When I decided to buy a road bike so I could go faster and ride with Sam and other friends, Sam at first offered to come bike shopping with me. Yay! That sounded awesome — bring a knowledgeable, experienced friend whom I trust and let them guide me.
But then she presented a different plan because, she said, it would be more “blog-worthy.” Anyone who reads the blog regularly knows that Sam has an enviably deep well full of blog-worthy ideas. She even sends some my way sometimes. And so she did with the bike shopping.
Her idea: I should go bike shopping alone, to two different shops in town, and see what they suggest. In each case, I should tell them that I am an entry level rider. She suggested the two shops.
One was where I was planning to go anyway — To Wheels — because I had a great experience there buying my commuter bike (a Specialized hybrid). They’re friendly and helpful and even if you don’t know what you’re doing they take their time and make you feel welcome. It’s owned by a wonderful woman and the rest of the staff are top notch. It’s self-described as “London’s Oldest and Coolest Bike Shop!”
I won’t name the other store–I’ll call it Store X–because I didn’t end up buying from them and I don’t want to seem negative about my experience there. It wasn’t bad — just not like my exceptional experience at To Wheels. I chose it on Sam’s advice because it’s a store that caters to very serious riders and racers. We were both curious how they would deal with a newbie.
I went to Store X first. It’s a tiny shop on a busy street in London, with nowhere to park bikes outside (which I found odd and off-putting). They allowed me to wheel my bike into the store but (a) no one helped me with the door and I was clearly struggling, and (b) once in, there is hardly any space to put the bike anyway. So my initial impressions weren’t positive.
A pleasant young woman came over and asked me if I needed help. I told her I was looking for an entry level road bike. Her first question was about what I planned to use it for and what kind of mileage I anticipated. I guessed 2-3 rides a week, anywhere in the 40-100K range. She showed me two different bikes that were both aluminum frames with carbon forks. She explained the carbon is better because it’s lighter and because it absorbs vibration more effectively. That makes it comfortable for longer rides and explains why even aluminum bikes have carbon forks.
We talked a bit about shoes and pedals. In the end, she put a Garneau Axis SL2 on hold for me to think about until noon the next day. All told, I was in the store for about 30 minutes, part of which time I was waiting because the owner called the woman who was helping me over to ring another customer through the cash. At no point was I offered the possibility of taking the bike out for a spin.
Still, I was kind of excited about the bike and it was reasonably priced. Sam said that an aluminum frame with carbon front forks would do just fine for me, and I trust her judgment.
Next day, I went to To Wheels right for 10 a.m. when it opened. I chatted with a young guy for a few minutes, giving him the basics of what I was looking for. He walked me over to the road bikes and called over the owner, Sheri, to take care of me. This was smart move number one on their part. She is super knowledgeable and extremely helpful. Now, I know she is in the business of sales, and I was a customer looking to buy. I had no intention of cheaping out on this purchase, and so she got me into the next bracket of bikes from what I was offered at the other place.
We looked almost immediately at the Specialized Ruby Sport. It’s a very pretty bike designed by women for women (see Sam’s post about why she’s not into that idea). That means a slightly shorter reach, which works for me because I have a short torso. Sheri had all sorts of info and really took her time explaining stuff to me. She also took measurements and explained about seat placement and ideal positioning of the handle bars.
She suggested that they put some flat pedals on the bike so I could take it out for a test ride and get a feel for it even though, ideally, I would ultimately get the most out of the bike with clipless pedals.
The bike rides beautifully. I took it out to the path and blasted up a couple of hills that would have me sweating and panting on my other bike. Fresh as a daisy at the top of both! I practiced shifting and determined that I still have some work to do before I’ll have that mastered. My hybrid has a simple system, with just two shifters — one for shifting up, one for shifting down. This bike has a shifter for the front sprocket and another for the back, and of course each of those has an up and a down. I’m still unclear on what combination of front and back is ideal. Sheri cautioned me that some combinations aren’t good for the bike and that there are equivalents that don’t strain things as much. So I’ll want some guidance and practice hitting the right notes in my shifting.
All in all I was in the store for about 90 minutes, leaving without the bike only because I had to go to work. During that 90 minutes I decided to buy the bike, chose shoes and pedals, a water bottle holder, a little repair kit that snaps under the seat, and a standing pump with a pressure gauge. $$$$
I called Store X to ask them to release the bike they had on hold for me.
I went back later that day, excited, for a lesson on the trainer and to be measured up on the bike with the shoes and the pedals. It’s a strange feeling to clip into your pedals. But I practiced clipping in and out, in and out, many times. Sheri coached me a bit about how to do it most efficiently (she recommends clipping in and out at the bottom, which was helpful). We also did some final measurements and ended up shortening the little post that attaches the handlebars to the frame to make for a more comfortable reach for me.
I didn’t take it home because I wanted to spend a week with flat pedals just to get a feel for the bike. Also, I wanted to take it to the Lakeside Triathlon on the Sunday and didn’t think it would be wise to add clipless pedals to the mix (smart decision on my part, I think).
Saturday, I picked the bike up in the morning, and also bought a few more items: a jersey, two pairs of shorts, some knee warmers and arm warmers, and a pair of gloves. $$$$
I’m like a kid with a new bike! I love my new wheels and I love the shop I bought it from. I’m planning to go riding with Sam and another friend on Saturday morning and hope I can get the pedals put on by then even though I’m terrified. Even with the regular platform pedals I just fly up hills. I’m sure I cut my bike time significantly at the triathlon on Sunday because of the new bike.
I’ll have to report later on how the transition to clipless pedals goes. I’ve heard it can be rough–if the fearless and formidable Caitlin found it challenging, that makes me nervous!
Anyway, the upshot is, I really think you can’t underestimate the importance of finding a bike shop that takes you and your newbie concerns seriously, is willing to take the time to help you get comfortable on the bike, and is a place that makes you feel excited about your purchase. Store X may work for those who know exactly what they want, but as a newbie, I felt it was intimidating and I felt kind of rushed. To me, if I’m going to spend a few grand, I’d like to have someone’s undivided attention.