At this point I have spent the majority of my employed life working in bicycle shops. I do not regret a single minute of it. I say this honestly, and for those of you who read this dribble, those of you who are neither my wife nor my mother, I have to tell you that it’s been worth it, despite what you may have heard me say in the past. Yes each and every one of those days in the past that I happened to be working at a shop, I know I said I hate it. Bikes shops, like many other types of shops this world round are an agora, a place where people of like mind can come to exchange thoughts and ideas, and though these thoughts may lean more towards the scatological in the environs of the velocipede we none the less spend our days in the market place of knowledge, dealing in the currency of ideas… ah yes I am happy with the sentiment behind that concept, sounds good, the currency of ideas, no matter what comes next, hold on to that lofty ideal will you?
There are some out there who might look at bike shop as just a refuge for the Peter Pans of the world. A never-never land of grease and crassness that one may think, from an outside perspective, could easily be filled by any one of the crater cheeked boys and girls from the local malls Hotdog on a Stick, and to a certain extent this is true. We bike folk, like our epidermically challenged brethren at the food court have the privilege of dealing with the general public – yes, we work in retail. I am going to guess and say 60% of the time we are engage in simple retail transactions, much like a transaction you would have when ordering food, you see the menu, note the number, tell the clerk, swipe your debit card, and wait for your tray of slop to arrive while becoming part of the Petri dish of Americana that is fast food.
What sets us bike shop peons apart from hordes working the registers at food courts across this great nation is the amount of time we spend on average with a customer, assuaging their egos, gently steering them away from the miss-informed website or the ideas that their “friend who used to be a bike mechanic” has led them to believe is bedrock. The reason we bike folk go to such great lengths to steer our flock of riders in the right direction is not simply that our reputations are at stake, nor that the hassle of trying to explain a return policy to a customer who has thoroughly destroyed a product because it was the wrong fit in the first place and they insisted is was correct and now they want to return if for a full refund is in all cases better if avoided. The reason is that like any agora or think tank or chat room, it is the sum of the parts that perpetuates ideas; with out the input the agora dies, with out the haughty roadies or the sullen commuters bike shops would be nothing. The symbiotic nature of capitalism, the constant push and pull is the reason we take the time, and yet in the end it would be a joke to think that heroes at your local shop are in it for the money.
On any given day at a bike shop there is point when a man with a skullet parks his recumbent in the doorway knocking product off of the sales hook with his backpack while price shopping patch kits and incessantly talking about all the miles he puts in during the week. Hoping, I guess, for some sort of celestial merit badge to be bestowed on him for his one-man battle against carbon monoxide pollution. The bestial part of us, of any of us, is straining against our super egos; the id in this situation is like a Viking berserk. Yet we stand there behind the register or next to the sorry man going over the benefits of each patch kit, smiles set as the bullshit piles up, why? Is it because in the end we are here to sell you something, or is it that the worlds of insanity that customers bring in may just be the fuel that keeps us going, keeps us laughing, wondering and hoping for whatever is going to come next.