How to get a handle on it all
From urban chic to retro fixies, there's plenty of choice for all cyclists, says Conor O'Hagan
With the explosion of interest in cycling there has been an almost parallel explosion in buying options. From warehouse retailers to online superstores, there are a lot of places you can buy bikes - and that's just the places, before you've even opened the laptop. And what was once a relatively sedate procession of brands with familiar names, has become a riot of choice.
The undeniable attraction of mass-market and online retailers is a combination of price and choice. No magic, just the age-old power of volume.
But Ireland's long-established independents; privately and usually locally owned specialists, survive, and in many cases, flourish, in the face of this competition by giving what they have always given - service and experience; commodities in which they have a powerful advantage.
There are good reasons to start - and finish - at your local bike shop:
Fit for purpose
Sorry to break this to you, but we're not all the same. Bikes need fitting to people if they're to work efficiently and safely. Sometimes that's just a question of picking the right frame size, sometimes it isn't.
This writer can attest to the exquisite pain that can result from high mileage on an ill-fitting bike - and how easily it could have been avoided by a short session with someone who knew what he was doing.
Believe it or not, there are colleges offering qualifications in bike-fitting, but without going that far, an experienced bike retailer can and will make sure that all your angles, spans, drops and reaches add up to a comfortable and controllable ride.
An independent or specialist bike retailer doesn't sell engine oil or roof racks; he (or she) makes a living selling bikes, and in the long term relies on the reputation he builds by selling and serving well.
By asking a few questions and perhaps making a few educated guesses, a good retailer will learn more about your needs than any online operation will ever pull from its database.
Now more than ever, there's a huge range of options in bikes, accessories and gear out there; all but a tiny proportion is irrelevant to you. The Man In The Bike Shop will have seen hundreds, perhaps thousands of customers come and go over the years. That experience becomes your asset when you take his advice.
Bikes needs servicing. Not much, but more than most of us are prepared to do for ourselves. A simple task like adjusting a derailleur (the dangly bit at the back) can be enough to make your head explode and your fingers bleed, but takes an experienced bike mechanic just moments. Better still, it will be done right.
For the sake of a few euro spent once or twice a year, your bike will run smoothly and will conserve your precious energy for whatever you need it for. And it's better - much, much better - to be told that your tyres are on their last legs by someone who has a rack of them behind him than to find out five miles from home on a wet night in January.
Anyone who has ever suffered a broken spoke or its close cousin, a twisted rim, knows that only a qualified magician can fix it. Your local bike shop has such a person. He must be honoured, or one day there will be no magicians left, and we'll be sorry.
What goes around
Perhaps best of all, bike shops are nice places, full of people who genuinely enjoy bikes and want you to enjoy cycling and drop by occasionally, so they don't have to bore passing strangers.
There are exceptions, but most of them have no interest in selling you the wrong bike. Sadly, that doesn't stop them selling ludicrous team jerseys to middle-aged men.
Size isn't everything; many independent retailers operate from small shops (though not necessarily - some are highly successful and big with it) and don't appear to offer much choice.
Be prepared to order and wait a day or two; it goes against the grain these days to walk out of a shop without the thing you came for, but it's well worth it for the right bike or accessory.
Use your retailer's experience and judgement and you'll give yourself more of a head start than reading online reviews or surveys will ever do.
Rite of assembly
Remember; bikes come in boxes and have to be assembled by hand to work properly and stay that way. In a bike shop, there's a good chance that you're looking at the guy who did that. In some cases, if you order online, you are the guy who did (or didn't) do that.
Anything you buy carries a warranty; that's the law. But actually obtaining a repair, adjustment, replacement or refund from a website can be another day's work - literally. A specialist retailer can respond immediately and effectively to your problems.
There's more to it than just selling stuff. Bike shops are typically the hubs of local cycling activity; the best source of advice, inspiration, encouragement and information. Used bikes, too.
If you're looking for a training group (the best way to get fit - guaranteed), this is where to find one, and where to ride.
Keep it local
One more thing about your local bike shop; it's local and operates in the local economy. Like you.