In Memoriam: The LBS

There was a time when I held down ‘real jobs’. Jobs with (a little) stress, with (some) responsibility, but without soul. And while dealing with the great unwashed never held much appeal, I always envied the guys who worked at my preferred LBS. They seemingly had it all–an endless supply of cheap bikes and parts, hanging out and shooting the breeze with other riders, and getting the heads-up on the latest and greatest developments and industry gossip. It was the epitome of the dream job for a bike rider.

They weren’t just the guys who fixed my bikes and sold me parts at mates’ rates; they also became my friends outside of the shop environment. We’d go to the pub, to parties, and to see bands. We had more in common than the obvious bike factor.

One of the guys had started out as a shop rat straight out of school, then eventually branched out and started his own shop with another riding mate. While I was spending my nights getting trashed and playing in a punk band, my empty daytime would be spent sitting around in the workshop, swapping tales from the road and picking up some tips from the mechanics on how to tweak my bikes. When anyone was sick or had to go away for some reason or another, I’d be asked to fill in. It was almost a real job, but one that was just as much fun as jumping around on stage at night.

With business starting to boom, necessitating a move to larger premises, I was offered a full-time position. Of course I took the opportunity. After all, I was always spending my paltry band earnings on bike bits anyway. The more successful the shop became, the more time the boss would spend away from it, buying expensive clothes, driving his fast car and chasing even faster women. His business partner must have seen the writing on the wall, and promptly sold his share.

The brother of the now sole owner was recruited to look after the financial side of things, while me and the mechanic looked after the sales and service sides. Now, the brother, being an ex-used car salesman, had the gift of the gab. But he didn’t know a lot about bikes, and not much more about business as it turned out. Most mornings he’d turn up to work looking dishevelled, reeking of cigarettes and booze, complaining of another hangover. He’d gruffly send one of the BMX groms, who hung out in the workshop, down to the takeaway to get him a bacon and egg roll and a Coke.  “Make sure the egg’s not runny,” he’d always bark at them. When the roll would inevitably contain a less-than-firm egg, the groms would hastily make their exit under a hail of abuse. One of the part-timers would gladly retrieve the discarded mess from the bin and scoff it down. The mechanic and I would get much entertainment from this.

By early afternoon, the hangover would be too much for him (and us) to endure, and the lure of the pub and its poker machines would be even greater to resist. We’d offer our helpful advice, encouraging him to take a few bucks from the till and go and enjoy the afternoon. His arm was easy to twist. We’d then be free to get the repairs done, play some music we actually liked and ride the scooters around on the concrete floor, honing our tricks and seeing who could wheelie the furthest and do the longest skids.

Thursdays were late trading nights, and usually they were pretty quiet, especially in winter. Left to our own devices, we’d invite mates and girlfriends around, grab a 6-pack or two, and have a little party before hitting the pub after we shut. The empty bottles littering the workshop combined with the aggressive music blaring probably scared any customers that ventured in, but we were usually too baked to notice, or care.

Meanwhile, the boss’s car was becoming way more pimped, his hair was falling out due to constant trips to the salon (and from the stress of his failing business, no doubt), and suppliers were reluctant to supply because they weren’t getting paid. We still were, but increasingly in cash, which was likely so they could avoid paying tax on our wages.

Not surprisingly, the shop went under only a few years after its inception, with the brothers returning to the used car game, never to be seen again in the bike industry. But looking back at those memories, I know that they were some of the best years of my working life, even if it was obvious our days were numbered and we’d soon be looking for alternative employment.

Today, the LBS is a dying breed, and only when it’s finally extinct will we realise that we helped kill something very special. I hope it doesn’t come to that, because the best memories aren’t going to come from hitting ‘Add To Cart’.

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71 Replies to “In Memoriam: The LBS”

  1. @Teocalli

    @wiscot

    The shop’s gloom was suffused with an intoxicating smell of oil, rubber, plastic, and lubricant.

    It’s probably a surprise that those of us above a certain age actually survived childhood with all the smells we had to sniff (in the nicest possible way) that are now banned or available only behind the poisons counter – plastic glues that were probably chloroform based, dope from shrinking tissue on balsa aeroplanes, solvents that used to be in things like evostik, overhead projector cleaner that was actually carbon tetrachloride etc……..or maybe that’s why we of a certain age are all a bit loopy…..

    Ha! Yup, and in my teens I did a lot of model-making: Airfix, Monogram, Tamiya, that kind of thing. Loved the smell of the wee tubes of clear plastic adhesive. I remember in high school in the 70s, as a class we had to clean a whole area with straight up acetone. (At least I think it was acetone . . . whatever it was it reeked to high heaven and made us a bit woozy after a while. All in the name of education . . .

  2. Another good article. There are certainly good and bad LBS, but when you have a good relationship with a good one it is awesome. When I was just starting to cycle in Dallas I did a lot of group rides with an LBS there, got to know people, repairs and parts started costing less and less and quick trips to the store morphed in hour-long hangout sessions. When it was time to enter the wonderful world of carbon bikes they got my business and several thousand dollars. It was more important to me to support them than to save money buying online. The way I see it they had undercharged me on repairs and parts enough that it made sense. I hope others keep that in mind when they choose where to buy their cycling stuff.

  3. @pistard

    Check all the phonographs, records and cylinders in the lead photo. Apparently even in 1912 a LBS had to diversify and sell the hipsters some vinyl with their fixed gears.

    Always with the hipsters. Hey, at least their out of true wheels from skidding around without proper brakes pays the bills of a mechanic somewhere. Of course, I’m assuming they give enough of a shit about their incorrectly-sized tiny-ass handlebar fixes to actually keep them up.

  4. Here in northern Arizona we have a number of good shops, and a number of reasonably crappy ones. It’s taken me three years of living here, but I think I’ve finally figured out which shop to take a road bike to, which a mountain bike, etc. It sucks since the shop I really like to hang out at doesn’t do such a great job on the #1. A shop up the street is full of roadies and they do a bangup job on it and the VMH’s bike. Guess I’ll finally need to take the plunge and get a grownup’s mountain bike for the trails here… Or is that sacrilegious? Merckx help me.

  5. @Owen

    Guess I’ll finally need to take the plunge and get a grownup’s mountain bike for the trails here… Or is that sacrilegious? Merckx help me.

    Think of it as riding a MTB purely to hone your bike handling skills for #9 rides on the road.

  6. @infinity87

    @RedRanger I have the same feelings every night. After the LBS ride I have a 10 hour overnight shift to look forward to. I sometimes wish I could work on bikes, but then the bike mechanics say they wish they could work on planes.

    Super happy to have another AMT around. I work the same shift, 8pm-6am,  on CRJ200’s.

    @minion

    I think you over estimate the condition of most planes. dirty pigs is what most of them are, and working in the lav is no joy.

  7. @RedRanger

    @Owen a MTB is mandatory for every AZ resident. Always wished I had made it up to Prescott when I lived in the state.

    That’s what they tell me. But then I’ll have to start growing out the leg hair and wearing baggies. Shudder.

  8. @Ron

    I was trying to think of other shops/stores I got into, but I think these are the only I go into. Ranked by frequency.

    1) beer store

    2) grocery store/farmer’s market

    3) LBS

    4) postal service/local independent shipper (selling off bike parts I don’t use).

    I really can’t think of any other shops I ever go into.

    The fourth one does not compute. If you have parts you’re not using, it means you need a frame you haven’t bought yet, not that you have parts you should be selling.

  9. @frank

    I can’t understand how brick and mortar retail businesses stay above water; the margins are so low and the overheads are so high.

    I actually don’t understand how just about *any* retail place stays in business. Clothing stores are talking about charging a “try on fee.” That’s right – go check the clothes, pop the bar code into your iPhone, and buy it online for cheaper, free ship…*while you’re still in the dressing room*. Last time I was in Macy (the last time I will ever go there) I got treated like crap. Same for Sears. Don’t even think about using a credit card in Target.

    I value value, and like service that is reasonably priced. I can be loyal when appropriate. Otherwise…it is my hard earned quid.

  10. I must be lucky as I have an awesome LBS, “pro-shop” if you like. It’s small which helps. The owner is an ex-ntional level pro and works the shop with a sales guy and a junior. He prides himself on high quality workmanship, I get prices very much close, and sometimes below on-line. Fitting is free, any issues are sorted with loaner parts if it’s going to take more than a day. I still check on-line prices before I ask for quote but the difference (don’t forget to add postage!) is always mimimal given the other benefits. Eg: I bought a tail light and it stopped working after a few months. I took in, he grabed a new one off the shelf and sent me home no questions asked. I can’t see Wiggle doing that. I don’t even pay for some stuff up front. I trial a bunch of gear obligation free; “Just ride it for a week or so and if you like it pay the invoice. If not bring it back” Ask Chain reaction for that kind of service! I don’t buy a single thing, nothing on-line these days. When I bought my last bike ($6500) I went in to pick it up and asked for an invoice so I could go get cash for him (safe EFTPOS fees). Nope, take the bike and the invoice and do an internet transfer when you get home. Freaking awesome dude, nothing is too much trouble and he’s won a customer for life.

  11. @Tobin

    @Al not all bike shops are created equal, we have several in my market but only two that I trust implicitly with my ride and my hard earned cash. Knowing who the shop belongs to and who wrenches on my bike goes along way, and in my case the owners are the wrenches. I am not a fan of online retailers as it takes the soul out of the experience, it is simply a transaction – I enjoy going to my local shop and having a cup of coffee and chatting with my wrench (aka Dan) Plus, it is kinda hard to bring a six pack to an online store to jump the queue when you need something yesterday.

    Yeah, I agree; there are some good shops nearby that I use regularly. Regarding the article though, I don’t see the allure of paying over the odds to keep a badly run shop stay in business just so the owner can ponce about in a ‘pimped’ car, and the staff can write some sentimental tosh years later.

  12. i love my LBSs, spend lots of money at the one about 5 miles away and even bigger bucks at the LBS which is an officially recognized dealer for my preferred brand.

    BUT

    as an MBA, accountant and business adviser i have no sympathy for poorly run businesses going under due to owner/management neglect and/or embezzlement.

    i save my tears for the guys/gals doing their best to service their customers, build their base and make a buck. trashing the store after hours? GROW THE EFF UP!

  13. I’m in the LBS and a couple rolls in on MTBs: “Hey, you should put some signs out there. We almost got lost.”

    They came to the edge of 200,000 acres of non-motorized, protected wilderness and they were expecting it to be marked up like a golf course?

    We do have some signs. There’s the beer can route where someone nailed beer cans 10′ up when you should turn. Doesn’t tell you which way to turn, just that you should.

  14. @G’rilla

    I’m in the LBS and a couple rolls in on MTBs: “Hey, you should put some signs out there. We almost got lost.”

    They came to the edge of 200,000 acres of non-motorized, protected wilderness and they were expecting it to be marked up like a golf course?

    We do have some signs. There’s the beer can route where someone nailed beer cans 10′ up when you should turn. Doesn’t tell you which way to turn, just that you should.

    I’m also assuming they don’t tell you for which route the turn is intended.

    Please tell me the LBS owner was drinking a beer – finishing it as they were speaking – looked at it and said, “Well, she-it. I was gonna nail this-un to a tree, but I reckon’ it’d be put to better use if I chuck it at you dipshits. Oh well.” *ding*

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