25 March 2009

Snobbery and Bicycles

Kelly and I flew to Las Vegas this past week for our 15th Anniversary. On Thursday, we decided to drive down to Primm and go shopping in the outlet mall there. On the way down there, we saw a semi with a couple of bikes tied to the back of the cab. I made an offhanded comment about the origin of the bikes (Wal-Mart), which got Kelly started. She accused me of being a “bike snob” because I constantly deride people for their choice of bikes, usually refer to those bikes as “crap” bikes, and am never happy to see people out riding, no matter what the type of bike they are on. She went on saying that maybe that is all he could afford.

Her comment actually stopped me, and I couldn’t immediately come up with a response to that accusation. I had never thought of it before, but I am somewhat of a snob when it comes to bikes. After a while I explained that I don’t think that most people can only afford bikes from Wal-Mart and other big box stores, I think that most people don’t think of shopping for a bike at a bike shop. They go to their local big box store to do all of their other shopping, and see the bikes there. It’s easy. One stop shopping. That is the American way of life, convenient one stop shopping. How many of us buy our produce from a farmer’s roadside stand, purchase our bread from a bakery, or get our flowers from a florist? No, we go to the nearest mega mart, where everything we could ever want is all under one roof. The quality isn’t as good as it would be from a store that specializes in a particular item, such as bread or bicycles, but the cost is lower, and the convenience is greater.

Another reason I believe most people don’t go into their local bike shop to purchase their bikes is the perception of exclusivity that seems to permeate most bike shops. It feels like they are walking through the door of an exclusive and private club that they don’t belong to. They aren’t wearing the right clothes, and they don’t know the secret handshake or password. Unfortunately, that is more often the case than not. There are some bike shops that you feel that once you walk in the door, you are given a visual once-over by the staff, and if you don’t have the waifish build of Cat 1 or Pro cyclist, or don’t exude the aura of someone who “belongs” you aren’t worth them wasting their time helping.

Most marketing that bike shops have done in the past has been targeted towards that very specific group as well. That, however, is changing. With the uncertainty of gas prices and the economy, and with more and more people looking for alternative methods of getting around, bike shops are starting to take notice. More and more shops are springing up that cater to the casual, everyday cyclist than the racer type, and more and more shops are starting to carry a larger selection of commuter and city bikes. They are also changing their attitude, realizing that for years, they have been alienating what could be a potential cyclist.

My last argument is about quality. Just like I mentioned before that a loaf of artisan bread from an actual bakery is far superior to a loaf of Wonder bread, and the flowers you would purchase for your significant other from a florist are more beautiful and fragrant than the selection available at your local mega-grocer, a bicycle you would find at a bike shop is of much better quality. More time and skill has gone into making the frame of the bicycle, and the components are of a higher quality as well. People who are used to riding a lesser-quality bike are surprised by how responsive and quick a well built bicycle is, and how good a bike that is fitted and adjusted to you feels to ride. They are also surprised at the difference in weight – my 6-year-old had a bicycle that actually weighed more than my road bike!

So, to conclude, I think most people either feel like they don't belong in a bike shop, or they haven't even considered shopping for a bike at a bike shop. Attitudes are changing. Go to your local bike shop and take a look around. Not everyone is Lance, and not everyone needs a bike like his. Most reputable shops know this, and will spend the time to talk to you and find out what type of riding you are doing. They will fit a bike to you, and your riding style, not the other way around. If you want to know a good shop in the Salt Lake area, I can suggest several.


Kelly Hill said...

1. How would it be if I actually walked into a bike shop "wearing the right clothing" ??!? HA!! I'm pretty sure they wouldn't help me, and in fact they'd escort me out, the back way.

2. I agree that the quality of bikes are much better at a shop. I love my bike... a Raleigh... and we even got it for a decent price. A 'crap bike' from Walmart wouldn't work for me.

3. I maintain that a 'crap bike' is better than 'no bike' and sometimes that's all someone can afford. Isn't it better to have a bike than to not? Maybe they're just getting started, and have six kids, and can't afford more... but they all want to ride.

4. You also comment on every person who wears a full kit and has a certain brand of bike... you usually say "I'm jealous"... but never EVER do you make comments about those people who have chosen a bike as their method of transportation, unless it's negative. "They're on the wrong side of the road!" "They need a helmet!" "Ugh....!"

I believe that the majority of cyclists don't know all of the rules but they're on bikes anyway. Maybe they don't have a car. Maybe they stole a bike. Maybe they don't care to be educated. I don't believe the majority of cyclists are actual 'cyclists' who wear full kits and have nice frames. This is where you're missing something. You want all of us to be that serious, but we just aren't. Most of us, in my opinion, just ride for short distances and for entertainment.... not for exercise or marathons. That's why, I believe, people aren't as picky about their choice in quality.

Bike Junkie said...

That is what I was trying to get at in the last paragraph. Not everyone is a racer, and not everyone needs a racing bike, or to wear lycra. Commuter bikes, cargo bikes, and "Dutch" style bikes are making huge inroads into our culture. All of those are bikes that don't require shaved legs or lycra. I comment on the lycra clad racers because that is what I am into. I do think that people, no matter what they ride, should be educated on how and where to ride. I can't wait for the day when lycra clad racers are the minority of cyclists. I would love to see people from all walks of life out on their bikes riding to work, the store, the park, everywhere!