Words and photos by Simon Stewart
Standing in a FedEx copy center the other day, I noticed a “Let us pack and ship the tough stuff” sign complete with a picture of a full-suspension mountain bike. A quick look around revealed not a single bike tool in sight; I’m not sure they could even get the frickin’ pedals off. You would have to have a bloody hole in your head to hand over your carbon Jibber Jabber 9000 to them. Now, I fully realize I may be completely wrong here — perhaps they have an amazing online training video and an ultimate set of tools — but I sincerely doubt it.
As a technical trainer in the bike industry, I’m committed to hands-on education, and if the rate at which the classes sell out is any indication, I would venture to say that a lot of bike shops are too. It’s an interesting time for shops; there are so many different avenues to buy bikes, or bike parts, or whatever the hell you want. Just driving the I-5 north from California to Oregon a few weeks ago, it seemed like every other semi was an Amazon Prime truck. It’s utterly mind boggling. I’m guilty too, because in fact I’m waiting for a Prime package right now. And while anything you want can be on your doorstep in a couple of days, one thing the old internet can’t do is fix your bike. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see why service may be important in the future of the local bike shop; they see it too, and it’s translating into a massive demand for education. Take a look at the complexity of a modern bicycle: Its technology is on par with motorcycles. There’s suspension, hydraulic brakes, electromechanical derailleurs, brains, batteries and even electric motors. Today’s bike mechanic needs a more diverse skill set than ever, not to mention more specialized tooling.
We still have some things to work out, though — like it would be nice if your bike could tell you when it required service. Your car does; usually an indicator light pops on and then it’s off to the shop. We have stickers on the inside of the windshield reminding us of when the oil should be changed. We don’t think twice about it, either; we just bring them in and flip open the wallet. Same goes for motorcycles and most other wheeled or tracked conveyances either recreational or utilitarian (or maybe they’re one in the same, like my dream car, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon — room for bikes, skis, kids, dogs and 603 horsepower to blow your hair back). If Tesla ever makes a wagon, that would be a contender too, although by the time I could afford one the batteries would more than likely be a bit crispy, and ludicrous mode probably wouldn’t be so ludicrous anymore. Yes, I admit to having caviar taste in cars on a ramen budget (drives my wife crazy), but hey, when those cars are 10-plus years old and starting to rack up a fortune in repair costs, I’ll be the idiot who buys one. I think we’re on the cusp of some exciting technology that will help integrate some of these features into bikes and take some of the guesswork out of when it’s time to head down to your local shop and get that rancid fork oil replaced.
If I were to imagine my quintessential service department, it would be clean and organized; the technicians would be educated and certified, they would own their own tools and they’d be professionally dressed. There would be a dedicated suspension area and computers at each bench to reference technical information. There also would be a crack team of service writers, and since I’m dreaming, everyone would be highly paid and there would be thousands of miles of trails out the back door. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love the classic old bike shop — you know, walk in and get handed a dram of whiskey and then engage in a conversation extolling the virtues of the Suntour XC Pro. Nothing can replace that experience and I wouldn’t want it to.
The next time you hit “buy it now,” think about the considerable investment shops are putting in to be able to service these increasingly intricate bikes, and possibly pop down to your local shop and hit “buy it now” there instead.