The Service-Oriented Bike Shop
As I continue to gain familiarity with the bicycle industry, I am always curious to observe different models of bike shops in action. There is so much variety in inventory, atmosphere and business practices. Some bike shops cater to athletes, others to everyday riders. Some carry high-end products, others are budget-minded. Some are diversified in their offerings, others are quite specific. One model that I find particularly interesting is that of the service-oriented bike shop - a model where the focus is on service and repairs rather than on sales.
In the Boston area we have a few shops that lean in that direction, and one that truly exemplifies it. Hub Bicycle in Cambrige is described by its owner Emily as a "pro bicycle repair" shop.
Although an authorised dealer of a variety of brands with products available to order, on any given day Hub Bicycle carries little inventory. What they do carry consists mostly of accessories: lights, fenders, racks, baskets, bells.
There is no online store. Everything is about the in-person experience, the here and now.
And the customer who drops by for a tune-up, repair, or overhaul gets exactly that, instead of being encouraged to buy new parts or upgrade.
There is lots of flat fixing - Every time I've been to the shop, at least two customers had come in with flats within relatively short time periods. While elsewhere I have seen mechanics roll their eyes at this, at Hub it is treated as entirely normal. No job is too small.
The service-oriented shop is a great place to spot interesting vintage bikes, since bicycles of all ages and conditions are welcomed. Examining this saddle, I learned that Belt was a "Fujita Leatherworks" brand - supplied on early Fuji bikes.
Obscure French 10-speed from the '70s? Department store mountain bike from the '90s? Something with a no-name coaster brake hub of uncertain vintage? Other shops might tremble or cringe, but here such machines are welcome with open tool chest.
At the service-oriented shop, you are also likely to see quirky patch-up jobs and DIY repairs.
There are bikes in for 650B conversions, single speed conversions, road to city conversions.
There are clinics and instructional courses for those who want to learn how to perform their own repairs and maintenance.
But for the most part, basic tune-ups and quick fixes for walk-in customers are what's happening.
The success of a service and repairs shop depends on the local culture. Hub Bicycle is situated in a busy, urban part of Cambridge MA, where it is very feasible to get walk-ins. Local cyclists will drop by on their lunch break or after work when they need something done. And when a shop like this is around, word quickly spreads. Lots of people in Boston own vintage 3-speeds, 10-speeds and old mountain bikes, as well as quirky modern city bikes that the mainstream shops don't quite know what to do with. A centrally located bike shop that is willing - and able - to work on such machines with a quick turn around time becomes a go-to resource.
Service-oriented bike shops are popular in countries where cycling for transportation is commonplace and doing one's own repairs is not. In Vienna I knew of several bike shops that opened at 7am, so that cyclists could stop in on their way to work. Passing by in the morning, there would sometimes be a queue out the door. Broken chains, worn brake pads, snapped cables, flat tires - absolutely normal to roll your bike to the shop and get it fixed while chatting with other customers and staff - much like Ellie Blue has recently discussed doing.
In North America, bike shops focusing on service and repairs are comparatively rare. As more people start riding for transport, perhaps that could change.