Click a couple of buttons on your computer today and have a new bike parked outside your doorstep a few days later. It feels good to buy a cycle with minimal effort online. But is there really no effort involved? With online purchases increasing manifold, is buying a cycle online the same as buying electronics and groceries?
In the western world, where cycling has already matured, there are a number of options for people to purchase a cycle both online and from their Local Bike Shop (LBS). In India, not so much! Here, competent LBS’ and discount rich websites are exceptions.
We look at the pros and cons of buying a cycle online and from an LBS in India:
Possibly the strongest reason for anyone to buy a cycle online, is the price. Fantastic deals online are tempting and we are used to getting a ‘better’ deal online on practically every commodity. So it is the case with cycles, online stores are shipping directly from the warehouse to your house, removing the margins which intermediaries take.
At the time of purchase, buying a bike online will most probably work out cheaper.
If you plan to buy from a foreign online store, then expect to pay Customs Duty and shipping as well. This might inch the price past the LBS tag!
A click of a button and find your new bike in your parking. You don’t need to get out of your house, but if you are taking up cycling, then getting out of your house is highly recommended!
A local shop may or may not deliver to your house, but they will surely hand you a completely assembled and ready to ride bike. Your first ride on your new bike can actually be from the shop to your house.
Assembling a bike is not rocket science, yet it can be a daunting prospect for a first timer.
A genuine problem in a growing market like India with a lot of new cyclists joining the pedal powered bandwagon.
If it is your first bike, it is near impossible for you to correctly guess the size you require from the chart provided by an online retailer. Even for the second and third bikes figuring out the correct geometry for your intended purpose is difficult. A hit or miss approach can work out to be frightfully expensive while buying a bike!
Unfortunately in India, far too many cycle stores will try to palm off an incorrect size to an unsuspecting buyer. Whatever happens to be in stock is the perfect size for the budding cyclist!
The proof of this is visible in the number of near new bikes being sold on a secondhand cyclist’s marketplace like Cyclop. Whether buying online or not, it is prudent to take along an experienced cyclist when out shopping for your first bike.
Cycles are expensive, available in multiple sizes, materials and brands. Add to that the different varieties, MTBs: XC, Downhill, Trail, Hardtail, Full Suspension; Road: Race, endurance and touring; City Hybrid bikes; BMX bikes and you suddenly have to stock what feels like a bazillion units in a single shop.
It is near impossible that your LBS will have everything available under the cycling sun. The one particular brand, size, colour, model etc. that you want might not be available in your favourite shop. Because the online marketplace is so many times bigger, finding your perfect love is easier.
Can you service your bike yourself? Do have the tools and expertise? Your local shop might not be too keen on servicing your online bought bike or might give you better prices on services and spares if you purchased from them.
The cost of ownership could negate the money you saved on purchase. This of course can be avoided if you can service your own bike.
It is impossible to compare the buying experience of going to a shop versus online because of one reason. People.
The impersonal nature of online stores can never compete with the conversations in a shop. A lot of stores realise this and capitalise on it, doing a small handover ceremony with a new bike. It might sound cheesy, but it never fails to get a smile on the face of the new owner!
A big advantage of buying from your LBS and visiting it regularly thereafter is the social aspect of cycling. You meet other cyclists in your city/ neighbourhood and plan rides with each other. Find partners to go trailhunting or just ride out of the city with like-minded cyclists.
Stores have realised the importance of community cycling and regularly organise rides for their patrons. It is a win-win for everyone.
A lot of stores in India will have salespersons with limited knowledge of cycles and cycling. Nonetheless, even the least knowledgeable salesperson is capable of helping out a newbie in purchasing their first bike!
Knowledge is power, especially in this day and age. It is best to brush up on cycling before going out and spending on one, whether online or offline.
Think there is a problem with your bike? First you need to figure out whether it is real or imaginary. Then explain it to the company over phone calls and emails, pack up the bike or component and ship it. The received fixed bike/ component will need to be fit together again.
This rigmarole is not too much of a problem if you have mechanical knowledge, else it can be time consuming and frustrating.
A local shop on the other hand might just replace the offending part as you sip on your coffee! Worst case they help with sending and receiving parts to the manufacturer, even though it will take the same amount of time, it will at least be less of a hassle.
LBS Support to local cycling
Most cycle stores realise that the best promotion for their store is when they get involved in the local cycling scene. They promote and help with local cycling events for the community. Purchasing from their stores allows them to do this. A big online retailer on the other hand is completely disconnected from your local cycling community.
If you are new to cycling and/ or have limited mechanical skills, then it is best to go local. Find a good seller in your city, test ride a few bikes and then decide. Attempting to save money on that ‘perfect’ online deal might work out to be an expensive proposition!
On the other hand, if you know exactly what you want and are capable of caring for the bike all by yourself, then go chase the best deal you can get online.
There are a common third variety in India in smaller cities, with no local cycling stores of repute, they are left with two options, going to a bigger neighbouring city to buy from a store there or take a chance with an online purchase! For them, an online purchase with consumption of a lot of YouTube tutorials is probably the safest way to go…