Monday, January 13, 2014

All things to all riders

It's tough to be in the bike biz these days. In order to run an open and accepting congregation where all are welcome and all feel well served you would need a budget in the millions and either a very large facility or a whole bunch of small boutiques dedicated to each specialty.

How about a bike mini-mall? Specialists might all work for one company or be part of a cooperative venture in which all share their resources to serve each category of cyclist and the riders who cross categories.

In Wolfe City we see a little of everything. If we went with the largest common denominator it would be a tricky split between comfort bikes ridden predominantly on the path and performance road bikes. But neither of those categories would carry the place and neither of them represents such a clear majority that we can turn our backs on other types of bike. Mountain bikes used to dominate and still represent a strong third, but that's divided between cheapo hard-tails, a few higher end front-suspension-only models and a sprinkling of full suspension. The 29-inch tire size is becoming dominant, but 26-inch has been around a long time. And then there's 650B. And in the road category it's hard to stock a lot of models because we have to guess whether the incoming customer will want an entry-level bike to take a tentative foray in road riding or something that will make fellow riders in their group drool covetously.

In the summer we've seen variety ranging from a bakfiets to full-on weirded-out tri bikes. Mechanically adept technicians can figure out how to fix anything in the broad "bicycle" category. But the owners of some of these machines, feeling unique and extraordinary, might have trouble believing it.

Mountain bikes provide the most trouble these days. With more joints than a centipede, hydraulic brakes and the commonplace variety of whacky shifting systems, procedures on a maxed-out full suspension mountain bike simply eat a lot of time with all the disassembly and reassembly some repairs require. One of those can fill a work bench in a hurry.

With bicycling so fragmented, a small shop in a small town faces a challenge that a small shop in a populated area does not. With many people to attract, the small shop can focus on one or two market segments and develop a following. In a more rural area, a bike shop run by people genuinely interested in nearly all categories of pedal-powered equipment can't narrow its focus in case the next person through the door needs something we've eliminated from our spectrum. They need the help and we certainly need the money.

I can't work in a place day after day for decades without taking pride in my work. If I could just slouch through the day, squeezing money out of tourists as best I could I might be happier, but only if I could shove an ice pick through not only my conscience but my self respect. That would only work if I could figure out how to get scandalously wealthy doing crap repairs on people's bikes. I could console myself with a lavish lifestyle and the arrogance of the con artist.

That ain't happening on bike shop money. You make that kind of money wrecking people's finances, not fixing their bicycles.

Right now it's the middle of what passes for winter these days, so it's tough to be in the cross-country ski business instead of the bike business. And our short staff just got shorter because one of our guys, an enthusiastic climber, just took a 100-footer down a gully on Mt. Webster. While that reduces payroll expenses for the duration of his absence while he recovers, it means the rest of us have to fill in the schedule. If the snow conditions don't recover we will make no money. If they do, we will be running frantically to cover rentals, lessons, sales and service on the ski side, as well as taking care of whatever winter riders shuffle in with cold, wet, salt-encrusted bikes.

When spring finally arrives we'll continue the salty theme as riders bring in the machines that have been clamped in a trainer all winter under a deluge of sweat.

Oh boy.

Whatever the weather does, spring is far away. When winter skedaddles early I can start regular commuting in March, but even the most disappointing winter often ends with a series of nuisance storms with gloppy snow or ice.

1 comment:

Steve A said...

Winter in Ocean Shores - drizzle and low temperatures around 38. Summer in Ocean Shores - drizzle and low temperatures around 48.