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  1. #1
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    how to go bike shopping and judge a bike shop?

    back in the summer, i got a $200.00 bike from target. scoff at the source and the price as you may, i really like the bike and its gotten me to bike commuting 60 miles or so per week plus going on joy rides. Now I want to upgrade to a road bike, maybe in the touring style or maybe not - for less than $1,000.00. I'm getting serious about the situation, and here's what I'm going to do:

    Take the day off and ride my bike around Philadelphia, hitting as many bike shops as possible. I'm open minded: steel, aluminum, name brand, budget brand, new, and used will all be considered. I'm going to take notes on what's being offered - and also what I think of the shops themselves. Then I'll post my findings. So, here's my questions:

    1) any tips on how to get the most of this endeavor?

    2) any idea on how to fairly assess a bike shop experience? can you think of any sales or service type of question that ought to be answered such that a fudging or "you've got to bring it in" (for the service aspect) is an indication they're treating me as a mark and not a potential valued customer?

    thanks!

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    Some tactics I have used (for bike shops and other types of stores) include:
    1) Come in with some questions I know the "answer" to, or or what type of response or follow up questions I would expect a good sales person to come back with. If they don't respond well to that questions that is a red flag.
    2) Start giving them SOME of the information, but not all. Ideally leave out something you know they should ask about to see if they do.
    3) If you express a preference for something see if they take it into consideration or if they just steer you to something else without a good explanation.

    Make sure to think about your riding, what is important to you (comfort vs speed, etc). The more info you can offer the more they can tailor to your needs.

    Also ask about what type of service is included with the bike. Some shops offer 1 tune up, some a year, some for life. If they say "Adjustments for life" make sure to ask some more questions about what is included for free and what they will charge you for to avoid surprises down the line.



    I used these tactics to weed out some LBSs. Some of them didn't listen to my needs carefully, didn't ask the right questions, and just tried to through me on a bike in my budget for a quick sale, or tried to push me up to a more expensive bike ignoring my budget, needs, etc.

    Asking about if you should pay more for X, different component set, etc. and the advantages for you is also a good way to see if they are trying to meet your needs and budget or just sell the most expensive bike they can. Some bike shops tried to steer me to spend more then I wanted for things where others actually offered me less expensive options in some cases or went through advantages/disadvantages of upgrades/downgrades.

  3. #3
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    Most shops don't make that much on the bike itself. The greatest markup is accessories and service. See what they will throw in with the purchase when you have your choices narrowed. Test ride lots of bikes. See if they offer fitting services for free or reduced cost. See how they assess your needs. Look for previous year's models and negotiate a lower price if you find something good.

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    Skip the LBS research and get the TR1 touring bike from Nashbar. Hurry though, today is the last day for the extra 20% discount!

    *Join a Co-op and learn how to do your own wrenching.
    Last edited by WestPablo; 11-11-13 at 06:08 PM.

  5. #5
    tsl
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    It's really a judgement of character.

    Yes, facts and product knowledge are important, but what sets anyone apart--be they an LBS, boy/girl friend, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker--is their character.

    So listen less to what they say and more to the way it's said. That reveals their underlying character.

    Personally, I'd rather deal with someone who sometimes says, "Jeeze, I'm not sure. Lemme check." than with a pompous know-it-all--who doesn't.
    My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything.
    The perfect day: Riding a bike to the library.—Peter Golkin


    Lucky for me, I work at a library and bike to work.

  6. #6
    Senior Member FenderTL5's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tsl View Post
    It's really a judgement of character.

    Yes, facts and product knowledge are important, but what sets anyone apart--be they an LBS, boy/girl friend, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker--is their character.

    So listen less to what they say and more to the way it's said. That reveals their underlying character.

    Personally, I'd rather deal with someone who sometimes says, "Jeeze, I'm not sure. Lemme check." than with a pompous know-it-all--who doesn't.
    Agree.

    There's also the personality of individuals and yes the shop itself. I'm a Phred commuter. I'm (still) looking for a shop that understands commuter needs as opposed to catering.. almost exclusively, to the weekend kit riders. There/s nothing wrong with the later, it's just not me. I don't go out riding on Saturdays unless I'm running errands or testing/working on my bike. I do ride 25~ miles a day, every M-F to/from work.
    The latest, $10k carbon frame design doesn't really interest that much - whereas a new rack, pannier, light, or commuter bike would.
    Again, nothing wrong with any - I just want to find the shop that understands what I'm about.
    Nashville, like L.A. without a tan.

  7. #7
    Senior Member CommuteCommando's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WestPablo View Post
    Skip the LBS research and get the TR1 touring bike from Nashbar. Hurry though, today is the last day for the extra 20% discount!

    *Join a Co-op and learn how to do your own wrenching.
    Bikes on the internet are fine if you are somewhat of a gear head. If not, LBS can still be a good resource. To the OP, you started out right by going to them on your Target bike. Their reaction to it is a good indicator. I am sure all of them will tell you it is a cheap bike. Their willingness to help you with it in a non-condescending way is one factor I would use to judge. This is harder at the big chains like Performance, where every one is reading off a script. (You walk in the door and every one greats you with "Hi, how are you today! <GBFS) I am now gearhead litterate enough to go to the internet for a bike but still go to the LBS where the owner helped me get that way.
    Freedom is free. It's included in democracy. Democracy is hard. It involves dealing rationally with people you disagree with.

  8. #8
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Personally, I'd rather deal with someone who sometimes says, "Jeeze, I'm not sure. Lemme check."
    than with a pompous know-it-all--who doesn't.
    I'm In Agreement on this , and I've worked in various LBS, over the decades .. even in the same shop
    the personalities of various employees differ ..

  9. #9
    Fat Guy on a Little Bike KonAaron Snake's Avatar
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    I happen to live in Philadelphia and can tell you pretty much whatever you need to know about the local shops...

    The thing to understand here is that a shop's value isn't that connected to its bikes, especially now in the age of bikesdirect and the internet. A shop's value is in its repairs, service and advice...it's in the relationships.

    I usually buy used - because you can get a lot more bike for the bike. $1,000 on the used market gets you a bike of higher quality...but you do need to know a bit about bikes, and how to work on them, to effectively use that strategy.

    $1000 won't get you a Taiwanese, tig welded, complete Surly with decent parts. $1,000 used can put you on a pretty high end tourer with better parts (and it holds its value).

    As far as what bike is best - it really depends on how you want to use it...do you want to go fast? Carry lots of stuff and be comfortable? Somewhere in between? Somewhere in between is best for a lot of riders - bringing you to sports tourers (and even cyclocross) bikes. If you don't know what you want, you aren't ready to buy.

  10. #10
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    In my opinion, the greatest value of the bike shop is the advice which they dispense free of charge. If it were me, I'd go to each shop and talk to them, tell them what your commute is like, and what your budget is like and ask them what you should be looking for in a bike. See if what you get back makes sense to you. Choose the bike shop where you feel comfortable and you want to hang out in.

    I would second KonAron S's suggestion to look for a used bike - but one of the most important things about any bike is fit, and that is sometimes hard to judge when looking at used bikes unless you have ridden a fair number of different bikes. Also consider finding a used bike with half of your budget, and then bringing it in to your local bike shop and having them overhaul it, and replace/add whatever needs to be done. Spending $500 on a used bike and another $500 on parts/service will get you far more than $1000 spent on a new bike.

  11. #11
    7-speed doomsday prepper ThermionicScott's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by partykingwes View Post
    back in the summer, i got a $200.00 bike from target. scoff at the source and the price as you may, i really like the bike and its gotten me to bike commuting 60 miles or so per week plus going on joy rides. Now I want to upgrade to a road bike, maybe in the touring style or maybe not - for less than $1,000.00. I'm getting serious about the situation, and...
    No judgment here! A $189 Target mountain bike got me back on the horse 6 years ago.
    Quote Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
    There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
    RUSA #7498

  12. #12
    Senior Member GeneO's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alan s View Post
    Most shops don't make that much on the bike itself. The greatest markup is accessories and service. See what they will throw in with the purchase when you have your choices narrowed. Test ride lots of bikes. See if they offer fitting services for free or reduced cost. See how they assess your needs. Look for previous year's models and negotiate a lower price if you find something good.
    Huh? I think it is almost double what it cost them for the bike.
    2012 Felt F55X

  13. #13
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    I like the ones that paid me about what it cost to live , never found those jobs,

    Health insurance premiums these days exceeds take home pay just a few years ago.



    Noted Co workers in College towns, usually the spouse makes up the difference ..
    the Tenured professorship helps .


    Bike cost is 60% of Retail , 30% pays wages and overhead..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 11-15-13 at 08:18 PM.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneO View Post
    Huh? I think it is almost double what it cost them for the bike.
    I haven't worked in an LBS for 20 years, but at that time it was pretty well established that the wholesale price for most bikes was 65% of the suggested retail price, and that's not counting freight charges. Shops that ordered more bikes got discounts, shops that ordered single bikes got socked with higher freight charges (per unit, anyway). Shops that took the time to build bikes carefully (improving the machine-built wheels, adjusting bearings, pre-stretching cables, etc.) would spend a good portion of the theoretical 35% margin assembling the bike (more than shops that had their installers race to see who could slap bikes together the fastest), and then the sales staff would eat up more of that in hourly wages helping the customer. So, yeah, alan s is right, shops make very little money on typical bike sales.

    Selling an item at double the wholesale cost is called "keystoning." Bike shops dream of being able to keystone bikes. In reality, the more expensive (or common) the item, the lower the percentage margin. Shops are likely working on better than a 50%/keystone margin for stuff like bare brake cables, but bikes? No way.

    My 2c for the OP's questions: the most important aspect of a bike shop is their mechanical aptitude and dedication. If you're not technically inclined, you need a shop that will make sure the bike is good before it leaves their shop. Advice is nice, good attitude is appreciated, but the baseline here is the quality of what they give you, and the IMO the biggest variable in bike quality rests with the LBS, not the bike manufacturer. You need local opinions about specific local shops, preferably by people like you. (I.E., it doesn't matter what the local Cat 2 racers think if you're looking for something more retrogrouch like the hipster steel that Rivendell sells. You don't want an LBS that sees you as the freak that buys bikes they'd never, ever put in the window -- whether you end up buying a retrogrouch CrMo pig like I ride or a sleek, comfy carbon fiber sprinting dream machine. You want the LBS that's very familiar with the bike you choose -- not a roadie shop that doesn't know how to set up your canti brakes well, nor some steel-is-real enclave where the mechanics have no clue how to treat your ultralight racing bike's carbon fiber bars & seatposts.)

  15. #15
    Senior Member GeneO's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peterw_diy View Post
    I haven't worked in an LBS for 20 years, but at that time it was pretty well established that the wholesale price for most bikes was 65% of the suggested retail price, and that's not counting freight charges. Shops that ordered more bikes got discounts, shops that ordered single bikes got socked with higher freight charges (per unit, anyway). Shops that took the time to build bikes carefully (improving the machine-built wheels, adjusting bearings, pre-stretching cables, etc.) would spend a good portion of the theoretical 35% margin assembling the bike (more than shops that had their installers race to see who could slap bikes together the fastest), and then the sales staff would eat up more of that in hourly wages helping the customer. So, yeah, alan s is right, shops make very little money on typical bike sales.

    Selling an item at double the wholesale cost is called "keystoning." Bike shops dream of being able to keystone bikes. In reality, the more expensive (or common) the item, the lower the percentage margin. Shops are likely working on better than a 50%/keystone margin for stuff like bare brake cables, but bikes? No way.

    My 2c for the OP's questions: the most important aspect of a bike shop is their mechanical aptitude and dedication. If you're not technically inclined, you need a shop that will make sure the bike is good before it leaves their shop. Advice is nice, good attitude is appreciated, but the baseline here is the quality of what they give you, and the IMO the biggest variable in bike quality rests with the LBS, not the bike manufacturer. You need local opinions about specific local shops, preferably by people like you. (I.E., it doesn't matter what the local Cat 2 racers think if you're looking for something more retrogrouch like the hipster steel that Rivendell sells. You don't want an LBS that sees you as the freak that buys bikes they'd never, ever put in the window -- whether you end up buying a retrogrouch CrMo pig like I ride or a sleek, comfy carbon fiber sprinting dream machine. You want the LBS that's very familiar with the bike you choose -- not a roadie shop that doesn't know how to set up your canti brakes well, nor some steel-is-real enclave where the mechanics have no clue how to treat your ultralight racing bike's carbon fiber bars & seatposts.)
    IDK. I know a person working in a well established shop that could get me a bike at about 1/2 the cost, and their normal prices were pretty standard.
    2012 Felt F55X

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by KonAaron Snake View Post
    I happen to live in Philadelphia and can tell you pretty much whatever you need to know about the local shops...

    The thing to understand here is that a shop's value isn't that connected to its bikes, especially now in the age of bikesdirect and the internet. A shop's value is in its repairs, service and advice...it's in the relationships.

    I usually buy used - because you can get a lot more bike for the bike. $1,000 on the used market gets you a bike of higher quality...but you do need to know a bit about bikes, and how to work on them, to effectively use that strategy.

    $1000 won't get you a Taiwanese, tig welded, complete Surly with decent parts. $1,000 used can put you on a pretty high end tourer with better parts (and it holds its value).

    As far as what bike is best - it really depends on how you want to use it...do you want to go fast? Carry lots of stuff and be comfortable? Somewhere in between? Somewhere in between is best for a lot of riders - bringing you to sports tourers (and even cyclocross) bikes. If you don't know what you want, you aren't ready to buy.
    I think this is your most relevant advice here - the key decisions are what do you want the bicycle and the bike shop to do. Once you know this, it will help you evaluate the bike shop (and potential bikes).

    From your description of your target bicycle, it sounds like your riding so far has been commuting. Do you want (i) a nicer commuter, or do you want (ii) to keep the Target bike as cheap transportation in the city (fine idea) and get the more expensive bike for longer joy rides?

    You'd choose different shops and bicycles for (i) vs. (ii). Similarly if you want the shop to service a bike you buy used, vs. selling you a new bike you service yourself (both popular choices)
    It's been a while since I lived in Philadelphia, so I'd suggest relying on Aaron for current information.

  17. #17
    Fat Guy on a Little Bike KonAaron Snake's Avatar
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    Thanks - and I'd be happy to help. I've been riding for a long time and in a variety of strata. I've owned a LOT of bikes...I know the shops, I know the mechanics and I know what stuff works in Philly.

    I also think Peter's post is very on point - I don't take my three seat Schwinn to the same shop as I take my latest/greatest campy road machine. That said, Philly has had a vibrant cycling scene for a long time and we have a couple of mechanics who have seen/done it all and can work on anything. There are a few I consider particularly gifted. There are also a few I consider particularly incompetent.
    Last edited by KonAaron Snake; 11-16-13 at 04:52 AM.

  18. #18
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    Every individual is unique and different riders have different priorities, so you will have to look at the shop and judge by what is most important to you. But certain basics such as honesty and proficiency may have already established a reputation good or bad for a particular LBS. Start a thread here asking for assessments of shops in a certain area, if multiple people give a good (or bad) report about certain shops, that is valuable information.
    Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que l' esprits prepares. Louis Pasteur

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneO View Post
    IDK. I know a person working in a well established shop that could get me a bike at about 1/2 the cost, and their normal prices were pretty standard.
    Back in the day, most bike & many gear manufacturers offered special wholesale "employee discounts". For bikes, this would mean the shop paying the manufacturer significantly less than the standard 65% of MSRP. (I recall the Yakima and Blackburn discounts were really nice.) Some LBSes were very generous and would let employees just pay whatever the employee cost was; others would mark up from the employee cost so the employee would pay less than MSRP but the shop wouldn't lose money by dealing with the extra paperwork. I think it's likely the person you know works at a relatively generous shop. Or maybe you're looking at some boutique brands that shops can actually keystone. I never saw anything like that, but then my LBS didn't do high-end business. But I really, really doubt that dealers are keystoning conventional brands like Trek, Giant, Specialized, etc.

    Another tip (I think someone else mentioned this?) -- buy last year's model in months like this when fewer people want to be out cycling. If the bike manufacturers have any 2013 still in their warehouses, then they're likely offering discounts on those to their dealers -- this is the other way that I saw LBSes paying less than half of MSRP, by buying bikes at end-of-season warehouse clearance prices. Of course selection is probably very spotty for thee bikes.

  20. #20
    Senior Member chriskmurray's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peterw_diy View Post
    I haven't worked in an LBS for 20 years, but at that time it was pretty well established that the wholesale price for most bikes was 65% of the suggested retail price, and that's not counting freight charges. Shops that ordered more bikes got discounts, shops that ordered single bikes got socked with higher freight charges (per unit, anyway). Shops that took the time to build bikes carefully (improving the machine-built wheels, adjusting bearings, pre-stretching cables, etc.) would spend a good portion of the theoretical 35% margin assembling the bike (more than shops that had their installers race to see who could slap bikes together the fastest), and then the sales staff would eat up more of that in hourly wages helping the customer. So, yeah, alan s is right, shops make very little money on typical bike sales.

    Selling an item at double the wholesale cost is called "keystoning." Bike shops dream of being able to keystone bikes. In reality, the more expensive (or common) the item, the lower the percentage margin. Shops are likely working on better than a 50%/keystone margin for stuff like bare brake cables, but bikes? No way.

    My 2c for the OP's questions: the most important aspect of a bike shop is their mechanical aptitude and dedication. If you're not technically inclined, you need a shop that will make sure the bike is good before it leaves their shop. Advice is nice, good attitude is appreciated, but the baseline here is the quality of what they give you, and the IMO the biggest variable in bike quality rests with the LBS, not the bike manufacturer. You need local opinions about specific local shops, preferably by people like you. (I.E., it doesn't matter what the local Cat 2 racers think if you're looking for something more retrogrouch like the hipster steel that Rivendell sells. You don't want an LBS that sees you as the freak that buys bikes they'd never, ever put in the window -- whether you end up buying a retrogrouch CrMo pig like I ride or a sleek, comfy carbon fiber sprinting dream machine. You want the LBS that's very familiar with the bike you choose -- not a roadie shop that doesn't know how to set up your canti brakes well, nor some steel-is-real enclave where the mechanics have no clue how to treat your ultralight racing bike's carbon fiber bars & seatposts.)
    This

    I have worked at both a Giant/Felt/Haro/Yeti/Santa Cruz dealership and another shop that really only sold Specialized and I don't think I have ever seen any of them at Keystone. If you account for things like you mentioned above, time assembling, selling, servicing, fitting that new bike, most shops make very little off of new bike sales.

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