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From the book: “The Bike Shop” by Sam Braxton with Gary MacFadden
Reprinted with permission from:

Chapter 11:

A Final Note: Choosing A Shop You Can Live With

I received this letter from a member in Connecticut.

Sam:

You’ve answered a good many of my cycling questions… to a point! My question is, where do I purchase [these items] and who do I get to assemble all of the above? I’ve written to several supply houses; kids run them, don’t know what you’re talking about, send credit slips backs two months after the order was placed, and send wrong data. My dilemma: In all of Connecticut, the bike stores habe a kid working in the back room and a manager up front who’s only interest in bikes is limited to department store quick sale models.

I’m in total sympathy with this member. He’s got a legimate complaint concerning the quality of a lot of bike shop service. At the same time, I find it difficult to believe that there are no qualified shops in Connecticut or all of New England who have the materials he wants or the personnel with the skill to assemble them. Check with fellow cyclists – find out what shops they’ve had luck with.

Every shop, including ours, has weak points. Untrained personnel answering and putting together equipment appears to be a widespread problem (we’re just dealing with kid’s toys, right?) Lots of shops hire highschool kids, especially for the spring & summer rush, and turn them loose on customers. You just about can’t get away with that, simply because the mechanics of the bicycle are getting so complicated now that you’ve got to have an exteneded knowledge, stretching over a period of years, to be able to answer a lot of the questions that come up in the business.

It’s all right to have untrained help, if the shop owner makes sure the new kid isn’t doing any major troubleshooting and compatibility stuff that might get some cyclist in trouble down the road.

Every summer we see between 500 and 1,000 cyclists come though Missoula (during the 1976 inaugural tours of Bikecentennial, we had about 2,000 cyclists though here; boy, what a learning experience that was!). Though all of this, I’ve formulated some pretty hard and fast ideas about how touring bikes and components should be stuck together.

Now, I believe that a lot of bicycle shops around the country are doing the best job they know how. And, personally, I think some of their decisions are based on mis-information, but I can’t fault them for it. Lot’s of shop owner’s just haven’t had the opportunity that we’ve had here in Missoula to see and talk to lots of bicycle tourists, to see exactly what their problems are, and what solves those problems.

My hope is that, as bicycling becomes more popular, we will see a greater number of skilld, well-trained bicycle mechanics. Perhaps we’ll soon see courses on bicycle mechanics being taught at universities and voc-tech schools around the country. This will do a lot to upgrade bicycle shop mechanic status to that of an adult professional making his living.

That’s a key point in the relationship between the cycling consumer and the shop owner. You have to find a shop yjay will ask this basic question: “What are you going to use this bike (or this wheel, or component) for?” If a customer comes into the shop and says he wants the light frame, the lightest wheel and drilled out components, I can’t assume that he will be using that bicycle for time trialing or criteriums. He might be thinking that he needs a nice, light bicycle for cross-country touring, in which case he may be in for some nasty surprises when those one-inch rims start buckling on the second day of the trip.

Once the bicycle shop personnel know the intended use for the bike, they should make recommendations for several models that would fit those needs. But, it is finally up to you, the customer, to make the choice and purchase the right frame, component, or whatever. If you want to use lightweight, inch-wide rims for touringm and don’t mind putting up with 20 punctures in a 500-mile trip just to gain a putiful decrease in rolling resistance, fine. That’s up to you. My responsibility ends with telling tiy that that’s what is going to happen.

Note from ABR: A good shop will adhere to high standards such as ours.

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