The Bakery: For the Love of Independent Bike Shops

It's not merely the place where bikes get fixed--the local shop is the heart of our community

Well-earned grimy hands.

Words and Photos by Danielle Baker

Six years ago I showed up on the doorstep of my local bike shop and sheepishly admitted that I had broken up with my boyfriend before I had learned to fix my own bike.

Six years later I probably spend a little too much time there. I have been known to show up at their Christmas parties and the coffee place next door gives me a staff discount. It's the kind of place where everyone knows your name, or some variation of it. They hassle you and high-five you. They give you hugs and lectures about not taking better care of your ride. They are family.

They are so much my family that I have introduced boyfriends to my dad before I have taken them to my bike shop. True story.

Independent bike shops are the soul of our biking communities. They have a life force that is developed from their owners' and staffs' personalities, each one creating a unique culture and following. No two stores should feel the same. If you ask at my shop they will tell you that their focus is on quality and efficient service. Their emphasis is on getting you back on your bike as quickly as possible. This is fantastic, but it's not the reason I go there. Quality service should be the cornerstone of every shop. It should be a given. What draws me in are a list of reasons that are uniquely my own. I go there because they help me with my homework, they let my mom call her cruiser bike a mountain bike, they give me unsolicited advice on my personal life, beer and cookies go a long way, and they are a part of my community. And because no one talks about the time I flashed the shop truck on the highway.

The people create the culture, Lou is one of those people.

When I first began riding I shopped around for the best deal. Bargain hunting took me in and out of all of the bike stores in town. I got around. What I found was that while I may save a few dollars from one store to the next, the savings didn't compare to the experience and service. In the end it was the connection with the store culture, and not the dollars saved, that dictated my loyalty. It wasn't just that I wanted a shop with a dog that has an embarrassing addiction to crotch sniffing. I wanted a shop that was an institution as much as it was a retail store.

A town without a bike shop has no hub for riders, nowhere for kids who don't want to play soccer, or other team sports, to go. Being a shop grom is a right of passage in our biking world, equal parts work experience and (mostly) harmless hazing. And isn't every kid's first sponsor the local shop? It's often a portal to the industry and connections to bigger sponsors.

We all want to feel like we belong to something. Bike shops are our clubhouses. They are a place where you can run into your friends, get the local gossip, and discuss the finer points of wheels sizes over beers out back. Independent bike shops are a place for all of us misfits to congregate over our mutual love for bikes. In a sport that takes us out on adventures and has no room for sidelines or bleachers, the shops offer a center, a heart, for us.

The basement path to the bathroom is lined with secondhand bikes that the shop has repaired for underprivileged youth in our community.

I would rather trip over a collection of recently repaired bikes for underprivileged children in our city on my way through the basement to the bathroom than purchase a bike from a Starbucks-like chain store that offers a vague notion of global generosity. Grass roots initiatives are integral in our bike communities for everything from charities to races.

Most importantly your local bike shop isn't a fixed location. Their influence and presence is felt on the trails, at events, and at races. If they aren't contributing to and building their riding community, then they don't have a community to serve.