Mail Order Bikes

It’s hard peddling bikes in the age of Amazon.

Let’s be honest. Being brick and mortar retail, regardless of product, is scarier now more than ever, for all of us.

I mean, I get it. I have three kids. Sometimes a few clicks online is ten times easier than taking my wide-eyed little cherubs (who in the blink of an eye turn into stone-faced demons) to any speciality store. Little ones in tow or no, I understand the draw of the couch and the computer. But some stuff, some stuff is worth the walk into the store. Like bikes.

This online stuff is what keeps me up at night. It’s what makes me shake in my boots when my oldest son says he wants to own a bike shop when he grows up. Because, what will bike shops look like in 15 years? Will we still have that candy-colored line of Biria Easy Boarding bikes out front and rows of rail trail bikes inside? Or will we just be small repair hubs, nothing but a building packed with parts and bike stands? I dunno, but I like to think if we give you enough of ourselves we’ll still be here. Bikes and bags and baskets and all.

Yep, this stuff keeps me up at night. It keeps all of us bike shop folks up. We all share the same fears, but I’m not sure we ever talk about it frankly with our customers. I asked myself why the other night at 3am, why don’t I just address the elephant in the room? Maybe if I tell you why it makes sense to choose your local bike shop, and I’m not even saying it has to be Bikeworks (but we’re pretty nice, right? wink. wink.), maybe then you can understand what businesses like ours face, and why we’re a pretty awesome asset to your community.

Let’s start with the obvious stuff. If you buy a bike that doesn’t fit you, it hurts, literally. Your rump, your neck, your shoulders, your back. None of these things should be in pain when you ride, and yet so many have thrown their bike to the innermost corner of their garage because riding is a literal pain in their butt. And don’t think some online sizing chart is gonna be a cure-all for your size concerns. I’m 5’8″ tall, but my legs are short. My friend Natalie is 5’5″ tall and has longer legs than me (lucky). Point is, none of us fall perfectly into the parameters of a sizing chart. And bikes aren’t easy to return. And bikes aren’t always easy to build.

That’s right. When you order a bike online it comes in a box. You have to build it. Luckily, they don’t come in as many pieces as your Ikea desk, but they do come with brakes, and those are really, super important. What they don’t come with is a bike stand. Tuning a bike is tough without one of those. Tuning a bike is also tough when things are bent up or cracked from shipping.

But let’s say you built the bike, it fits you and all is good riding the neighborhood. Yay! You ride and you ride, but then, shifting gets all funky clunky and somehow your brakes are out of alignment (the kids say they didn’t knock your bike over, but they totally did. Don’t have kids? Your dog did it.). When you buy from a bike shop, you’ve got a place to bring the bike when things pop up. Buy from Bikeworks and you’ve got the peace of mind of knowing you’ve got free adjustments and tune-ups for your first year and a partner in riding for life. Not so with Amazon and those big box stores. By the time you’ve paid shipping and add in service, any money you saved is out the window. And then some.

This is all the stuff I’m sure you already know. But then there’s the other stuff. The darker stuff.

Let’s talk eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace for a sec. Let’s say you want this super fancy exotic brand bike. Joe Schmo is advertising this bike on eBay at like $2,000 under MSRP. Can you believe he barely rode it!?! It’s totally like brand new. So you buy it. You pedal it a few times and it’s great! But then, a week into your blissful buying experience you pedal that totally new bike up a hill and the frame cracks…and then so do your ribs when you hit the pavement. Is it a manufacturer defect? Maybe, but you didn’t buy it from the manufacturer so you’re outta luck. But maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe this “totally new bike” was totally used and in a wreck before you bought it, meaning you got a stressed frame that was just waiting to give out. Or maybe it’s counterfeit from top tube to bottom bracket. Either way, you’re on your own (and, please, try not to sneeze with those broken ribs).

Last gripe. Promise (and this is one that I see every single day, and one that, as a mom, gets me the most because it effects our kiddos).

Know those super beautiful cruisers with all their super beautiful colors? Isn’t it amazing how affordable they are online and at the big box stores? Kids bikes, too. So pretty, so affordable. Did you notice how those painted rims perfectly match the bike? Ever wonder why the bike shops don’t have those matching painted rims? I can tell you why, but first let me tell you I, too, wanted some posh painted rims. Until I started working in a bike shop. Thing is, rim brakes don’t grip onto paint. The manufacturers know this, but they don’t care if your brakes work or if they make an ungodly noise when you use them. They only care if you buy the bike. Pretty bikes sell. They don’t have a service department or warranty on the brakes, so what happens after you make the purchase is of no concern to them. Bummer, right? As a mother I feel like I’d like to have a heart to heart with their mothers. How soulless…

Speaking of souls, or lack their of, I think that’s what makes the independent bike shop so valuable, to the individual and to the community. We have souls. We pack life into our shops, life and an honest to goodness love of riding. We’re giddy at the thought of sharing the past time we love so much with someone new. We love helping a kid have the confidence to shed their training wheels or equipping a newly retired couple for their ride along the entire Allegheny Passage. When you buy a bike and it’s making a funny noise or the cables stretch, we’re here to fix it. No charge. When you aren’t sure what bike is right for you, we’ll ask you a bunch of questions about your riding goals and if you have any back or neck issues, and we’ll match you to the right bike. Put simply, we’re here. And we’re good listeners.

And we care. When we opened Intercourse Bikeworks we were disheartened to learn about the poverty issue facing the Pequea Valley School District. Local families were struggling to put food on their tables. School kids were going without the nourishment they needed to be the awesome learners they genuinely wanted to be. That’s why we brought our Cranksgiving food-raising ride to Intercourse. Riders aren’t asked for cash. Instead, we ride to grocery stores and ask participants to purchase food for the local food bank – in whatever amount they can afford. The first year we had a moderate turnout, but by the second year word spread. We raised over 12,500 pounds of food, making our little shop in our little town the largest Cranksgiving in the entire nation – beating cities like Miami, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

In Lititz, we teamed up with the brave and kind officers of the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department for our Merry Little Bike Ride. In support of their Blue Christmas initiative, we decorated our bikes with Christmas lights and rode, with police support, through town to look at Christmas lights. Like Cranksgiving, we didn’t ask participants for money. Instead, we asked everyone to bring a wrapped item from a local child’s wish list (the list was compiled by the officers thanks to help from our local school districts). The end result was a community building experience that does good, and feels good.

We also volunteer with the Pequea Valley School District Career Advisory Committee, provide support at countless organized bike rides throughout the area, work with local retirement communities to encourage seniors to stay active and try riding, and lead weekly training rides for competitive cyclists. All without payment. All because we care and as members of the community, we genuinely want to contribute to it. The Internet can’t do that. Never will.

So, next time you get a pair of shoes online and you brag out your “steal” to us at the shop, understand that it stings. We still love you. We’ll still smile every time you come into the shop…but it stings. At least, before you buy online, give us a call, send us a Facebook message, a text, or an email. Give us a shot at meeting your price. We might surprise you and be able to meet it, even beat it.

Being Bikeworks in the age of Amazon isn’t easy. But we’re gonna hang in there. What do you say, wanna hang with us?