I do 99% of my riding on my own, so I often find myself pondering a variety of things as a roll along the trails and roads: personal issues, what I’m having for lunch, why I see so many panties along the road, and of course, bike stuff. My most recent “bike stuff” thought (not to be confused with my “butt stuff” thoughts) was about the strange beast that is brand loyalty in the cycling community and how it weighs versus supporting one’s local bike shop.
None of the following thoughts apply that much to riders who wrench on their own bikes; for them, building a frame up is as easy as ordering it off the Net or direct from the builder or manufacturer, riding the hell out of it and servicing it themselves. What I am thinking applies more to someone like myself: someone who can do some minor maintenance, but for bike builds, serious fixes, or the want of having a repair done right, by someone who actually knows what the hell they are doing, knows the local bike shop is the place to go (OR to a friend’s garage who has all the tools, digs working on bikes and is happy(ish) do it for a few dollars or a six-pack or two).
And so my thoughts…
When I was living back in Western Pennsylvania, racing more, and had a few modest sponsorship deals going on (I know, right), I had a really good friend (Tom) that helped me out with bike builds and major repairs. The dude could spot a potential problem before the problem even knew it was thinking about becoming a problem; potentially. Tom was the best, and when I was lucky enough (and willing to work and train hard enough) to be getting those deals, he was there for me. I miss those nights in his garage watching him do God-knows-what to my bikes, and I really can’t thank him enough for all his work, but I digress…
In those early racing days I rode for a team that had an awesome deal with a certain spicy bike manufacturer that produced bikes that I already dug, so brand loyalty was not a problem. The team was cool, the bikes we rode–but by no means had to ride–were sweet and I was more than happy to support them. A few years later I started riding for my local Pittsburgh shop. That was also cool because I developed a more personal relationship with the shop and even though they didn’t carry the frames I was riding, they were cool with me continuing my relationship with my spicy friends from Minnesota. In turn, I bought all my parts from the shop, rocked the shop’s kit, helped out with their blog and in turn got excellent help with builds and repairs. Thanks PB.
Once I moved to Michigan I was in a different place (literally and mentally). The days of semi-serious bike racing were behind me and I was now only racing for myself (and the late XXC Magazine). I no longer needed or wanted to be part of a team, but I did need a bike shop.
There is one bike shop just a couple blocks away from my house that has a real good, cool mechanic working for them and the shop is great for a quick repair or to pick up some tubes or accessories. However, their parts and bike selection caters more to commuter types and the college kids that make up half of the town’s population nine months of the year. If you find a bike in the shop over $1,000 you’ll probably see that same bike in there a year from now. Nothing against the shop, they’re good people, they just don’t carry any bikes that I would seriously think of riding.
Lucky for me there is a swell shop a short drive south of town that caters way more to mountain bikers. They carry Trek and Cannondale bikes and the shop is co-owned by an avid mountain biker and former mechanic for the old Volvo-Cannondale team (Yes, yes, he wrenched for Cadel Evans). Since my arrival here in Michigan I have become friends with the owners, have done some freelance work for them and always look forward to my visits there to sit on their ratty couch and bullshit with them while they wrench and give me shit for having such luxuries as hair (they’re bald, but choose to shave their heads, thus pretending they’re not bald… they’re bald).
As most avid mountain bikers and racers can attest to, having a great shop with a great mechanic who actually enjoys working on bikes is awesome. Opposed to the shops where the mechanics go out of their way to be rude, condescending, fucking dick heads who spend their time clock watching and wondering if they can get high from huffing compressed air or if they have time to masturbate before they do their next half-assed repair. Again, I am off topic here…
Brand loyalty is fine and all, and those spicy bikes were, and still are, great (I still own two), but over the past few years I’ve started to realize that my loyalty to those bikes was more about the friends and relationships I had formed through having ridden and raced the bikes, as well has having worked with the company as advertisers, contributors and supporters of XXC Magazine.
So last year when my friend at the shop asked if I wanted to borrow his demo Trek Superfly 100 FS (a bitch move, attempt to sell it to me), I accepted and just rode it to ride something different for a few days, and with a completely open mind. As it turned out, I loved the bike [see the blog post In Love with the Superfly] and after I gathered the money, I bought it. I bought it because I loved the bike, wanted it, and I got a great deal on it. I could feel my loyalty switching from caring about what brand of bike I was riding to who I was dealing with. I started realizing that dealing with a shop that I trust, know does quality work and that I enjoy going to is pretty sweet. I felt I made the right choice buying that bike and buying it from the shop.
The correctness of my decision was underlined last winter when I was thinking about buying a fat bike to escape the mind numbing, rope-to-the-attic Michigan winter (by riding out into the middle of it). Trek’s Farely was in limited supply and all the ones the shop got in were already spoken for, not to mention I really didn’t have the money for one. The owner of the shop knew that he had just sold a Farley to a mutual friend of ours that just happened to be the same size as me. He also knew that the two-year old Pugsley it was replacing was sitting, gathering dust in the dude’s garage while he put miles on the Farley. So, he called him up, told him I was looking to buy, and a week later I had a bike.
What did the shop get out of this? Nothing. Well, nothing but thanks from me and my continued business, as well as being at the top of my list of shops when it comes time to shop for a new bike.
As I get older, I think what it all comes down to is that I now think less and less about the bike itself and more and more about its quality and whether it can get the “job” done that I am asking of it. I care less and less about whether it’s made in the U.S., China, Taiwan, or Uzbekicanapanastan. I’m not all that concerned if it’s handmade by a famous builder and sold in a masturbatorial sounding “studio.” Built by a PBR drinking, bearded recluse in a Brooklyn basement or by a computer programmed factory robot. I don’t care if I (or you) ride a Salsa, Surly, Trek, Kona, Cannondale, or Specialized. I just want to ride.
There is nothing wrong with having brand loyalty. Some brands are just better at taking care of their customers, providing service and a quality product. I totally get and understand that, and if you have a relationship with the folks behind the bikes you ride it’s even better. Additionally, a good relationship with your local bike shop can often help you get even more miles in, regardless of what bike you are on. Being loyal is great, and many companies are deserving of your loyalty, just don’t lose sight of the human aspect of loyalty.
The people behind your ride are often cooler than your bike.