Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Best Time to Visit Your Bike Shop

Even though we live close to one another and normally cross paths on our own turf, this weekend I bumped into "cycler" from Biking in Heels 10 miles away - at Harris Cyclery. We'd both taken on projects that ended up throwing us curveballs, and now here we were. Even if you work on your bike yourself, it's good to find a trustworthy bike shop you can turn to just in case - and better still, a specific mechanic whose opinion and work you trust. The fact that I travel 10 miles to see Jim even though there are plenty of bike shops walking distance from my house, speaks for itself.

And if you are going to visit your local shop with a "project bike," there is no better time than the winter months. In the off season, bicycle shops tend to be less crowded, which means that they will be able to work on your bike sooner and will have more time to answer your questions. They are also more likely to have the components and accessories you want in stock, since things don't sell out as quickly as in the summer.

Some new floor models are likely to be available as well, since the shop will actually have time to build them up. This is the first time I've seen the Rivendell Hunqapillar - the version with the diagonal "middle tube." The design is definitely not for me and I cannot help but wonder how many people buying this bike will actually be using it in a way that necessitates this construction. But I do appreciate seeing the monster in person. The wooly mammoth headbadge and the decals are nicely done, as is the lugwork.

Never seen a seat cluster with a "socketed" seat stay like this before. Any idea what the purpose of this design is, assuming that it is more than aesthetic?

Between the Hunqapillar, the flock of other Rivendells, the vintage Hetchins, and other exotic specimens, it felt as if lugwork was declaring war on modern bikes and taking over the shop. My own modestly lugged bicycle seemed like an underachiever in comparison - though he held himself proudly and was quite happy to have the mechanic's attention.

Winter is also the time when bike shops hold end-of-the year sales, where good deals can be found if you are in the market for a new bike. And for those manufacturers whose models do not change year to year, winter is often the last chance to get a bike at the current price tag, before prices go up in the Spring. If you hang around long enough, you might also learn about non-advertised deals, including second hand bikes. Some of the most interesting vintage bicycles never make it to the likes of Craig's List or e-bay, but are sold via word of mouth. Bicycle shops can act as hubs for those types of connections. If you are looking for a particular bike, try asking your bike shop about it - they might just know of a customer, or a friend, who is trying to sell theirs. 

The winter months are infamously slow for the bicycle industry - but as a customer, you can take advantage of that in a way that benefits everyone: You get more personal attention, faster turn-around, and better deals - and the bike shop gets winter business. It's win-win!

29 comments:

  1. Do you happen to know where Gilbert got his wonderful silver rack?

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  2. I do most of my bike-related shopping during the winter for the reasons you cite: There are better deals to be had and the shops and mechanics aren't as busy.

    In a similar vein, I don't go to a bike shop on a Saturday if I can help it. Having worked in three shops, I know how everyone in the shop feels--especially if they're cyclists themselves (as they are in the shops I frequent) and would therefore want to be riding.

    Now I'll repeat a comment I left on Biking In Heels: I've always loved those old Hetchins frames. They're almost whimsical, in an English sort of way.

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  3. lyen - I don't, but ask on Biking in Heels, she is friendly!

    Justine - I appreciate the uniqueness of the Hetchins, but it's too much for me. And you are right about the whimsical look, especially the curly stay models. Question is, do I want my bike to look whimsical?.. Some Rivendells have this feel to them as well, now that I think about it.

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  4. I could definitely see myself doing some dirt trail or modest off road riding on a Hunqapillar, but at 5'10" I'd probably go for the smaller frame that doesn't necessitate that middling tube. I preferred the look of the additional top tube on the earliest models, but even that was probably overkill on anything but the very largest frame.

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  5. velouria, the socketed lugs at the seatstay cluster could be just aesthetic, but this is also commonly seen with investment-cast seatstay clusters.

    my trek has a one-piece investment-cast seat cluster. the advantage is strength-- it's one-piece cast; the stays are not welded/brazed to the seat cluster:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/4693576916/in/set-72157622923303901/

    however, in the example you show above, it appears as though it's simply for appearance; the ends are still welded/brazed to the cluster!

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  6. When I decided to start cycling again I turned to friends and Blogs like this one for advice on bicycles. My local shops did/do not carry Rivendells or Workcycles or any of the brands I saw reviewed and recommended. They tend to carry "Specialized" as their top of the line bike and several other less expensive brands. No one carried bikes made with lugged steel. I imagine they have the large population of local college students in mind. Anyway, I ended up buying from The Authentic Dutch Bike Co. in Seattle, and have bikes on order from Rivendell in California and RoyalH in Somerville, MA. I have no association with any of the local bike shops and I feel "funny" when I go into one. I understand the advantages of buying local and having a local shop to deal with but as I did not buy from them I am not sure how to go about establishing a friendship with these folks. Any thoughts?

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  7. I have never owned a Hetchins, but can appreciate the style. They are pretty unusual and easy to spot in a crowd. Whimsical is a very apt description.

    Aaron

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  8. Since I moved, Harris is a mere few hundred feet away now... always have to live near a good shop ;)

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  9. You're damn right. Winter is the best time to visit a bike shop. Less crowds, more service. I usually get my bikes checked just before the winter arrives, so that everything runs smooth thereafter. A good check before the winter is not just very important when cycling throughout the year, but also faster and cheaper. Sales are also a good thing, if one is looking for a new bike, I agree.

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  10. Astroluc - Oh! Not fair. But then again, I'd probably go broke : )

    somervillain - The style on your Trek makes sense structurally, and of course I've seen that design before. On your Trek, the seat stay is not socketed; the single-piece cluster is. But on the Hunqapillar, the seatstay itself is broken up into 2 pieces: the socket, which is attached to the cluster normally, and the rest of the stay. Visually it looks busy, and intuitively it seems weaker than a normal cluster to me - though I could be wrong and probably am!

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  11. JimP, a number of bike shops around my neck of the woods(Greater Washington DC) sell tuneup/maintenance plans for all bikes, regardless of whether you bought there. I'll bet that's not just a DC thing. I think that's one way to establish a mutually beneficial relationship--and then of course it doesn't hurt to buy accessories and replacement items like tires and tubes there when it's possible. I almost ended up doing that myself (and may yet, the jury is out) after being dissatisfied with the technical competence of the shop where I bought one of my bikes. I found a different shop that quickly diagnosed and fixed a problem that had been annoying me for a year and a half. If I don't get back on track with my original shop, that'll be my new bike-shop home.

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  12. @ Iyen,
    Gilbert's rack is a found treasure- my brother found a pair of 70's era Japanese "touring" bikes on trash day out in his back alley. He fixed the ladies frame one for his wife, and let me steal the rack off the front of the mens' frame. more info here: http://bikinginheels-cycler.blogspot.com/2010/02/real-find.html

    If you want a new one, your best bet is to beg Mike Flannigan for one, because he used to make a similar one for dual Schmidt E6's. I believe he's only making them for "his" bikes, but maybe he'll relent.

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  13. Adam - I like the look of the double top tube on the Bombadil and on oversized English Roadsters / Dutch bikes. I also like truss frames. But the Hunq almost seems like design for design's sake. I don't know, I thought it was out of character for Rivendell.

    JimP - IMO there is no advantage to buying local if you don't like the shops and don't feel comfortable there. You are not a charity for the sake of local in itself; they are supposed to cater to the customer's needs. But look on the bright side: 2-3 years ago, the situation in Boston was similar to what you describe, so things do change.

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  14. If I'm not mistaken, the Hetchins in the photo is one that Sheldon Brown himself rode.

    The thing about Hetchins is that, whatever you think about their lugwork and curly stays, they (at least the ones I had the opportunity to try) rode nicely. Now, the lugs had nothing to do with that and it's debatable as to whether the stays are a factor. But, for all of its quirks, it does what a bike should do.


    As for buying local: I'm in favor of it when it's feasible. If local products and businesses don't provide what you want or need, then I'd say to look elsewhere. And, as ChristopherFotos says, you can still go to your local shop when you need repairs or replacements. Though sizes and threadings vary, the basics of bike repair and maintenance are more or less the same for all bikes. I say this as someone who's worked as a bike mechanic.

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  15. Justine - Yes it is formerly Sheldon Brown's bike, at some point purchased by Elton Pope-Lance, who has replaced some of the components. The bike has some interesting quirks and is a wonderful piece of history. I have never ridden a Hetchins, but would love to some day. Ditto re Mercian.

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  16. cycler - I meant the rear rack! I wasn't even contemplating the level of fance that is your front rack!

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  17. Velouria - Many builders use "slugs" that are brazed into the top of the seatstay and onto the sides of the ST/TT lug. I believe that your Royal H is constructed in this manner. By having the slug fit over the SS rather than inside of it, a different look is achieved; no strength should be lost through this method.

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  18. M. Pewthers - You are right, the bullet-style caps on mine went inside the seat stay and were sort of melted into it until the stay and the cap became one. I guess the look just creates the illusion of a continuos stay, whereas the lugged look makes you more aware that it is 3 distinct pieces.

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  19. Velouria, I believe that middling tube is now featured on both the Bombadil and the Hunqapillar. The second top tube, previously featured on both, is no more. The smallest Bombadil and all but the two largest Hungapillars are traditional diamond frames. I can't think of any reason why the middling tube would be less effective than a second top tube, and on the Bombadil the line carries straight through with two additional middling stays, and I can see how that would be (perhaps unnecessarily overbuilt) much stronger. Either way, I don't like the middling tube or middling stay look at all. Surely the second top tube would be strong enough for any of the sort of fully rigid mountain biking either bike were likely to encounter.

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  20. oh I'm so sad i was working in boston yesterday and I coud have run into you both!!

    Astroluc- welcome to the neighborhood. I stop in Harris so much that they kind of tease me. I force myself to stay away for lengths of periods.

    Although I heard they were thinking of offering a bike maintanance class this winter. I should go in and bug them about it- I really want to learn so skills.

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  21. mamavee-- it's not in your neck of the woods, but broadway bicycle school in cambridge offers a bike maintenance and repair class.

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  22. Adam - Oh my God, I see what you mean (haven't visited their website in a while). So this this is what's become of the Bombadil. I think I might cry.

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  23. oh, I'm gonna go broke alright... especially after I get myself and the missus a pair of Rivendell's :P (I swear I shall convert her to a cyclist yet!)

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  24. @JimP: I will bring my bike into a shop for minor repairs. If I get a enthusiastic response to it, I've found a friend. If they sneer, I take it elsewhere. I've had shops show appreciation for bikes they don't carry. Sometimes your patronage shows them that there is a market they don't know about. Two of my local shops have actually gotten excited about that and started catering to vintage restorations after I brought mine in. Several have not, and I don't keep going there. Smaller independents that have been wrenching a while are more likely to show interest. They are usually surprised and appreciative of someone who understands quality of a different sort than "speed shops".

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  25. The socket style seat stay caps are easier to use than the plug type. Much less clean up and the socket gives much more room to get the fit right [to get the seat stays the same length].

    I like the sockets and think they look good too.

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  26. I also think they look good on this particular bike - a mountain-ish bike that is meant to look overbuilt. But on a regular frame, it would look too busy for me - "overlugged," if you will.

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  27. i use my hunqapillar offroad, loaded and unloaded, and don't shy from trails that are very rough and rocky. it handles it all quite well, and i think there's definitely a place for such a build in the spectrum of fine lugged bicycles. check it out;
    http://bikenoir.blogspot.com/

    i enjoy reading! erik.

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  28. Hetchins lugs make everybody look like an aesthetic underachiever. They are like cast iron lace, too pretty to use.

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  29. Funny, no sooner did I write that I've never seen those socketed seat stays before, than I began seeing some all over the place. Here is one from Peter Mooney.

    Erik - Thanks for the link and it's fantastic that you are riding and enjoying this bicycle!

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