New poll: Is your LBS Bike Commuter friendly?

So I decided to do a little experiment, I walked into a couple of my local bike shops and pretended to be someone who was interested in riding a bike to work. As you may know, most bike shops cater to recreational road and mountain bike riders, so I wanted to find out if bike employees were knowledgeable about the necessities of a bike commuter.

My first question was ‘What kind of bike should I buy if I want to ride 20 miles roundtrip?’. The first shop directed me to hybrid bikes. The employee pointed out how comfortable those bikes are due to their suspension systems and upright positions. The other shop directed me to an entry-level road bike with flat bars and told me how this was a Mountain bike disguised as a road bike (huh?).

Playing devil’s advocate, I inquired about fixed geared bikes. Both shops steered me away from them since they were meant for more ‘advanced’ riders.

When it came to accessories, both shops recommended a light set, locks and backpacks. Both shops had a very limited selection of panniers.

None of the shops asked me about my fitness level or if I even rode recreationally; they also didn’t offer any advice on bike commuting — they were more interested in selling stuff rather than helping the cause.

How about your LBS – are they Bike commuter friendly?

28 Comments

  1. Don May 21, 2008 10:29 am 

    The folks at my LBS always act like I’m crazy because I bike commute.

    Then again I don’t think that any of them ride anymore either…

  2. Bonxie May 21, 2008 10:40 am 

    The LBS that I patronize is very commuter-friendly. As a small shop they’ve found a niche market in recumbents, trikes, folding bikes, etc and gotten completely out of selling ‘standard’ road/hybrid/mountain bikes. But they stock a good bit of commuter gear, and are prone to provide priority maintenance service to commuters (if a commuter bike limps in, they’ll fix it while you wait because they understand you need to get back on the road ASAP). They also are involved in local advocacy issues, etc. They’re definitely “helping the cause”! Check ’em out at http://www.bikesatvienna.com (no, I’m not affiliated)

  3. heyiamt May 21, 2008 10:49 am 

    I usually get the opposite. I go into a local shop looking for something for recreational road riding and they point me to something great for commuting.

  4. cafn8 May 21, 2008 10:57 am 

    I had the same experience as Don when I was talking to one of the salesmen at one of the several local bike shops in my area. When I mentioned that I ride to work he commented that I must be very brave, or something similar. The people there are friendly, but with attitudes like that I can’t imagine that they would be able to help a prospective commuter.

    Another bike shop closer to my house seems to be more of a high end racing oriented store. I once visited that store to ask about fixed gear/ single speed bikes specifically for commuting. They showed me a London Langster a few sizes too small and told me to ride it around as long as I wanted. I don’t go there anymore.

    The store I visit most often is small and will order anything I want, though they don’t have a lot of room to stock a lot of anything, especially larger commuter gear like racks, panniers and fenders. They do stock mirrors, lights and some smaller commuter essentials, and they indulge me in my habits, though, so I go there when I can.

    I guess my answer would have to be no.

  5. Iron Man May 21, 2008 11:18 am 

    There is one LBS located in downtown Springfield (pop 150,000) that caters to “city” riders. Commuters and college students really. Single speeds, conversions, and all manner of road and comfort bikes abound. The staff is pretty eager to support the commuter. One of the owners was a bike messenger in Chicago for a number of years. So he keeps that city mindset, while also supporting the recreational rider too.

    The shops in the “suburban” part of town try a little to help the commuter, but really cater to the recreational riders.

  6. Ghost Rider May 21, 2008 11:55 am 

    Bonxie,

    I went to high school in Vienna! I sure don’t remember that shop, though…

    One of my local shops has a “bike commuter of the month” contest — you submit a photo of your bike and if you win, they give you a $25.00 gift certificate to the shop. Other than that shop, though, none of the others are worth a damn unless you’re wanting to plunk down $3000.00 on a carbon wondermachine. And even then they sort of suck.

  7. Chris May 21, 2008 12:08 pm 

    This is an interesting question to me. I’m facinated that the LBS did not ask probing questions. I’m part-owner of a LBS myself, and our approach is always to find out first what level and interests the individual entering our shop has. We don’t make assumptions, and we first listen, then offer advice.

    To me, what’s appropriate for commuting is not something that’s automatically defined. It depend on your experience level, what you like about bikes, and how much you’re carrying. I can tell you I ride my road bike (either my beater bike or my racing bike) every day to work with a bike messenger bag thrown around my shoulder (OK, well there’s a variation in the winter in that I’m switching to cyclocross – and, er, maybe sometimes I’m doing the single speed). Although this road bike-riding thing is in part because I’m often out doing training rides during the day or after work to feed my bike racing needs, for me it’s entirely appropriate even when there’s no training ride in the schedule because that’s what I’m comfortable with.

  8. jw May 21, 2008 12:16 pm 

    My LBS is out in the midst of a suburban wasteland of strip malls and it more than 20 miles from the city center. I talked about commuting in on my bike and the sales guy just kind of chuckled as if to say, “You’re going to ride in through traffic every day? Sure you are…”

  9. Moe May 21, 2008 12:21 pm 

    Chris, it surprised me that I was not asked any questions regarding my bike abilities. After getting the top-to-bottom look, they must assumed that I was not serious about being capable of riding 20 miles round trip (which I do) to work. I guess I need to grow a full beard to be recognized as a serious commuter 😉

  10. Ghost Rider May 21, 2008 12:26 pm 

    Chris, there are too few of your “style” of shop out there! Moe’s experience was probably pretty common, unfortunately — and that’s a shame seeing as how gas is so expensive these days, bike shops could really clean up by hyping the benefits of a utility bicycle (and all those lucrative accessories!).

  11. Brian May 21, 2008 1:08 pm 

    I’m a newbie commuter, so I’ve been going around and asking the same questions (15 mile commute, sometimes towing kids in the trailer on errands). I’m in fairly decent shape, but none of them have been asking about my fitness level either. A couple of the guys told me they commute as well, but essentially nearly all have pointed me to “performance hybrids” or flat-bar road bikes, or even just flat out road bikes.
    I guess I’m a little confused. Are those bad recommendations? Or are they just bad because they didn’t ask enough about my particular situation and needs?

  12. Shante May 21, 2008 1:17 pm 

    When I got my bike, I didn’t ask too many questions about commuting but I was told that if I wanted to commute I might want to look at a designated commuter bike. The fully loaded ones with racks and fenders. I got my current bike just to stay in shape. So they gave me a hybrid.

  13. Palm Beach Bike Tours May 21, 2008 1:20 pm 

    That is a far more complicated question than you might think. If you put ten daily bike commuters in a room, I imagine you’d have ten different, fiercely held opinions about what the perfect commuter bike and its accessories might look like.

    That doesn’t excuse the local bike shop’s lack of questions to better gauge your needs, of course. (I don’t think either of the suggested bikes would have been a horrible options, by the way.)

    Part of the problem is that most people who walk into a bike shop and ask for a commuter bike really don’t want one. They want the idea of a commuter bike. They want to think they will start riding to work every day — or at least the nice days. In reality, it’ll be like going to the gym, they’ll do it for a few days a week for a couple months and then give up.

    When people ask me for a commuter bike recommendation, my first question is always ‘Why can’t you commute on your current bike?‘. If the answer is ‘I don’t have a bicycle’, they don’t need a commuter bike. They just need a bike.

    Instead of trying to find them the perfect commuter bike, I try to get them to focus on what sort of riding they might actually do: road, off-road, fast, slow, around-town, cross-town, cross-country, etc. No wrong answers, of course. Once they decide on their general type of riding — riding they may actually enjoy — we can then start to talk about what sort of bike in that style might be best for them.

    Chances are, long after one has given up on the dream of biking to work, they still might ride the bike for fun. When that happens, I want to make sure the bike they bought just will work for their fun riding, too.

    For the people who already have a bike and want to commute, the answer as to why their current bike doesn’t work can lead to quick fixes: add a rack, get a pannier, buy some lights, etc.

    Sometimes, however, you run into someone who really deserves a nice commuter bike. When that happens, you gotta find the right shop. A serious commuter’s needs can be as specialized as a tourist or roadie’s needs.

    It’s no shame for the LBS to say ‘gee, we only sell $5,000+ carbon fiber road bikes, sorry’. What is shameful is for the LBS to try to fit a hardcore commuter with just whatever they happen to have on the showroom floor.

    Then again, someone who has been commuting for a while and needs a commuter bike probably has a good idea about what he wants and is going to ask more and better questions that just ‘what kind of bike should I but?’.

  14. Ghost Rider May 21, 2008 2:15 pm 

    Palm Beach — excellent points!

    You’re right — there is no “one” perfect commuter bike, and most bikes can be simply converted to provide more functionality. Throw a pair of fenders on that fast carbon road bike or a rack and slick tires on your MTB and off you go!

    I think a lot of the concern is that many (not all) LBSs try to sell that swoopy, expensive racing machine to novice commuters…just the kind of folks who could use a guiding hand in the form of appropriate questions and advice.

  15. Mike Myers May 21, 2008 3:41 pm 

    Tough question. My shop accomodated my commuter-centric requests no problem. My commute isn’t a typical commute. I live in a spread-out county and I’m 20 miles from work, so my commuter bikes are basically sport touring bikes.

    My LBS is a Trek/Raleigh/Waterford/Gunnar/ Litespeed/ Co-Motion/RANS/ Terratrike/ CATtrike shop, so they sell and deal with everything. They’re not really *centric. They tell me their bread and butter is $300 hybrids for trail riding, and those make decent short hop commuters.

    The only other bike commuter I know is someone who has just as long a ride as I do. What does he ride? Swoopy road bike.

  16. Joe May 21, 2008 4:22 pm 

    Oly Bikes in Olympia, WA is very commuter friendly. The couple other LBS’s in my area I have visited are more interested in selling me the latest carbon fiber race or mountain bike. It’s not that I dislike high end bikes, but they tend to be stolen a lot more when you lock them up in front of work.

  17. wannaCmore May 21, 2008 5:10 pm 

    Well, my LBS that I do business with is probably commuter friendlier than any of the other shops in town. They are a Giant/Kona/KHS/Felt/Sun recumbents. I rembember them asking me what I was looking for. Told them that I wanted to limit my car usage (OIL closed @$133 a barrel today!). They pointed out the Giant FCR3, due to the fact that I live like 25 miles from work. Still thinking about getting one. But I managed to snag a ’06 Kona Smoke discounted 30% at his anniversary sale (based largely on Moe’s reviews!!). The other shops in town cater to the recreational and athletic level riders (tri-, tt).

  18. Pete May 21, 2008 6:09 pm 

    My local bike shop seemed more road cycling/competition focused. The shop in the city (Brisbane CBD) were more broad with their focus, that’s where I got my great pannier bags, bike lights and new chain :)

  19. Palm Beach Bike Tours May 21, 2008 6:41 pm 

    I’m not buying the idea that high oil prices will cause more people to ride bikes to work. (Yes, I have seen the newspaper articles that say LBS traffic is up. See: New Years Resolutions.)

    The folks most likely to commute — those five to ten miles from work — are the least likely to be affected by fuel prices. Five days a week at 20 miles round trip gets you 100 miles. At ten miles and four dollars a gallon, that’s $40. Compare that to $20 a week at two dollars a gallon. Very few people will change their lifestyle for $20 a week. (At a more reasonable 20 mpg, the difference is even less.)

    The folks most affected by fuel prices have long commutes — say 25-50 miles each way. I don’t care how much it costs to fill their SUV, they aren’t going to get on a bike and ride two or three hours each way. At least not in mass they aren’t. They might carpool but even that is iffy.

    The folks who enjoy riding bikes and use them as a bonafide vehicles would ride to work even if gas was 50-cents a gallon. Heck, they are already on the roads.

    I’m a perfect example. I live less than four miles from work — prime time for a bike commute. Yet, I drive. At four dollars a gallon, it costs me less than $5 a week to drive my car to and from work. Sure, that’s twice what it cost me a few years ago but I sweat like a pig and it is often 90 degrees and 80% humidity by 8am here in subtropical South Florida. I’ll gladly pay an extra $2.50 a week not to smell like mokney buttocks when I get to work. (I’m sure my coworkers would take up a collection and pay five times that to have me show up for work fresh and clean.)

  20. Paul May 22, 2008 1:06 am 

    Here in Austin, TX we have all the usual bike shops that don’t have much of anything to provide for commuter cyclists like me, I haven’t driven for about 2 years. Even Lance Armstrong’s new store, Mellow Johnny’s, only has a few commuter bicycles and not much more than the average area bike shop. Lots of carbon framed road bikes everywhere and not a single europe style commuter bike short of Electra Amsterdamn anywhere in Austin!!

  21. Gene May 22, 2008 7:55 am 

    A couple of great shops in Madison WI that are good for commuters:
    Yellow Jersey – yellowjersey.org
    Revolution Cycles – revolutioncycles.net

    Both of these places are great for fixing up old bikes (or getting a shiny new one) and encouraging people to use the bikes they have and helping get them set up for whatever one needs. The employees, of course, commute to work on bikes.

  22. 2whls3spds May 22, 2008 8:28 am 

    I agree with the comments that not everybody considers the same bike a commuter. I used an old Raleigh Sports for years as a commuter as well as my only form of reliable transportation. It served me well at that time. Now something with an 8 speed IGH and a bit more aero position is preferred (still working on that part of it) Neither of my two LBSes is what I would consider commuter oriented. They both sell mostly MTB, Hybrid, and $$$ CFW bikes. However the one I frequent most often is more than happy to order anything I ask for, no questions asked.

    Aaron

  23. BeachCrusier May 22, 2008 7:37 pm 

    I began commuting to work about 2 months ago (five miles roundtrip). Prior to this I hadn’t owned anything since college (20+ years ago) except a Walmart special I bought just to ride around the neighborhood with my daughter (she was sporting the Dora the Explorer bike).

    My experience when looking for a bicycle for commuting was a bit on the positive side. Both shops I hit really didn’t seem to have much interest in my abilities, but both wanted to make sure that the bike I purchased was a good fit for my small stature. The first place specialized in Raleigh. They did not have anything that fit me and were very honest about it, not trying to sell me something that would not work out well. The second place I visited had a wider selection, and stood back and smiled while I admired the beach cruisers (live in a beach town), and then steered me towards the comfort bikes. I ended up with a Giant Sedona, 15″. I have been very happy with my purchase and have kept both shops busy with my excessory purchases. However, two months later, with my abilities being a bit greater than I began with, I would not have made the same decision. I think that if either of these shops had been geared toward the commuter, I may have received better direction on not only what I found to be a good bike at the start, but something that would have been a better opportunity for the long term.

    But either way, 2 months and 11 pounds later, I still love getting on my ride every chance I get.

    -Dale

  24. Tim May 23, 2008 8:39 am 

    I’ve been to five LBS’s in Austin recently (there are many more that I have not visited), and one of them is overtly for roadies. They advertise that way and that’s the niche they support. Another, Waterloo, is pretty much geared toward recreational cycling. Then there are three in town that are very much focused on and friendly toward the commuters: Ozone, Mellow Johnny’s, and ClownDog. What’s weird to me, though is how many bike shops don’t open until 10AM, which makes it inconvenient to have any work done on a commuter bike. Open at 7:00 and offer same day guaranteed service by 5:00 if you really want to serve the commuters who rely on bikes, say I.

  25. Stephen May 25, 2008 2:35 am 

    Only a couple LBS in my city. When I started asking about buying a bike a couple years ago, it became clear to me that I didn’t know what I wanted. I ended up on a hybrid that has served me well with a few additions. I’d say the owner took pretty good stock of what I wanted from a bike even though I didn’t have a clue.

    That being said, I go in there now and there’s really nothing I’m interested in. They have a big emphasis on mountain bikes, and a fair bit of mid-to-high-end road bikes as well. This year they’ve put a lot of floor space behind the Electra line (the cruisers and a couple townies, one amsterdam). Their selection for fenders and racks is dismal, lights and locks only slightly better.

    The Electra line sells, and I’m glad to see them doing well, but I wonder how many of those cruisers will be kicking around craigslist in “like-new” condition after a couple of summers.

  26. Neal May 26, 2008 1:00 am 

    I usually commute on a hopped up Redline 925 fixed gear which is my long distance bike as well. This weekend I decided to buy/outfit a “grocery getter”/utility bike that can haul a bigger load and be converted to an Xtracycle when the budget allows.
    It seems that if I’m looking at the utility bikes at many shops, then I must be a novice cyclist even though my commute is nearly 40 miles round trip when I ride from my front door.
    Most of the salespeople ask me if I’m familiar with the shifters and brakes when I test ride.
    I usually tell them that I am not because my primary bike is a fixed gear with only a front brake and no shifters.
    Then they look at me funny as if a guy with a cool fixie has no use for a 40 lb. bagged bike.
    I don’t get it.

  27. Mike Dillon July 5, 2008 5:15 pm 

    I was on a Metric Century ride on the 4th; at one of the rest stops I overheard an overweight LBS owner talking to another LBS owner (looked like he actually rode). The impression I got from their conversation (my bad, I really was eavesdropping, but I found it interesting). Their conversation let me know they really have disdain for customers that do anything other than walk in the door, ask the expert to tell them what to buy and plunk down the hard earned cash. I know there are great LBS, but a lot of them are worthless. The big scare is “who will work on your bikes if there are no LBS’s?” Has anyone looked at a bike? A few specialized tools, a bike stand, a little mechanical aptitude and Barnetts Bike manual and you no longer need the LBS (you could buy accessories there but they hardly ever have good stuff and it is twice the internet price if they do. After spending money a few times only to have the same problems a few miles later convinced me to get the Barnett manual and I haven’t been in a LBS in a couple years and don’t intend to return.

    Sorry to the good bike stores, but I have had some bad experiences.

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