Bike shop vs big box store
Bikes sold in these two retail outlets appear similar but are very different. Any bikes sold at a big box store under the same roof as garden equipment, paper towels, and hula hoops are entry-level in quality, designed to meet the financial expectation of what their shoppers consider a correct price for two wheels, a pair of pedals, a frame and gears. How expensive could a bicycle be?
Well, if you don’t know, you don’t know. The same theory applies to any specialty niche. There are plenty of objects that command eye-watering prices that leave me in disbelief. I’m just not knowledgeable on the vital nuances to understand the difference.
There is nothing wrong with bicycles from big box stores. They serve a very broad public and, in many situations, are the perfect choice. But when a consumer is looking for a bicycle to join the local shop ride or enter their first gravel or gran fondo event, it’s not the place to go.
Perception vs quality
Schwinn, Mongoose and Raleigh may be names you know from your childhood, labels you think you can trust but they aren’t what they used to be. Over the years, these household brands went bankrupt and were purchased by larger companies to be sold in megastore chains.
Bike manufacturers who sell their brands in these supercentres minimise costs by substituting lower quality and less durable materials. Injection-moulded plastic may be used to make the bike’s rear derailleur. Low-cost mild steel replaces aluminium for frames and wheels. The bicycle may only have nine speeds instead of eleven or twelve.
And who is putting these bikes together? They are being readied for sale by the same personnel who assemble the patio furniture or other items on display, meaning non-cycling specialists. Bicycles are moving vehicles and reliable brakes are necessary for personal security. You should always choose wisely when it comes to your personal safety.
You can save money on a bicycle by purchasing it from a quality brand that sells directly to consumers (DTC). Shoppers avoid the middleman markup altogether when they buy from DTC companies like Canyon, YT, Ventum, Ribble, Planet X, Commençal and Fezzari who make fantastic road, gravel and mountain bikes in a variety of frame materials and group builds.
DTC brands are as high in quality, reliability, and customer support as labels found in conventional bike shops. As a bonus, they can offer more value at competitive brands’ price points because they are not paying for floor space in a network of bike shops. If you have the knowledge and skill to assemble the remaining pieces of your order, it is definitely worth the effort. And even if you don’t believe you can do it on your own, paying your local bike shop to do it for you is a win-win situation.
Your local bike shop
Part of that shiny new bicycle’s price tag in your local shop includes the professional service and guidance you get from the salespeople. You can speak to a real person about the type of riding you do and your goals, share your stories, and they can actually see how you fit on the bike. Their expertise means you’ll be buying the bicycle with the characteristics to meet your needs and size that is best for you.
The largest portion of the sticker price goes to prime materials. Bicycle frames and wheels are made from extruded steel, aluminium, and titanium or moulded out of layers of different types of carbon fibre to demanding factory tolerances. Parts and components that go on the bike are also industry-respected brand names like Shimano and SRAM.
The paint jobs are perfect and the bikes are lighter and inviting to look at; make you dream even. You are buying quality that will pay for itself in the long term as the bikes will last for years when maintained properly. This is in contrast to big box store bicycles that can cost more to repair than the price of the bicycle itself.
Technology, innovation, marketing
Brands spend an enormous amount of resources on research and development to remain competitive in the market and earn your business. The hot bike of the moment from one brand can be quickly eclipsed by another in the future, so they all have to stay on their toes.
Material testing in wind tunnels for aerodynamics, fatigue testing for all bikes, forks and wheels on calibrated machines to ensure consumer safety, future trends, product design, geometries, and even next year’s popular paint colours are all researched and developed in advance to bring you the best bike possible.
Add to that shop employee purchases and media swag (free promotion items), products for publication reviews, high-quality production videos, printed ads and online and social media campaigns. They are all tools to help brands grab your attention and business. In the end, they all have an influence on the bicycle’s price tag. But I’m not sure the cycling community would want it any other way.