike store gives you an opportunity to drool over all the fancy new bikes.

Evan said...

I agree with the concept of shopping local and not just for bikes, but I've found that very few bike shops in my area carry even the most basic commuting supplies. How crazy is it to have a bike shop and not have one rack? Instead we've got rows and rows of carbon fiber goodies.

John said...

Seeing the store front of Star Bike Shop really brings back some memories. I recall mowing lawns and saving my allowance to buy a "new" (gently used) bike from Star. I've been back a few more times to buy larger bikes as I grew, even in college I bought my last bike. I live in Atlanta now and I've called them with bicycle questions that they were more than helpful with.