10
votes

I'm not sure if this question is suitable for this site, Startups SE or neither, but here it goes: Is there already any sort of business model catering to bike commuters for expedited repair issues? If not, why not?-- is this not a viable business model?

Background and motivation

Where I live, if something happens to my bike and I need it repaired, the waiting time for it to get repaired is a minimum two weeks any time of the year there isn't 90% chance of precipitation and/or below-freezing temperatures. However, for people who use their bike as a means of commuting, this is obviously problematic. Moreover, if I tell people at the bike shops: "I need my bike to get to work [e.g. tomorrow, on Monday, etc.]" they basically don't care: To their bottom line, there is no difference between someone who has their bike in the cellar 10 out of 12 months a year and has to get it repaired and someone who cycles 365 days a year.

Alternative solutions

Since there is no way for me to throw money at my problem (see motivation above), when I have a serious problem with my bike on a weekday, I basically cancel everything I have planned for the evening, buy the required parts right now because all places in the city which sell bike parts are going to close soon, and then spend the evening at home frantically trying to get the bike working in a ham-fisted manner with the help of YouTube videos since I've never had to deal with this problem before.

Although this method of "solving" my problem does force me to learn things about my bike and exercises my creativeness, as you may have guessed through my language, it is not a pleasant experience.

Conclusion

I know for a fact that I am not the only person who commutes daily by bike and the other commuters I know in fact do all the work on their bikes by themselves at home. Excepting those people who actually enjoy doing this work themselves, I imagine there is a huge market niche which is not being exploited... so why isn't it? Am I the only human being alive who likes riding bikes every single day but hates working on them and has the financial means to pay someone else to fix them?


Perhaps the employee talking to me in fact does care, but since he can't do anything to make me wait less than two weeks, the business itself (referred to with the magical "they") has proven that it in fact doesn't care. This is the same with every single shop in this country. The only difference elsewhere might be that, in bigger cities, you might have a chance of finding a shop which doesn't have quite as long a wait.

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  • 1
    How often do you need a repair that you need to go to a shop/getting it done at a shop would be a quicker option? The usual tire/tube/brake pad/chain/cassette replacements require a minimum of tools that any commuter should have. – Batman May 6 '16 at 11:35
  • 1
    Admittedly, the frequency of it happening is becoming less and less because I'm ironically being forced to learn to fix these things myself. On the other hand, had such a "fast repair" service been available to me, I would be giving them money instead. Still, I do not want to e.g. change a cassette: I do not enjoy fiddling with things which are non-intuitive (i.e. you have to have done it once properly to know how to do it properly), tedious and dirty, let alone spending hours of my free time to do so-- hence me openly preferring to give money to someone else to do it for me. – errantlinguist May 6 '16 at 11:40
  • 3
    I would recommend to get a cheap second bike. You will take longer and at lower comfort to work, but it's a lot better than walking or public transportation. – gerrit May 6 '16 at 12:58
  • 1
    Depending where you live there are mobile repair services that come to your door (e.g., velofix). Also repairs gets easier with time and experience and as you build up a parts supply. – Rider_X May 6 '16 at 16:00
  • Also a friendly smile and case of beer can really bump you up on the repair queue. – Rider_X May 6 '16 at 16:01
11
votes

You don't need such a repair service. There is a different, more practical solution: a loan bike.

In The Netherlands, most bicycles are used by commuters, so expediting wouldn't work. However, there are also many places that rent bicycles. A good bike shop can simply have a couple of dozen bicycles on hand that they then loan out to a (regular) customer, so that they can still go to work, school, social outings, etc..

This is already common practice in The Netherlands. I believe there exist car garages that do the same, so I don't see why it would be any different for bicycles.

If the bike shop is unwilling to loan you a bike, and you have the money, you can just rent a bike to cover the period you won't have access to your own. If it happens frequently, you can buy a secondary bicycle for the same purpose.

  • They're not very common in the US, at least. I only know one shop that does it, and its usually only for repairs where a part will take a while to get in (and you have to hope theres something in your size). – Batman May 6 '16 at 12:52
  • I'm going to accept this because, as much as I don't want to admit it, this is the reason why such an idea would never work. – errantlinguist May 10 '16 at 11:53
8
votes

I think this working is highly dependent on where you live, and I don't think it would work in most places. You need enough people in the market who would use this service (which probably don't exist in most places). And people need to be willing to pay the premium you need to sustain to have this type of business. Bike shops aren't exactly very profitable in a lot of places in the world, to begin with.

Lets just consider chain driven bicycles which are either single speed or derailleur driven.

For repairs/services such as:

  • Replacing a tube/tire (tire levers + pump)
  • Replacing brake pads (hex key)
  • Adjusting rim brakes (hex key/screw driver)
  • Adjusting certain disc brakes (hex key/screwdriver)
  • Tuning certain aspects of bike fit (likely hex key or no tools required)
  • Fine adjustments to shifting [ This is tricker than it sounds -- rebending a derailleur hanger without the gauge and a repair stand can be annoying. ]
  • Install pedals (small crescent wrench/pedal wrench)
  • Install addons such as racks, lights
  • Some lubrication

its feasible for some guy to come over and do the work on your bike quickly with a small bag of tools. Some of these things will be more convenient with a repair stand.

With a slightly bigger bag of tools, they can:

  • Re-cable your bike (cable cutters, file, awl)
  • Replace a cassette (cassette tool(s), chain whip, crescent wrench or the Park tool chain whip x 2)
  • Replace a freewheel (freewheel tool(s), crescent wrench/ Park Tool chain whip)
  • Replace a chain (chain tool)
  • Replace cranks (crank puller, hex keys)

Note that you have to carry a few different freewheel tools. Cassette tools are less varied.

For more complicated tasks such as:

  • Repacking hubs
  • Truing wheels
  • Replacing spokes
  • Replacing bottom bracket
  • Headset service
  • Realign derailleur hanger
  • etc.

They have to come to the shop.

Note for most of these repairs, the shop guy has to come to your house with all the compatible parts. Also, they have to assume:

  1. You know what parts are for your bike.
  2. You know what repairs are actually needed for your bike.

(1) is highly unlikely -- most people wouldn't know a chainring from a cassette. Given that, (2) becomes hard.

So, the guy has to come to your place with a well-stocked platform for service, like a Plumber's van filled with bike tools for the beyond 5 minute repairs (which you'd likely be better off learning to do on your own, anyway). And he has to be reasonably stocked for the day for a variety of bikes. On top of the cost of running the van and paying a mechanic to go out to these places, I don't think a shop can reasonably take this class of repairs on the road.

So, this basically leaves the first two groups as options. You need to pay the employee for the time to get out to the customer to do the repair, do the repair and then come back. With that on the first group, it likely won't be profitable. The second group might be, but all those are going to be easier in a shop setting.

That being said, there is some market for services like this for cars -- there are companies which will swap your tires or change your oil in your driveway. But the costs can be easily well over 2x of taking the thing to a garage.


I think if you have this problem, there are a few solutions:

  1. (You) Have more than one bicycle.
  2. (Shop) Lend bicycles instead. This isn't too expensive for a repair shop to do -- keep a few durable and basic bicycles on hand and lend them out. Charge for it.
  3. (Shop) Restrict to the first class of repairs (and maybe part of the second class) and have people go there by bicycle in some small radius around the shop, since you probably won't make the money back on cars. Charge a good premium.
  4. (You) Try different shops.
4
votes

Earlier this week my day was thoroughly disrupted by the stem valve in my rear tire tearing out of the tube. (It's a belt-drive bike with disc brakes, so the rear tire assemblage is more complex than I'm quite comfortable fixing myself.) I'd have called such a business in a shot.

Ditto if that back tire ever goes while I'm in the middle of nowhere on a rails-to-trails trail. (There's a reason I run Schwalbe Marathons...)

In my head, the key success criteria would be:

  • Mobility. This business would have to drive to my bike.
  • Speed. Gotta fix stuff fast. This might entail limiting offered repairs, or upcharging for emergencies.
  • Prioritization. When it rains, it pours, as they say -- four calls come in at the same time, how does the business cope?
  • Availability for SAG rides; that seems a natural side business. (In fact, SAG weekends and emergency work weekdays seems like it could be smart.)

There are housecall vets, (a very very few) housecall doctors, and of course food delivery. I don't see why housecall bike repair wouldn't fly.

  • Good points. As a side note, what I find ridiculous is that if I tell an auto shop: "I need my car to get to work [e.g. tomorrow, on Monday, etc.]", they might make accommodations for me, but when it comes to using a bike, they just laugh at me. – errantlinguist May 6 '16 at 12:19
  • 1
    @errantlinguist In what part of the world do you live? In some European countries, it would not be ridiculous at all, and they would offer you a loan-bike, or perhaps a discounted rental. – gerrit May 6 '16 at 12:43
  • @gerrit: Germany, where (despite what people some may think) not that many people ride bikes other than on the weekend when the sun is out. Of course, one thing Germany's not famous for is its standards for customer service... – errantlinguist May 6 '16 at 12:47
  • 1
    I'd be surprised if a mobile service was equipped to handle a belt driven disc bike. – Batman May 6 '16 at 12:48
  • @errantlinguist I'm surprised you are getting laughed at for saying you need a bike to get to work in Germany (I was thinking you were in the USA or so). You could find a shop that also has a bike rental service, and try to negotiate a reduced rental rate if they take on your bike. – gerrit May 6 '16 at 12:49
2
votes

There is velotooler.com** They are all over the US, but also have a presence in Canada. They will be expanding to the UK and Europe in 2017, but they have already started their mechanic recruiting process (they even have mechanics that have registered in Australia and Latin America).

Velotooler.com is an on-demand platform of bicycle mechanics. You list what your bike issue is (or if you don't know, you can just get a consultation), including your bicycle model. You select your time and date availability. Mechanics that service your area will see the appointment and will confirm it.

Velotooler's prices are the same as a normal shop, with the difference that they do not charge you a premium on top of the normal part installation price if you don't buy parts from them. The velotooler mechanic goes to you. The financial transaction is managed online, and prices are set by velotooler (so you always know ahead of time what you pay).

How did velotooler grow so fast? They don't charge the mechanics to join. They live off a small commission per transaction, while still being competitive price wise. Since they don't require the mechanic to invest any money, the mechanic ends up getting a better compensation. Velotooler also offers bike mechanics free insurance, so every job they do through the velotooler platform is insured.

Once the transaction is done, both the customer and the mechanic rate each other. This rating system allows velotooler to keep both mechanics and customers satisfied.

Disclosure - I am part of the velotooler team

  • 1
    Are you connected to VeloTooler? If not, this sounds awfully like an advertisement. Please state your relationship or not to them. – RoboKaren May 5 '17 at 16:18
  • 1
    Hi @RoboKaren - I just added a note in the bottom and made the disclosure. Guilty! Definitely connected to velotooler :) – Cycling Maniac May 5 '17 at 17:08
  • 1
    Yes, this is conflict of interest, and an ad. But it is exactly what the OP was looking for as well. – CardMechanic May 5 '17 at 17:45
0
votes

Thank you Cycling Maniac and Robokaren....

Just want to add a few more things to the discussion. Not sure if it is obvious to someone outside the industry, but getting a good mechanic has been a universal problem. The total number of mechanics in the country is very low compared to the bikes that are sold annually. Why? 1) It’s hard to do this as a career while earning an avg $12-14 per hour. 2) The seasonality and work schedule can overwhelm mechanics, forcing them to either work long hours and weekends, or leaving them with no work at all (during winter for example).

And it all comes down to the simple fact that when you go to a shop (unless the shop owner is a mechanic himself) or a franchise like velofix or beeline ( most of the time velofix and beeline franchise owners are just investors who end up hiring mechanics to drive buses around), you do not really know who works on your bike.

Our approach is different. We try to empower people who love bikes and can provide their services on demand to others. All the jobs on velotooler get logged into the bike history with the mechanic’s credentials attached to it. Mechanics get directly paid for the job and can reinvest money to get better, maybe even buying a bus, and possibly turning this into a full time career.

We get that the peer-to-peer concept is not a hot subject in the industry. The way bikes get sold to the end customer are far away from the direct sale model we see in other industries. You get a bike manufactured in Taiwan - shipped to a distributor - company representative sells it to a bike shop - bike shop sells it to a customer. It is all great when more people are getting more jobs and money. However, the margin that the mechanic gets from this is almost nothing.

So we try to step in and make a difference in the bike mechanic’s world. Ironically, the only people who really see and touch a bike before it gets to the customer are those who build and pack the bike ( often outsourced), a UPS or FedEx driver carrying the box and a mechanic who puts it together. I do not think that anyone from the bike company even sees the bike after they put an order to build it (unless it’s a smaller bike company with a more hands on approach).

We just try to make people who buy bikes online or at shops realize that having your own mechanic is not a luxury - it is a standard that should have been applied a long time ago, where mechanics get more for putting together and servicing these bikes that were built in China or Taiwan.

But once we truly understand the people who service bikes, we should also understand the passion they have for bikes. Another important question is - why do people who love bikes so much, and still service others for such a low compensation, can’t afford to ride? For example, most of the mechanics who still ride bikes have lots conflicts with their training routine and weekend race schedule, because of the high demand of repair services during the summer. Basically, you have to choose at times between being a cyclist and a mechanic. We like to give flexibility mechanics, so they can ride as much as we do. All of us on the velotooler team love cycling, race bikes and travel just to compete or do an awesome ride somewhere beautiful.

-2
votes

Yeah there is velotooler as an option.

  • This was already recommended(and at length) by another person – CardMechanic May 5 '17 at 19:54
  • Welcome to Bicycles SE. We're looking for answers with more detail. Please consider expanding your answer to explain why velotooler is a good option. A short, one-line answer like this is likely to get downvoted, flagged for moderator intervention, and possibly deleted. – jimchristie May 8 '17 at 12:27

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