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I have moved yet again and I am trying to find a LBS that I trust in my new city. How do you evaluate a LBS given that you are paying them for services that you don't understand. (If you did understand them you would just fix your bike yourself).

One of my criteria is that the bike shop trys to down sell me on their products or attempts to convince me not to buy anything at all.

How do you evaluate a new LBS?

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Name your city and maybe someone on here can recommend one. –  mcgyver5 Apr 19 '11 at 15:27
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+1 for "not to buy anything at all". Bike shops who consider a low-cost fix before selling new product are high up on my list. –  Jack M. Apr 19 '11 at 22:48
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@mcgyver5: This unfortunately doesn't answer the question; the point is how to evaluate a bike shop, making the question applicable to more people. –  Neil Fein Apr 20 '11 at 1:29
    
@Neil Fein: and one way to evaluate is to ask people for recommendations for one. –  mcgyver5 Apr 20 '11 at 3:05
    
A good place to find that question answered might be on a city-specific blog. One of the impressive things about this blog post is the 283 comments in reply. –  ChrisW Apr 20 '11 at 10:20
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4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I make a little list of the nearby shops at each end of my daily commute. Then I visit them. I actually try to visit 4 or 5 regardless of how much I like the first one, just to have an idea of what they're like in case I need one.

What I look for:

  • decent range of product in the shop. Stuff that's relevant to me, but also a reasonable range of other stuff. Shops with few accessories for sale are usually either just starting out, or just about to fold.

  • more than one mechanic. Sorry, but a one man shop is going to suffer from not having anyone to bounce ideas off and having to close when the one mechanic is out learning new stuff (or more often, not out learning at all).

  • approachable staff. Do I feel comfortable dealing with the staff? Do they know about bikes or just about sales targets? Are they surly, minimum-wage grunts or are they happy working there? I don't want my bike serviced by someone who's doing the minimum possible to avoid getting fired.

  • decent workshop. A corner of the back office with a portable stand is not a workshop. I have a better workshop than that at home (I realise not everyone does). Working in poor conditions means doing a poor job.

  • decent range of tools. They should have the expensive bottom bracket taps and so on hanging on the wall next to the usual allen key sets and so on. Those tools are too fragile to drop in a tool drawer, and if the bike shop doesn't know that (or worse, doesn't have the tools at all), I don't want them working on my bike. If they don't have the tools to do the job properly I don't want to risk them trying to bodge it.

  • sensible opening hours. Look, I know it sucks having to start work at 7am, but that's when the customers start riding past the shop. And closing up at 7pm makes for a very long day, another reason to avoid single-staff-member shops. But if I can't drop my bike off in the morning, grab a loaner bike and pick it up that night, I'm not very happy.

  • loaner bikes. To a bike shop a restored second hand bike is cheap. They're a useful place to train or evaluate new staff, and customers love them. Expect to see rare or strange parts, because customers do steal stuff off those bikes. But that's ok, it just has to work.

  • does not have a standard service price. A standard $50 service sounds great but if you're doing any maintenance on your bike at all most of it's going to be wasted. They will replace your 25% worn brake pads because that's in the service. They will not tighten the loose spoke because that is not. And the service will probably be done by an unsupervised 15 year old being paid per bicycle serviced. Sure, if every shop in your area offers it the good shop might have to play along. I'd still be skeptical - and ask them why.

  • demands a way to contact me if they find something ugly. A shop that can't ring me to say 'Cthulu lives in your seatpost' hasn't got enough experience to be allowed to pump up tyres.

Specific to me is that they have to at least know what a Rohloff is, and a Schmidt hub dyno. I have both, and both can be expensively damaged by monkeys with hammers. But also, selling the high end stuff means they have customers who care about their bikes a lot. Few rich louts buy Rohloffs, they just don't have the bling factor. Instead, it's people who really care about their bike. Where I worked for a while it wasn't the rich customers who bought them, it was the "saved up and got the special treat" ones. The rich dudes were the ones with a Mercx frame who wanted an all period restoration and would go "a Phil bottom bracket? Whatever makes it go". Or they would go somewhere that had a selection of $10k carbon fibre road bikes in stock. Our customers were more the "I'm going to ride around India for a year, I want...", and had a detailed list.

Anyway, bike shops with that lot are more likely to be off the main road where rent is cheaper, might not open on Sunday, probably cost a bit more but to me are well worth the effort.

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Wow, loaner bikes are a great idea! I have never heard of that before! –  sixtyfootersdude Apr 20 '11 at 11:38
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+1 for Cthulu. It's an often-overlooked problem in the biking world. –  Mike Baranczak Apr 20 '11 at 23:09
    
That about sums it up. –  Chef Flambe Jul 24 '12 at 0:08
    
a good answer ... except you set the bar way too high. Open at 7 AM? Good luck! Also, understand that the absence of loaner bikes may be a practical deference to insurance fees and the hassle of keeping track of the bike. Also, what do you mean by a standard service price? What is wrong with charging a flat fee for a specific service? –  David May 3 at 3:56
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I go with how they treat me. Are they friendly? Do they try and push whatever they have in stock or seem to be more focused on what I actually need.

On the technical side, do they sell your brand? Are they a roadie or mtb shop or a nice mix? Does their repair area seem to have work that is being done or is it empty?

You can also question some of the other customers that are in the shop or just coming out.

One final option is to find a local bike club, they will have a good amount of info on where the best places are.

Good luck!

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Here's how I did it:

  • Ask a question or two here, to get a better understanding from people here of what I'm looking for before I go into the store
  • Look on Google for a list of stores, and find a shortlist of 15 that are recommended as "The Best Bike Stores in MyCityName" on a blog (based on a survey, apparently; and that blog entry has 283 comments with diverse local tips)
  • Look into the nearest local LBS: because it's the nearest; because it's on the short-list; and because someone (who destroyed my rear wheel with her car) recommended it as her local. I went in, in winter, on a weekday. I was the only customer. The mechanic (who was building or putting together a a bike, I think) put down her work and came and talked to me for as long as I wanted. I looked over their stock; but didn't go back, because they didn't stock the kind of bike I thought I wanted.
  • Look into the LBS nearest my work: they're big but they only sold one make of bike.
  • Have someone tell me I must go buy one from his LBS, and gave me the name of his contact there. It's a big store, on the short list of 15, 3 mechanics, friendly salesperson, I liked the bike when I tried it ... so, why not.
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One option that sidesteps the question slightly is to learn how to do some of the more common maintenance items yourself. Most bike maintenance is actually quite simple when you have the proper tools. What I've found is that whenever I've needed service done, the cost of having a mechanic doing it is almost the same as purchasing everything I need to do it myself. Thereafter, it's much cheaper since I already have the necessary equipment.

To segue back to your question, knowing how to do most of the basic maintenance on your bike makes it much easier to accurately evaluate the advice you receive from the mechanic at your LBS. Equally as important, if you can talk to the mechanic intelligently about components and repair, they're far less likely to even attempt to bullshit you in the first place. You'd be surprised at the difference in service between the complaints "My gears won't shift" and "My rear derailleur won't index properly any more. I've adjusted the barrel shifters and the B-screw, but shifting still isn't reliable. Any ideas?"

As one quick example, I once took my bike in to my closest LBS to swap out some parts I didn't have the tools for. While the mechanic was performing the service, his assistant made a big deal out of checking my chain wear, then told me it was about time to replace it. Of course, the chain had less than 250 miles on it so I knew the claim was bunk on the face of it. And that was, not coincidentally, the last time I've been to that particular shop.

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