Mountain Bike Shops vs. Online Retailers: Where do you fit in?

Local Mountain Bike Shop

Mountain bike shops (often referred to LBS for short) have been around since the conception of mountain biking. What started off as road biking shops that carried a few fat tire options have now become full fledged bike shops with everything both skinny tires and fat tires have to offer.

In recent times, the local mountain bike shops have been coming across some stiff competition. In the past, a mountain bike shop moving in down the street carried with it some local competition. However, with the introduction of the Internet and national chains, today’s LBS is seeing much stiffer competition on pricing with these lower overhead, higher buying power, warehouse based shops and websites becoming more mainstream. This is a reality that we all now work in…so the question arises about how we can support our local mountain bike shop while also doing what is best for our wallets and convenience. While there will be differing options on this subject…this is how I see everything fitting in as a website owner.

Local Bikes Shops vs. The Web

It is no secret that Bike198 supports websites (ex. JensonUSA, Huck N Roll) as much as we support our local bike shops. In our opinion, there is space for both in the market and this leads to better pricing and better service for mountain bikers everywhere.

Big Web Stores and National Chains

The big web stores have a very positive purpose in cycling, they are able to provide parts for a great price. For a lot of mountain biking related parts and accessories, this may be all you need. You buy online knowing that the service end of the experience (outside of typical good online customer service) is going to be zero. You are not going to get the part installed, serviced or troubleshooted for you. You got the price you wanted and you got it shipped to your front doorstep. This also brings up another great positive with web stores in that they are able to provide parts and gear to those that might not have a local mountain bike shop close to them…or their local bike shop does not carry the brand/part they are looking for.

Basically, the web stores increase the spread of availability with convenience and low cost.

Local Bike Shops

Local mountain bike shops on the other hand have a tool in their arsenal that trumps the web stores…service. The local bike shop is able to not only provide you with the parts you need, but they can completely handle the entire transaction for you from advice to installation and future service. If the bike shop is doing business as they should, they have experienced techs on hand that have the expertise that is above what you would find at a big chain. This expertise should insure your service is above par and you are out riding your bike instead of trying to troubleshoot it on the side of the trail.

Local mountain bike shops are also able to carry brands that you are not able to buy online easily like Specialized and Trek. These larger brands tend to support their shop network by not allowing larger online retailers to carry their models further increasing competition outside of local areas that support their brands. These companies, especially Specialized, also carry branded accessories that are carried in the local mountain bike shops.

However, with increased overhead, smaller buying power and greater service also comes a slightly higher price in most cases. The owners of local bike shops have to keep the lights on and as any bike shop owner will tell you…do not get into the bike industry if you are looking to get rich. There isn’t a lot of money in bike shop ownership and it is a labor of love not monetarily driven.

Where do you fit into this equation with local mountain bike shops and online retailers?

The reality for most mountain bikes is that money is an issue. While we would like to think that we have no problem paying more for everything, that isn’t possible. If you live far away from any good local mountain bike shop, your choice is pretty easy…you pick up what you can from online retailers and do your best to learn how to work on your own bike (check out our maintenance section). That ends up being about your only option.

What if you do live next to a lot of local mountain bike shops?

Here is how I see it…and there will be those that argue this…but let’s see how it goes.

I try to support local bike shops every time I can. For items like tubes, nutrition and other small items, I have a hard time paying extra for those at a LBS when the big chains like Performance Bike have them on sale on a regular basis. There is zero service associated with those items and the selection is often much greater at those locations or online.

For component parts, if the pricing is close between the online retailer and the local bike shop, I will try to buy at the local bike shop. If the pricing is drastically different, the lack of tax and small shipping charge (sometimes free) shifts me back to the online retailers. However, this does mean that if there is an issue with this part that I can not fix, I can not expect the same pricing/service out of the mountain bike shop if something goes wrong. Part of the service end that bike shops factor into their overall costs is the support they give their customers. If you buy a part online, install it incorrectly and then take it into the shop, you are more than likely going to get charged the full shop rate where you might have gotten a discount if you bought all of the parts there. This is just part of good customer service and you can not expect otherwise.

However, there have been cases when local bikes shops have given customers a hard time for buying online and then bringing the part in. I believe this is wrong and a chance to build a relationship with a customer instead of trying to make them feel guilty. While I do not believe they should discount service on these parts, I do think it is an opportunity to build a relationship with that customer that may make them buy from the LBS the next time around if that is the kind of service they require.

If you are one of those customers who require a lot of service and do not like working on your own bike, you need to shop at a local bike shop as much as you can. Building that relationship with the employees and owner will be greatly beneficial down the road and worth the extra cost. Also, local mountain bike shops do a lot more than just sell bikes and gear. They support your local mountain bike trail efforts and provide support for mountain bike races and other events. The support you show them will pay dividends in your area that you may not be able to see.

Bottom line…we try to spread the love as much as we can. There is a space for all aspects of bike retail in the market and they all fill a specific need. Understanding the setup and where you fit into the equation is crucial to getting the best price and best service for your mountain biking needs.

What do you think? Discuss on the forums by clicking here.


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