Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Okay, so I'm not a "bike guy." I know this, I'm okay with it. Why then, does going to a bike shop always make me feel like a second class citizen? I've been to two shops in two days looking for the last components, tools, etc. for my bike. Here's how it went.

Bike Shop#1: I went here to get my front rim trued, and to pick up new brake cables, bearing grease, cable cutters, tires, and tubes. I walk in the door with my front rim in my hand. Two employees look at me, turn away, and go back to what they were doing. I was less than five feet from both of them. I lingered near the front, near one side of the counter, trying to catch somebody's eye. When someone finally greeted me, I asked if they could true my rim, and asked about the other items on my list. All they had was the tubes, tires, and cables, and I was told to leave my rim until the next day. Fine. I'm told to call ahead to remind the guy to do the job, however, so that it's done by the end of the day. What? Why should I have to call to remind them to do their job? I'm irritated, but leave the rim anyway to pick up today.

Bike Shop #2: I went here to get the grease and cable cutters. Big bike shop, known throughout the city as one of the best. I didn't bother to call ahead, I was sure they would have what I needed. I walk in, the guy at the counter is on the phone. He asks if he can help me. Actually, he looks at me with the phone cradled on his shoulder and says, "Yeah?". Is he talking to me, or to the phone? It's me. "Do you have bearing grease or cable cutters?" I ask. "Nope, sorry," he says. I'm a little shocked. "Okay, do you know a place that does?" I ask. "No." Then the phone conversation starts again. I go home, get online, and find at least three places in town that seem to carry the stuff I need. Why didn't Phone Guy tell me about them? He didn't even think about it, or offer to look it up for me. I guess if I don't want to drop $500 on a new fixed-gear, I'm not a very valuable customer.

Gah. This is why ordinary people who want to do their own work on their ordinary bikes are put off and intimidated by bike shops and bike people, and honestly I think contributes to why we don't see more people on bikes. It's just assumed that there's this cult of bike knowledge and you have to be initiated to even get noticed when you walk into a bike shop (again, unless you're willing to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on some high-end bike that you don't have the first clue about how to maintain). Democratize knowledge, democratize access, and people who feel left out will begin to participate.

Maybe I should go look at my stencils some more. That'll make me happy.


  1. Hey Thom,

    I totally agree. I'm never comfortable going in to a bike shop to get something i'm not absolutely sure about, even though I'm a good cyclist and know a reasonable amount about them. I have 2 bikes, one is a lovely little racer and one is an old bike I use to commute which won't be stolen. If i go in with the racer I get a due amount of respect. If i go in the same place with the commuting tank bike noone even looks at me and if i am getting nice accessories or anything they sneer like "why would you bother for that heap of ****, are you even going to be able to put them on properly little girl?". Grrr.

    I'm just starting to fix up a 1920s mystery english bike. (still haven't figured out exactly what it is). Your blog is brilliant! I've been cycling for years and am totally comfortable with most repairs except brakes, at which i suck. I've never tried much else though and have certainly never taken a bike apart. I really want to have a go at it though so I've been reading this from the beginning - congradulations! I can't wait to see how the bike turns out in the next few posts!


  2. Hi Margaret,

    Thanks for the nice comment. Be warned that my experiences taking apart *this* old bike should not be taken as an indication that *every* old bike is as easy. My Peugeot, for example, is proving a bit fussier. Hey, send me photos of your "mystery bike" project and I'll post them. I'd love to have you write a post or two about what you're doing with it. Obviously, money is no object (since I don't have any to pay you).