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I try to make all my bicycle-related purchases (parts, tools, accessories, etc) at my LBS, but I have never bought a new bike at a LBS, and I (very) rarely take my bikes in for service. On average, I probably spend $30 month at the shop, and I only buy stuff half the time I come in. In the past, I've always tried to build up a good relationship with the folks who work at the shop, because I often come in to ask questions and just talk about bikes.

My question is: am I freeloading, or am I a (financially) valued customer?

For the record, they have always been helpful, and have never given me the impression that I was unwelcome. BUT, when I come and ask about - for example - putting disk brakes on a 90's Hardrock frame, they will suggest that it will be easier to just get a new bike.

The root question might be: what are the typical profit margins on new bikes, repairs, and parts? I know for a fact that I could get parts significantly cheaper on Amazon, but like I said, it's nice to bounce ideas off LBS mechanics in-person.

Note: I am talking about both small privately owned shops, and larger chains (eg, Performance Bikes), over a period of multiple years.

  • Why do you think you're freeloading? You go to the shop and you buy stuff; you don't mention any situation in which you get free stuff from them, except perhaps staff time. And buying a new bike almost certainly is easier than retrofitting disc brakes to a bike that was never designed to take them. They're not fobbing you off, there. – David Richerby Jan 17 at 17:40
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1) "am I freeloading, or am I a (financially) valued customer?"

Depends. Most bike shops I've been to are happy with giving some of advice -- helping the person find the right part and them do it themselves, since thats how a lot of bike upkeep is done. Of course, doing this too much can annoy people and also choice of timing -- if the shop is just sitting idle, theres probably less annoyance than otherwise. Also, the level of detail -- if you have to be walked through a lot of the repair and it takes a lot of time, that can also be annoying (though some shops are happy to do this and rent tools so people can do this, like an Autozone shop or similar). Most people should be able to judge their behavior on their own.

If you want to get advice and stuff as a primary thing you do at a bike shop, you might want to join a bike co-op if you have one in the area. Most are friendly towards people learning from each other how to do things in a shared space and a lot of them have (some) parts available for sale for the community, and you can pick up remaining parts at your LBS.

2) "putting disk brakes on a 90's Hardrock frame, they will suggest that it will be easier to just get a new bike"

Yeah, because it is the sensible choice. You'd need new brakes, but also new wheels so the rotors mount, and a new fork to have the brake caliper mount. The rear may be handled with an adaptor to mount the caliper. This would probably cost about as much as a basic hardtail with disc brakes on it now. I'd be worried if anyone suggested that it was a good idea to proceed with adding disc brakes to a 90s Hardrock frame.

3) "what are the typical profit margins on new bikes, repairs, and parts?"

Depends a lot on the type of shop, where you are, brands they carry, how much they charge for repairs and parts. Some mom and pop bike shops are now using amazon as (part) of their part suppliers, which sets pricing one way; others use big suppliers like Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), though you can't see the pricing for the QBP catalog directly. Comparing prices of parts you bought to online is one way to get an idea, though that doesn't properly weigh overhead between the LBS and online.

The profit margins on repairs depends on the repair; if parts are broken out separately (as they are in many places) from the labor, it's the technician's time vs cost. Some places do x dollars/hour of labor, and charge you that way. Other places charge you for the type of repair at a flat fee, which may be set based on time it takes on average or just to have reasonable profits.

The way I see it, don't worry about it too much unless you feel like you're being ripped off (in which case go shop somewhere else); after you live in an area for a while, you get an idea of which shops are good/bad. LBS's have more overhead than online places since they have to pay for buildings, staff salaries, etc.

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Spending $30 / month at your LBS seems perfectly reasonable. Your LBS is grateful you buy from them instead of from Amazon.

If you sometimes go to your bike store just to talk, that probably OK, as long as you are not distracting any staff from real work or keeping them from serving customers who are paying. Either they actually like chatting with you or are willing to humor you to keep your $30 /month, possible larger custom in the future and to maintain their reputation as a friendly, helpful store.

The example you gave about putting disk brakes on a 90's Hardrock frame - yeah, they were absolutely correct about that! They were not just trying to sell you a new bike.

  • Thanks, helpful input! Regarding the disk brakes, as JFK said, "we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard." haha I just think it would be neat to put together ancient-relic-meets-new-tech bike. – Sam May 15 '18 at 21:34
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    Plenty of people have done old frame disc brake conversions, particularly when disc brakes weren't standard fare. But it hasn't really made sense in probably more than a decade. – Batman May 15 '18 at 21:42
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    I admittedly have an unhealthy bond with this frame... – Sam May 15 '18 at 21:57
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    An "unhealthy" bond with a frame is not necessarily a bad thing. But if you love the way it rides, the forks will be part of that so be careful when changing them. – Chris H May 16 '18 at 7:39
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It may be helpful to know that according to the NBDA*, most bike shops actually lose money on bike sales. The average profit margin is -3%. Where the profit margin on parts and accessories is +7.5%. Although the report doesn't share the profit margin for service, my rough calculations say it is about 4.5%.

So, I agree with @Argenti Apparatus. Hope this is helpful.

  • source: NBDA – Cost of Doing Business Survey 2014-15
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    What's the NBDA? – David Richerby Jan 17 at 17:41
  • Thanks Terence, those are exactly the type of numbers I was looking for! – Sam Feb 6 at 0:05
  • @DavidRicherby, The National Bicycle Dealers Association. In essence, your bike shop provides them data as a member. – Terence Finn Feb 7 at 1:28
  • @TerenceFinn What nation? Not everbody lives in the same country as you... – David Richerby Feb 7 at 9:43
  • @DavidRicherby, good point. David this is for the US. Although CONEBI releases some data for the EU, I haven't been able to find similar data. If anyone knows a source for good bicycle industry data for the EU, I'd really appreciate it. Especially looking for data on bicycle servicing. David, where do you live? – Terence Finn Feb 8 at 15:41

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