Should Local Bike Shops Sell Cheap Bikes?

Recently, I read an interesting blog post entitled: How Cheap is Too Cheap? It was about the plight of local bike shops with respect to competing with big box stores (think Walmart, Target, etc). Surprisingly, the author wrote:

“If bike shops want to compete for the bulk of the US market, they need cheaper bikes. Right now, the IBD channel sells about 20% of the units, mass channel 80%.”

I would never have guessed that bike shop sales only accounted for 20% of the market for new bikes. I have always purchased bikes at a bike shop. Of course, I’ve always been an avid cyclist and couldn’t bear to ride a bike so cheaply made that it virtually fell apart with each pedal stroke.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that many people can’t afford $300 or more for a bike. But, honestly, you get what you pay for. Nearly everyone can manage to temporarily forego nonessential purchases in order to save up for a better bike. Unless the bike is for a kid who will outgrow it, it makes sense to invest in a bike which will last for a while.

As some of the commenters on this post mentioned, most shops don’t like to repair big box store bikes. Who could blame them? Sometimes there are no replacement parts and the bikes can’t be precisely adjusted. New cyclists, it seems, don’t appreciate the value of having a bike which can be repaired.

As an alternative, many people buy used bikes to obtain the quality craftsmanship of days gone by. But there are times when a new bike is the best option. For some people fit is extremely important. And a bike shop offers more size options, as well as advice and assistance in fitting the bike.

The ensuing debate on the above-mentioned post was about selling cheap bikes in local bike shops versus offering only a selection of higher quality bikes. There doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits-all solution. The neighborhood where the shop is located would have a lot to do with whether they should sell cheap bikes.

In affluent areas, most customers have money to spend and are willing to pay more for higher quality bikes. In less affluent areas, customers are on a budget. These less affluent customers are the same people who buy bikes at big box stores. Therefore, bike shops in such neighborhoods may want to carry cheap bikes to offer those customers an alternative.

One problem with this approach is that bike shops would have to advertise the cheap bikes. Otherwise, no one would think to come to their shops for cheap bikes. Virtually everyone associates low cost with big box stores, so customers are more likely to shop there. Another problem is that big box stores offer one-stop shopping. This saves the customer a special trip to a bike shop.

Years ago, most bicycles were purchased at a local bike shop. The average town didn’t have a big box store. Everyone associated bikes with bike shops. Things have changed drastically over the years. Maybe one mission of the bike community should be to inform new cyclists about the value of having a local bike shop to turn to when bikes malfunction or when advice is needed. There could also be a push to inform novices about the tangible differences between a piece-of-junk big box store bike and a higher quality bike. If no one lends their support to local bike shops, they may become extinct, leaving cyclists out in the cold.

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2 Responses to Should Local Bike Shops Sell Cheap Bikes?

  1. Eiruam says:

    I agree having read the article in your link. I think that Bike Shops need to change and adapt and start selling similar Bikes at similar prices to Big Box Stores. They can still sell the more expensive brands but should offer a cheaper alternative as well.

    We’d never stock them or have them on our Shop floor because they are crap, doesn’t cut it !

    I got back into Cycling recently to get fit again and I did look at my LBS, it wasn’t a case of I couldn’t afford it, it was a case of if I don’t stick with this I will have a $500.00 bike siting in my Garage doing nothing.

    So I went to an Xmart store and yep, I bought a Dept Store bike ! I paid the princely sum of $98 !

    I assembled the Bike at home myself, which was pretty much straight forward. I then did what any Bike Shop Mechanic would do with any Big Brand named Bike, I tuned the gears in adjusting the RD, a slight tune the FD , the brakes I tuned in also. I admit I did have to true the front rim. But ! Any Bike Shop will do all this with any Bike they sell before they put it on display.

    That Xmart Store bike I bought is still going strong 1 year later. Nothing has fallen off it ! Nothing has broken ! Rims are still true ! All gears work and are precise ! I don’t have to keep adjusting anything on it and I can honestly say I’d buy another one !

    Admittedly I know a bit about bikes, so keeping mine running with basic maintenance is easy for me and might not be for the average Joe. knowing how to set up a Bike and tune it in also helps. This is where Bike Shops could capitalize by selling these bikes. This benefits the Shop because they get a sale they would otherwise miss out on.

    They gain the customers trust and in time can upgrade the customers ride to better Bike. The Customer gets a cheap bike to begin with and unlike XMart, His/Her bike will be tuned in set up and safe to ride.

    I ride this cheap Bike on Roads, Gravel, Grass, Dirt Tracks, Trails, and Bike Paths. I have put at least 3000 miles on it in this past year. I keep it inside out of the weather and it is serviced just as I would a $1,000 Bike. I know it is not equal to a $1,200 Giant Roam. It is an Xmart Made in China cheap Huffy knock off !

    I can get spare parts if I have an component failure as the entry level bikes that the LBS sell have the same RD’s and FD’s and grip shifts, brakes, cables etc. I know, I have checked, and they are compatible. Even the Bottom Bracket.

    Simply put, Bike Shops need to change ! If they don’t, They are going to go under and lose out to Dept Stores.

  2. Eric Phillips says:

    Good article and good response. I own and operate a bike shop in a very conservative area. I won’t say there isn’t money here but people are frugal and uninformed on the differences between LBS bikes and mass market bikes. I have not yet started selling mass market bikes but I’m looking closely at them for children’s bikes. The hesitation with selling cheaply made bikes is the fear that I will lose the respect of those regular customers who do know the difference and and spend a lot of their money on merchandise and service. We have customers who come to us because they know we don’t sell the same stuff as x-mart. Also, I see x-mart bikes come into my repair shop all the time. A lot of the times it is fairly soon after it was purchased. When someone buys a $98 bike and a week later needs a broken RD replaced, they frown heavily when it costs nearly what they originally paid for parts and labor. Since we didn’t sell it to them, it doesn’t reflect on us. They don’t realize those bikes are designed to be bought, used up, and replaced. They are not worth recycling but we want to recycle. Many of us bike shops want to do the right thing. However, like you guys point out. We have to survive.

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