By Vernon Felton
The bikes were loaded. The back seat was buried in a pile of helmets, hydration packs, sleeping bags and spare tubes. The iPod was cued up and Johnny Cash was poised to sing about a boy named Sue. We were, in other words, finally ready to hit the road for a week of wandering the West in search of new trails.
I was a twist of the ignition away from leaving when I remembered the floor pump. Overkill? Probably, but I take that whole Boy Scouts of America Be Prepared motto seriously, so I ran out to the deck, grabbed the pump … and discovered that my bulldog had eaten the pumphead the night before.
Sure, we all had mini-pumps and those things get the job done when you pinch a tube in the middle of a long grunt, but during the next seven days, someone would inevitably make it back to base camp with a sneaky slow leak that they'd only discover the next morning just as we were gearing up to hit the trail. No one wants to kick off an epic ride by wanking out a thousand impotent strokes with a mini pump. At times like that, you stride over to your car, whip out the mighty floor pump of destiny and attain instant hero status. At the very least, someone will owe you a beer. Happens every time. Except, it wouldn't happen this time because the component I needed to make that magic happen—three inches of plastic, rubber O-rings and tiny metal widgets—were now grappling with my dog's colon. Crap, indeed.
I tossed the mangled floor pump into the cab and, on a whim, stopped by my local bike shop on the way out of town. What were the odds that they'd have a replacement pump head for a hard-to-find floor pump? Not good. But within 30 seconds of walking in the door, I was happily forking over $9 for the exact part I wanted. Well, truth be told, the pumphead was from another, now-extinct floor pump, but the shop rat just shrugged, "I remember that pump—this head will be a perfect fit for it."
And, amazingly, it was. I owe that guy a beer … and some repeat business.
YOUR BIKE SHOP—AN ENDANGERED SPECIES
I can't tell you how many times my bacon has been saved by some scruffy shop rat with encyclopedic knowledge of suspension fork innards and a willingness to stay at work a half hour late if that's what it took to unearth a rare replacement spoke. But one day, my bacon will need saving, and I'm going to have a hard time finding anyone to help me save it. Bike shops, like all small brick and mortar operations, are in serious trouble these days.
It's hard to sell a 2014 model year bike in July when your customers got an eyeful of the 2015 models on the internet way back in April. And then there's pricing—bike shops need to toe the line on suggested retail pricing, both to offset the costs of running a business and to stay in the good graces of their suppliers, but everyone knows you can always find a part for less money—sometimes a hell of a lot less money—with just a click of your mouse.
So, yeah, bike shops are closing around the country. According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association there were 6,195 specialty bike shops doing their thing back in 2000. By 2012, that number had dropped to 4,089. In other words, one in three bike shops bit the dust during that time. That statistic is only going to get uglier in the coming years.
ANGELS OF OUR BETTER NATURE
I'm not going to bitch and moan about the Internet—at this point, that's a bit like complaining about oxygen. I also understand the lure of an email headline that screams "87 Percent Off on the Latest Drivetrain Components." I'm a sucker for pitches like that. I'd buy a bucket of Herpes virus if you told me it was 87 percent off the retail price. I'm just stupid that way. So, I understand why people spend some of their time trolling Nashbar and Pricepoint and Colorado Cyclist for the latest deal, but we can't expect our local bike shop to be there, ready to save our arses tomorrow if we spend all of our dollars online today.
Your online retailer can't breathe life into a rear shock that's suddenly blown a seal. That guy selling grey market goods on Ebay doesn't care if the part he sold you will actually fit on your bike. Bike shops—the vast majority of them—do care. They provide service. They possess expertise. They are filled with angels. Surly, tattoo'd angels with chips on their shoulders, sure, but anyone who can help you squeeze another precious season out of a 1998 Cannondale HeadShok is nothing shy of a miracle worker.
Bike shops are the heart and soul of our community. You want to hang out with other tri geeks and talk about zone dieting and wetsuit nipple chafing? There's a shop out there for you. You want to lie about how big you went at the bike park last weekend? There's another bike shop in your town where people will accept your lies and tell you some of their own. This is a good thing. This is, well, this is what it means to be human. To connect. To support one another.
Yes, the Internet has proven a tremendous vehicle for sharing porn at work and sending your grandmother pictures of kittens, but it's never, ever going to buy you a beer or bring your bike back to life. Your bike shop deserves your support. Give it to `em.
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