25 August 2010

Buying a bike in Vancouver

I must be ready to come back to Vancouver. These blogs are getting way off-topic. Anyway, last night I dreamed about buying a bicycle and woke up early in the morning to start researching.

[RIMG3]I have been surfing for hours now and I am tearing my hair out at the lack of information. There is almost no good information about how to buy a bike in Vancouver. There needs to be a website with a really good guide to tell people where they can go to get good new, used and refurbished/recyced bikes.

This site should have:

  • Expert, non-partisan and impartial writers reviewing everything from Vancouver as a bike-friendly city to individual bike shops
  • User-generated content: Bike shop reviews and talk about their experiences shopping for a bike.
  • A place to post poems about their love of cycling.
  • Guides on how to buy a used bike without worrying about it having been stolen.
  • Beginner guide for those buying their first bike and their kid's first bike so they don't end up with a cheap Canadian Tire special.
  • Annoying overly-vocal "Fixie" enthusiasts should be tolerated but they can have their own section...I kidd.
There are a couple of contenders out there already:

But none of them get it quite right.While I wait for someone else to do this I'll just blog about what I've found so far in my own search and then maybe we can expand this post or someone else can pick up the gauntlet.

[LIMG4]A sunny day in Mattopia

In my perfect world I don't spend every minute of my dinner or grocery trip worried about my bike locked up outside. In fact, in my perfect world every single store has a bike valet system. Also in my perfect world I'm rich.

In that world I would wait for my goose to lay me a golden egg or two and bring them on over to Rivendell Cycles where I would buy the Atlantis.

Unfortunately this is reality and I'm probably looking in the $500-$750 range.

Commercial Bike Stores

Vancouver has nearly as many bike shops as it does sushi restaurants and like sushi let me tell you there are some bad ones. I've experienced terrible service, overpricing, cheating, condescension, unnecessary maintenance, mechanic-induced bike damage and clueless staff enough to know it pays to do your research. I don't want this to be a negative post though. After all, I'm looking for the good ones so I can give them my hard-earned money in exchange for two-wheeled joyfullness!

[RIMG2]So how to we find good a good shop? Word of mouth isn't bad but that's really only considering one experience. Then there are sites like Yelp which was about the best resource I've found so far. For example, The Bike Doctor seems to come up in conversation and on forums pretty consistently so I put that one on a short list.

Every semi-reputable bike shop I've looked at had exactly two kinds of reviews

"... I walked in knowing nothing and they were so helpful. I love these guys and have agreed to bear their children ..."

and

"... they treated me like I was a moron and used their superior bike knowledge to make me cry..."

Granted if there's only one bad review and ten good ones you can weigh it out that way but when I hear the words 'Condescending' my brain just turns to angry. My personal opinion is that bike shop owners should be taking these reviews seriously. Any bike mechanic who does anything but gently encourage a potential cyclist should be immediately fired or banished to a basement where they can grumble sarcastically in a dark place where only their precious, precious bikes can hear them. I say this because I think the world needs to encourage MORE cyclists, even semi-ignorant ones like me who don't true their own wheels. So say I.

The 'used' option

I've recently become very aware of my patterns of consumption yet I have identified a bike as an object I 'need'. If I can get a good used one that rides well and doesn't require a lot of maintenance then I'm all for that.

Of course there's always Craigslist and Kijiji but even though I've used them in the past to sell bikes these sites are rife with sketchy people. Bike theft in Vancouver is a HUGE, teetering on epic problem (I should know). Since bikes are usually not valuable enough for police to investigate I'm not sure that anything is being done about it. Those stolen bikes get their serial numbers sanded off and/or stripped down only to land on Craigslist for a quick buck. Case-in-point: One of my close friends was able to buy back his stolen bike on Craigslist for $50. I've been told that most bikes and nearly all bike components sold on Craigslist are stolen. Not sure I want to sift through that kind of crap to get that rare unblemished gem that everybody else is looking for too.

For a slightly more legit experience I discovered a good selection of used bikes at MEC online gear swap

Join the Cycling Community

Vancouver is a Co-op-y city. I'm part of the Vancouver Car Co-op where I can sign out a car whenever I need one. I also volunteer at FreeGeek (When I'm in the city) which is all about ethical computer recycling, education and selling refurbished machines.

This is why I love the idea of Our Community Bikes but I find their webpage a little thin and vague on specifics like 'Can I buy a bike from them?' and 'What kinds of bikes do they have?'. Also their Yelp page is a tad colourful but I'm a little more forgiving since they're volunteer-based. For those in Point Grey and the UBC area there's also the UBC Bike Co-op which I used to be a member of. Both these bike Co-ops seem to be more about education and repair though. I'm not sure whether they sell bikes.

I give up....well for now anyway.

Maybe I'm going about this the wrong way though. In my lust for immediately-available online satisfaction I might be missing the whole point, which is that researching a highly personal thing like a bicycle for riding in Vancouver isn't best done from a crappy hotel room over an internet connection halfway around the world in Africa.

As soon as I get back I'm going to wander into Our Community Bikes and smile.

Appendix:

In case anyone cares what bikes I've been looking at. Feel free to make suggestions below.

My needs:

  1. A bicycle.
  2. Not a fixie.
  3. Not a high-performance racer,
  4. A good value-for-money
  5. Not a cheap beat-up maintenance pit of despair.
  6. Comfortable and practical to the extreme
  7. Should run smooth and be as low maintenance as possible.

I hear MEC has nice bikes so I'm eying the Desire at the moment.

I love the idea of Internal Gearing Hubs but they are so new I might have trouble finding one on a used machine.

In the past I've had and loved Rocky Mountain Cycles but I wasn't really too impressed with their hybrid offering.

That's all I have for now. Hopefully I can update this page with new information soon.

[IMG1]


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