As we've said before, a good bike shop is more than just a place to buy new wheels. It’s also a place to get your trusty steed patched up or learn how to do it for yourself (teach a man to fish, they say…). It’s a place to swap war stories about the dead-of-winter commute or receive hard-earned advice regarding gear ratios and componentry. It’s where you can find an after-work group ride, link up with a training partner, get information on the local singletrack or volunteer to help maintain it. In other words, we at The Active Times think that, at its best, a good local bike shop (“LBS” in cyclist parlance) is the hub of the cycling community. Because we love biking so much, we wanted to recognize 50 shops across the nation that embody this spirit better than anyone. A couple weeks ago, we asked you to get involved and vote for the best bike shops in America.
Of course, cyclists are a varied lot, and they all look for different qualities in the "best" bike shop in America. While triathletes may want a store that specializes in ultra high-end, ounce-shaving gear, the knobby-tired set tends toward shops that know the local trails and can service a busted shock or disc brake quickly and in-house, with no fuss. Other riders go to the LBS to tap into bike culture—customizing their bikes, joining group rides and hanging around the service area talking components while they wait for the free, end-of-day beers to come out. Still, others only care about "local."
We tried to factor all of these things in when we came up with our original list of 80 of America's most trusted bike shops. It was an incredibly diverse group spread across 30 states (and the District of Columbia) that included local chains (like Wisconsin's Wheel & Sprocket and Bike Gallery in PDX), hole-in-the-wall shops that time seems to have forgotten (yes, East Side Pedal Pushers, that's you), and plenty—more than 10, in fact—that serve coffee and/or beer as a major part of their business (now that's bike culture for you). What they all had in common, though, was independent ownership and a commitment to their local cycling communities through top-notch service—several are among the National Bicycle Dealers Association’s Top 100 Retailers—biking advocacy and involvement in the cycling scene, whether it’s hosting a local race series or organizing trail maintenance. Thanks to you and the support of these outstanding 80 nominees—who cast more than 3,900 votes—we got our list of the 50 best bike shops in America.
In addition to casting votes, you left over 1,500 comments telling us what exactly it is you love about your local bike shop. There were short notes of praise; long, detailed narratives of being bailed out by a genius mechanic or a free loaner; and even a few thinly-veiled love letters. As we read through them, we noticed recurring themes. You want to be taken seriously by your bike shop, whether you're a Cat. 1 racer or an octogenerian who no longer hits the singeltrack or rides at night. You want a bike mechanic who will fix your problem, and maybe even show you how to fix it yourself the next time around—and without condescending to you. You want to see your salespeople out bombing the local trails on the same suspension they recommend to you. You don't want to be unnecessarily upsold, when a simple repair will suffice. You want a shop that cares, above all, about getting butts on saddles.
Overall, it was some great, really heart-warming stuff you said. Things like, "This is a REAL bike shop. Unpretentious, but has terrific products. The staff are very knowledgeable and down-to-earth." And "Honest, friendy and helpful. When in the store I feel like one of the employees. Or, like part of a family." If you're not already telling them this in person, we recommend you do.
Because here's the hard truth. Running an independent local bike shop ain't easy. In fact, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA), the number of dealers nationwide is at an all-time low, and the number is dropping every year, from a high of more than 8,000 in the early 1980s to barely half that in 2012. We all know the story: it's tough for Main Street shops to compete with the information—and e-commerce—superhighway that is the Internet. And a global economy means competing with bigger businesses even farther afield. That means that a full 70% of bike shops go broke within their first three years. That's why it's so important that we patronize local bike shops, and why it's so incredible that these fine stores are succeeding. But we know why, don't we?
Of course, not everyone was happy with our top 80 picks, and we had dozens of write-in votes (shout-out to San Francisco's Huckleberry Bicycles and Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville, Va.!). If you think we missed an amazing shop, let us know about it. In the meantime, check out the nation's top shops as picked by The Active Times' readers.
See where your local bike shop rated among America's top 50.
Correction: This story had previously said there were over 2,500 votes. That was actually the number of unique voters. There were over 3,900 votes, since voters could choose multiple favorites.