Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Bike Shop And The Bell Curve

The travesty of my last post is finally fixed -- a shiny new bar-end shifter now graces the right end of my bars. On a 1x8 setup, the slight asymmetry is admittedly a little weird, but it sure beats that Dremeled debacle I was sporting before. Plus, there's just nothing quite like the snick-snick-snick of an upper-tier Shimano index shifter/derailleur combo hooked up with a new, lubed cable. Heaven.

The process of acquiring this shifter has me thinking about the state of bike shops today, though. I wanted to buy the thing locally just to make my life easier: drive to the shop, pick it up, slap it on and go. Problem is, 8-speeds (and bar-end shifters, for that matter) are all but defunct on new-from-the-box bikes... and the bread-and-butter of most local shops seems to be new-from-the-box bikes and the stuff to make them go. There just isn't a compelling reason to waste inventory on stuff that the "cutting edge today, obsolete next week" bike industry has cast aside.

I called and/or stopped in to a few of the closest locals, but no luck. To their credit, they all offered to order the shifters, but having been in the business, I know that we're in the off-season, which means that the orders don't actually get called in to the distributor until the shop accumulates enough backlog to make it worthwhile. If you're lucky, you get your part in a week, assuming the shop remembers to call you (yeah, I screwed that up a few times in my shop days) or hasn't lost the scrap of paper with your number on it (ditto). Plus, the price I was quoted was on the high end of the MSRP, probably reflecting the nuisance factor of a special order part in the off-season (and rightfully so, I should add).

I went home and did some browsing on this magic tube-based technology thing called The Internets (it's apparently new). I found my ridiculously archaic 8-speed shifters in a matter of seconds, placed my order, and had them in hand just over 24 hours later... for LESS than the shop special order would have cost, even taking into account the shipping costs. Bike shops, I love ya, but I don't know how you're going to compete with that.

So is the bike shop just reserved for the fat part of the bell curve these days? The shopper who just wants what's new and would rather junk an old bike than fix it? What becomes of the rest of us, the "shadow bike world" of retro-grouches, duct-tapers, and people who keep getting by on stuff from last season (or in my case, the last century)?

I guess I should be glad that we have this magic tube-interwebs thing, but every once in a while, I think (okay, whine) to myself, "Where's MY bike shop?"


Pondero said...

I'm right with you on this. The only thing I'd add is that I'm happy to work with my LBS when I need real service.

I've learned a few things over the years and can order a few things direct, but sometimes I need guidance. Unfortunately, my LBS is an hour away. There are a few shops between here and there, but I know more about my needs than they do.

bikelovejones said...

Shops of the older, creaky and funky variety DO exist -- perhaps not where you live, but they're out there; and they stock older, used parts for occasions just like this.

Next time you need something like this, instead of going to the NEW online shops, try using the internet to network with your bike buddies near and far to source the part USED, then pay your local shop to install it. Also try your local Craigslist, as cool parts DO sometimes turn up there and at least your money would stay more local.

Just sayin'....

Spencer said...

While some people will condemn you for not using your local bike shop for everything, sometimes it’s just not an option. I commend you for trying to find the part locally, but the ease of shopping online and the lower prices can make internet orders irresistible. If only I had an unlimited bank roll then I would always shop locally.