Do women get worse treatment in bike shops?

IMG_6551This is a question which is often asked on the bicycle blogosphere, and also one where I have some first hand experience and, as with answers to most complex and often subjective questions, the answer is “it depends….”

I have to preface my comments with a statement I have never purchased a new bike from a bike shop, though I often buy parts from them, as well as from online sites.

The time I was most acutely aware of a prejudice or less-than-perfect customer service was when I was looking for new wheels and a three-speed-coaster-brake hub for my Speedwell. The responses I got from the bike shops were that I should buy a new bike as it would cost about the same (this was not even answering my question), or that they would get a quote and get back to me (only one shop out of three actually did this). So in this case I would say that I was not satisfied with the treatment I received. I put it down to the fact that I was a woman who was perceived as not knowing what she wanted, even though I was prepared to send a fair amount of money.

Fast forward a few years and my experience at bike shops now is a very different one, and it is not because I am a regular at any one bike shop. I get comments of “nice bike”, as I am on either my Speedwell or my Bennett. When I tell them that I have “restored” (although “customised” would probably be a better term) the bike, they tell me what a great job I have done. This often leads to a discussion of the merits of old steel bikes vs more modern bikes, and so on. Sometimes in the course of the conversation, the shop staff will offer to make an adjustment to the gear shifter cable and I happily accept the offer. Or they may comment favourably on some other component of the bike. So my lack of mechanical skills is made known, and that is not an issue with me, I am grateful for the free adjustment to the bike! There is never any attempt to sell me a bike or a part for my current bike, and often I don’t spend any money there, I am simply enquiring about a part and/or placing an order for said part/s.

So in answer to the question I have posed, I would have to say that my experience with working on bikes, no matter how badly this work is done, has altered the treatment I receive in bike shops. On the other hand I am not asking for a large job to be done at the shop. This last fact should actually have a negative affect on the treatment I receive as I won’t be spending large amounts of dollars at the shop, and nor are the staff encouraging me to.

When I buy online, of course, there is usually very little interaction with the vendor, it is simply a matter of placing the order and then, seemingly magically, it arrives a few days later. I have never had any problems with various online “bike shops” and I like that they allow easy price comparisons and offer good specials at times.

Many years ago, when I did triathlons, I also dealt with bike shops and, as I was working full time and had many other commitments at that time, I would simply drop my bike at the local bike shop and ask them to service it and change the tubes and tyres if necessary. This would cost a bit, and as I was “time poor” I didn’t mind this and I never found any fault with the service I received.

As for advice to give to women who are dealing with bike shops … most women don’t want to work on their bikes very much, and I am one of them. I will only do what I feel comfortable with. That puts us at the mercy of the bike shops so we want to get on well with them. Not all women want to tinker with their bike, or become experts in bikes, nor do they want to be athletic in their biking pursuits simply to gain credibility with the local bike shop, they just want some good service and impartial advice when spending their money on a bike, or parts for it.

The advice given on blogs about this is usually to build a good relationship with the local bike shop/s. This can be difficult however. If I get bad service, or poor treatment at a bike shop, I won’t go back there for some time. I usually just go to the nearest bike shop that is convenient for me, and in my area I have about 5 to choose from, as well as a comprehensive section at K Mart for certain parts and accessories. So, fortunately, I have plenty of choice. I have spent most of my bike dollars online though, because I know what I want, and it allows me to access good prices for those parts, some of which (eg Brooks saddles and skirt guards) can’t be bought here in Newcastle.

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12 Responses to Do women get worse treatment in bike shops?

  1. Mark MacLean says:

    I’ll ask Christine about this: she’s more qualified to answer! However, I have to say that sometimes I feel like a bit of a loose part if I go into a shop and it’s full of guys with shaved legs and calf muscles bigger than my biceps.

    • Vicki says:

      Your comment made me laugh Mark, and I can relate to the intimidation that any super athlete inflicts on those around them. Will be good to hear Christine’s view on bike shops too.

  2. anniebikes says:

    Yet again, just two weeks ago, someone said the same thing to me when I had them assess the rear wheel on a 1980s bike, It had broken spoke. “It’s not worth respoking the wheel on this old bike. Buy a new wheel..” This irks me. I didn’t ask if it was cheaper, I asked if it could be done. It’s as if they are giving their personal opinion as to value of the bike. They are not answering the question, nor getting to know the customer well enough to offer viable options. Needless to say, I left there with my bike and brought it a place that loves older bikes and gives me better advice.

    • Vicki says:

      I am glad I am not the only one with this gripe Annie, and you know a lot about bikes, the bike shop should realise this when they talk to you.

      • anniebikes says:

        I should say that this response came from a male mechanic. I don’t think it was because I was a woman either. It think it has more to do with the age of the mechanic and their regular customers. Most who patronize this shop are recreational riders (at least that’s my perception) and he make an unfortunate snap judgement. I went there because I have gift card to use, which I’ll end up spending on something else, surely not on bike repair!

  3. If you have a reasonable go at maintaining your bike, then a reasonable LBS should help you maintain it. But there is a limit on what they can do without carrying an absurdly large inventory of dusty old parts.
    My 25-year-old steel bike was a custom job and I was almost immediately dissatisfied with it. Since then I bought New Old Stock parts and gradually upgraded it to a part 105, part Deore 21-speed machine. That weighs a ton. Did you know that you can still get 7-speed STI levers? My LBS told me that. But there’s a lot of old stuff that I’d have to source online or adapt to fit.
    I was in my new LBS recently (I just bought a Trek Domane 4.5) and saw a customer with an old bike seeking advice. Naturally the conversation turned to what constituted an economical repair and whether he was willing to pay good money and not get anything like a new bike. However, it was from an obscure manufacturer and had amazing hubs, so definitely worth keeping on the road. Or hanging on a wall. In the end, he got a wheel re-laced and two new tyres to kept riding and spent money on passion rather than a new bike. No extra gears or better brakes, but originality was more or less maintained.
    I don’t think that gender makes a difference if you turn up with an old bike. The LBS may be judging on whether the repairs that they do and the time and calls to source the parts for an old bike will be appreciated by the owner.

  4. Roy Gibson says:

    Do you think your first experience was because you are female or because the bike shops generally thought they were offering you advice? It might have had nothing to do with gender…

  5. Roy Gibson says:

    Do you think your first experience was because the bike shops were trying to offer expert advice? It might have had nothing to do with gender?

    • Vicki says:

      It’s been a while since I wrote this post and I think you could be right, that men are just as likely to be treated badly. Nowadays I do get treated better but I’ve become known to many bike shops now and Ive also ridden my speedwell with its new wheel set for several years. It was worth having it upgraded rather than buying a new bike so my persistence has paid off.

      • Roy Gibson says:

        Yea I found (as a bloke) I found some bike shops to be elitist, my commuter wasn’t the best bike in the world but it was looked down on for not being a super speedy bike.

        Having moved house since my local bike shop are awesome (and cheap).

  6. Pingback: What do we want in a Local Bike Shop? | Bradley's Raw Data Feed

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