This is why I buy stuff online

The scene: Local bike and outdoor supply shop, Nashville, Tennessee, on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. The perfect day to test ride a bicycle.

The players: Two experienced cyclists who happen to be female. One bike shop employee who happens to be male. Two Trek FX 7.2s. Le Peug.

Trek FX 7.2

I express interest in test-riding a Trek FX 7.2. Employee (to be called “LBS Guy” going forward) kindly takes it to the back room to top off the tires and check that everything is working properly. He leads me into the back parking lot. The conversation that follows is of course slightly paraphrased (I don’t have perfect recall) but not exaggerated.

LBS Guy: Do you know how the shifters work?

Me: [not having taken a close look at the lever setup] Well, not on this particular bike, no.

LBS Guy: What type of bike do you usually ride?

Me: [List my four bikes.]

LBS Guy: Oh. So you’re just looking for an everyday runaround, then? [Proceeds to give me not only a tutorial on how the shifters work, which was slightly different from my current setup, but also an exhaustive explanation of what the front chainrings do and how the rear cassette works despite my having told him that I rode a 10-speed here.]

Me: [after listening patiently] Is there a hill nearby where I can try this out?

LBS Guy: Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. The parking lot goes way back and you don’t have to think about cars at all.

Me: Well, I rode here on the street, so that doesn’t bother me. I’m interested in seeing how this takes a hill compared to my bikes.

At this point, Whitney comes out of the shop. I ask her if she wants to ride along with me. We make a couple of loops through the parking lot while I get a feel for the bike, and it is obvious that the saddle is too low. I stop, but the seat adjustment requires an allen wrench. I notice LBS Guy is standing in the lot watching us, so I decide to ride back and ask him to raise it slightly.

Me: Would you mind making a quick adjustment? The seat is too low.

LBS Guy: Well, you don’t want to raise it too much. It looked fine to me. If you’re see-sawing back and forth on the bike [which I was nowhere close to doing] the seat is too high. If you’d just point your toes a little when you pedal…

Me: I’d prefer to get closer to full leg extension. I’m not getting enough power.

LBS Guy: [reluctantly raising the seat about a quarter of an inch] Try that. I’ll watch your position when you ride away.

I ride away, with the seat still slightly low but not bad enough to go back and receive more patronizing advice. We get on the street and find a hill, ride up and down it, circle around for a few more minutes and return to the shop. The whole ride takes maybe 10 minutes. LBS Guy is opening the door as we start to bring the bikes back in.

LBS Guy: [somewhat aggressively] There you are! I was just about to go out looking for you. You aren’t supposed to leave my sight on a test ride. You could have just ridden off. I didn’t have anything to guarantee you were coming back.

Me: [puzzled] What do you mean? My bike is here [gesturing to Le Peug, which was parked in the store the whole time].

LBS Guy: [scornful glance at Le Peug] Well, that’s not collateral for a bike like this one. We don’t let people take bikes on the street without leaving a driver’s license or a credit card. [Neither of which he asked me for.]

Me: [a bit stunned] Well, I didn’t realize that. And I’m not sure how people can be expected to get a feel for a bike without taking it outside of a parking lot.

LBS Guy, clearly not really listening: I’ll come back and put the bike up later. I have other customers now.

He walks away. I lean the Trek against a shelf and go to get Le Peug as the insult to me and my bike registers. Another employee comes up as we are leaving the store and wishes us a good day—not sure if he heard the conversation and was trying to apologize or was just being polite. An angrily energetic ride home ensues.

***END SCENE***

I had been planning to browse for some items for the Clarksville Century ride (this shop carries a larger amount of sporty accessories than any other in town) but needless to say that didn’t—and probably won’t—happen. A certain amount of mansplaining, I can put up with (unfortunately, being short and female, I have a lot of practice doing so), but diss my bike and basically accuse me of being a thief and you’ve lost my business forever. Say what you will about Amazon.com, but that’s something you don’t have to put up with online. (Of course, they do already have my credit card number on file!)

I value the contributions to the community that local businesses can make, and try to support them when possible. But if local shops don’t deliver on customer service, I have no qualms about firing up Chrome and clicking straight to what I want, without the BS (and usually with a considerable discount).

I guess every good experience has to be balanced by a bad one. But why is it so hard for bike shops to learn how to treat female customers?

 

  • annie.42

    AMEN.

  • http://twitter.com/booksbikesfood Bettina

    Oh wow, I hate it when they do that. I can totally understand you got angry! Sadly, the whole mansplaining malarky isn’t just limited to bike shops… it’s everywhere, and the older I get the more I notice, and the angrier it makes me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adamscarroll Adams Carroll

    Major bummer.

  • http://jonathan-peterson.com/ Jonathan Peterson

    I’m sure this happens a lot more to women, but some folks just shouldn’t be in retail.

    I saw that same crap happen when I took my wife shopping for golf clubs years ago (wedding rings as well). The manager of the shop might not know that he has an idiot like this as an employee – you could chose to let him know.

    My wife is getting rid of the car and prepared to spend $800+ on her next bike, but wants a step-thru or mixte. I’ve been really surprised at the extent that even really good bike shops don’t stock or know much about women-specific bikes. Market opportunity and all that.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Very true. And yes, it’s a marketing opportunity lost for sure.

      I emailed the manager before posting this (didn’t feel right about complaining if I hadn’t also done that), and he sent a very sincere apology a few hours after this post went up—apparently I wasn’t the first to have a run-in with this guy.

  • Nathan

    As a guy who works at a LBS, please believe me when I say that we are not all (I hope) like the idiot in your story. It baffles me to no end how widespread this “mansplaining” epidemic seems to be. Because I think we’ve all agreed that more people on bikes is a good thing, right? Simple logic should tell your LBS employee that screwing up selling bikes to women cuts out half of his possible customer base. And it doesn’t take much to know that you are an experienced cyclist who has a pretty good idea of what she wants. The shop I work for is about 870 miles away from Nashville, otherwise I’d gladly take your business from the aforementioned twat.

    (rant off)

    I’m extremely thankful for people like you and Dottie promoting cycling the way that you do, and wish you all the best for your century ride.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Thanks very much, Nathan. I certainly don’t mean to imply that all male LBS clerks are like this one; they’re not. But it happens much more often than it should given the economics you mention! Glad to hear from a guy who gets it. I too wish I could visit your store!

  • Rachel

    As another short female with many bikes, all I can say is that I’ve been there. Many times. I once told my favorite LBS guy in Atlanta that I appreciated the way he treated me and he said, “I don’t treat you any differently from anyone else.” Exactly. Also, mansplaining? Excellent!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      That’s it exactly. Just treat me like a reasonable human being. Not rocket science. :)

  • Allie

    That is so unfortunate. Sadly, I have had many similar experiences going so far as an LBS guy ordering me the wrong part for my bike even though I gave him the part # and found it for him in the catalog. But what do I know?

    There is such a strong female cycling presence in Nashville it’s amazing this still exists.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Wow. There’s no excuse for that! Hope he apologized when he had to send the part back…

  • Creaky

    It’s no consolation, I’m sure, but I don’t think it is that limited to men ‘serving’ women; I’ve been condescended to many a time, man-to-man as it were, and not just in bike shops. Idiots are idiots and are everywhere. My only disappointment with your blog entry is that you’re not naming the store – they’ll never learn unless you do.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Thanks. I didn’t name the store because I had emailed them detailing the incident and wanted to give them a chance to respond before smearing them in search engine results. I did get a very appropriate response so it’s possible there will be some changes. But even so, I wanted to write the post to let other people know they weren’t alone and possibly inspire some shops/owners to reconsider their approach to customer service.

  • Adam Herstein

    Yeah, many bike shop employees tend to be condescending to everyone, not just women. I’ve had plenty of run-ins with idiot mechanics. Don’t generalize all bike shops. You’re just as bad as the employee in that sense.

    • Charlie

      There was a very clear mention of good experiences; definitely no generalization of bike shops. Certainly no more than you saying that many are condescending to everyone.

      • Adam Herstein

        Why is it so hard for bike shops to learn how to treat female customers?

        Sounds pretty generalizing to me.

  • Fred Smith

    We have the same issues here in London, when I chatted to a nice guy in a good shop about what kind of bikes my mum might like to try out it was clear he’d never really bothered to think about women’s bikes at all, I guess he wouldn’t have let that out if he’d been talking to a female customer!

    The same chain of shops have now opened a concept store which only stocks women’s bikes, a good plan because they don’t seem able to understand their female customers with their current set up – hopefully they will be able to use what they learn from the new shop to change the culture in all their stores…

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Interesting. You know, it just occurred to me that we don’t have chains of bike shops here in the US (to my knowledge). There are some great bike shops that cater mainly to women, like Adeline Adeline in NYC. But they’re in cities with more established cycling cultures than Nashville has got. Maybe one day!

      • Janice in GA

        Well, Performance Bikes might qualify as a bike chain store, I guess.

        • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

          I had to look them up! I’ve never lived in a city or even a state that had one. Good to know.

  • Sarah W.

    Le Peug is cool! There are plenty of other bike shops in Nashville, luckily, and some even sell Treks.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Yes, though there are none close to me that sell as big a range of accessories that this one does. Oh well.

  • Alex

    What a bummer, I lucked out with my two local go-tos. They’ve been so helpful but never condicending, perhaps it helps that half the staff at one is female and the other is female owned!

  • Sally

    I promise I didn’t miss the point of this post, but I just want to say that I have a Trek 7.1 FX and it is a versatile and zippy bike, and it’s the bike I’d save in a fire (before my beautiful 3-speed cruiser and my beloved vintage 10-speed). I love it!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Whitney loves hers, too! That was why I wanted to give it a shot. But I don’t feel like I got a true test ride experience with it. I’m hoping she will review her bike for the blog because I think a lot of people are looking for a versatile ride in this price range.

      • Fred Smith

        I got the 7.2 FX about 18 months ago and maybe the shop didn’t set it up well, but no matter what I did I couldn’t stop the brakes squealing (until I swapped the for the brakes on my older bike). Plus the pedals were a bit flimsy and didn’t last long either, so it took a while for me to start to love it.

        Both of those issues were really easy to change and they might have fixed them in this years model. The rest of the bike is good, practical and fairly light – but in a fire I’d definitely save my fake vintage 3 speed Charge :-)

        Edit note: The 7.1 seems to have solid plastic pedals which are very rideable, the issue with the 7.2 was that they’re part aluminium part plastic and the fixings weren’t very good at holding it all together! I now have solid plastic pedals and all is fine.

        • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

          Thanks for sharing those details, Fred! It’s kind of a drag when bike manufacturers don’t pay attention to those details…although as you say at least they are easy to fix.

        • spare_wheel

          It was the shop not the manufacturer. The tektro linear pull brakes on Treks hybrids are very solid and dependable brakes.

  • Pulaski

    Oh boy, you’ve put words to my recent frustrations so well. The two bike shops in town here have pretty much lost my business because they don’t actually answer specific questions I’ve had about fit and particular types of bikes. It isn’t every employee, just a few rotten apples, but I hate going in to those shops and running into “why, little lady, obviously you want just a real simple ride” and “oh, this is simply a terrific brand” speeches– and I especially hate the seat thing and the parking lot thing, both of which I’ve ran into recently, as I ‘m trying to find a new commuter bike. I can forgive inconsistency and weird customer service but mansplaining -fantastic term for it, btw- in large doses, just turns me into a seething, flustered inarticulate mess. And the sad thing is that those same employees are probably doing the same damn thing to less experienced women bicyclists who might walk out thinking they are the ones at fault or worse, with a bike they won’t love…

    Anyway, getting off my soapbox now, and I’m sorry to hear about your recent experience. All I’ve got to say is take a deep breath and remember fondly the amazing bike shops you’ve been to that don’t mansplain;)

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Yes. With practice I have gotten to where I deal with the mansplaining by stating clearly and firmly what I want, but I often give up if they don’t seem to be listening, like what happened here with the seat. When it came to the bike insult, I was too flabbergasted to really respond properly in the moment. I couldn’t process what had just been said to me until I was out the door, at which point I became a seething, inarticulate mess. :)

      You are right that there are plenty of great shops out there! Just wish there were more around here.

  • bashley

    So what was the online test ride experience like? hehe

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      :)

    • http://jdmitchbiketowork.wordpress.com Joshua Mitchell

      At a shop like this? Test ride it at the shop and buy it online… No loyalty for B&Ms that don’t provide service….

      • http://jdmitchbiketowork.wordpress.com Joshua Mitchell

        Oh, and NEVER EVER check out an item at a shop that gives acceptable service and buy online just cause you can save a couple bucks… I’ll pay a 10-20+% premium to buy at a B&M if they have it on the shelf

  • http://iwanttoridemy.blogspot.com.au/ Fat-bottomed Girl

    HaHA – SNAP! I had my own ‘experience’ along the same lines and that wasn’t even for road bikes!
    (http://iwanttoridemy.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/youre-so-rude-i-bet-you-think-this-post.html)
    What is it about seat height adjustment that sets these tools off?

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      No telling. I mean, I have no problem accepting advice if I need it, and even with my years of cycling experience there are lots of areas where I do (see the tire-changing post from a few days back). But whose legs were pedaling that bicycle? Not his!

  • Accordion

    6 years ago I bought my beautiful bike from a local shop. The owner and his assistant were good. Both just loved the bike. I was the bike rider – without gender – who needed stuff. They tried to find stuff that worked on and for my bike, like a lock and bottle cage.

    It was an odd but effective experience. Spent lots more money there in the subsequent year on a waterproof pannier, raincoat, summer jersey, knicks, summer gloves, winter gloves….

  • antbikemike

    A sad, but typical story. I would suggest printing this out and mailing it to the owner of the shop. Maybe include the new statistic that in north America 60% of cyclist under 30 are female [noted from the current Momentum mag]

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      I wish I had known that when I emailed him, Mike! That’s a great stat.

  • Grace

    Many thanks for expanding my vocabulary to include mansplaining. Too bad it took a less than stellar experience at your LBS for me to be enriched!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Sadly, it is a very useful word.

  • rivenhomewood

    If you pay minimum wage, you get minimum wage employees. Luck of the draw if they understand good customer service.

  • Tickle

    What did the shop offer as a resolution when they responded? And I hope one bad experience doesn’t make you shop online from here on. Nashville thrives because of local businesses. I know the shop you’re talking about and I’ve had some great experiences there. Maybe just find another person to deal with there?

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      It would be silly to stop supporting all local businesses because of an experience at one. But as I say in the post, if it’s a choice between patronizing a shop that doesn’t provide good customer service (not asking to be fawned over, only treated respectfully—which seems like a reasonable threshold) and buying something online, I don’t feel bad about buying online.

      I feel uncomfortable sharing more details of the manager’s email than I have already since it is private correspondance (not everyone is a blogger!). All I was looking for was an acknowledgement of unacceptable treatment and an apology and I got both.

  • Al Fickensher

    I’m a male, a senior male, and I get the “down-the-nose” look all the time. My sin? I rebuild and sell thrift shop bikes.

    I buy an awful of parts over the course of a year and would love to do that locally. These shops order in at least once a week and in the cases of the two busiest shops, two / three times a week so what’s the big deal for them to add my parts to a regular order? I’m talking mostly the expendables (rubber, cabling, chains, etc) of course but fairly often it’s for a wheel-full quantity of spokes or some nice rack or bag accessory to up the value of my sale bike.

    I don’t expect sales person time since I always go there with an exact list (mfgr, p/n’s, etc) of everything I want.

    One shop owner literally said that he didn’t want to fool with my parts orders because his shop deals strictly with high-end bikes and high-end customers.

    That’s fine; on-line it is now for everything including tools, even the expensive ones. Wheel-building, fork-straightening, and more tools cost me a bunch, altho relatively inexpensive on-line – certainly maybe only a third of what the same might have cost from one of the LBS jerks – but they give me total independence from the four LBS.

  • Sven

    Hi! I have just recently discovered your blog and really enjoy the perspective that you and Dottie bring to cycling. As a guy, I couldn’t begin to explain why there are men in this world that seem to feel that women are just vacuous, giggling, hair tossing individuals of the female portion of the human race. (Of course, this sort of thing has a tendency to happen when dealing with someone with a superiority complex.) My wife has encountered a couple of situations like this and it just steams her like nobody’s business. All I can suggest, that I have suggested to her as well, is to smile and nod, THEN, go find someone who will treat you like an intelligent human being.

  • Kevin

    You really should send this article on to Trek.. As they are TRYING to reach out to female riders in the past several DECADES i would wonder what they thought about this bike store that is authorized by Trek to represent their products. What a great story!

  • Angelo

    I’m sure the problem is worse for women, but I can assure the problem exists for men too. The most drastic case was a trip to Washington DC with the bike club; a tire blew on a beautiful 1951 Sports I’d borrowed. (It turned out my friend had ridden the bike a mile or two, not the longer rides I expected before riding it 130 miles to Washington.) Several men went to a bike store to get a new tire while I waited.

    Not only did the bike store employee give them the wrong tire, when they went back to exchange it he tried to tell them the tire he had given them was close enough and that they looked the same to him. The men restrained themselves while they explained that the tires were marked because the difference between a 590 and 597 mm bead was too small to eyeball, but that the larger tire would not stay on the rim. The bike store employee still tried to argue with two experienced and competent mechanics. Politely put, they were not impressed.

    Locally, when I’ve asked for 28×1 ½ tires, I’ve been told at several stores that I really mean 700 because 28 tires don’t exist. (They do, and my 1960 Gazelles use them.) I don’t go back to these stores

  • http://twitter.com/nymbco NYMB.co

    It’s always a shock to me to hear incidents like this, even though they happen all the time, and of course even to myself and many people I know. It just seems so strange that someone working to help someone make a purchase can fail so terribly when it comes to customer service. I work in the service industry, and I love it, and I would never treat another human being this way. Glad to know that they responded well to your email!

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Thank you! It’s encouraging to hear there are good ones out there. :) Which I know is true. Incidents like this are (usually) the exception, but that doesn’t mean they don’t rankle.

  • Andy Harvey

    I’ve found that with local bike shops (wherever they are) seem to attract folk who really feel like they know way more than you do. As a result I also hate going to them. If you need any help (weird bike tools) let Amanda or I know and we would be happy to lend a hand. As long as you don’t steal my tools:)

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Thanks, Andy. :)

  • RobW

    I’ve sort of had the reverse on occasion… I’d show the broken version of the part i needed…. (she wrinkles her nose) “oh, the parts counter is… ” points over shouilder like its an area she never goes…”over there”…or “oh, ‘recumbent’ ” (makes jestures of ‘no thanks’) Good customer service is almost ‘theatre’, no matter how bad the customer is, if they even buy a powerbar, they are an asset to the store. The clerk is supposed to listen intently, hanging on every word so they know what the customer wants, help them where possible, but not more than they need. You never know, that ‘one time performance’ could generate business thats honestly appreciated by customer and clerk.

    Test rides are a tricky bit of exchange of commodities, they assert the bike is ready to be ridden, and you assert you can at least not damage it on the test ride. Beyond that, it never hurts to flat out ask, “hey, what is your test ride policy, i really want to try that one out” Better yet, that policy should already be where you can see it clearly, word for word, to save the clerks from screwing up a perfectly good sale. The brief ‘aquaintance with the bike’ discussion can still be a dangerous tango of explanation and “ok kid, I got it already.” At that point, aside from questions the customer has, or requests for fitting adjustments, probably best to let the bike speak for itself.
    It also goes without saying, the Manager should spend time making sure clerks arent running off customers with bad attitude, that is, after all ‘their job’

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Love the phrase “dangerous tango” and agree. I don’t hold a little over-explaining against someone—until I have demonstrated that it is unnecessary and it persists. It doesn’t become mansplaining until it’s clear they’re not interested in hearing what you have to say and the conversation is completely one-way.

  • Jesus

    Yeah OK Trish but is what you have done now to him not far worse a deed?

  • Veloise

    Thanks for the new vocabulary word!

    I had a similar incident just last week. Very young man wouldn’t let me look at or touch a taillight. I had to explain to him what a rear rack is, and how a light could be mounted “under” it. (Cute brunette in a RACING shirt.)

  • http://www.tumblr.com/tumblelog/lastbutnotleast janinedm

    I have luckily not dealt with a lot of this at bike shops. I ride a Workcycles Oma, so I need very little maintenance and when I do, I order my parts straight from the Netherlands and hand it to them like, “here, put this on.” But I play guitar, so I’m very, very, very familiar with this phenomenon. Guitar-shop guys often serve their customers with this blanket “I know better than you do” attitude which I believe can be as damaging to the men as the women. They serve every customer based on a set of assumptions and send them out the door with bikes that say more about them than the person laying down the money. I wonder how many cyclists, not just women, we lose from our ranks of potential diehards because they thought they didn’t like biking because they got the wrong bike.There’s women with the heart of a racer being steered toward 3-speed cruisers while somewhere a man is on some road bike, annoyed by his backpack and fenderless in the rain because some fool told him that a rear rack and panniers are a bad idea because they would add weight. Like many bad things it’s worse for women but it’s an industry problem.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      Very good points. I agree it’s common in many industries. Communicating is hard, I guess. :)

      • http://www.tumblr.com/tumblelog/lastbutnotleast janinedm

        This is not to say that what you encountered wasn’t classic mansplaining, but to say that men who want more people to ride bikes need to understand that they have a stake in discouraging this type of behavior.

    • E A

      @janinedm – I agree whole-heartedly! Well put! It’s an industry problem. And I’m sure there are guys as well as women who are not being well served. Sad.

  • James Bikes Green

    Bike shop service/mechanics is a major problem for all brands in the industry (they know it). I was told a shop didn’t have 700c tubes because they were European… it’s that bad. Either build a relationship with a good shop or lower your expectations, this is why I buy stuff online. Ride on!

  • E A

    This was one of the exact topics discussed at this year’s National Women’s Bike Forum in D.C.

    I think this unfortunate experience is sad… as I’ve had to explain far more about the workings of a bike to guys that have never ridden than to fellow female riders. Bike knowledge/understanding is not a gender thing at all.

    BTW – Great bike choice… are you going to buy it?

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      I’m glad to hear this sort of thing is being discussed, EA!

  • Scott R

    Judging by the what the comments say, this is a pretty common occurrence. Sorry this happened to you. Online shopping is the boss!

  • http://teavelo.tumblr.com/ Pojdi kolesa!

    I just had that happen to me – I ended up walking out with a full set of alan wrenches for $25 when I just wanted one for $1 to fix something. I live in a smaller area that is very into biking, and it was a sad day when I realized of our SIX local bike shops, there is ONE FEMALE EMPLOYEE between them. I’d also love to support women-made bikes, like Sweetpea in PDX, but I do not have $2,500 for their LBD. Sigh.

    • http://letsgorideabike.com LGRAB

      I drool over the LBD too. :) And yes, hiring more female employees would be a good start. There is one at my other LBS, referenced in the post about the flat tire, but I have never seen one at this store. To be fair, I visit the store in this post much less frequently and they have a larger number of employees, so it’s possible they do have a female employee and I just haven’t seen her.

  • thinkmilly

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been catching up on my cycling knowledge of late, and was happy to see so many women blogging about, well, all things bikes. I’ve found it refreshing to find local bike stores don’t have this attitude, or less of it at the very least.

    However, it’s they are not all that way… the scenario you posted here re: the bike seat adjustment, happened to me this week when I went to test ride a Civia. I’m also short and large to boot, so having the bike store guy hold the bike for me, when I was clearly way too close to him, was not cool. I’m no shrinking violet, but no way would I recommend any of my friends whose personal space is more easily violated to go there.

    As for telling bike store guys (and I mean guys, as one of the stores I went to there was a woman helping me and I didn’t get this reaction), I tend to not share that I have a history of cycling. It’s sad because it reminds me loads of shopping for a car.