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Getting people on bikes, part II: bike shops


Continuing on with this cross-cultural exchange:

I recently bought a new bike myself, a Trek touring cycle, and the experience was pretty unpleasant in all the predictable ways. It’s impossible for non-obsessives to sort through all the options, and most bike shop employees really aren’t interested in helping.

So how does this work in Denmark, where cycling is ubiquitous? Has a thriving service industry sprung up to cater to all that commuter demand? Are bike shop employees as solicitous as sommeliers in a wine bar? Are new bike models displayed in spacious, gleaming showrooms, turning slowly on spotlit pedestals?

According to Cycleliciousness, the answer is: no. A more apt comparison might be the neighborhood pharmacy. Convenient, local, and no-frills:

There are scores of bike shops to choose from. Seriously. In a 1 km radius from my flat I would guess that I could find 30 bike shops. Competition is tough. Most focus on repairs and tune ups and repairing flat tyres. Sales isn’t always the primary source of income. A Copenhagener knows which bike shop is best and cheapest for repairs in his or her neighbourhood and the topic comes up in conversation with friends and neighbours. A bike shop has to be reasonably priced and friendly if they want to survive. Simply because the locals will pass by and head for the next shop if the service is bad or pricey. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.

If you’re buying a bike here, there isn’t a big emphasis on fitting and sizing. You, the customer, have been riding every day your entire adult life. So has the bike seller. There is no need for boring conversations about fitting or sizing. He’ll take one look at you and point out the right size. You’ll know he’s right. Enough said. You’ll check out the frame, the colour, the basics like brakes, etc. If you like it, you’ll buy it. You may shop around for a bit, but there is little more than that. The chances that you’ll actually test ride the bike are slim. You’re no expert, but when you ride every single day you have experience.

Bike shops are nothing fancy. They fix bikes as well as sell them. Most are small, local operations so they don’t have a lot of space. Some larger chains have bigger selections but the norm is a cosy little shop with a man with greasy hands smiling from behind his counter.

If you want to buy a fancy bike, like a racing bike or a mountain bike you’ll need to find a specialist shop. I don’t even know where one is if I need one. If you’re buying a bike like that, you’re probably going to ride it on the weekends as a hobby. If you need a bike to ride every day, you go to your local shop.

Sounds pretty good to me. I’d probably have sought out a specialist dealer, but then again, if I were Danish, I might not feel the need to hunt down a fancy touring bike to commute on…

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