I-MTB

Local Bike Shops Verses Online Shops

Everyone likes to get a good deal for their bike related purchases and with the rise and domination of online shops like Chain Reaction Cycles that sell to anywhere in the world in huge volumes, has lead to local bike shops having it tougher running their businesses in the last ten years, based on selling products alone.

Knowing what we know about the bicycle industry, it is clear Chain Reaction Cycles is an astute business, that runs efficiently and delivers in many instances the best prices on products that are in their current promotional cycle. Interestingly many parts are often sold it seems, at prices that are lower or equal to wholesale prices that small bike shops buy at. This is probably possible in these instances due to the volumes that Chain Reaction Cycles obviously sells.

Spending time though on the site over time and knowing the wholesale pricing structures and quantities that small shops buy at, it seems that online is not always cheaper. Also interestingly there is a significant absence of many brands from Chain Reaction Cycles, that have probably for commercial reasons decided not to deal with the big online retailer.

This choice is in our opinion encouraging, as the value of those brands and the products they produce have not been subject to a race to the bottom with price structure. There is no doubt that this in turn supports further quality component development. If it is only about price then the online model works well. Stepping inside small specialist bike shops though and seeing how they work over time starts to reveal the things that online shops can never do.

The shear range and various standards of products and uses is a complete minefield in the bicycle world. Simple things start to become harder to understand, for example, “Will this derailleur work with this shifter?” In many cases the tech questions are simple or fairly obscure, but with all the different products that pass through the hands of an specialist bike mechanic normally they have the correct answer that can’t be found online due to their experience. Often over looked is the knowledge that is fed back to shops by companies about product updates and recommendations which can’t be found easily online, and in some cases easily understood.

The quantity of small problems that often need resolving to have the perfect bike setup aren’t covered online. The move for example, to press fit bottom brackets has created a whole swath of problems for home mechanics. (Try Googling “press fit bottom bracket problem.” ) Often it means people need a specific tool to install or remove and a specific method. The tools can be expensive and maybe it is not worth buying for a one-off use. Self sufficiency is great, but over the years we have witnessed even the most enthusiastic home mechanic/bike riders make mistakes that a serious, well trained, experienced, and overall professional bike shop worker would never make.

Following this to another level on the international race circuit, whilst watching the top mechanics work, only clarifies our thoughts further. Top professional riders put their trust and lives in some instances, in their equipment and they way it has been setup. The sensitivity and details that the World Cup mechanics work to is incredible. The riders don’t have time to think about their bikes, they have to concentrate on racing. Scaling this down to the normal rider level, we would much prefer to ride knowing that our sometimes complicated bikes are working as they should be. We all ride at a lower level but simple things like bolt tightness, which is one of the most common mistakes the home mechanic makes, is correct and is not causing other problems and was set properly by our local shop.

Conclusion

If it is about price and maybe speed of delivery only, then online is probably best, unless you want a component that can only be found in a bike shop and needs to be installed correctly. Suspension is complicated and needs looking after, yes we can do it on our own but a proper mechanic can do it quicker and better. Also we have seen, including ourselves and many other people, scratch their heads trying to work out how to remove a bearing from a pivot or hub that has been pressed in, without damaging the pivot, hub or bearing. Looking at our title image who would know which tool is ok to use and which one is worn out and could cause problems in the future on the component that it is used on? For this it is obvious, attention to detail and hands on technical knowledge is what the local bike shop does and the internet can’t do.

Posted under:  News, Parts Test

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I-MTB is an online MTB magazine and trail areas operator based in Tuscany, Italy

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