The debate over buying bike parts locally versus purchasing online or over the phone is something that will go on forever: Buy locally and you’re going to get excellent after-sales service and you’re giving your money to a business that likely supports local trails and local events. But buy online and, in most cases you’re going to save serious amounts of money, and have every option you could ever want available to you.
For those of us living in Canada, the debate gets even more complicated. The variance in prices here compared to those in America is staggering sometimes, so buying products in the US and having them shipped here is a common practice, but it’s something local bike shops obviously frown upon.
What’s a bike addict supposed to do? I know in many of the cases where I’ve purchased bike gear online, it was a matter of ‘buy online, or don’t buy it at all’. The bike shop price was so much higher than compared to what I could get it for in the U.S., so I decided I’d rather buy it from there than to not buy it at all.
As much as I would like to support the local bike shops in my area with every bike purchase, my funds are also somewhat limited when it comes to buying gear. So I really can’t justify spending a significant amount of extra money if I don’t have to.
A perfect example is the new SRAM X.0 rear derailleur with carbon cage. The price from shops here in Ontario is $350 cad before tax. That same medium cage rear derailleur can be found from a California-based store that sells on eBay for $185 usd. Add to that price the company’s $10 charge for shipping to Canada and the current 12% exchange rate and the cost works out to $218 cad. So, even if you get hit with some duty charges, you’re going to save around $100 cad. That’s a tough number to argue with.
With that said however, local bike shops are incredibly important to the fabric of ‘bike culture’. Here’s something to think about. You buy that rear derailleur and then you can’t get it adjust properly. Now you have to take it into your LBS and guess what, chances are they’re going to charge you for even the smallest bit of work. And why shouldn’t they? They have to stay in business somehow, and if the money’s not coming in from sales, then it has got to come in from service.
The flip side, of course is if you spend that money on the derailleur from the local shop. Nine times out of ten the shop will gladly install and tune something that high priced part for nothing.
But let’s be honest here. How many of you have ONLY purchased bike components and accessories from a traditional bricks and mortar shop? Not many.
As the online world continues to grow, competition between the large web-based shops is heating up, which means the prices are dropping. Companies like Pricepoint.com have turned into full-service bike shops carrying not only every major manufacturer for components and accessories, but they also have a huge variety of their own house brand of Sette components. It’s made in the same factories as many of the brand names, but the price of this gear is far lower.
Even Europe is starting to catch on to the North American shopping craze. Large companies such as ProBikeKit.com are marketing to Canadians and Americans with offers like low or free shipping and fantastic pricing.
So where do you draw the line? It’s a tough question and it’s something that can only be answered by one person – yourself. Personally, I try to give my local bike shops business by buying things like tubes, lubes, pumps, gloves, helmets and other lower-priced accessories. For the most part, if I’m buying something with a size that varies from company to company (shoes, gloves, socks, helmets) I’ll buy locally so that I can try them on. But when it comes to components, where a shock is a shock is a shock no matter where you shop, I typically will look online.
Does this make me a bad person? I certainly don’t think so. One way I justify it is by looking at other industries, such as home improvement. As soon as Home Depot opened in my town I stopped shopping at the crappy local lumber store. Call it a lack of loyalty if you want, but to me it’s just being a smart consumer.
I realize this is a hot topic that will likely stir up some debate, but I think it’s something that’s been whispered about for far too long.