A visit to the bike shop

A visit to the bike shop - about as painful as a trip to the dentist?

A visit to the bike shop – as painful as a trip to the dentist?

There aren’t many things I know how to fix on my bike, but replacing worn brake pads is one of them. Mine had gone well beyond the point I should have done something about them – I wasn’t so much stopping as gliding to a gentle halt – so replacing them had become a matter of some urgency.

But before I could replace the old ones, I needed to buy new ones. Cue a visit to my friendly local bike shop.

Not so long ago, this would have filled me with terror. Even though I knew exactly what I was looking for – two sets of V-brake pads, please – the moment I walked in to a bike shop all confidence would disappear.

There would be all these blokes with expensive road bikes, and a swarm of shop staff dancing attendance upon them. There never seemed to be anyone who wasn’t busy, whom I could make my request to. I would stand there, foolishly, waiting for someone to acknowledge me. If I did ever try to get the attention of one of the staff, invariably they would tell me I should speak to someone else.

When I did finally get served, any certainty about what I had come in to buy had usually deserted me.

“Ummm…I need some brake pads, please.”

“And what sort of brake pads do you need?” This was often asked in the kind of tone usually reserved for questions such as, is mummy or daddy home?

“Err…umm…err…they’re for a hybrid. Whatever the usual brake pads are.”

And so it would go. I’d get the brake pads I needed, but at the cost of my self-confidence, which was usually in tatters by the time I left the shop.

So, on this occasion, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was looking forward to a visit to my friendly local bike shop about as much as a trip to the dentist.

Not so. I went in. I asked for my brake pads. I even managed to ask for the right ones. I handed over the cash. I went home happy.

So what changed?

Since I stopped commuting through the centre of London, I no longer have the wide choice of bike shops I used to. In fact, there’s only one bike shop that’s both on my route and open when I go past it.

This particular bike shop, despite being part of a national chain (hint: they won best retailer at the London Cycling Campaign awards earlier this year) genuinely has the feel of a local bike shop. Its small size helps, as does the location, in West Hampstead. But the biggest thing that makes a difference is the attitude of the staff.

Earlier this year, I needed to buy a new tyre. My back tyre was starting to wear thin and, with both the Nightrider and my trip to Devon coming up, it seemed a good time to replace it. I had the brilliant idea of buying one after work and then riding all the way back to Stoke Newington with it slung over my shoulder.

I got about five metres down the road before I realised this clearly wasn’t going to happen. So I headed back to the shop, and asked if I could borrow their tools and change the tyre in a corner of the shop.

I’d somewhat over-estimated my ability to do the job – I don’t get a lot of practice, given that I have puncture protect tyres – so, inevitably, I proved to be utterly incompetent. But rather than being laughed at, or ignored, or made to feel as though I should know what I was doing, I had three different members of staff helping me out.

It’s amazing what a difference a bit of good service can make. It’s because of experiences like this that, these days, I actually feel as though I belong in a bike shop. OK, I still don’t really know what I’m looking for – though at least I know what type of brake pads I need – but I no longer feel afraid to ask.

I’m the customer, after all, and I have every right to be there.

(Lest you think I’m in the pay of a certain national chain, I should add they’re far from the only bike shop where I’ve had such good service. For example, the staff at my local friendly bike shop in Stoke Newington, Two Wheels Good, are so wonderfully helpful that I would go to them for all my bike needs if they only they were open at a time when I can get to them.)

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11 thoughts on “A visit to the bike shop

  1. There’s a flip side. As a bloke, they assume I know what I want and what I’m doing. They often talk over my head. I’m sure a lot of blokes pretend to know more than they do. But I take pleasure is owning up to my ignorance and saying “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Explain please!'”

    • Haha! But surely all blokes know how everything works and how to fix it? :-) Anyway, yes, sometimes playing the helpless female can work to my advantage, though I feel like a terrible anti-feminist to admit that.

      • some of the best mechanics i know are women. including Ninon who runs the excellent bicycle workshop.
        and I’m a bloke and a mechanic.

      • Actually, one of the three people helping me out with the tyre was a woman – she was a trainee mechanic. On the days when I’m feeling particularly stressed out by my job, I sometimes wonder about training to become a bike mechanic. I don’t think I’d be very good at it, though i would like to learn how to fix more than just punctures and my brakes.

  2. “There would be all these blokes …, and a swarm of shop staff dancing attendance upon them. There never seemed to be anyone who wasn’t busy, … I would stand there, …, waiting for someone to acknowledge me.”

    I get that *all the time* when I visit a local branch of a large chain of bike stores, and I am a bloke (with a hybrid, not an expensive road bike).

    I only go in there when I want something I know I can’t buy at my friendly local bike shop (who know me by name, know my bike ‘cos I bought it from them, have offered me tea and bandages after I got doored, …).

    • They are fabulous, aren’t they? The only problem for me is that they open after I leave for work in the morning, and they’re closed by the time I get home. They don’t do services at the weekend, just smaller jobs, which is why I always get my bike serviced at the small branch of the national chain in West Hampstead.

  3. Some reason why you can’t say the words “Cycle Surgery”? Personally had a terrible experience with them, put me right off, prefer Lunar Cycles Kentish town.

    • Well, I didn’t want it to be an advert for Cycle Surgery. I’ve generally had really good service from them, and not just from that branch. On the other hand, most of my bad experiences have been with Evans. Given the choice, I’d only ever go to small, independent bike shops but I don’t often have that choice.

  4. I normally don’t go to bike shops, as I’m lucky as my bike mad (and knowledgeable) other half normally services the bike for me and I picked all my cycle knowledge from him. Recently I was very impressed by the professional attitude and the excellent service I have received from a bike mechanic at ‘Putney Cycles’ at Putney Bridge Rd – I went in there to fix a puncture (normally don’t carry the repair stuff as I have a punctureproof tyres and this time it was the faulty valve on inner tube that conked out) and was out the shop and on the road in 10 minutes. Lol, I also think that the poor mechanic was quite taken aback when I knew what size inner tube I need, how much psi it needed to be pumped up and that the rear hub needed replacing (whilst he tried to tighten the screws on the back wheel so I could ride comfortably).

  5. I’ve left bike shops in the past because I was unable to get served. Condor, I’m looking at you. So, like you, I’ve stuck to the few that want to talk to you like a human being.

    Fitzrovia Bicycles is one of of those – always a nice chat, no matter what state I take my bike in this time.

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