My first proper bike was a Viking racer. It was in the window of the local bike shop, Mike Vaughan Cycles in Kenilworth, when I went to collect it with Dad in June 1978. Dad didn’t really know one end of a racing bike from the other, but the advice he got in ‘Mike’s Bikes’ as we knew it, was spot on. Putting the gleaming black thoroughbred in the window so Dad could witness my gobsmacked expression when I first saw it was a nice touch.
I live far away from Mike’s Bikes now but I’m told the shop is still thriving. Today my local bike shop (or ‘LBS’ as aficionados like to say) is M & D Cycles in Abergavenny. It’s another great bike shop, full of cyclists and banter, where no job is too small. Occasionally when I’m in there, I hear Dads being given good advice about bikes for their young boys.
I’m old enough to remember Not the Nine O’clock News and the sketch about a gent going into an all singing and dancing hi-fi shop. He asks to buy a ‘gramophone’. The sales assistant, Rowan Atkinson, ridicules the customer asking: ‘Do you want woofers and tweeters with that, Grandad?’
Bike shops can sometimes be exclusive and intimidating. Good independent bike shops are anything but, though. Instead, they are inclusive, helpful and welcoming. Sometimes, they are a little bit more expensive than chain stores or on-line retailers but it’s the service you’re paying for, and it’s usually worth it.
The service starts with good advice: vital if you’re buying you’re first bike, or even you’re second or third. When you’ve tested a few steeds and eventually chosen the right one, it’ll be built up and then adjusted to ensure it fits properly. A good fit is fundamental to enjoying cycling. Importantly, if the fit isn’t bang on first time but you bought the bike locally, you can return and have it adjusted.
This is the beginning of a relationship that may last decades: you, the bike and the bike shop owner are all partners. You’ll return to the LBS again and again over the years – for inner tubes, tyres, brake blocks and advice on where to ride at first; then you’ll be back for minor repairs, training routes, wheel truing, new bearings and eventually, a replacement drive train or your next bike. The relationship is important, especially if you’re new to cycling or just taking it up again: it’s a steadying hand on the small of your back. Local bike shops are a bit like rural post offices and country pubs. To be viable, we have to use them. If we don’t, we’ll lose them.