Well….ok. It’s not really a review. A genuine review of the year would be 10,000 words long and utterly, utterly boring. So…..I’ve picked out a couple of insights and anecdotes to share. If you’re a regular at the shop or on the mobile roster, you’re sick of my stories already anyway 🙂
Another year has blown by, and we’ve all had to figure out how to best handle the peculiar circumstances thrown our way thanks to COVID, lockdowns, supply issues and all the other parts that make up life.
I’m not entirely convinced that COVID has been a good thing for the cycling industry (that’s not to say it’s been that bad either….) From my little corner of the world, it has just made the highs higher and the lows lower – A really exaggerated version of the feast and famine cycle most small business owners are familiar with. The initial explosion of sales had everyone feeling pretty smug. The months-long drought of stock that followed brought everyone back to earth. Being a few steps removed from actual retail stores, I was largely shielded from the initial swings of demand and availability….service work carried on as normal but the scope of the work varied enormously. The real canary in the coal mine was when I had to start stocking up across 6 suppliers instead of my usual 3-4, and that number is now closer to 10. So – the first of about half a dozen major changes was in how I managed stock, and how much of it was ‘enough’ to get through a season. Anyone with ANY retail experience will read that and think “well, duhhh” – but I’ve simply never had to operate like that before. The new modus operandi is just to roll with the punches, make informed decisions, and assume that something far more catastrophic has to happen before people stop riding their bikes!
So what have we learned? What cool stuff happened?
- Most folks have effectively doubled the service life of their bikes, simply because they can’t go out and buy a new one they like in their size, colour, brand or price bracket. It seems to me that people, on average, expect a minimum of 3 years out of their bike before seriously considering a replacement. People who were two years into that cycle at the start of last year (2020) will almost certainly be looking at 4 or even 5 years of life for their current ride. Because of this, the longevity of the components has become really, really important. If you’re running Ultegra 6800 (which is already a few years old) like me, there’s no chance of a new set of chainrings or shifters if something breaks. Absolutely zero. It won’t happen. Brand new 12 speed MTB drivetrain components? Virtually non existent. A few of the top tier aftermarket brands have stock to offer, at prices that reflect the fact that there are no alternatives. Replacing chains at 50% wear is now fairly common (and keeping the old one just in case) all in the name of maximum chainring and cassette life. Everything bearing related still seems pretty easy, but that may be because I’ve always carried extraordinary volumes of wheel, headset and crank bearings.
2. Insurance claims are just getting paid out because repairs aren’t possible. Now – that’s quite a broad generalisation, carbon repairs and paintwork are still going ahead. But, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you’re running an 11 speed drivetrain that is either current or one/two generations old – you aren’t getting replacement parts if you crash. I recently directed one customer to a japanese online store for a Dura Ace hydraulic di2 shifter with a $700USD price tag, complete with a warning that I had absolutely no idea if it was legit or not, but if he was that desperate to replace it, that was all I could find.
3. There is no secret society reserving bike parts at insane prices for those who have the budget. Yep. This one took me by surprise as well, when someone insisted that there MUST be stock somewhere, simply being held at a higher price, for those willing to pay well over RRP. That’s not a thing, folks. There isn’t a Global Bike Part Reserve next door to the Global Oil Reserve. The Australian Government isn’t quite forward thinking enough to stock an old military base with the old Campagnolo 10 speed shifters you want. However, that being said….the second hand market is pretty ugly at the moment. Lots of folks out there hoarding a backyard full of crap that they think is their golden ticket to retirement. Old, rusty 24″ kids bikes aren’t worth $400, guys.
4. People have become patient and flexible! Truly, you guys all deserve a pat on the back. I have not once, not ONCE, had a negative interaction with a customer due to slow turnaround on a job or lack of mobile booking slots being available. It hasn’t happened. People understand that freight is slow and parts are scarce. Not only that, but the massive increase in people working from home has made them far more flexible with regards to workshop drop offs or being accommodating of whatever random mobile time slots still remain. Seriously, I’ve been blown away by how easy it is to work with peoples schedules these days. Sure, everything else is a bit harder than it used to be, but people continue to be awesome!
5. Road tubeless still isn’t really…….great. Half the people reading this will disagree with me on this, but I stand by it. Road tubeless is AMAZING when it works, which is about half the time. If you’re ok with something being awesome half the time, and a ride-ruining, wallet emptying experience the rest of the time….then by all means go tubeless 🙂
6. Mountain Bikes now ACTUALLY cost more than dirt bikes. For years, people outside the MTB world loved to scold us for however much money we spent on a bike. Stock crisis aside, most ordinary shops would have a bike on their floor worth well in excess of $10,000 – and they’re not considered at all unusual anymore. A top shelf ebike with electronic, self adjusting air suspension bolted to a high end carbon frame won’t leave you with much change out of $15,000. What a time to be alive!
7. The return of the Frame Builder. Custom steel and titanium frames are surging in popularity faster than gun welders can get frames together – assuming the client can source a groupset. With a bit of patience and forward planning certain categories of bike can still be assembled with reasonable ease. This is doubly true for the very tall and the very small, folks who have historically struggled to get a bike in their size. As I write this, I have a frame in the shop being built for a chap who is touching on 7 feet tall. His frame makes 29″ wheels look like old school 26ers!!!
All things considered, it has still been a great year. I continue to learn and adjust every day, and it’s usually good fun. I love interacting with my customers, even though it’s often impossible to hide the fact that I have to be somewhere else or get back to work. I like to think that folks understand that my eagerness to get back to someone elses job, is a sign that I had to cut someone else short on time so I could do THEIR job in the timeframe promised! Every job is important. Every job matters. Every customer’s concerns and questions are fair and deserve real assurances and answers.