March 30, 2022
Costco is awesome in so many ways. I never knew I wanted 150 rolls of toilet paper, or an electric drill, or a new surfboard, until I walked into Costco.
Costco (and other mass retailers) is also not awesome in some ways, and one of those is when it comes to selling bicycles. Here's why:
Above: A typical stack of discounted E-bikes in the aisles at Costco.
There is still detail to be determined as to whether Phantom Bikes, who make the bike, knowingly imported, promoted and sold them into the US with improperly fitted brakes.
In my opinion, it is absolutely the Retailer’s responsibility to be a final safety check before the consumer takes possession.
Mass Retailers like Costco, K-Mart, Target, Anaconda and others depend on big volume and big numbers, largely built off the back of low-skilled, low-paid workforces. Alternatively, your local bike-shop develops community relationships, looks after quality control and offers aftermarket support that are value-adds beyond any dollar amount. If a consumer with little bicycle knowledge purchases a bike from a retailer that doesn’t have a sharp eye for detail or a sound mechanical process, you get a recipe for disaster, as was put so horribly on display with this example.
As a bicycle retailer, we are focused on selling high quality products and building and serving a local cycling community. We hire and retain staff that are active cyclists and are passionate about riding, bike fitting, mechanical workings, and bicycle technology. When someone hands us their bike for servicing, we notice the loose grips, the low tyre pressure, the bent pedal. When we pull a new bike out of a box for assembly, we notice the slight bend in a wheel, the loose crank arm, the misaligned derailleur, the fork mounted backwards, the BRAKE LEVERS ON THE WRONG SIDE. This layer of oversight, inspection, service and safety is missing in the mass retailers.
This is a list of steps and services that we believe are critical in the purchase of a bicycle and should be provided by the retailer:
As a professional bike shop, one of the most important elements to the business is having a vastly skilled mechanic on staff that has a wealth of experience across the multiverse of brands, bike styles, parts, and custom designed components. There are so many aspects to different bicycles that require a profound knowledge and years of experience in order to work on them properly. Bolts, gears, brakes, hubs, bottom brackets, wheel alignment...the list of safety checks for a bike out of the box is also extensive.
In the last thirty years the cycling industry has experience massive change. The variety of bike styles now on offer has exploded. Buying a bike is no longer as simple as one-type-fits-all. There are responsibilities that we as dedicated Retailers take on to ensure you leave with a bike that is right for you. Get it wrong and it might not be the great experience you were desiring. We as retailers have a long list of questions for you before suggesting a model or models, and again, we're good at it. There is no one at Costco to help you find the right bike for you.
Many big box brands don't sell the full range of sizes for people from 1.5 to 2m tall, they concentrate on the mediums, maybe the large size only. It's not uncommon to have a client come in for service on a bike that is way too big or too small for them because "that's all they had". Most of the better brands produce bikes in up to seven sizes and it's our job to identify their optimum size and make any small adjustments to get it just right for their enjoyment. Proper bicycle retailers size people every day and no one is better at it. There is no one at a mass retailer to question your choice of self-selected size or offer advice or options to fit you or your child best.
Premium bike brands generally do not sell through big box retailers. They produce a wide range of models for different style riding, a wide range of prices, and most models are available in three to seven different sizes. These premium brands don't generally sell to Costco or the others because the quality minimum is set a bit higher and they want their bikes properly assembled, promoted, sized, and sold to riders in a more professional manner that mass retailers can not provide.
Costco, Kmart and Target do not have a bike service department staffed with experienced mechanics. They want to sell the bike and never see the product again. Bicycles are not use-til-they-break items like toasters, they are not wear-until-they-get-a-hole like underwear or socks. They require safety checks, brake pads to be replaced, wheels to be straightened, tyres to be replaced, flats to be repaired and many other items. Suspension mountain bikes have more moving parts and they require ongoing preemptive maintenance. Since bicycles require maintenance and upkeep to be safe and to work properly, shops without a workshop should not sell them. Shops that can’t provide this service are shirking a vital responsibility for the sake of profit. Imagine a car dealer without a Service and Parts department.
Having the right shoes, a bottle of water for long rides, a mount for your phone... Cycling is more than just the bike. Bike store staff can help you accessorize and get the right equipment so that you can change your own flat tyre, pump your tyres up at home, fit the right helmet, or get the best gloves to avoid numb hands or blisters. Last time I checked, there was not an experienced cyclist at Costco to help accessorize a bike properly.
Whether you are new to cycling or a seasoned veteran, a relationship with a local shop or shops can be an important part of your daily experience. The guidance, suggestions, and help that you get throughout the years is invaluable plus the added benefit of meeting other like-minded riders through the network facilitated by your local shop. The amount of people that we teach about things like how to properly wear bike shorts, when to replace a chain, how to lubricate and clean the bike, what tyres are suitable for local rides, what tyre pressure to run... I could go on for hours. At a mass retailer, there is no one to help you along your journey, they want your purchase and that's it.
I won't profess that each and every bike that leaves a dedicated bicycle retailer is perfect, nor is every experience perfect. What I can vouch for is the volume of passionate, experienced, knowledgeable professionals that form the final layer of oversight between client and factory. They are a valuable resource and keep the vast majority of people safe and enjoying their pastime, their commute to work, their weekends with kids, their fitness regime.
Don't be tempted. Don't buy bicycles from Costco or other mass retailers. Go visit your local bike shop instead. Maybe it’ll cost you a little more upfront, but in return you’ll get more, learn more and stay safe. Buy local. Support your local bike shop.
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