Bike Shops share the blame in the slow growth of bike commuting

While at Frostbike last weekend I had the opportunity to sit in on a brainstorming session with Salsa Cycles and several of their dealers. What I witnessed was both disturbing and exciting.

The session began with Salsa general manager, Jason Boucher, introducing the Salsa vision and staff. He went on to give updates on the popular products in terms of sales for 2007 and projections for 2008. In that report he gave two very telling statistics:

  • Their top selling frame of 2007 was the Casseroll, their only commuter specific frame.
  • Their top selling complete bike of 2008 will be their two options of the Casseroll.

Salsa currently has six mountain bike frames, five road bike frames and just one commuter specific frame. They have no commuter specific accessories or components.

If you were asked where Salsa needs to grow their line of products, what would your answer be?

I know the folks at Salsa are looking hard at their line to see what they should be releasing next and I also know they have some commuter options in mind, however they wanted to get their dealer’s input on this before final decisions started being made. So they opened up the room to discussion and simply took notes as the dealers made suggestions.

A couple of the first suggestions given by the dealers in the room included a mountain bike stem in 5mm increments and changing the model name of one of their handlebars. Nothing was said about their commuter specific line until I raised my hand and asked where they were expanding it.

Also, later in the discussion the question was asked to the dealers if they saw commuting by bicycle growing in popularity in their area. Almost every person in the room raised their hand. Yet I would say the dealers only spent 5% of the time discussing and suggesting commuter specific bikes and products.

What’s the deal?

The independent bike shops are often what drives the cycling culture in their city. Everything from the attitude of the staff to the products they carry makes a big impact. These decisions directly impact the local bike culture direction and growth.

These bike shops see the growth of bike commuters and saw Salsa’s top sales figures on their commuter specific bike… so why is their focus still on abstract details in the stagnant sport section of bicycling instead of the thriving and growing commuter section of the industry?

We often like to list off road conditions and government apathy as reasons why more people aren’t using the bicycle as a source of transportation. However, I wonder if a good portion of this guilt shouldn’t be placed on the local bike shop. Why aren’t they changing their business to push people out of the cycling-as-a-sport mentality?

That’s the disturbing part, so what’s the exciting part?

Even with the majority of dealers lack of focus on the bike commuter, sales figures for Salsa’s (and most other brands) commuter specific bike is sitting at the top. Not to mention that all of the dealers in the room had noticed an upward trend in people using their bikes as transportation. And these were dealers spread out all over North America.

I thoroughly believe more and more people are dumping four wheels for two and this movement is going to continue. More bikes are being sold. More people are using them. This is an exciting time! I just hope the independent dealers will jump on board and help propel us faster than ever into a bright future that includes more people on more bicycles.

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42 thoughts on “Bike Shops share the blame in the slow growth of bike commuting”

  1. Steve says:

    The main problem on both sides is cost. Unless you can completely get rid of a car, and all the costs associated with it, it’s hardly worth it to the average person to go through the trouble of riding a bike to work. I loved riding to work and didn’t own a car most of my life. Then, I got a job offer that doubled my income and the choice was clear. The increase more than paid for the car.
    On the side of the shop, it’s a money loser. Until someone is completely rid of their car, the maintenance required on a commuter bike is awfully hard to sell. I long for the day when the US is open to bike commuting, but we must realize that the main hang-up is still out of the control of the shop. It’s political, and until an environment is constructed by legislators that makes bike commuting a viable option, both sides are at a loss.

  2. Bryce says:

    I just received this year’s tax refund, so of course it was time for a new bike. I’ve been car-free since July of ’06 and was in need of a backup bike to get around on in case one breaks down, so I went in to the closest “LBS” to my residence. I had an awful time with the sales guy as soon as I told him I was looking for a commuting bike. The odd thing is this shop’s website prominently advertises commuting bikes as one of its specialties, so I was doubly bummed that I received the usual “treatment” from this particular young spandex dude. They had nothing in “my size”… They’re the local official dealer for everyone from Cannondale to Electra, but no offer to order something. He let me flip through a Specialized catalogue then left me to stand there. Needless to say I had to travel across town to another shop.

  3. Noah says:

    We have a new bike shop opening up here in Kansas City that is going to focus on cycling for transportation. They’re not open yet, but their bicycle inventory is currently dominated by Dahon and Breezer. This won’t be a “Mellow Johnny’s” but it’s as close as Kansas City’s gotten to a commuter-specific shop.

    At other shops, you’ll see a small corner with a few seat-post racks and frame racks, and a little island display with some bags and fenders. There might be a display case for lights and cycling computers, but the lighting options are usually limited to a choice of a few various sub-$40 headlight/taillight combos, and a few several-hundred-dollar HID or LED options. Hub dynos and $100-ish halogen and LED options are nowhere in sight. Good selections of bike-specific locks are about the only essential commuter gear you can reliably find at our bike shops right now.

    Obviously, the “bikes are toys” or “bikes are for exercise” mentality is to blame. This is most certainly the blame of:

    * Discount stores for putting bikes in the sporting goods and toy aisles
    * Sporting goods stores who slant the fitness bias on bicycles
    * Bike shops for letting the above two entities define what bicycles “should” be used for and running with it.

  4. Steve says:

    Man, I’m really sorry to hear the responses. Our shop has at least half a dozen high quality headlight options, 4 different racks, the list goes on. Just as a sidenote, though, the generator hubs are in low supply at the moment, having tried quite hard to build a wheel up for a customer who commutes on a RANS Zenetic (sound familiar, Noah?). Great bike for a commute, but he’s stuck with the rechargeable until those are available to me.

  5. Mike says:

    Tim, that is an excellent observation. Dealers and manufacturers are their own worst enemies. I believe one of the main reasons is because commuters are (have been) boring to the marketing types. It is infinitely more exciting to marketing folks to have a photo of a svelte road racer carving corners or a mondo travel suspension bike hucking off a cliff. But a dude with a coat and tie and loafers wending his way down a city street…

    I have a hard time with a lot of dealers in that they seem to turn away more people than bring in. Granted, this isn’t a very scientific observation. However, it seems like stories like Bryce’s are all to common. Dealers too, are caught in the web of selling flash. I think it’s changing. The company I formerly worked for was guilty but they are changing. They too saw that their most popular selling bikes were steel fixed gear and commuter/urban styles and not the flashy race machines. They will be, smartly, increasing their offerings in the commuter type market. Give it some time, manufacturers will change first and then dealers will catch on.

  6. kim says:

    My LBS is very Tri-centered (which I’m well aware of- that’s his business) and there is another high-end MTB store a few km away, but if you just want a straight-up commuting beater, you can’t beat the local Korean brands. They come in under $200 almost all the time and almost always include fenders on the step-throughs (which are very popular); my first one had a wheel-friction front lamp. The most popular bike here, however, is the cheap full-suspension mountain bike with very knobby tires. Not so good for commuting, but cheap and everyone has one. Even the cycling clubs who ride through the city are on MTB, albeit more expensive models (Giant, Cannondale, Elflama, Rocky Mountain) than the COREX and LESPO (which is short for “leisure sports,” btw) Korean brands.

    I do partially blame bike shops. People usually don’t know much and will take a lot of what you have to tell them if they’re just getting into cycling. I wonder while typing this, however, how much the LBS actually knows about commuter bicycles. Is it just that they have been in a Mountain Bike/Road Bike rut for so long that they don’t know enough outside these areas to appear competent when talking to potential customers? That sounds like part of what Bryce is dealing with.

    Start at Interbike. Push the commuters (especially if it’s growing so quickly). Bring the local dealers onside and go from there. I think if the companies aren’t advertising to the dealers, the dealers aren’t going to advertise the latest and greatest in commuting to their customers.

    Oh, and as Fatty says, price is important.

  7. Noah says:

    I don’t know why a RANS Zenetik would sound familiar to me. I don’t know anyone with one. I commute on Diamondback Sorrento (Just as Raleigh bought them) this time of year and a Trek 1200 in fair weather.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just the supply of the bike shops that’s all to blame. It requires a shift of thinking on the people selling the bikes as well. Not once when I’ve gone into a bike shop have I been asked “are you planning on riding to work?” or “do you plan on running some errands as well?” – This would be a GREAT lead-in for selling racks, grocery panniers or messenger bags. I’ve only been asked if I plan to ride on the road, do serious off-road stuff, or if I plan to stay on bike paths.

  8. Phil says:

    I really have to agree with Tim. Most LBS’s treat bicycles as a sport. But 2 out of 3 times I’m walk in a LBS I see other bike commuters. I too look in the store for things like bike commuter specific clothing, bike racks, lights, fenders, and panniers (the kind that are made for the city, to easily take on and off). All of this forces me to do is to buy my stuff from the web, when all I really want to do is support LBS. It really makes me wish I lived in the wet bike oasis of Portland.

    But I really love that Salsa Casseroll Triple, I ended up with a Surly Cross-Check because I couldn’t afford spending another $600.

  9. Quinn says:

    My take-
    1. people are spending so much money on other things in life And see a bike as such a limited use item that they are unwilling to spend the money on a quality bike.

    speaking for myself, I don’t own a car, mainly due to the fact that I would use it about 4 times a month and to me $50/mth insurance and 3.15/gal just isn’t worth it, to have the conveinence 4 times a month.

  10. dan says:

    When people look at the streets, they are scared to even get out of thier car and walk. This is the fault of everyone, not the bike companies or shops. The only way to make a difference is to find the local shop that cares, the local bike/ped organization, and your local metro government and have everyone you know that is even interested in bicycle commuting stay in constant contact with them and urge them to take the steps necessary to make it happen. If you are looking at the manufacturers, companies and shops, you are looking in the wrong place. It starts with you.

  11. Tim Grahl says:

    dan – I agree that it takes me, you and every individual but it’s a true fact that manufacturers and bike shops have more impact than any one individual. They can be a center for people to rally around. A source of information and encouragement that can propel people onto a bike far faster and more efficiently than any one of us can.

    So I am absolutely looking in the right place when I look to these organizations to have a bigger impact, to step up, take action and reject apathy. They can make the difference and SHOULD be. Hell, they’re the ones that will not only save our planet but make the coin in the process!

  12. Ghost Rider says:

    Tim, great article and great points (commenters included)!

    There is a LOT more local bike shops can do to promote cycling as transportation rather than just for recreation — carrying more commuter-oriented products, using their business powers to influence local governments and transportation planners, providing advocacy in other ways…the list goes on and on.

    The sad fact is that the vast majority of bike shops only want to cater to the “go fast” crowd — high-dollar bikes and expensive add-ons, clothing and other accessories. And, as Mike pointed out, the “go fast” crowd seems sexier and more athletic than the rest of us who like to do our errands and traveling by bike. Sex sells, I suppose!

    So, my question is: how do we as commuters and bicycle consumers influence our local shops to step up and deliver on their ability to advocate for “bikes as transportation”?

  13. Noah says:

    Simple! We get sexy!

    Drat! foiled again!

  14. dan says:

    Tim, you are correct with the money aspect. The money being spent goes to the shops, manufacturers and companies. However, who’s money is it? The patrons of the shops. I have spent years working in bike shops and commuting daily by bicycle, and if more people would come in and ask for commuter bikes AND order them, as apposed to walking away unhappy, things would change. Most of the shops stock road and mountain bikes because that is what has been selling strong for the last decade. You probably won’t see as good a selection of commuter bikes because most people leave without buying one.

    It’s the same thing as going to the local quickie mart for a 1968 Plymouth transmission. They are not going to have it. If 20 people a day came in looking for one, and 1 or 2 ordered one a couple times a week (not that a convienent store would have a 1968 Plymouth Transmission, but follow me here), the store would eventually start to stock 1968 Plymouth Transmissions, as well as a few others. It is simple supply and demand.

    Now, I do agree that shops need to take a better stance on it. The owners of the shop I work for are not as passionate about bicycles being viable forms of transportation as I, but I have made inroads, and we are starting to help our customers find what they need. Sure, I / we will take some of the blame, but there are many other factors that discourage bicycle commuting. I am not looking to argue your point, and I do appreciate your article and believe it. It just takes more than a bike shop to make bicycle commuting grow.

  15. Los says:


    I agree with your goals, but I don’t see your premise here, in that the Casseroll isn’t really “commuting-specific” but rather a versatile road frame/bike. The dealers appear to be interested in Salsa as a mostly racing/sport brand with a strong mountain bike heritage. So Salsa may not be the best brand for QBP to advance commuting-oriented bikes/parts/accessories. That’s what the Civia Cycles brand looks to be for.

    Bike shops as a whole are understandably timid about charging into new and unproven markets. Shop people might be inclined to believe that people will simply commute on old beaters. I would be apprehensive about going full bore into commuters too, seeing the totally inadequate fenders on the current wave of city bikes sold in the US. These bikes still need more design integration work wrt racks, fenders, chainguards, and lights.

  16. Mike Myers says:

    What exactly is “commuter specific”? In my mind, a bike needs fenders, a rack, and lighting. That’s it. That also describes a touring bike or most “sport touring” bikes. If more road bike manufacturers would spec their frames with rack mouts and fender eyelets, the choices for riders would instantly grow. Room for wider tires would be nice, but I have no problem commuting on 700x28s.

    Now, for people who live in areas with snow, wider tires would obviously be necessary. That’s nothing that a nice rigid MTB with eyelets and mounts couldn’t handle easily.

    Chainguards and the like are nice, but not necessary. A pair of bicycle clips are pretty darned cheap, and they keep your pants out of the chain—and weigh less than a chainguard.

    I know a guy who commutes on a Trek Madone and a 1971 Cinelli. I commute on a Gunnar Sport and a Surly Pacer—but I also know a woman who commutes on a low-end Giant hybrid. I think that trying to define bikes as “commuter specific” is really just another way for the industry to sell more bikes, and that’s fine. But there are plenty of bikes already available which serve the purpose very well.

  17. Roger says:

    I am a commuter and weekend rider but can only afford two bikes. One is my all around bike which I use to commute and the other is a mountain bike. If more bikes in shops were designed to be more versitile then spending a good amount of money on a bike that is not only your commuter but your “fun” ride bike would make sense. Unfortunately most manufacturers think they need to sell you a bike for the Tour de France which makes a lousy commuter. Everyone gets on Grant Peterson for being a retro grouch but I ride one of his bikes because it is great for both activities commuting and road riding. I am glad to here that the best selling Salsa bike is their Casseroll because it just backs up my stance. Manufacturerers need to produce bikes that can be ridden on the road, have wider tires, full fenders and be able to attach a rack and build them with quality parts. These bikes will sell.

  18. Guitar Ted says:

    First of all, great comments here.

    Secondly, the bemoaning of our current state and the lack of instantaneous progress in the face of insurmountable odds is humorous. Lets see………cars have been around for what, well over a hundred years? The cities, towns, and villages of the wide expanses of the “U.S. of A” are all built around the infrustructure that supports the iron, plastic, and rubber cells we all see as “the enemy”.

    So, here’s the reality as I see it. At best- at the very best- bicycles will be only a supplemental form of transportation in relation to automobiles and planes. Inner cities and suburbia are ripe for bicycle transportation developement, but it is in its most primitive phases as of now. It will likely take a generations worth of concentrated efforts to see major gain in these areas.

    Plug this into “the now” and you will have a better view of reality. Bicycle dealers that “get it” as far as commuting are really today’s visionarys. The dealers that seem apathetic, or down right resistant may be just living a reality dictated by their market and lack of any kind of infrustructure/interest/support from their local governments. Some just don’t see “the money in it” yet, and I suppose that is, as they say, “the bottom line” here.

    I think it’s an exciting time we live in, if you care about bicycles at all. We are seeing the cutting edges of what I believe will be a growing movement towards a bigger place for commuting/urban cycling, but it’s going to take time.

    That and a lot of hard work and patience. 😉

  19. Matt S. says:

    I totally agree with Mike Myers. The the regular bike commuters at my workplace ride:
    ancient 10-speed,
    fixie track bike,
    Raleigh comfort/hybrid,
    pink beach cruiser,
    Wal-Mart Schwinn 7 speed comfort bike,
    Specialized mountain bike,
    a completely ridiculous “chopper”
    I ride a commuter-specific Specialized hybrid.

    No two of these bikes are of the same type. Yet all of us have fun riding to work! But there is a common thread: all of us (except for the track bike and the mountain bike) have fenders and a rack. So my thoughts are, just make the fender and rack mounts standard equipment, and let people pick what they want!

    I know I won’t be popular for saying this, but the Wal-Mart Schwinn would be a good bike for a lot of people. (His model is similar, but with only one chanring) It’s cushy, cheap, and has rack and fender mounts. He always rides in with a smile on his face. I’ve not seen a bike like this at my LBS.

  20. Steve says:

    Noah, you’re hanging with the wrong crowd if no one you know rides a ‘bent. Just kiddin’. They’re from Kansas, that’s all. Didn’t mean to offend anyone.

    Ted, nail on the head. Bikes will be supplemental for a long, long time.

  21. gazer says:

    I gotta say that my LBS, Talbot Cycles in San Mateo, CA regularly puts commuter-ish bikes in its front windows. Even folders!

    There are a number of bike shops around, and the good ones appear to specialize in different areas. Talbots hits the everyday / kids / new rider niche, while others hit the “serious” weekend-warrior/racer niche.

  22. rick says:

    Interesting topic. I find it interesting that the LBS gets the blame. I think Dan in response # 14 said it best. People need to put their money where their mouth is. Commutter bikes that are on the showroom floor already are not exactly flying out the door. It’s no wonder your LBS is hesitant to stock them.

    If we want to point fingers let’s take a look a little closer to home. If I was a complete newbie and was looking for info about commuting by bike and I googled the subject chances are I would find myself here. What would I find? Well just in the last week we’ve had a discussion about the GF Simple City. What was the outcome? It’s ugly, it’s expensive , it’s not made of steel, it’s not the right color, it’s too different from the prototype, the basket is not big enough to put a sheet of plywood in as well as a months worth of groceries for a family of six etc etc. How about the Civia? What were the responses to it? Go back and read them. Hardly a postive response.

    I think the blame rests squarely and firmly on the shoulders of the established cyclists. We have to stop putting our bias on to new riders. All of the stuff we debate about means nothing to the new rider, we just confuse them and turn them off. There never has been a better time to get into cycling but what are we telling people when they look to us for advise?

    I think the answer is the same as it was when the question was asked a short while ago about how do we get more people onto bikes. We lead by example and put our money where are mouth is.

  23. Noah says:

    Commuter bikes aren’t flying off shelves?! I wonder why?

    Commuters are a strange breed. First off, there are almost as many different reasons to commute by bike as there are bike commuters. Some do it for training, some do it for the environment, others for fun, some because they have no car either by choice or by situation. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the iceberg’s tip.

    Let’s look at consumerism for a moment, though, because that’s what a lot of these commuter-specific bicycles boil down to. Yet, as many bike commuters as I see on various blogs and forums, I can’t say more than maybe one in 100 have a bike that was built from the manufacturer with commuting in mind — and that’s being generous. Even then, I’m talking about things like the Trek Portland or the Giant Globe City, not exactly “high end” bikes.

    There are plenty of different kinds of people who might buy a commuter-specific high-end bike, too. But I’d imagine most of the buyers have at least one car, probably make more than 50,000 per year, probably in that 25-35 age group that’s old enough to make some money but young enough to be “hip” — or at least that’s what they’d like to think.

    Let’s face it. In the last … five to seven years, “green” got packaged, marketed, and sold wholesale to the lowest bidder.

    What used to be about conservation turned into sending all of your old appliances to the landfill so you can buy new energy-star schwag and pat yourself on the back.

    Instead of buying from a local farmer’s market to reduce the amount of fuel used to for intercontinental shipping of CORN (For F’s sake), people go to huge grocers and spend extra cash on the canvas bags that were made in some Taiwanese sweat shop. You can buy smugness at the cash register.

    Instead of doing their part to reduce waste, huge companies can just buy carbon credits.

    Instead of taking mass transit, walking, or riding a bike, people can go to Whole Paycheck in their Prius and know that they’re among the elite that’s saving the world from all of us heathens in Focuses and Camrys (okay, and Suburbans, Escalades and Navigators)

    Look around. “Commuter Bike” used to mean a trash-bin rescued Trek 520 with $100 worth of wheels, some new tires and sweat equity thrown in for good measure or buying a backpack and some lights, then getting back on that beater that’s hung from the garage ceiling for the better part of a decade.

    The whole industry is rife with — for lack of a better word — corruption. The availability of $2,000+ “commuter” bikes won’t get people to ride their bikes for errands any more than a $5,000+ “racing” bike will get people to enter the TdF.

    Us, the people who are out there, need to talk to people about it. I do. Don’t you? Some of you point the finger at “us” like we don’t actually do any of the things you think we should be doing. I think a lot of us ARE. So if we’re not the bottle-neck, who’s next?

    Bike shops, where people go to get their bikes, could have some normal, entry-level ($350-$400 price-point, for example) bikes on display with racks and bags, just for show. Get sales people to show them off and put the bug in peoples’ ear about errands and commuting. Even if they just want a fitness bike for the MUP, the ghost will haunt them once the seed’s been planted.

    If shops know what’s best for them, they’d also dress up one or two of their used bikes the same way. What would you think if you saw a $200-$300 used mountain bike or hybrid that comes already equipped with brand new lighting, a rack, and a U-lock ready to roll? They’d sell a used bike for the same price as usual, and in the process they could probably sell all the accessories at face value, and you’d still end up with a bike that’s ready to commute on for less than the price of a brand new entry-level bike; And they keep an old frame and components out of the landfill.

    I think bike shops could play a huge part in this, and for the most part, they aren’t trying.

  24. burnsey says:

    Well put, Noah. I have been “smugged” at my local green grocers, by a Prius driving, canvas bag carrying, hemp clothing individual who commented on my car. (I do have a twelve year old Civic) I try to do all of my errands in one trip, thus I use the car, which nets 35 MPG. The packaging of green is comical, but the blindness of those who follow is another example of marketing at work.

    BTW, my bike is an older road bike, with racks, a single pannier, and lights galore.

  25. Mike Myers says:

    Rick—I don’t think the responses to the Civia or the Simple City would necessarily turn away a newbie. The problem I think many posters had with the Simple City is that it was TOO different from the beautiful prototype shown at Trek World. It makes no sense at all that people went nuts over the bike when it was cream colored and yet some genius at Fisher decided black or white would be good choices. It shows that Fisher really isn’t plugged in to their possible buyers. It boggles my mind. It was a pretty boneheaded move. As for the price, there will always be someone who thinks a bike is too expensive. The SC 8 speed is expensive but not as much as many of the bikes we all ride.

    As for the Civia—they are pretty expensive. I’m thinking they’re too expensive for their intended purpose, but I’m sure plenty of people don’t. I don’t think many newbie commuters would even consider a $1900 singlespeed. 🙂

  26. Spenny says:

    In Fargo we just got a Community Bike Shop and they are working very hard to promote commuting by bike. And our LBS island park cycles is doing a great job of promoting commuting by bike, every worker I have talked to has great tips about commuting in the area. Our biking population is growing very fast!

  27. doug says:

    i think it’s hard to convince people to commute via bicycle because commuting by bike is hard work. today, for example, i rode to work straight into 27mph winds with gusts even higher. it was also pouring rain. it really sucked. even though i was equipped with $100 of raingear (CAT oregon cape and bellwether booties that don’t work at all) i was pretty damp upon arrival to work. my way home from work was more of the same except the wind was at my back.

    most people cannot deal with something like my commute today because they don’t want to deal with it because being cold and wet and riding a bike on a busy highway is not fun. i can’t even imagine what the riding is like anywhere where it’s actually cold right now.

    ps, my “commuter specific” bicycle is an old bridgestone MB-4 i pulled out of a ditch. most of the parts were destroyed, but the deore thumbshifters my new favorite shifters of all time. it doesn’t have flat bars, which seem to be what makes a normal bike a “commuter bike.”

  28. Mikael says:

    Interesting reading. Here in Copenhagen there are bike shops on almost every main street and they sell primarily bikes that you call “commuter bikes” in the States. To us they’re just bikes. If you want a mountain bike or a racer you have to hunt for a speciality shop. The vast majority of the 500,000 daily cyclists in Copenhagen ride basic bikes. One or three speeds, many older models, basic transport-oriented bikes.

    What I find interesting is how bike brands market themselves in bike cultures like Denmark and Northern Europe compared to the rest of the world. Raleigh’s Danish website at features a woman in heels. The front page of Raleigh USAs website has strange [to us] things like lycra and helmets and racing bikes.

    It’s the same for most other brands. They market themselves as stylish city commuting bikes in Denmark and Holland and as sports gear in the States.

    So the bike shops here in Denmark sell products that Danes want… namely cool city bikes built for commuting and shopping. Interestingly, because of the massive amount of bike shops here, this is where you go if you need air. They all have pumps outside with free air. Nobody goes to a petrol station. Bike shops have to provide air, otherwise they will lose customers to the shop 200 m down the street.

  29. Mikael says:

    A little addendum… I have a post on one of my bike blogs about how Danes bought 500,000 new bikes in 2006. This in a country of 5.3 million. It’s a bit of a boom at the moment, as you can read here.
    And there is a shortage of bike mechanics to cater to all the bikes! 100 pairs of greasy hands are needed.

  30. dan says:

    I believe many have said it, but I will reiterate.

    Bicycles are NOT considered viable forms or transportation in the Unites States. That is the underlying problem.

  31. “Why aren’t they (LBS) changing their business to push people out of the cycling-as-a-sport mentality?”

    Pushing people out of the “cycling-as-a-sport mentality” and into the “cycling-as-legitimate-transportation mentality” don’t have to be mutually exclusive things. You can have both. Both are legit, both are welcome, both are necessary. The goal of an LBS employee shouldn’t be to convince a prospective buyer that the biking style they enjoy isn’t the “right” one.

    Just a small point. I think your article on the whole is great and makes an excellent point. Oh, and FWIW, I commute on a Salsa Casseroll (and a Surly Cross-check), ha.

  32. Quinn says:

    Not only are both nec. but commuters make up about 5% of the profit @ my LBS, Thinking financially- promoting commuting doesn’t make sense.

  33. LCI-Lori says:

    I am an LAB League Cycling Instructor from Des Moines, Iowa. I have two recumbents (Vision VR44 SWB USS and Trimuter trike) and an Electra Townie. The Vision is my “road/RAGBRAI” bike; the trike is for bringing along my four year-old stoker on a Burley Piccolo (which, as a full-time mom, is 90% of my riding), and the Townie is my “teaching bike”. I commute on all of them. All have mirrors, fenders, racks, bags, and lights; I even added a WizWheelz rack to the Piccolo so we’ll have plenty of room for playground toys, picnic goodies, and swimming gear. I think that most bikes can be made into decent commuting bikes. In my opinion, the problem lies more in people’s fear of riding on the streets–and with good reason. There are plenty of motorists out there who are just plain bullies. It takes a lot of guts to hold your line in your lane when a cube truck crowds you. And I can’t tell you how warm and fuzzy it makes me feel to be told to “Get off the f-in’ road!” Tell me: How many of us have taken a bike ed course vs just steeling our nerves and learning as we go? Not too many folks are willing to take that risk. So I submit that if more educational opportunities for learning to ride in traffic were available, then more people would commute on the bike of their choice. The League’s bike ed courses do just that, and more (We also offer a motorist ed course to teach motorists how to behave around cyclists, and how cyclists *should* be behaving around cars). It would seem to me that it would be in best interest of LBS’s to offer those classes to their customers. Then there would be a greater number of educated commuting cyclists on the roads who need somewhere to buy appropriate equipment.

  34. steve says:

    The customers who know what they want will come in and ask for it. the rest of them will only buy what they see or which is presented to them.

    I’m betting that most bike shops could increase their sales of add-on stuff by making a display of, say, a regular bike with good racks and a trailer attached that has 3 or 4 bags of groceries loaded onto it (mock groceries–boxed goods) and a briefcase.

    That puts the message out that “hey, here’s something that people do with their bikes”.

    Also, it gets people thinking, if they are buying a bike, that they might want to get a trailer or have a rack and baskets installed on their bike.

    Experienced bicyclists don’t necessarily know what makes a great utility bike. True afficionados do, but they get their info on the web! But you can show the average casual cyclist, educate them about utility cycling and its possibilities, in the shop.

    Sales people have to be friendly and be interested in their customers to be effective. And people come into the shop because they are interested on some level in buying. But it is up to the sales person to let them know the possibilities. If, as some respondents seem to imply, salespeople are only “responding” to their clientele , they are not good at their job, maybe because they never studied it or because they aren’t primarily salespeople, but bike technical people.

    Look at the car industry. For years, they said publicly that “we make SUVs because people want SUVs.” That was a partial truth. A bigger truth was that the car cos. PRESENTED SUVs to people as a desirable option,(and it was in their interest to do so, because they were able to make a mint doing it) people tend to select from the 2 or 3 options that you put in front of them.

    If bike shops make a visual and verbal presentation of practical utility cycling, more people will set up their bikes for regular utility use.

  35. Doug says:

    I recently made a trip to my local bicycle shop (by bicycle)to see what was new. I was pleased to see the number of folks inside. This is not the norm even though this is the only shop. I had to smile when I realized that they were all getting tuned up for a day’s ride on their road bikes. I noticed also that most of the vehicles were SUV’s.
    They do carry some items for the commuter. As far at bikes, it’s mostly road bikes and some mountain. I currently use a mountain bike with street tires, a trunk with fold out panniers etc. It works OK but there is room for improvement. For trips to the store I have a trailer. Imagine the teller’s surprise at the bank when I road up on my bike with trailer.

  36. steve says:


    i also have a rack with fold-out baskets. If they are wire baskets, you can go shopping without a trailer: just take, or ask for, a cardboard box and bungee it to the platform formed by the fold out baskets and the rear rack. You can put a BIG box back there and you can load in the wire baskets as well as in the cardboard box, which will itself hold 2 full grocery bags.

    one thing to watch out for is weight, though. If you have a lot of heavy items (2 gals of milk, a big tin of olive oil,) it can potentially wipe out your rear wheel . In that case, a trailer is a great option. Especially since you already have one!

  37. Robert says:

    I want to say, that my city is putting in more greenways and bike trails and routes, but if you look at the map, its mostly ‘future’ or ‘planned’ routes. Specifically from where I live, its 40mph two lane roads with no shoulders and no passing, an drivers that never saw a bicycle.

    Since you cannot ask a person to risk their life to get to work, commuting isn’t much of an option. You can get a bike, in addition to a car. I made arrangements with a local church to park my car at their lot. They are exactly 1/2 the distance to my work, and at their location a bike route exists to my employer. So I save exactly 1/2 the mileage. I get some exercise. But I still need the car, so I still pay 1/2 the gas, 1/2 the mileage, 100% of the insurance, and about 90% of the depreciation, because thats more based on age than mileage.

    All in all, I do it because I enjoy it, its hard to calculate it as much of a cost savings.

    The bike I bought? Absolute garbage, I didn’t know anything about bikes, the brakes didn’t work, the seat fell off it, the shifter kept shifting up at odd times.

    I have no way to use a ‘LBS’…have no clue where one would be, and why anyone would pay them anything, bikes are supposed to be maintained by the owner. So…I’ve fixed all the issues that the bike came with, but I cannot imagine why they treated me like that.

  38. Mike says:

    This has been one of the most interesting threads I’ve read for a while. There are so many underlying factors of why bike commuting suffers from slow growth, as we’ve mentioned. And the ultimate problem is there is no common solution. What hinders bike commuting in one city can be vastly different from our city.

    I, too, am from Des Moines…well, one of the western suburbs. I refuse to ride street during my morning commute as I’ve been hit before and it’s just too much for me. I use the trail system, as we don’t really have bike lanes (and if you call the 3 ft margin on the side of some DSM roads a bike lane, you’re f’ing crazy.) and our trail system is purely built for recreation. I would love to see more bike lanes built, but it won’t happen in our town for years. Counties around here are trying to figure out ways to get around liability for riders, rather than improving road conditions for all as it is.

    But one thing that I think is important is that we lead by example. I live farthest from my office and am one of the more out-of-shape folks, but I do it. Not every day, but as much as I can. I ran a quick analysis of our office and 3/4 live within 5 miles. So, I add ideas to my general water cooler talk about bus systems, walking to work or at least lunch and car pooling routes and it’s at least getting people to think alternatively.

  39. Jim says:

    I think there are some important reasons for the lack of support for commuting on the part of local bike shops, and they are related to an attitude that’s embedded in many of the comments here.

    Bike shops (and this comment trail) are populated with folks who care deeply about bikes. People who are very interested in the subtle differences like gear ratios and head tube angles. People who can pull an old 520 out of the trash and with only $100 and a short bit of work have a commuter in good-as-new shape.

    For bike commuting to really catch on, it needs to be accessible to people who don’t know, or care, about bikes. People for whom understanding the difference between a cross bike and a touring bike is an uninteresting chore. People who would rather not be expected to change their own tires.

    Let’s consider cars as an analogy. Imagine if all dealerships were staffed with people who spent a great deal of their free time and money either building and racing mud trucks or Super Stock cars. You’d have a hard time walking into a dealership and finding someone to talk to about seat comfort, or the number of kids to fit in the back of a given minivan. The mud truck and super stock guys would have a hard time even bringing themselves to carry station wagons.

    I think this is where bike commuting is today. I also think that sexy, interesting, high margin products like the Civia Hyland, Trek Portland, Breezers, Fisher Simple City, and many others will play a role in bridging that gap. Both the manufacturers and the shops are exploring now, to figure out what product details will actually make a commuter bike that many people can buy and use.

    The commuting population is also transitioning now. I think there are a lot of people who can’t rearrange their lives so that home and work are obviously only a bike ride apart, but who are now interested in getting a bike that will enable them, if they can figure out the other details, to commute by bike. I think a lot of people are starting to work out this change in lifestyle, but it will take a long time for each individual or family to work out the practicalities, and to become confident that they have done so, and start giving up cars.

    All we can do today is start, and that’s happening.

  40. This has been one of the most interesting threads I’ve read for a while. There are so many underlying factors of why bike commuting suffers from slow growth, as we’ve mentioned. And the ultimate problem is there is no common solution. What hinders bike commuting in one city can be vastly different from our city.

  41. This has been one of the most interesting threads I’ve read for a while. There are so many underlying factors of why bike commuting suffers from slow growth, as we’ve mentioned. And the ultimate problem is there is no common solution. What hinders bike commuting in one city can be vastly different from our city.

  42. This has been one of the most interesting threads I’ve read for a while. There are so many underlying factors of why bike commuting suffers from slow growth, as we’ve mentioned. And the ultimate problem is there is no common solution. What hinders bike commuting in one city can be vastly different from our city.

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