Bike Shops are Booming

This old mountain bike served me well for many years.
This old mountain bike served me well for many years.

The economy might be bad for most businesses, but I think bike shops are booming.

My mountain bike broke last week. The gears wouldn’t catch and the front tire went flat so last Tuesday I tried to get it fixed. I told them I needed it back by Sunday because that was the annual “Bike to the Sea” ride from Malden to Nahant.

How Much Is This Going to Cost?

The guy at JRA Cycles in Medford, Mass. told me they couldn’t fix it by Sunday and that about 30 other people were ahead of me. “What if I give you an extra 10 bucks?” I asked. He replied, “It would have to be more like $50.” I told him for that kind of money I could buy another bike. He agreed and then suggested I try City Cycle in Stoneham.

The guy there told me it might be possible that I’d get it back by Sunday, but he couldn’t guarantee it. He suggested trying the Cycle Loft in Burlington. The woman behind the counter was the first person to take a good look at the bike. “You plan on riding 18 miles on this?” she asked. “When was the last time you had it tuned up?”

I told her never: I had never,  in the more than 20 years I had owned the bike, had it tuned up.  She wasn’t surprised but then asked, “Have you been riding this, lately?” And she was surprised at my answer: “Yes, almost every day for the past three months.”

She shook her head, mumbled something about me lucky to be alive, and then went through several calculations and options for getting it up to safety standards. The bottom line: about $180. And yes, they could do the work by Sunday.

I thanked her for her time but told her for that kind of money I’d buy another bike. But not there. The bikes there — and at most bike shops — start at about $400 and go all the way up to three- or four-thousand dollars. After doing a quick search on Craigslist with no good results, I decided I’d try Wal-Mart and Target.

The Schwinn Jaguar has retro styling and a smooth ride.
The Schwinn Jaguar has retro styling and a smooth ride.

I ended up with a Schwinn Jaguar from Target for $150. It’s a retro cruiser and so far I love it. The problem with buying a bike from a department store is that they are usually not assembled very well. The bikes at Wal-Mart were put together really poorly, but the ones at Target weren’t too bad.

  • Tip: Look over the bikes very carefully and ride them in the store. I looked at three Schwinn Jaguars at Target and I asked the clerk there to take one of them down from the top rack — a task requiring a special fork-lift machine. But the clerk didn’t seem to mind.

The first one had a rear brake that stuck. The second one had a front brake that stuck. Sticking brakes are not a major problem,  but I didn’t want to take the time to fiddle with it if I didn’t have to. The third one seemed to have everything in the right working order, except the handlebars were a little loose and the seat was too high.

I was able to borrow a wrench from the shelves at Target to fix the seat. That allowed me to take a spin in the store to see if everything else was working well. And then when I got home, I spent $1 on an allen wrench to tighten the handlebars.

If I had bought a bike at a bike shop, everything would have been put together correctly and custom-fitted to me, but bikes there cost at least twice as much. Some say the Schwinns they sell at bike shops are superior to the ones they sell at department stores: that the ones they sell at department stores will wear out quicker,  but I’m not so sure.

The mountain bike I enjoyed for more than 20 years — without a single tune up — was purchased for $80 at Caldor. It even survived the department store.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)

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