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.