Why I’d Rather Go to the Dentist than a Local Bike Shop

I tried to come up with a witty title for this post – something pithy that would get your attention without giving away my whole point. Unfortunately, when I think about local bike shops what comes to mind is “please don’t make me,” “I don’t wanna,” I’d really rather shop where people at least acknowledge I exist. Yes, I am am woman, and no, I am not a hardcore rider but if you are a small local niche store of any kind, why don’t you want my money?

Photo courtesy of Whitby Archives.

In general I prefer to shop local. We don’t often eat at chain restaurants; my favourite shoe stores are local boutiques, and whenever I can afford to I buy household stuff from family stores rather than chain department stores. In the summer we buy a lot of our food straight from the farmers who produce it. However, I have had some terrible experiences with our local bike shops that makes me wish there was such a thing as a big bike chain store. Maybe then people at the LBSs would lose a bit of their attitude and treat everyone through their door like they matter.

Here in Victoria, the culture around customer service in general is not terrific. We are a tourist area, and many of the people working in service jobs are just doing it to get by. I get that, but I don’t think that’s any excuse for bad service. It’s a frequent complaint of mine. That said, I’ve experienced things in bike shops that I’ve never experienced before.

Victoria has much to recommend it. Great customer service is not on that list.

The worst example: Rivers and I went together to a smaller local shop to look for stuff for me and my bike. Even though we said we were shopping for me, the guy spent his whole time talking with Rivers, and even ignored me when I tried to ask a question. The final straw for me was the sexist jokes being told by the staff on the floor. We were the only two customers in the shop at the time; I walked out the store and told Rivers that they wouldn’t be getting my money. Ever. I will not be back. In a town with as many bike shops as we have, there’s no excuse for being not just rude but offensive.

It turns out it’s not just a Victoria. In Jasper this summer we checked out what was supposedly the premier bike shop in town only to have too-cool-for-school teenagers ignore us even though I was looking at shorts to try on, and Rivers was asking about the local riding. A grunt and a trail map was all the response we got. Jasper is also a tourist town but only has two real bike stores – way to go, guys, we went to the other store the rest of the week. The small saving grace was that in this case the poor service was equally delivered to both of us. Generally it’s just me who gets that kind of treatment.

I know it’s not personal beyond the fact that I’m a woman. A quick Google search “sexism in local bike shops” returned over a million results, including this great article in the Telegraph, in which a Dutch women echoes my sentiments – she too would rather visit the dentist than her local bike shop. It’s a topic that has come up in the women’s bike club I’m a  member of, though the focus there was more on recommending the better places to shop. Why focus on the negatives, when there are some stores worth supporting. The overall impression I got though was that some stores are less bad than others, not that any of them are really great at treating female customers as well as they treat the guys.

Hey look! My bike has two wheels just like any other.

Why shouldn’t I get the same great service that Rivers does when I go in a store? My money is worth the same as his, so why are my questions ignored, why am I condescended to, and why is the assumption always that I don’t know what I’m talking about? I tried to buy a particular part for Rivers’ Christmas gift last year, and had written down the exact name, size, etc from the manufacturer’s website. At our local bike shop – the one I consider the least horrible – I was assured no such thing existed and I must have it wrong. I ordered the part online.

As I hinted in my last post, I really want to send big love to Kootenay Cycle Works in Kimberley, BC. Rivers and I had stopped in Kimberley to break up what was proving to be a long, hot day of driving. What was supposed to be a quick pit stop became a two hour exploration in the charming downtown core of Kimberley and its quaint pedestrian-only platzl. Of the many cute and welcoming shops we wandered into, Kootenay Cycle Works (KCW) made the biggest impression.

The Kootenay Cycle Works mascot – photo courtesy of Kootenay Cycle Works website.

I’m a sucker for any store with a big sleepy golden retriever laying in the doorway, but what truly impressed me with KCW was the service. Imagine my surprise and delight when the guys at KCW included me in the conversation, asked me questions about my own riding, asked if I was interested in seeing anything, and included me in the invitation to stick around and check out the great local riding for people of all abilities. Trevor, the owner, even made a point to show us the best beginner-friendly spots to ride.  Ya, a bike store owner who just wanted to share his love of the sport with anyone who showed interest. Novel approach. They weren’t trying to sell us on anything but the friendliness of their town and the great riding culture in the area. You can believe that I look forward to going back there. The staff at KCW are, in my mind, what small business staff should be.

I could go on (believe me, I could go on) about how turned off of mountain biking I am by the inherent sexism that seems to crop up everywhere. I could climb up on my feminist soap box and rail against the idiocy of stores being that small minded in a town like Victoria that has more women than men. The thing is, talking to sexists about the offensiveness of their sexism is a fool’s game. One would think, though, that savvy business people would be interested in the money available from female riders. We tell each other when we get great service. We don’t need pink flyers or special access evenings or gloves with flowers on them. We just want to be treated like customers who matter.

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