I like bike shops for some of the same reasons I like hardware stores, clock repair shops and independent book-sellers. First, they are full of interesting and intriguing things, but even better they are full of interesting and knowledgeable people who have opinions and experience with the inner workings of what they sell.
Because they know and use (and often have a passion for) the things on their shelves and show floor, their solutions to your questions are always more inventive, wide-ranging and tailor-made than what you’ll find at the super-sized Barnes & Noble-equivalent (“But I’d be happy to look it up for you. . . . And how do you spell Melville?”)
When I came back to biking as a grown-up I was lucky it was here in Oregon. The people in bike shops were young and enthusiastic about bikes. They rode them to work. They rode them for fun. Some of them had even used baby trailers and could give me suggestions about them. But, when I began biking ten years ago, none of the friendly and helpful bike shop people I ran into were . . . women.
– Except at the tiny mom-and-pop bike shop here in my own small town. One day when I stopped by for a patch kit I fell into conversation with the older woman working there, mentioned how it was hard to bike very far, but I guessed I just had to get used to the saddle and toughen up. Or resort to padded shorts. I’d already tried the gel-top seat covers and other solutions eagerly offered by other helpful people in other shops. “Honey,” she said, “what you need is a women’s seat. It’s not about padding. It’s about the right support points.” And she was right.
Things have improved since then – not just for the comfort of my ride, but also for the male-female balance in bike shops. (Though sadly, that first woman’s little shop closed down round about the time the Wal-Mart came into town. But that’s another story.)
I began this biking blog with the idea that I would spend the best part of a year testing out bikes, visiting different bike shops, learning from those knowledgeable people, gradually narrowing my choices down to the one Bicycle.
It was a good plan.
But Clever Cycles changed it. Not because they had many beautiful bikes-for-real-life. Though they do.
And not because the people there are knowledgeable and helpful. Though they are.
(And it was a pleasure to bring the Oma back for her 30-day tune-up at their capable hands. As well as a repaired headstem for my husband’s mountain bike while we waited.)
My original plan may have changed largely because Clever Cycles actually had the Oma that fit me right there on the floor – and at a nicely discounted price that week only.
Before riding the Oma, I stood there in the side-street chatting with the guy who’d so helpfully adjusted the bikes to fit me and listened to what I was looking for and pulled out many great options for me to try. Chatting about Retrovelos and other options, I fully intended to take my spin on the Oma and then make my way home. I’d come back another day for further explorations.
But when I came back from that beautiful ride, the helpful young man was busy with another customer and I fell into conversation with one of the owners of the shop, a woman whose seven-year-old son was playing happily just beyond the shining spokes. A woman in an embroidered skirt the color of cinnamon toast who rode her bike the way I wanted to be riding – “50 pounds of groceries in the front hamper and the boy in his seat up behind.” She talked about climbing up Mt. Tabor on her Oma and realizing she hadn’t had to shift down to the lowest gear, “It is heavier at first, but you get stronger.”
And I could see myself riding.
The shop owner reached for a card, “I’ll just jot down what you rode, shall I? So you remember?”