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Why Bike Shops Have a Love-Hate Relationship with Racers

by John Neugent

Tech articles | Commentary articles |

John Neugent probably knows more about bicycle wheels than anyone else alive. Maybe more about bikes as well. He's spent his life in the bike business, at every level. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price. If you are in the market for a set of wheels, please, check out John's site. He really knows his stuff. —Chairman Bill

John Neugent

Author John Neugent

When I first starting working in a bike shop in the early ‘70s, there were no shops around that sold high-end equipment. It would be a couple of years before I saw anyone in a “kit.” But I got the bug and got into riding and some racing. My partner and I both were hard core bike riders and decided to bring in quality equipment.

The first real racer to come in the shop was Chris Chance who would go on to become a famous builder under the Fat Chance (the Slim Chance) names. He was our first real bike rider. We believe we were instrumental in starting a race group (it wasn’t really a team). Our riders went on to state Championships (both men’s and women’s), New England Championships, and even a national TT Championship. We never made any money off of it. Our motivation wasn’t money, it was promoting the sport. It may or may not have increased sales with other riders. Most likely it did but probably not by much.

In the early ‘70s the racing scene was virtually non-existent. There was no existing mass of racers or even educated riders. Our mission was in putting the seeds in the ground, not harvesting the fruit.

Bill McGann & Pete Poland

I (Bill McGann, harmless drudge and owner of BikeRaceInfo) also sponsored a racing team. Here I am in the mid-1970s with Peter Poland, one of the kindest, most genial men I ever knew. And a damn strong category-2 racer.

Those days are long gone. The high end market is a major factor in the industry. In major markets it’s possible to have a high end shop that does not cater to entry level bikes. But the sport of cycling is a strange sport. Bikes and equipment are expensive, and only getting more so. And equipment wears out. Many enthusiasts have cycling as the major focus of their life and so their work revolves around cycling. This makes the dual combination of not having a good income but having a lot of cycling related expenses.

Add all of this to the fact that our internet structure allows companies to sell at wholesale prices and it puts a tremendous burden on the local bike shop. If you know a customer is not going to be profitable, even if you love the sport, the business person in you says that this group is most likely not going to make you as much money as a normal customer.

Having been a retailer for many years, it pains me to see some of my own friends think retailers are only out to make as much money as they can. Of course, not all retailers are the same, but people who abuse retailers make it more difficult for everyone. The average bike shop owner makes a decent living, a few, a very good livings, but most work 60+ hours a week (with work as glamorous as sweeping the floor, paying bills, fixing bikes, and talking to customers) for less than a professional car mechanic.

Most shops can be excellent resources, but don’t burn up their time or push for pricing that is not profitable. Respect them for what they can do and appreciate them as the resource they are.

John Neugent was was one of the first to establish quality hand building in Taiwan around the turn of the century. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price.