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Getting to know your local bike shop
Local bike shops are a great resource for keeping your bike running well and getting the right advice. They are typically run by people who are passionate about cycling. Maurice Wells is a local bike shop owner in Marrickville. He spent years helping others fix their bikes before opening his own bike shop at the age 25.
Adrian: Can you tell me how you first got into cycling?
Maurice: I grew up in Canberra where it was fairly normal for a kid to ride a bike to school. When I moved to Sydney for university I rode around a bit but it was off and on. It wasn't until around 3rd year that the bike bug really hit. I was riding everywhere, I was doing anything I could to get others riding. I started the UNSW Bike Club and helped to start the Nunnery Bike Workshop. I taught myself to fix bikes and anything else related to urban cycling. In my final year of engineering I wrote a thesis on electric bicycles and quickly discovered the potential they had to massively increase bicycle usage. After a short stint in the solar industry I decided I was going to bring electric bicycles to Sydney and started a shop for that reason.
Adrian: What is Glow Worm Bicycles and what sort of products do you sell?
Maurice: We’re a local bike shop that specialises in electric bikes. We sell a range of regular, electric, and some cargo bikes. We also import a brand of electric bikes, called EZEEBIKE, which we distribute in Australia. Within the shop, we sell a whole range of products and accessories aimed at everyday transport side of cycling, such like bags, baskets, locks, lights, comfy seats, and clothing. We also repair and service all types of bicycles.
Adrian: What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing from a local bike shop?
Maurice: Well, compared to a department store, you just get better products. There are not many local bike shops that sell sub-standard products. By sub-standard, I don’t mean worse quality than my standard. A sub-standard bike has low quality parts, they don’t work well, and are not going to be enjoyable to use. The advantages of a local bike shop over an online store are primarily in getting the right thing and being able to talk to someone who’s experienced in using the product. It’s easy to go online and get very high quality products, usually at better prices, but you might get the wrong thing. In going to a local bike shop, you get to look at things and talk to people who know hundreds of their customers who are using the product. The more you get to know the shop, the better they can be -- if they’re a good shop -- at recommending the right things for you because they know you and how you ride.
Adrian: Are there any disadvantages?
Maurice: On some products there is a price disadvantage. It’s easier to compete on price if you don’t run a shop. Some local bike shops may not have the products you want, so my previous argument may not always work, but if you find a good local bike shop and they get to know you, the better chance you’ll have of getting the right thing for you and your bike.
Adrian: What are the greatest challenges you’ve experienced in running a local bike shop?
Maurice: Our challenges have mostly come from the electric bike side of the business. Electric bikes are fairly new in Australia, so when you’re the only place doing it, everything is a little harder. You don’t have the suppliers with all the things you need for little jobs. We sometimes have to make our own tools and order things from the US or Europe, which wouldn’t be the case if there were more e-bike users all over Australia. There aren’t many e-bike shops around so we frequently get customers from inter-state. If they have an issue, there may not be a local shop that can deal with it, so we might be trying to solve the problem remotely. We like selling electric bikes because it’s a very exciting product, but it’s also very hard because very few people in the bike industry know how to fix them, so you have to know everything yourself.
Adrian: What do you think are the most important parts or accessories for city cycling?
Maurice: Your bike needs to have some device for carrying things that suits your lifestyle. For a lot of people, that’s a basket which is always ready to go. For other people, it’s a pannier bag because you can put more in them and their waterproof. Basically, you need somewhere to carry your stuff that isn’t awkward or uncomfortable. You need good lights. Something that doesn’t require you to keep buying batteries, so rechargeable or dynamo powered lights are good. Then there are tyres. Good tyres very rarely get punctures and should last a long time. Good tyres will roll faster to make your ride easier and some have reflective sidewalls so you’re more visible at night. Some cyclists believe that getting flat tyres is just a fact of riding, when it’s not really. If you’re going to show up to work every day with important meetings, it’s just not acceptable to get a flat tyre at any given moment. People driving cars would never tolerate that so I don’t see why people on bike should tolerate that either.
Adrian: What things can cyclists do to keep their bikes running smoothly?
Maurice: If you haven’t already got a bike, then make a realistic judgment of yourself with respect to how often you want to be doing anything at all to your bike. Some people enjoy that kind of thing. Some people know deep down that they’re never going to do any maintenance on their bike and that should affect what sort of bike you choose to buy. There are compromises when you buy a bike, it’s not all about how much they cost. There are some bikes that are lower maintenance but have reduced braking power, for example. Then there are some bikes with brakes that have amazing stopping power if the brakes are well maintained, but are hopeless if they’re not tuned correctly. If you really don’t want to maintain your bike very often, it’s probably not the best bike for you.
If you’ve already got a bike, it’s good to learn some basic bike maintenance. You can do one of the City of Sydney’s free bike maintenance courses. I don’t think you really need to be an enthusiast or amateur mechanic to get around by bicycle, but it certainly helps if you know how to pump up your tyres to full pressure without it being hard work. Knowing your tyre pressure, pumping them up regularly, and perhaps lubing your chain at the same time is more than most people do. You should get your bike serviced when it doesn’t feel right. In most cases you’ll get warning signs when something is wrong and there is a noise or it doesn’t feel good. Don’t be afraid to take it into a shop and ask questions. I’d say clean your bike because that’s when you notice all the other things that are wrong, but if you don’t want to clean your bike, don’t let that stop you riding. There are lots of things you can do to look after your bike competently, but if you don’t want to, you can always buy a low maintenance bike.
Disclosure: Bikewise's Adrian works part-time as a mechanic at Glowworm Bicycles.
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