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Dear Local Bike Shop

Dear Local Bike Shop:

The bike I bought fRom you in August, having now about 750 miles on it, needed a little attention on Friday. Some of what's needed is under warranty, so I brought it back to you.

I considered paying full bore for the work somewhere else, and here's why: your service people despIse the bike you sold me. They don't like working on it. I once oVerheard one mechanic saying to another with a disgustEd shake of the head that he wished you didn't sell this bike. Your mechanics don't mind letting me know they think it's a "less-than" bike. A stupid bike. They tell me that its basic technology is a centuRy old and has been superseded by much, much better technology. The guy today explained that that's why this bike was so Cheap.

It's not lIke these guys are mean and nasTY; they think they're being nice, and they have no idea that they're being condescending, or making me feel like a dumb sucker for being your customer.

I'm okay with not being the right kind of customer for your store. That's easily remedied. But dammit, you sold me this bike. I walked into your store (which, by the way, I selected partly on the basis of the cute sculpture of a whole family riding fun BICYCLES across your roof), told you that I hadn't ridden in decades, and said I wanted a bike suitable for commuting daily in the city. You took one look at me, walked me straight to this line of bikes, and said, "This is the bike for you." It wasn't marked down or discontinued. It was presented to me as acceptable for my needs.

And you were right--I really like my bike. It suits me well. But now I feel stupid bringing it to you for service, because you despise it. What does that say about me?

I won't be troubling you with it anymore, by the way (except for warranty work for six more months), but I thought you might like a tip from one of the customers you're half-heartedly throwing a sop to when you should be sending them to other shops:

Don't sell products you despise. You will end up with customers who feel despised. And trust me, they won't come back--ever.

And also? They'll blog about you in a way that locals can recognize.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 29th, 2010 05:06 am (UTC)
Hee. I was wondering what those letters meant. And I was confused at first because I missed the first 'I'. But then I figured out what it must be saying and backtracked and finally found it. :-)
Mar. 29th, 2010 05:14 am (UTC)
Hee! I was having a spy moment.
Mar. 29th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
I would actually consider talking to the owner of the store and telling him this.
Mar. 29th, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
I haven't ruled it out entirely. I want to be very careful about getting the mechanic in trouble; he did everything else right--went out of his way to find what I needed and come up with a solution, and he was friendly about it.

It's very hard to figure out how to address the unconscious prejudices of the privileged, especially to another of them (which I know the store owner to be). As I said to Kispexi just below, even an exact transcript of the mechanic's words probably wouldn't convey the problem to someone who almost certainly has the same problem.

It's an easier cop-out for me to a) rant online and b) just use one of Portland's ten zillion and one other bike shops going forward.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 29th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
Ha! For a second--okay, maybe two seconds--I thought you might have a bike shop there in Glasgow called Fluvian Metropolis. But then the coin dropped. Hee! What can I say? It's early.

The difficulty (and the reason I haven't actually addressed this rant, slightly reworded, to Fluvian Metropolis Bikes, is that the mechanic was extremely helpful, hard-working, and polite. He went out of his way to help me find a solution. He agreed that the work was under warranty, ordered the part, scheduled me an appointment...there was nothing to complain about.

It was that unconscious prejudice thing. He didn't know he was doing it, and even an exact transcript of his every word wouldn't persuade the shop owner that I wasn't a bitchy old woman complaining about nothing.

So, yay blogs as a place for getting one's rant on.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 29th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
I'm very new to the concept of privileged speech. I'm still slow to detect, and slower to respond.
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
Good shops
This isn't the first time (by a long shot) that I've heard a similar comment about RC Bikes. In fact, I suspected it was them you were talking about before even getting to the sculptures on top of the shop comment.

This is one reason I've been so happy to take our bikes to Clever Cycles - we have old bikes (mine is nearly 60 years old, my wife's is 30) and sometimes the parts are pretty obscure, things work differently than on modern bikes and doing things like fitting cotters in cranks can be kind of an arcane science at times (I've found from personal experience now), but they have always done it graciously, in a timely manner, and have never either explicitly or implicitly made me feel like I should have a bike other than the one I like riding.

It's important to have a bike shop that's supportive of you in order to keep you on your bike. You shouldn't feel disparaged because you can't afford a $3000 bike.
Mar. 29th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Good shops
Thanks for weighing in. I'm glad to know that I'm not just imagining my treatment at RCB.

The funny thing is, I CAN afford a $3000 bike, and if someone would show me one that appealed to me and met my needs, I'd probably splurge. I've never felt that my treatment at bike shops had much to do with the perception of my financial worth (unlike at, say, some fancy housewares shop in the Pearl); on the contrary, there seems to be a wonderful thrift ethic throughout most of Portland's bike scene.

But the money thing does enter the equation indirectly: the only bikes RCB sells to suit my kind of bike-riding are (as they've now made clear to me) cheap junk. Only one shop in Portland carries the high-priced version of what I need, and there (i.e., Clever Cycles) I could happily drop at least a couple grand on a fully outfitted Pashley or Oma. Would have, too, if only I'd known a little more last summer.

But RCB's high-priced bikes are not for the likes o' me. It's the "likes o' me" part, rather than the "high priced" part where I feel that the prejudice comes in.

No matter how I slice it, RCB isn't the right bike shop for me. I think the whole problem could have been averted by their not having that cute metal sculpture on top of their building. I really do.
Mar. 29th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Good shops
I always find it funny that so many people will spend $3000 or more on a piece of recreational equipment (a racing bike), but when faced with a $1500 city bike, more well built than their $3000 racing bike, meant to carry heavy loads, be left out in all weather, essentially to replace a car, they seem to think the price is outrageous. (I'm not implying this about you, quite the opposite)

I suppose in a shop where you focus on the recreational rider, you're not likely to offer high-end practical bicycles, and therefore, you're likely to have annoying repairs and such on the ones you do sell to people who use them regularly, and therefore you might develop a negative view towards them. Whereas, if they sold Pashleys or WorkCycles bikes, they would discover that, unless misused, they'd almost never see them again except for flat fixes or the every-few-years tire replacement.

I've also generally heard good things about CityBikes (on SE Ankeny), but they generally have a very long line of repairs at any given time, it seems.
Mar. 29th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Good shops
Oops, that was me :)

Also, I suppose they probably don't sell as many commuter-oriented bikes as recreational bikes, so the mechanics probably aren't as familiar with them. I know, for instance, a friend of mine who is a mechanic at a very high-end racing bike shop and who himself rides a lugged steel fixed gear with no fenders or chain guard/case always felt it was such a pain to have to (for instance) take off parts of the chain case to work on a bike, just because he wasn't used to it.

In any case, it's good to find a shop that supports you in how you ride a bike. It's good to have different shops that specialize in different markets, but you want to make sure you've got the right one :)
Mar. 29th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Good shops
I can't stress enough what an important subject this is for people considering taking up bike-riding. I was aware of it before I bought Clyde, and I even did a good deal of online research to try and find the bike shop where I'd feel most comfortable. But I didn't know what questions to ask or which search terms to use.

I wouldn't want to say that I made a terrible choice by going to RCB, or that I wound up with a bad bike. I like my bike a lot and I imagine it serving me for another year or so.

But I never did find a Portland blog or resource that said "If you think you'll be this kind of bike-rider, try one of these shops first." Bicycling is a fast-changing realm these days, and the more information we can provide, the better.

I'm thinking of going over to Clever Cycles today just to look around, if this monsoon ever lets up.
Mar. 29th, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Good shops
Yeah, this rain is crazy - I managed to make it to work relatively un-scathed, only to rip a big hole in my poncho as soon as I got here :-/

Well, at least on the way home, I can shed and put on dry clothes as soon as I get there :)

Nice thing about Clever Cycles too, is they have a lot of experience in the transportational cycling realm, as they all ride for transportation, so they can offer you helpful suggestions on how to carry stuff, what kinds of bags/baskets/etc might work well for you, and what kind of bike will treat you best as a non-sport cyclist based on the types of riding/carrying you do, once you're ready to move on from Clyde, and might even enjoy the challenge of figuring out interesting ways to make your bike do stuff like that, rather than hating their lives because you brought in something with fenders.
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
Ugh! Glad you got your warranty work done but not happy to hear about the poor choice of words and attitude. On a related note, I requested to speak to a different sales person after meeting with one who didn't seem to care that I was looking for a commuter bike. I've had better experiences there since.
Mar. 29th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
I've noticed that their website seems to stress a "performance bike shop" angle these days, completely at odds with the image they started out to project (with the metal family of happy bike-riders rolling across their roofline). Did they see you and assume you wanted a sport/speed bike?

I'm still toying with the idea of sending an edited version of this post as an email to RCB, but when all's said and done, I can't think of a good reason to do it. They seem to be transitioning from one image to another, and probably don't want my business. I've got so many other (and more conveniently-located, less-on-MLK) bike shops to choose from that it just seems simpler and better all around to go quietly.

Mar. 30th, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
Glad you found Clever Cycles. Really they're the best shop in town for transportation cycling, by a long shot. This will change as more and more people commute, but mentally cycling is still very much a recreational pursuit in this country (even in PDX), so the change will take a while.

RCB is a great shop for recreational cycling, but probably not so much for your average cyclist. I've gotten mixed service from them. I could understand the snotty service a tiny bit had you brought in what is affectionately known as a "BSO" (bicycle shape object. ie. $99 K-Mart bike), but for a bike they sold you it's unacceptable. Unfortunately attitude seems to be the norm at most shops. Again, here's hoping one day that changes.
Mar. 30th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Unfortunate
I think more communication of the idea of recreational/sport cycling as a distinct thing from transportation/utility cycling is badly needed--in Portland and all over the US.

Once those ideas are out there, then newcomers to bike-riding like me will be able to choose their sales and service shops more accurately, and those shops will be better able to market themselves. Right now, it's like a secret code, and you have to know it in order to gauge the shop you walk into.

I certainly hope it's clear that I don't think RCB is a bad bike shop, because it isn't. It's fantastic. But it's a very bad bike shop for me, and the terminology/code/identification problem is why it took me so many months (and one inappropriate bike purchase) to start figuring it out.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )



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