Saturday, May 8, 2021

Pandemic Notes, Global Bike Shortage, Hyperinflation on the rise?

 May 2021: While more people are vaccinated, other problems loom in the horizon

Let me start off by saying if you are still reading this blog in 2021, I really appreciate it. I am working on slowly transitioning to Vloging, but don't have the video editing skills needed to create the kind of content I would like to create for my viewers. I have a YouTube channel where I vary my content to attract a larger audience. Currently the channel features skateboarding videos of me because for some reason middle aged skateboarders are becoming more popular. The truth is, just like film photography, storytelling on the printed page is becoming a lost art. It is hard to find those with the ability to ignite our imaginations and keep us wrapt in attention for even 15 minutes to read a blog post. So if you're still here after all of these years, Thank you. The last time blogs were popular we had Nooks and Portlandia wasn't even on Netflix yet. As a matter of fact Netflix still mailed DVDs. Needless to say I don't blog for the money, I do it because it's the medium that I express myself the best in.

Texas is opening up, this time not so prematurely. Vaccines are available to the majority of the population except for kids at this time. While we are still encouraged to wear masks and social distance, the number of COVID cases are continually declining. I look forward to a time where I can take my family to watch a good movie at the drive in or dine in theater. The two to three movies that have come out since the pandemic have all been busts. Whatever happened to feel good, wholesome family entertainment? Along with the many shortages that this pandemic has caused this has got to be one of the hardest ones to deal with. Hollywood really needs to get out of it's depression and give the masses something to take their mind off of the craziness of 2020 that has carried on until now. But a shortage of good movies isn't the only thing that we seem to be lacking as a society. Let's talk about bikes, like we always do, because after all this is a bike blog, not just my life blog.

The global supply chain has not corrected itself. As a matter of fact, it seems to be limping around, fatally wounded. Just yesterday I was at Sun and Ski sports, a popular sporting goods store in my area. Just like Wal-Mart and Target, the bike racks in the stores were almost empty. Whatever was on the shelves looked like they had been purchased from another distributor that the store doesn't normally work with. The bikes looked like overstock items left over from last year. The one singular mountain bike on the shelf that I saw cost $8,000. In a normal time, the same bike wouldn't be worth more than $2K. 

Owning a bike will soon be like owning a pair of Nike Jordan's in the 90's. I hope people don't get shot over a bike like they did for a pair of basketball shoes 30 years ago, but it seems with the way prices seem to be going up for bikes it's only a matter of time before crime takes a hold of the situation. Prices are up so much in fact that domestic production for bikes has a chance of being successful more than ever before. Just like when gas prices went up to $4 a gallon and domestic production for oil ramped up in North Dakota (which was not great at all for the environment, anyone remember the Keystone Pipline?) bicycle manufacturers need to mount a similiar response to the shortage of imported bikes. Putting an item on pre-order just won't cut it in the U.S., that isn't the way business is done here. I wouldn't give any business thousands of dollars for a product I'm not sure that I will ever recieve. My message to online bike retailers and bike shops alike is either have the bicycle in stock, or only charge the customer a refundable deposit to place an item on order. Pre-ordering is getting out of control and we as a society shouldn't accept that as a new norm.  

Growing up, name brand goods and quality bikes were a luxury. It's safe to say my family kept Payless Shoes in business throughout the nineties. When you wanted to spend your saved pennies on something nice, you had to order it through a catalog, then wait for the product to arrive via the snail mail pony express. We are slowly but surely regressing to those times. The problem is the market, our shopping behaviors and society's expectations have moved on from those times. This is causing unprecedented demand for goods that are creating a domino effect of backlogs in other services and industries. What this all leads to is one word, hyperinflation.

Inflation is a lost of confidence in a currency's value. I would compare it to the spillway of a dam,  where excess water sometimes has to be drained. Hyerinflation is a complete rupture of the dam. No matter how much the water runs, it will never fill back up. The dam is a currency's buying power, held together by the market and consumer confidence. The water is currency, and the runoff is inflation. We are headed for a break in a Hoover sized dam. We can look to examples of the detrimental effects hyperinflation can have on countries like Venezuela and Lebanon. Never say "it can't happen here", because that's when it usually happens in your area.

If you have a bicycle and don't need to sell it, now is a good time to hold onto it. Sell it now and you might not be able to replace it. Only sell it in the future as a bargaining item for something else. Stay tuned for more updates from A Bicycle's Point Of View.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What I learned from Riding a Mountain Bike for a month


This was my only bike for a month

Do we need a bike for every discipline? How necessary are gravel bikes, road bikes and all of the other sub categories that are sold as "essential" items? Can there really be one bike to rule them all?

Some bikes are designed for speed, others for dirt trail endurance and still others for recklessness. The best bike you can ride is the one you own. Whatever discipline you choose, you will find the limits of your abilities and that of your bike real quickly. Some might trade and "upgrade" to something that might be a better fit for them, at least in their own mind. But what if that isn't an option anymore? What if there is a global bike shortage due to the supply chain being massively impacted by a pandemic? We don't have to imagine that scenario anymore because we are living and breathing it. The industry seems to be sputtering back into life but is still unable to meet the massive new demand it has acquired. If getting a new bike isn't an option for you, you might be able to take comfort in my experience of riding my mountain bike everywhere, for a month.

Before getting into my story I understand that while you can ride a mountain bike on the road, you can't ride a road bike in the mountains (at least most people can't without breaking it). So while I was stuck with a mountain bike, your experience might be that you are stuck with a road bike, a cruiser, a tandem or a unicycle, which might greatly limit where you can ride your bicycle in the event an upgrade was not possible. With that out of the way, let's continue the story, because there is a point to be made about mountain bikes in the end.

Last year a lot of the best things happened under the worst circumstances. We welcomed another child into the world, yes a COVID baby. We also bought a house. We couldn't stay where we were living at before moving into our new house, so we were nomads for a month. I got to take full advantage of my campervan which I had spent years getting ready for a big journey I knew I would surely take one day. Out of all my bikes that I had, I could only choose one to take with me while the rest waited for me in storage. I knew that where I was going there would be hills, nature and some singletrack. I knew that I wouldn't be able to escape to the mountain bike trails every day because we would be on a working vacation, using whatever Wi-fi was available in our Airbnb and our hotel. It wouldn't be realistic to think that I would be mountain biking every single day, but I wanted to be prepared just in case I did. I ended up taking my hardtail 29er which I hadn't really ridden much since I already had other bikes that I rode more. I spent most of my time riding roads, and only once did I make it out to the trails. 

((As readers can tell from the photos, I did other cool stuff besides riding bikes))

I learned something valuable from this experience. It really important to be content in life if you are blessed with the necessary things. It's foolish to follow every trend and be a sucker for every marketing hype that is put before you. The illusion of speed is just that, an illusion. There will always be someone who is faster, no matter what bike you are on. A bike that can handle the asphalt and the dirt really is the only bike you need. A dedicated bike for a specific riding surface or type of riding should be looked at as an added bonus but not as a necessity. Before the pandemic we had an idea of what needs and wants were. During this time some of us have gained a better understanding of what needs and wants actually are. If I was stuck with only my mountain bike, even though the majority of my riding is done on the road, it would be difficult to deal with at first, but then it becomes second nature, as we humans are good at adapting to new challenges and circumstances. My average speed would go down by about 3mph, but then again I could get on dirt paths or even ride where there were no paths at all. By their very nature, mountain bikes are less fragile and more durable than other types of bikes. They can be ridden on a bike lane in Berlin or in the African savannah. If you are stuck with only one bike you can own, buy a mountain bike or keep the mountain bike you already have. 

Today I took out my 29er hardtail again for another road ride. The mountain bike trails in my area are closed due to 2 weeks of constant rain. Wanting to scratch my itch for mountain biking I went on a 41 mile ride through mostly country roads exploring my new area. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I went through last year and count my blessings. Compared to some who have had to deal with the COVID virus firsthand, I really didn't have to deal with any challenges of that magnitude. My life turned the page while some closed their books entirely as they fell victims to this horrible virus. It is important to look at things with the right context, because COVID took the lives and livelihoods of many people around the world. My point is that contentment brings happiness. If you are not happy with your current bike, current job or current circumstances, break things down into their simpler form. You have a bike, you have a job and you have the ability to control your perspective on life, which can then allow you to see how to change your circumstances. Contentment is not the same as complacency, which some people seem to get confused. Unlike complacency, contentment is important for your emotional health. Stay happy, and stay blessed friends.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

COVID-19: The good, the bad and the unintended revival of the everyday cyclist

Here in the U.S, we are about two months into giving the COVID-19 pandemic the seriousness it deserves. Even as I write this article, however, most stay at home restrictions have already been lifted and many businesses have reopened. Restaurants are once again reopening their dining rooms and parks are crowded with large groups of people. The warning for continued caution has largely fallen on deaf ears as people blatantly disregard warnings about social distancing and are no longer wearing masks. To be clear, there is no green light to go back to normal. Out of 320,000,000 people, about 1% of the U.S population has actually been tested. To date there has yet to be a vaccine or proven remedy that will work against this virus. Tests are not mandatory to the public and quarantines are no longer being enforced. 

I have to preface my article with a statement of both disappointment and disbelief of how people have reacted to the virus on a national level. There seems to be more concern for the almighty dollar than for saving human lives. Something as fundamental as the value of human life should be an issue we should all stand behind in solidarity. Instead misinformation and political bias has turned our common enemy, COVID-19 into a political issue. Instead of receiving a consistent message from the people that we turn to inform us of current events, some news media outlets have been giving us a mixed bag of opinions and conspiracy theories that are not grounded in reality. It seems that it is up to every person and business individually as to how they are going to protect themselves and their families during this time. There is no guidance or leadership from any of the programs and entities that are supposed to be qualified to guide us through a situation like this. 

There will be consequences for irresponsible actions and disregard for life and personal safety. Those who err on the side of caution now are likely to fare better in the times to come. This is not over and it will likely take on a new dimension pretty soon. Skeptical? Wait and see. Feel free to bookmark this article for historical reference. ;)

On a different and very positive note (shifting gears, I had to get my nihilism, or factual reporting, out of the way) this pandemic has had a very positive impact on the environment as well as many people who were once overworked but now have found the leisure time for exercise and self-improvement. With the reduced greenhouse gases from people staying at home instead of driving, the weather in Texas has never been better. We are having an actual Spring for the first time in years. The cooler weather has also brought many people out on their bicycles. People of all types are taking to cycling now, not just the competitive athlete types but people with kids and dogs who want to enjoy the outdoors, maybe for the first time in their lives. Bike shops and mobile bicycle repair operations are seeing their business model shift to cater to commuters and casual cyclists over those who ride for sport. If this trend continues we can hope to see a revival of sorts in the way of infrastructure improvements for cyclists along with real transit oriented development initiatives. TOD improvements in my area have been a joke and have missed the mark of their original purpose. Many are glorified high end retail outlets that don't incorporate or support community businesses. High end retail and high end housing have gentrified the former communities that were once here. Hopefully as local governments look to meet the increased demand for cyclists, real strides can be made to connect people to the places they need to go via their bicycles. 

What can you do now in this time of social distancing and reduced work hours? Start by riding your bike (of course, you knew I'd say that). Familiarize yourself with your local bike paths and low traffic roads in your area. Create routes to and from places. Figure out the ins and outs of your town or city, the back roads and the neighborhood roads. Grow a garden. Find a wooded area to social isolate, take in the nature around you. See all of the animals that have come out of hiding thanks to our reduced carbon footprint. Stay positive and take comfort in the fact that there are a few people that still take this seriously, that are preparing for the worst to come. Read the Bible. Read Matthew Chapter 24. Read Luke Chapter 21. Take note that these things that we are seeing now were already foretold to happen. "The shrewd one sees the danger and conceals himself, but the inexperienced must suffer the consequences"-Proverbs 22:3. Pick up a new hobby of your choice. Keep your mind busy. Connect with friends via face time or Zoom. Stay busy, stay active and don't be fooled into complacency. That's about all I have for now. Stay safe and stay tuned for more articles from my blog.

Monday, February 3, 2020

If you're cycling over age 30, then please read this blog

Of all of my blog posts, this one is the most important...

Chances are, if  you're reading this blog, or any blogs at all these days, you are well over the age of 30. That's okay, you've come to the right place. This blog will address topics related directly to our health and safety as pre-middle aged men and women on our post young adulthood. To put it frankly, there are things that are simply not discussed enough among our cycling demographic. While the internet is full of "Look at me!" video vlogs, dietary advice, action camera footage and bike bling, barely any content is practical to cyclists our age. Brand and lifestyle influencers, as well as industry marketers have given us a false illusion that our fountain of youth will last forever and that it's okay to still be young, wild and reckless. After all of the injuries I had in 2019, some of which I am still reeling from, I'm here to set the record straight as to what exactly is it like to be a cyclist in your 30's.

To start with, why is our age so important? Because we are in an age where many in life have found a good footing financially and have acquired some disposable income for a hobby of our choice. Long gone are the days in our twenties when we would survive on ramen noodles, spaghetti with tuna, mac and cheese and little Vienna sausages ( I still eat that stuff sometimes, these days by choice). With that newly acquired disposable income, some choose a hobby that is both fun and good for our well-being. Others choose a hobby to keep them in a state of feeling young. Some of us choose cycling, a hobby that when done with moderation and modesty can actually prolong our youthful state as well as physical fitness levels. The problem is that when we roll into our 30's from our 20's some of us don't feel the clock change. Even if only of a little while, it seems that we entered our 30's and nothing actually happened. Our fitness levels didn't decline, our energy was the same and we were still going big and sending it on jumps on our mountain bikes. We naively go about taking risk after risk until the day our bike goes sideways on the trail or we decide to go George of the Jungle on a tree. We fall, something breaks, gets sprained or torn and we immediately realize that we are no longer in our 20's anymore. We learn new words like "Orthopedist" and get acquainted really well with our physical therapists. After 4 or 5 injuries  of the same nature our abilities start to decline. Our time on the bike is suddenly regulated on how long we can ride without pain. Daily movements that we used to not give a second thought to are now debated endlessly in our minds. Bending over to pick something up now becomes a chore for our knees. The ground seems a lot higher and our legs don't want to lower us there anymore. Injuries that used to take days to heal are now taking months. Our tendons bulge from our joints as they become scarred and thickened. This is the part of the story nobody seems to be parading on social media. This is what being a cyclist in your 30's is really like. 

I'm currently in this dark place as we speak. Despite my optimism that things will get better or that I will at least reach a new "normal", uncertainty about my ability to recover hides underneath the surface. I find myself deliberately holding back my efforts to ride at the pace I usually enjoy as to not injure myself further and stop the healing process. Since my injuries by body has generously added over 10 pounds on my bathroom scale. I start weighing the cost/benefit relationship that I have with cycling, something I have never done before. I picture myself pursuing other hobbies and accepting a newer, "fatter" me as hypothetical scenario that is slowly becoming reality. I start to think about how cycling helps me adapt and adjust to other changes in life and how stressful life would be without it. I go back in my mind and ask what I would have done different to avoid being in the spot that I'm currently in.  I repent, over and over for being so stupid and not wearing knee pads on the mountain bike trail and not realizing that my body was no longer in it's 20's, even though my mind was. 

I put an old, 90's mountain bike with slick tires on my trainer, because the road bike is just too uncomfortable. 10 to 20 minutes in, I stop as soon as I break a sweat. Gone it seems are the times I could ride the trainer for an hour straight. Even though my sessions are really short, I tell myself that I got my heart rate up and I achieved something. The warm up then turns into a stretching session, a process which I have been repeating for the past several months. 

I go on short rides with my son. Then I go on short rides by myself. I try to increase the distance little by little. Right now I can manage 30 miles at about 16-17mph average speed. Even then, I am at my limit and need to promptly ice my knees afterwords. After 5 months from my last injury, I'm left wondering if I will ever be the same again.

If you are a cyclist or mountain biker in your 30's, please be aware of the following. Jumps, transitions, doubles and table tops are words that shouldn't be a part of your vocabulary. If you don't know what a double is, too bad, you're too old to do it anyway. Instead, familiarize yourself with the words "knee pads", "elbow pads" and "insurance deductible". Trust me, you'll go a lot farther knowing those words instead.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Marin Four Corners: Honest Review

The Marin Four Corners: What is it, exactly?

A robust and well built bicycle, the Four Corners struggles to find it's footing in a specific bike category

I really like this bike, I just need an excuse to use it. Is it a mountain bike? Not exactly. Is it a road bike? Definitely not. Is it a "gravel" bike? Maybe. The bike rides really planted on gravel and soaks up the potholes with ease. But is it a fast, race specific gravel bike? It's not even moderately fast. In fact, I'm about 2-3 mph slower on average when I ride it. So what is the Marin Four Corners? What, exactly, was it designed for? Let me attempt to shed some light on a bicycle that was heavily marketed by the Marin brand and see if it lived up to the hype. 

Marin promised us the possibility of a do it all bike that is stable enough for touring but nimble enough for singletrack use and even getting a bit of air on the trail. I've searched all over the internet in hopes of seeing any actual reviews from real people using their bikes this way. Sure, the people in the promotional video (see video shown above) are skilled professionals who can probably bunny hop a beach cruiser and sell it to us as the next progressive travel enduro bike. But are people actually using the Four Corners as intended?

The answer from an extensive search is a resounding no. To begin with, most people who reviewed the bike online are actually from Poland and Russia, so I had to go on context clues to try to understand the YouTube reviews. From what it appeared most people were riding this bike similar to the way most people ride hybrid or path and pavement bikes. Granted most reviewers seemed like they had many positive things to say about the bike, however the gnar factor was definitely missing from their videos. Nobody was sending this bike off jumps or careening into drops and no one seemed to be popping wheelies. 

So what has my experience been with the Marin Four Corners? What, in my opinion can and can't this bike actually do? After a year of ownership, I think I have my verdict. I will eventually attempt a ride on my local mountain bike trail with this bike, so this is still a preliminary review based on all the other forms of riding that I have done with it. 

The Marin Four Corners Is: 

Comfortable- This is a very comfortable bike. It's upright for a drop bar bike, and riding the drops doesn't leave you gasping for air. The bike soaks up a lot of road vibrations and the ride is very forgiving overall. 

Stable: Even unloaded (I have never loaded mine up for bikepacking or touring) this bike is very much planted on the ground. On loose, gravel descents it doesn't feel twitchy or off balance. The back wheel grips well on dirt climbs. 

Durable: Everything on this bike is built to last. This bike is made from quality parts including what is basically a 29er rigid fork and wheelset to compliment the already robust steel frame. Nothing flexes where it shouldn't. The drivetrain shifts under load and doesn't skip gears. The chain doesn't bounce off the bike on big bumps or potholes. Like a Toyota Land Cruiser, everything on this bike looks made to stand 25 years of abuse. 

The Marin Four Corners Is Not:

Light: Weighing in at just shy of 30 pounds, this bike is not light, not by road bike standards, gravel bike standards, touring bike standards,  not even by hardtail mountain bike standards. This bike is heavy, everything about it from the frame and wheelset makes it so. There are no punchy accelerations that can be done on this bike. Rather, it encourages the rider to ride at a consistent pace throughout the whole ride. A day of climbing on this bike will usually result in an evening icing the knees. 

Fast: I have done all of my riding with the stock wheelset and tires that originally came on the bike. So my assessment of the bike's speed comes from the original equipment it came with. Why shouldn't it? It's designed to be a mountain bike with drop bars and road bike gearing. With that in mind, this bike is not fast pointing any direction that is not downhill. Could it be fast with narrower tires and a lighter wheelset? Likely but that is not the point. If you have nowhere to be in a hurry then I highly recommend this bike. This bike will have you finishing your usual routes 20-30 minutes later than you normally would. The rotational weight of the wheels is the biggest cause of all of this and in my opinion the bike is not optimally geared to accommodate for such a heavy wheelset, thereby reducing acceleration and speed.

A lot of marketing dollars went into making the Marin Four Corners. The Pine Mountain, a much more versatile and capable bikepacking bike, did not receive nearly the same amount of marketing. To be fair, the Four Corners seems to sell very well overseas and in areas where the roads are bad or non-existent. Where paved roads and mountain bike trails abound this bike seems to struggle to find it's footing. While there are gravel roads near me, I have to ride my bike 10 miles to the edge of town to get to them. If I lived in Iowa and had gravel roads out my front porch I would see the usefulness and utility of such a ruggedly designed bike. However, being in a densely populated North Texas suburb I have to admit that there is little need for such an overbuilt bicycle. While I appreciate the durability and comfort that this bike can offer I find myself struggling to find an opportunity to use it. This may have to do with the fact that I'm a recreational cyclist living in a well developed area. If I relied solely on my bike for transportation or lived out in a rural village this bike would be a priceless commodity to have. 

In a post-apocalyptic world where the Tour De France is held in Mad Max-type conditions, this bike would reign supreme. For every other scenario, this bike seems a little bit of an overkill. Having said all of that, I really enjoy the bike so I plan to keep riding it for the time being. I will one day write a review on it that does it justice, as soon as I can figure out what it really excels at.  

Friday, August 16, 2019

My Bike Flew Down to Puerto Rico- Racing Las 100 de La Parguera Mountain Bike race

At the start line of "Las 100 De La Parguera"

If you are a passionate cyclist, be it road biker or mountain biker, you may have wondered what it is like to travel with your bike and ride in a distant land. To go out of one's comfort zone and do something that you've never done before is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a person. While I have ridden bikes abroad I have never done an event outside of where I live in Texas. 

The first time I heard of Las 100 de La Parguera mountain bike race was eight years ago, to be exact. I just so happened to be visiting family in Puerto Rico and was spending the day in the quiet little coastal town known as La Parguera. I stumble across the official starting line with a guy in a registration booth next to it. I ask what all of the commotion is about and he tells me it is a mountain bike race, the first of it's kind in Puerto Rico. I get really excited and ask if there was any way that I could rent a mountain bike, but neither him nor I knew how to get a hold of one. The race was only a few days away and a couple of days before I had to go back home, so I concluded that I was not prepared to undertake the race on such short notice.  The winner of the race won a new bike and that year 300 people participated in the event. 

Fast forward eight years later. This event is now one of the premiere races of the Caribbean with over 2,000 participants and racing teams coming from as far as Dominican Republic. The kinds of bikes that I saw were almost all top of the line racing bikes, some which I had not seen even stateside . It seemed like everybody was riding some kind of carbon fiber wonder. I saw Treks and Specialized S-Works all over the field, many of these bikes costing up to 10 grand. Needless to say, the participants took their riding very seriously.

I wanted to do this ride before I got any older, before any kind of life change or health change prevented me from ever doing it. It may sound like I worry too much about that in my blog posts, but let me explain. I'm currently dealing with some kind of knee tendinitis on both knees, injuries brought about from getting back into skateboarding for the last two years. Also, as time goes by, it gets harder to find the time to train for events like this. Knowing both of these things, I did not want to keep putting it off any longer. I wasn't in it to win it, as I knew I neither had the fitness level, correct bike for the race or home field advantage like the locals that knew the route well.

I opted for the 50 kilometer route, which ended up being 57 kilometers or 35 miles when it was all said and done. I finished in a time of 3 hours and 10 minutes, with a moving pace of 2 hours and 54 minutes. I was 155th out of 313 in my age category (30-39) and 758 overall out of the 2017 participants, so not first, not last.  

I believe in being a life time athlete, as long as health and physical limitations allow it. I also believe you don't have to be a professional to have lifetime achievements in the sport you practice. Making memories such as these will last longer than any win I could ever have. Hopefully my kids will grow up knowing that their dad wasn't just some couch potato. Its important to have all kinds of goals in life. My goal is to stay active for as long as I can.

The last hill of the race, just before the finish line

Marin Pine Mountain 1, Long term Review

"A bike you can throw anything at, but it's heavy"

The Marin Pine Mountain 1 in the mountains of Puerto Rico

I'm a big fan of this bike. In fact, I'm such a fan of the Marin Pine Mountain rigid plus bike that I own two of the exact model. This bike was sold at Performance Bike stores before they went out of business and liquidated their assets. I was able to purchase both bikes for well under store MSRP. 

Every once in a while, in an industry that is becoming ever more proprietary in their design, more prone to all sorts of recalls and bikes that break within a couple of years usage, manufacturers make something admirable and truly bulletproof. Case and point the 2018 Marin Pine Mountain 1 rigid mountain bike. This bike is the Jeep Commanche, the Suzuki Samurai, the Toyota 4runner of mountain bikes. It just keeps on going. Low geared, with a strong frame, wheelset and crankset, this bike is capable of anything that any other bike is capable of. Flat roads, mountain climbs, singletrack, jumps are no obstacle for this beast. Is this a race bike? By all means, no it isn't. This bike will have you finishing in the middle of the pack on XC endurance events. There are much better choices of mountain bikes for cross country racing. However, this is a bike you can stick in your travel case resting assured that nothing will break on it during travel and is foolproof enough to handle any TSA inspections. The bike is very stable on descents and eats up fireroads with ease. A front suspension might be desired on really technical rock gardens, however the bike performs well even though the ride might be jarring. 

The beauty of this bike is in it's simplicity. No suspension on the bike means less moving parts and less maintenance overall. The 1x10 drivetrain means that the user will only have to adjust a single rear derailleur. The clutch system on the Shimano Deore derailleur allows for less missed shifts or skipping gears. The low gear ratio on the bike compensates for the heft of the frame and rotational weight of the wheels, which weigh in at about 8-9 pounds each.

I recently took my Marin Pine Mountain 1 to Puerto Rico for a mountain bike race that I've had my eye on for years, Las 100 de la Parguera. I'll post another article detailing how I did on the race. While the bike performed well on sand pits, rocky pitches and descents both on pavement and dirt, it was slow going on long, sustained climbs. I was 3 minutes and 19 seconds slower a sustained climb I had done on a road bike a few years before. Manhandling the bike around in a racing situation was more tiring that if I had been on a lighter carbon or aluminum mountain bike. While I finished the race around the time I had anticipated, I felt I was punished more for my effort and speed. 

The thing is, I can't personally fault this bike for being heavy. It's weight plays a big role in this durability. Over time, I could get used to the heaviness of this bike, even in extreme mountain environments such as is the case riding in Puerto Rico. At 33 pounds for a size medium frame, this bike is in the same weight class as some entry level full suspension bikes. Tubeless tires, carbon wheels and a carbon or air suspension fork will make this bike a quiver killer. However, I'm of the belief that if it isn't broken you shouldn't fix it and if you don't need it then you shouldn't buy it. In the case of the Marin Pine Mountain, it might be a really long time before anything on this bike breaks. 

This is a great bike for rolling terrain, but it pays to pace yourself on it up those long climbs.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

How Mountain Biking has changed in the last 20 years

Dropper Posts, Attitudes and Full Face Helmets...
Is This A New Sport?

The truth is, mountain biking is barely recognizable from what it was in 1998. Back then, bikes had 3 chainrings up front, bar ends, grip shifters, 26 inch wheels with the widest tire width being 1.95. Most people still did not ride with suspension, elbow or knee pads or any mountain bike specific clothing. People did thankfully wear helmets back then but these were poorly designed and made the wearer look like a bobble head doll. 

It was an easier sport to get into 20 years ago. Sure, there were still premium bicycles back then too, as there have always been since people started riding bikes. However. there were more bikes priced for the masses. $400 was a serious chunk of change that could buy a decent and durable bicycle from an LBS. Most people did not even splurge that much on a bike. The average person had a $75 to $100 bike that they bought at Sears. The limiting factor back then was technology. Bicycles today are far more capable of handling rough terrain without the same set of skills needed to ride the same terrain 20 years ago. In fact, trails are being designed with more jumps, drop offs and other technical features that most people had to walk around back in the old days. So the trade off is that now bikes are more capable, but they are no longer as affordable as they were back then .

The image of the stereotypical mountain biker has also changed. 20 years ago mountain bikers were daredevils or unconventional hippie types left over from the seventies. Make no mistake, these guys could still shred on their old bikes and they were sending their bikes off of big obstacles before "sending it" was even a thing. Since technology was so primitive back then they knew there were no shortcuts to being a good mountain biker. Popping a wheelie and being able to lift up a front wheel, as well as using your body as the suspension where essential skills that had to be learned before taking any serious risks on the trail. As a result, people in general weren't going as fast on the trails or "sending it" off  big jumps like they are now, at least not without extensive amounts of practice and skill building. 

People that are getting into mountain biking today have a big expectation on their bikes and equipment to bail them out of sketchy situations or error-correct a lot of their skill deficiencies. That's because many people are coughing up some big bucks to get into the sport. Some mountain bikes can cost as much as $5000 and even upwards of that. A lot more people are buying bikes at this price than they were in the 90's (as a point of reference, a new car in the early 90's cost the same as a new bike does today). The ensuing carnage due to lack of skills on the trail has opened a new opportunity for the bike industry to make more mountain bike specific apparel. However mountain bike specific apparel today looks like a typical motocross outfit; full face helmet, pads and sometimes body armor, full fingered gloves and goggles.  In addition to that, a lot of riders strap at least 3 GoPro cameras on their bike so that they can record themselves "sending it" whenever they can. While I can appreciate that the fun factor hasn't left mountain biking, there is an underlying corporate culture and emphasis on branding that has been creeping into the sport in order to make it more exclusive, premium pastime. 

Recently it dawned on me how clueless some new mountain bikers were when riding a section of my favorite trail, Northshore. Experienced riders know the safest line of passage when weaving through rock gardens or going down drops and rock beds. I had approached a rider planted dead center of the trail, with a full face helmet, pads and a full suspension bike, contemplating whether is was going to roll of a giant boulder to land on the other side. "Take the drop to the left, that's the best line" I said, trying to alert his attention as a was getting closer to the drop myself. "Says who?" the guy retorted. "Says the guy not wearing a full face" I snapped back. We were on the notorious "West side" of the trail, known for it's rock gardens and technical terrain. I grew up riding this trail and there are still sections of it that I am not ashamed to walk. Sometimes there can be a problem when someone overly relies on their bike or their gear to cover for their lack of experience. Case in point the guy at Northshore.

In another instance I heard a guy referring to a mountain bike ride as "A no drop group ride". I nearly fell of my chair. Group rides are roadie (road biker) events where everybody rides together in a paceline (also known as a pelotón) and people get dropped when they can no longer hold the pace of the group. Not only would riding in a paceline on a mountain bike trail be impossible, no one would or should be getting dropped. If some riders are faster than others, they are simply faster. Discuss this in your group and determine where on the trail the group needs to stop and wait for the others to catch up. Mountain biking is awesome fun to do with a group of your friends, but keep in mind that there is more individual effort involved and speed and skills come eventually. Don't get mad if you're the slowest in the group. Be humble enough to admit it and ask the group to re-group at certain junctions along the trail. 

These are my observations (and my latest beef) on how mountain biking has changed in the last 20 years.  

Friday, November 16, 2018

My 2018 Marin Pine Mountain-Initial thoughts

The 2018 Marin Pine Mountain- A Classic Rigid MTB with all of the Modern Benefits

The Marin Pine Mountiain 1, pictured on the right

In the past few years, there have been a few modern cult classic bicycles that have held or even exceeded their original retail value. The Salsa El Mariachi, GT Peace 9er, Vassago Jabberwocky, Redline Monocog and Kona Unit are all names that come to mind. All of these bikes are reasonably light, bombproof built, steel framed, modern mountain bikes that will take any beating on the trail and will come back asking for more. Well, I'm excited to say that I too now own a cult classic that most people are not even aware of. It made such a low key entrance into the market that it has been able to safety hide away from view, tucked between the full suspension 27.5+ bikes and the 29er hardtail carbon rockets on offer. It is on it's second year into production and possibly going into a third. However, my prediction is that it will be eclipsed by all of the other choices on the market, making it a short lived one-hit wonder. It is such an underrated, quality bicycle that it is on par with boutique level brands such as Surly and Jones. I'm talking about the Marin Pine Mountain 1, a modern, rigid, steel mountain bike.

I don't really do product reviews anymore, so to choose this bike to review is a big deal for me. This may very well be the last time we see such a well packaged offering at such an affordable price from Marin, or from any bike manufacturer for the foreseeable future. Having a durable bike with no suspension to worry about was a deliberate, long term investment that I had been planning on making for a while now. Knowing about a possible market-wide price hike on bicycles I decided the time was now or never to get into a Surly Krampus-esque styled bicycle with a 1x10 drivetrain and hydraulic Shimano disc brakes. 

Let's get down to the knitty gritty. The ride quality of this bike is amazing. The ability to run the tires at low pressures means floating above mud and rocks where a normal, non plus size tire would normally sink into. The 42t low gear is as massive as the 160mm brake rotor on the rear tire. There is little this bike can't climb. At 33 pounds out of the box the bike is no lightweight, but when considering the bike is a steel framed fat bike, 33 pounds seems very reasonable. The weight is on par with my mid-range full suspension 29er. 

This bike comes with a extra thick, tapered rigid front fork that has a double reinforcement to ensure stiffness. That being said, the front end of this bike feels amazingly light and easy to pop off of the ground. The extra wide handlebars and short stem make this bike exceptionally nimble and easy to throw around switchbacks and rock gardens. 

I will eventually write a long term review of this bike, but I'm loving this bike so far. It's one of the best bike purchases I have made so far.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bike-terialism, N+1 and how many bikes are too many?

How Many Bikes Do you Have? How Many is enough?

Let me start off by asking the reader "Are you a cyclist or a collector?" If you are a cyclist, chances are you at least own one bike, or a few bikes for the different types of riding you do. If you are a collector on the other hand, you either specialize in a type of bicycle or in a period of time when bicycles were designed in a specific way.

I am both a cyclist and a collector. My collection comes from years of being into cycling. Some bikes I would like to sell, but either can't procure a buyer for or I am offered way less than my asking price. Some bikes I bought, rode for a few years and was never able to move them on when I upgraded or changed preferences. Some bikes are loaner bikes that I let friends borrow when they visit. The truth is I dare not mention how many bikes I have. Some people think they have too many bikes when all they own are maybe 3 or 4 bikes. I'm just going to say that it's more than 4 bikes. 

My family has gotten used to the bike furniture and I am fortunate enough to have a wife that doesn't freak out about things like that. My bikes are all bought and paid for and I would actually feel guilty buying a brand new bike these days with all the other bikes that I already own. In the last couple of years I have added a few 90's mountain bikes to my collection, because that is the era where it all started for me. Most of these bikes I get on Craigslist or some other buy/sell online group page. They are never super expensive and seldom ever cost more than $100. 

Recently I have come to the realization that just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Sure, I can have a large collection of bikes, which I already do. It doesn't break the bank, it's financed mainly by bicycles that are sold, spare parts that I already own or my disposable income. However it's not the best use of my time or my space. In fact, sometimes it can be like being the custodian of my own museum. It goes against the grain of my life's motto of living simply. It also gives off the idea that I'm an affluent individual, which would be far from the truth. 

Lately I have been getting into the practice of letting things go. Literally giving away bikes to friends who I feel could use them. This year alone I have given away 5 or 6 bikes. I am getting to the point where soon I will be giving things away at quite a lost. I guess sometimes it cost money to simplify. Some bikes are harder to let go of than others, because they represent years worth of searching or an iconic and rare example of something that I might never again run into. The truth is I need to sell some of these things, but finding other collectors that will appreciate things and are willing to pay the asking price takes time. 

So this is why you should never get into owning too many bikes. If I could do it over again I would buy three bikes. One road bike, one mountain bike and one fixed gear bike. I would ride the fixed gear bike most of the time to avoid wear and tear on an expensive road bike, which I would race on and then only use the mountain bike on the trails. That's it. I would figure out my frame size, likely buy all three bikes used and spend no more than $600 on all 3 bikes. 

The smug engineer cyclist who came up with the whole N+1 theory is a stupid bike hoarder. An eternally and hopelessly single, dork of a man.When you start calling your garage a bike "stable" and your bikes "steeds" you know you've gone too far.  The formula that should of been come up with is a formula of contentment based on the number of bikes already owned. To me that number is three. Why three? Bicycle a triangle is the strongest geometric shape and has three sides. Three bikes used in rotation will still put light use on each one and will get maximum longevity out of  each bicycle. Any more than three and that can easily turn into bike-terialism. Materialism is the practice of valuing material things over human relationships and spiritual pursuits. Bike-terialism is materialism with bikes. We can't let bikes get in the way or physically or emotionally hide from view the more important things. 

I hope to one day be one of those normal people who has 3 bikes

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Why We Will Never Be Bike Friendly Like Europe

Why we will never be able to "Copenhagenize" Ourselves

Ah yes, another bicycle commuting blog post. There are many countless blog posts about bicycle commuting already out there. Bloggers like Bike Snob NYC and others have made a name for themselves narrating, oftentimes hilariously, about the daily life of bicycle commuters. People who are really passionate about bicycle commuting and a location's bike friendliness will never stop talking about it. That is, until they have more than one child and then realize that they will have to permanently park their Yuba in favor of a more practical minivan. About 8 years ago, youthful optimism drove a small movement to revive bicycle commuting in many parts of the country. Some millenials, then in their 20's and 30's would wax poetic about places like Berlin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam and tout them as model cities for pedestrian and bicycle road sharing (I should know, as I was one of those young millenials). Local initiatives were started to make "complete streets" and "transit oriented development". If cities didn't act fast enough some zealous advocates would spray paint bike lanes and do the job themselves. City council meetings started getting younger audiences, Critical Mass started to actually become a thing in Dallas and bike lanes were eventually painted in downtown. A small victory for some, but alas we did not win the battle. It can be argued that some city centers like downtown Dallas benefited and saw slightly improved conditions for cyclists. On the other hand, cycling fatalities in the area have also gone up. All that hoopla did nothing for the suburbs outside of Dallas. Bike trails don't really go anywhere, rather they are just glorified jogging paths. People don't really ride in to work unless they live within reasonable distance of a rail station or can access their work off a cycling path, which is the case for less than 1% of 1% of the people that live in the area. "Transit Oriented Development" became a catchphrase when developing overpriced mixed used retail projects that gentrified neighborhoods and priced out many from their homes. The whole movement fell flat on it's face and in my honest opinion, left a lot of it's supporters looking stupid.  

The number one reason why we will never see bike friendliness on the level that exists in other parts of the world is that the existing infrastructure of those old European cities was created a long, long time ago on a cultural mindset that placed emphasis on walking and having places for people to gather. In many cities in Europe there are promenades, or roads completely dedicated to pedestrian use. These roads are long and can sometimes span the length of the entire city. There are also plazas in abundance were people can walk to that also serve as natural barriers to slow down traffic that would otherwise be too fast for cyclists.  People in city centers usually live there and don't commute from the suburbs to get there. Those who do live there oftentimes use public transportation when they are not walking, such as taking a cab, train or bus ride. Many people in these cities do not own vehicles. Even those who do own vehicles opt for a small car that doesn't take much space on the road. Lifted trucks, Ford Excursions, Cadillac Escalades and Hummers need not apply in Europe.

On a recent visit to Europe, in Barcelona Spain. Las Ramblas is one of the most famous promenades in the world.
 This picture was taken in the morning before the hustle and bustle of the day started.
Very cleverly designed bikes are used as part of a city sponsored bike share program.

There is bicycle parking everywhere

Taxis and other public transportation are the primary way people get around.

"The emphasis is placed on pedestrian use, with everything else like cars, kept small".
Case and point this red Fiat 500 on the left of the picture.

On a recent visit to Europe, I was reminded why things can not be the same in the United States. They have been putting people before expansion for hundreds of years, modeling their infrastructure in a way that best suits the needs of their citizens. Every town in every country in Europe no matter how small, has a proud cultural identity and is reflected on how each city is distinct from the other. In addition to placing the emphasis on pedestrians, everything else from cars, roads, housing, ecetera is kept small. The united states in contrast, has a larger land mass that it is still expanding on. The cultural mindset of expanding is so deeply rooted even in the way people view their personal space. Spacial bubbles are larger, waistlines are larger, roads are larger, cars are larger. Everything is focused on expanding one's personal space. The more space a person takes up, the better. That is why we will never have what exists over there in the way of bike friendliness. All we will have is a romanticized view of  how things should be. A commuting bike should be some post apocalyptic-looking piece of metal that we use to get around, not a shiny status symbol that costs a couple of thousand dollars. An E-bike shouldn't be a deal breaker for bicycle commuting, unless someone is elderly or has special needs. Excuses for not riding a bike need to go out the window. For people to make that paradigm shift in their social collective consciousness, well let me just put it this way, it will never happen here. Hipsters can keep dreaming, but I doubt they are anymore. As millenials get older and start families, there is very little time to keep dreaming and keeping hopes alive. Oh well, maybe the next generation can pick up where we left off. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"When I grow up, I want to be a kid"

Tom Hanks had the right idea when he played the character in the movie BIG. For those of you who haven't watched that movie, it's about a boy who wishes to become a grown up only to realize that being a grown up is full of awkward situations and general unhappiness. After having spent the last 30 plus years growing up into the adult that I need to be, I would like to be placed in a time machine, and go back, stat. I would like to go back to a more innocent, less complicated time free of the stresses that managing adult relationships involves. Here are a few reasons why I would like to grow up to be a kid.

1. Grown ups are always talking about money: Grown ups are infatuated, obsessed, with always talking about their jobs, their income or how to acquire more money. When your friends grow up, even those you knew from childhood, expect fun conversations about cars, movies, jokes, etc. to be replaced by conversations about money, business at work, investing, expanding, yada-yada-yada. This conversation usually follows the other predictable conversation about the weather, usually followed by a complaint of how hot or cold it will be that given day.

2. Grown ups don't play sports, they only watch their kids: This is a trend that I have been seeing for a while now. Parents put their kids in team sports, but don't actually play with their children. Very few kids are learning how to ride a bicycle. Something that can be taught in as little as a week with the right parenting skills seems to be a hurdle most modern parents, with the short attention span and patience that they have themselves, are not able to master. I see parents just sitting there watching, delegating to a coach or a swim instructor what they could be teaching the kid themselves.

3. Relationships are complicated: Adults hold more grudges and are prone to have more hurt feelings than kids are. Back in the day it was easy. We would say sorry and stay friends, forgetting within a few hours what we were angry about. Adults can hold grudges for years for even the smallest offense.

4. Adults think they are important: When we grow up, we start valuing positions, titles, ranks, promotions, wealth, material things and think that these things are important and that they define our success. Adults also use these things to measure themselves against other adults so that they can prop themselves up if they have more of these things than someone else. Pride and a belief of self-importance are often the false narrative that adults subscribe to.

5.Adults don't share: Very few adults share. While there are many people out there who are generous with their material things, most people are stingy with their time. People are always busy, and whatever free time they have they spend on selfish pursuits such as web surfing on their phone. "Phubbing" is an actual word in the dictionary now. It combines the words "phone" and "snubbing" into one adjective.  While most people don't phub on purpose, this practice usually takes time away from their spouse, their kids and the real life that is happening around them. It's such a time waster that it's the equivalent of when our parents would spend five hours a day on their cable TVs watching the news and other sitcoms.

Here are my top five reasons why I would like to grow up to be a kid. Being an adult is overrated, boring and all of your friends become bitter old curmudgeons later in life. My friends in real life are starting to fall off the map. I relate more to young people than I do with people my own age. I honestly feel like a man-child, but I guess I rather be a man-child than a self loathing adult. Real talk.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Mobile Bicycle Repair By The Numbers

This article discusses the earning potential, market research and operating costs involved in starting your own mobile bicycle repair business

Ever thought about starting your own mobile bicycle repair business? Tired of working a dead end job at a bike shop and looking for something that will grow your experience and industry knowledge? Are you a competent bike mechanic and a self taught learner? Are you self managed at the workplace? Then maybe it's time to consider owning your own mobile repair business. This article discusses the real numbers in terms of profit, operating costs and the customer base you will most likely be dealing with. The purpose behind this article is to either convince someone to take the first steps into launching their own business or consider whether a career in mobile repair will really suit them. This article discusses how to start a non-franchised, non-incorporated sole proprietorship.

Start Up Costs:

The first thing you will need to work mobile is a vehicle. There are many ways that you can go about this, but the best vehicle for the job is going to be a cargo van. That is because a cargo van has plenty of room to install shelves for parts and tools as well as room to haul bicycles. There are many good options out there for a cargo van. The Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Econoline, Ford Transit, Nissan NV200 and Dodge Pro Master are all good options. I personally own a Ford Transit Connect I purchased lightly used from a dealer. With only 20,000 miles on the odometer, I was able to purchase this vehicle for a little over 15k. Van Shelving cost another 500-800 dollars. Vinyl lettering cost around $450. Tools cost around $2,000, although I had quite a few tools already purchased when I went into business. Let's add up our start up costs.

Tools: $2,000

Total: $19,300

This is what you will need to start a mobile repair business. I am not going to discuss inventory, but it helps to have plenty of inner tubes in all sizes, cables and housing, cable crimps and housing ferrules, linear pull brake pads, grips and bar tape, and 7-8-9-10 and 11 speed chains in stock for any situation. Most everything else can be ordered as needed. Until you understand your market, only carry the essentials so as to not have inventory sitting without being sold. 

A bicycle mechanic on a shoe string budget will have to make priority based choices depending on how funds for the business are procured. For the first year, most of what will be earned will go back to paying start up costs and putting the business in the black. It is imperative as both an entrepreneur and a sole proprietor to have assets paid for. Do not expand while in debt. We are bike mechanics and we cannot leverage that kind of debt. This is a seasonal occupation that will have busy and slow periods and we will not always have a continual revenue stream like other types of businesses. So have all your startup costs bought and paid for by your first year of business. 


This is the part most of you have been waiting for. What is the earning potential as a mobile mechanic? I was fortunate to land a contract for developing and maintaining rental bike shares for a company very soon after I went into business. That along with customer house calls brought me a take home pay of about $22k for my first year of business. I did not put in the hours most entrepreneurs put in and worked the business on a semi part time schedule. Had I been more ambitious that figure would have easily exceeded $30k. In case you were wondering, you will not get rich repairing bikes for a living. You will, however have the independence to work the schedule you want, schedule appointments based on your availability and need and work as much or as little as you desire. This job is simply a means to an end and hopefully an avenue for more bike riding and living a simple life. 

If you want to make more money, go to law school. If you want to live more, be a mobile bike mechanic. The choice is yours.

Your Market:

Depending on the area that you live in, the median age and demographics of your market will vary. Also worth noting this will vary on the prices you charge. If you are undercutting your competition by a lot you will only get customers who do not want to spend money. If you are on par with your competition then you will get their customers. There is nothing wrong with testing the market, playing around with pricing, or cold calling other competitors and requesting a quote for services. There is an arbitrary number for how much to charge for certain services that the market will bear. You may choose to cover a larger service area and offer a broad selection of services, thereby charging at or slightly above your competition. You may also choose to cover a smaller service radius and offer 3 or 4 main services, thereby charging slightly less than your competitors. The price you charge can also be based on your experience. The more experience you acquire the more you can charge. 

In my personal experience, about 95% of my customers are homeowners. Most are over 40 years of age and live in middle to upper middle class neighborhoods. About 60% are men and 40% are women. Most of my customers have bikes for the rest of their family members, so most of my customers are actually couples with families. This is a good target market because they seem to have the best circumstances to have disposable income for bicycle repair. A younger audience will not want to spend money to get their bikes fixed. I have only had one young customer in the past two years that was a college student. This is the market that chose me based on the services and the prices I charge. Others might have a different experience based on their pricing and willingness to expand to other markets.

There are no suspension fork oil changes and electronic shifting repairs in mobile bike repair. You will do yourself a favor and pass on complicated jobs like these to a local bike shop. While you can learn how to do these things and while they are useful skills to have in your resume, you will never use them outside a shop environment. The only way to offer such services successfully is to be directly affiliated with a brick and mortar store. 

The number one repair that I get calls for is a basic tune up. The number one bicycle that I work on is a 7 speed mountain bike or hybrid bike. As plain and as simple as that sounds, this is where actual money is made in mobile bicycle repair. Parts can be bought for cheap and marked up at a profit, while labor is charged the same as if it were a more complicated bike. What bike mechanics must realize is that most people are happy with their 90's 3x7 speed mountain bikes. Most will continue to fix them forever, and ever and ever. So have no illusions of fixing exotic Colnagos as a mobile repair mechanic. The Trek Antelope is your friend in the business.

So are you ready to cut your teeth in the industry and become a mobile bicycle repair mechanic? This calling isn't for everyone, but maybe its for you. If you work to live and not live to work, if you are not defined by a title, if you value experiences over possessions then I would say you have found the right career to be in. Hopefully this article will convince the reader one way or the other. Stay tuned to my blog for more informative articles. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How to Find and Keep Good Bike Mechanics

How the industry is losing it's best mechanics, and things they can do to keep them.

These days a bike purchase can be a great financial commitment. When a customer purchases a bike from a store, they are at times spending upwards of thousands of dollars. Their expectation is that their hard earned money serves as an investment for great service down the road. However, when it comes time to fix something complicated on their bike, there isn't a skilled mechanic around to address their issue. Warranties on bicycles have a lot of fine print on them that will cover only very specific types of situations. So when a customer's bicycle breaks down after five years, they are the ones left holding the bag.

There are a few reasons why this is happening. First of all, there is a severe lack of disposition to train every employee at the shop. This stems from the competitive nature some people have to not train their replacement. They are not thinking in terms of what is best for the company, rather they are trying to safeguard their own employment. Unfortunately, in many cases the one journeyman at the shop has already earned the trust and respect of the shop owner, who is usually too busy with the shop operations to train their employees or even know what is going on at their store. So this usually results in one knowledgeable employee and an untrained staff who cannot assist with the workload when the shop gets backed up. In addition, that misplaced trust and lack of oversight usually leads to time and monetary theft when such employees feel that they can do whatever they want and get away with it. I have seen this play out at small LBS's I have helped out in the past, over, and over again.

The other scenario that occurs is that an experienced mechanic oftentimes cannot find a gig that pays according to the experience that mechanic has. When trying to get back into a bike shop gig, I once  experienced negging* from a shop owner who looked at the things that I couldn't do rather than the years of experience I had providing excellent customer service. He then proceeded to belittle my experience because I wasn't up to par with the latest technologies. He offered me one day of work a week at entry level pay while I gained the experience he said that I didn't have. Needless to say the opportunity to work in a professional level bike shop, with wholesale distributor access, online training modules and other industry access was too much to resist so I bit my lip and tried it out for two weeks. After two weeks of not even being in their payroll system or even being brought in as a formal employee of the company, in addition to not receiving the training I was promised I then could no longer continue to work for that company. I had potentially lost about 5 times more in personal revenue than I was making at the shop in the two days that I worked there. 

If my experience speaks for other experienced mechanics out there, it's no wonder many of us are becoming entrepreneurs. When you are good at something, you know your worth despite what others may say so that they can buy your talents out for a bargain. Many of us just don't want to do anything else, having come from other industries and even professional backgrounds. And, to be honest, a cargo van, some vinyl lettering and a basic set of tools is relatively cheap to acquire or finance. So as time goes by, more and more mobile bike shops will be popping  up, this being in direct response to the hiring and training practices of the established LBS. It's too bad wholesale distributors or manufacturers usually won't work with standalone mechanics, because there are many good ones out there and it really shouldn't matter as long as the money is green.

How to find and keep good bike mechanics? I think the issue comes down to respect. It's a very fundamental thing. This unfortunately will continue to be a problem for as long as bike shops and the systems that keep them in place continue to exist. The loss of talent in the bike industry will lead to some unanticipated consequences. Only time will tell what those damages will be.

*Negging is a word used by millenials to describe an action when one person starts to dissect and demean the value of another individual. This word comes from the dating scene when an inferior guy tries to get a girl out of his league by jokingly demeaning her. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Survive as a Local Bike Shop in the Digital Age

How to Retail in the modern age:
What most LBS still don't understand about online retail

The local bike shop, or LBS, has been a long standing staple of the cycling community ever since bicycles have been around. It can be argued that they were some of the first service centers of any kind, since the automobile came after the bicycle and it was probably sometime afterwards that the concept of a auto shop became established. Since it's inception, the modus operandi for shops has been the same. The focus has been on retail and service, with retail slowly becoming the emphasis of where a bike shop tries to profit. Service has been steadily ignored, even though most shops continue to operate almost solely on profit that is made from their service. Because shops are managed by passionate cyclists and not objective businessmen, many times a bike shop can become a showroom for bikes that may not actually sell to the public. Every time I walk into an LBS, the store layout is almost identical. Three quarters or more of the store space is dedicated to retail, with the most expensive bikes being showcased at the front while the more inexpensive or middle of the range bikes are towards the rear.  There are unnecessary products on display that take much needed inventory space because they are aftermarket accessories that can easily be purchased through a store catalog if that arrangement were to exist.  Shop employees are mostly a sales team looking to steer the customer away from fixing the bike they already own and selling them on the next year's model, all in an attempt to clear their inventory off of their shelves. The small service center in the back of the shop is usually run by a skeleton crew that becomes backed up on repairs during the peak summer months. Bike shops like these have a well known reputation of treating customers like they were shopping at a jewelry store or looking to buy a Mercedes. Aloofness and lack of basic customer service skills are a common experience, unless someone is looking to buy and has the means of obtaining that 15,000 dollar Colnago that is sitting on their shelf. 

The average lifespan of a bike shop like this in a given area is about 5 years. While there are some cases of shops thriving on this business model, those cases are far in between and those shops have been around for many decades. Even in this case these shops may only appear to be thriving and expanding to cover their profit losses. Some shops deliberately locate themselves in well heeled areas, because they know that their customer base will cater to them instead of adapting to their customer base. For those shops that continue to operate on the same old, tired out business model; I have news for you. There's a tidal wave that has been building at sea for some time now, some would say it's a tsunami, and it's going to wipe you guys off of the map if you don't change. "What is it?" You may ask. It's called online retail. With a discreet click of a button, customers can get exactly what they want, without being judged, pre-qualified or coerced into buying a product that is more expensive and that may not suit their needs. "But what about service?" There are mobile bicycle repair guys for that now. Bike shops everywhere have been put on notice. Some are adapting, some are resisting change, some are badmouthing the new competitors and some are running scared. Those who adapt from the same old business model will live on to introduce cycling to a new generation of cyclists and consumers. Those who are set in their ways are doomed to failure. So the question remains, how does a bike shop survive in this digital age?


Service. That's right, rolling up the sleeves and getting dirty. Being a shop mechanic, not a salesman. Having a service focused and dedicated shop is the key to long term survival in the new digital age. The current service model has to change. The repair shop cannot be understaffed, underpaid or under talented anymore. Mechanics have to be trained and certified, especially in lieu of all of the new technologies that have come out in recent years. A capable mechanic needs to now know to to bleed hydraulic disc brakes, convert and service di2 technology, update hardware and software on a Bosch electric motor and so on. These are skills that need to be taught by the industry across the table and made available to anyone who wishes to learn them. 

Some more established shops may want to consider running pick up and repair shuttle services for their customers. This will provide the same convenience of mobile bicycle repair even though it may not provide same day service. Some shops in my area already have a mobile service shuttle as part of their overall outfit. While still more expensive than an individual mobile bicycle mechanic, they are at least on the right track to meeting the demand in their area.

Eliminating Inventory

When a new customer walks into a bike shop, there is more than a good chance that the customer has already done some online perusing and has a basic idea of what he or she is looking for. Therefore, it isn't necessary or cost effective to have a bike of every kind and every size on the shelves. Why not display one bike model in one size, fit the customer on a jig and order the model that they are looking for? Maybe to make it more enticing include home delivery if they spend over a certain price? Mattress shops and furniture stores do it, why not bike shops? That would cut the inventory room needed by over 60%. A bike shop could therefore require less square footage and could be located in a variety of places. That would also reduce the amount of sales people needed on the showroom floor. That payroll savings could go into hiring qualified bike mechanics.  If I leased overhead I would carry no more than ten types of bikes and have each model on display in a neutral size, like a medium. The rest of my shop would be focused on service. 

Bike shops need to eliminate the practice of buying large purchase orders from suppliers with a conditional manufacturer discount. Most of these suppliers require a six month repayment on their purchase orders, meaning that the store needs to sell through their supply in six months or less, otherwise pay a full MSRP price back to the supplier. What this has done is led many local bike shops into a perpetual cycle of debt. According to the book Leading out Retail, after all store operating expenses are covered a there is only a 10% profit margin to be made on a single bike purchase. If that same bike goes on sale for under MSRP price, then the store will sell that bike at a loss. If a store stocks items that do not sell or always sell at a discounted price, that store is taking on massive amounts of debt. In time that store will no longer be able to operate if all it's customers just window shop and do not buy anything. Let that sink in for a moment. Most bike shops, especially the ones with the 15,000 dollar shiny Colnagos, are hemorrhaging in debt. 

Change that Attitude

99% of the things that happen to us are a result of our attitude. Successful people are responsive to suggestions and willing to learn. A successful business will put their customers first. They will listen to their customers and make changes according to what the needs and demands of their customers are. It is not the customers' responsibility to keep bike shops in business. It is the bike shops responsibility to gain the loyalty and trust of their customers. The success or failure of a local bike shop falls solely on their shoulders. While online retailers may eventually takeover the retail market, bike shops can still excel in services. That is one thing that the online world will never be able to do. Becoming service providers for online bike manufacturers is also key. Knowing how to repair a Canyon or a Haibike E-bike is going to be paramount in the near future, and is something that I have personally discussed with shop owners. They need to be open to the new arrivals. The world wide web, the free market and the global economy are actually a good thing for the bike industry. It takes a half-glass full and innovative approach to see things that way.