Visiting a Bicycle Mega-Store

Visiting a Bicycle Mega-Store

During a pre-PBP visit to Germany, I had the opportunity to visit one of the largest bike shops in the region. Germany is the country with the most bicycle sales in Europe… and it shows. This shop is more like a supermarket. It’s huge. There are four cash registers to take care of all the sales.
There is a vast selection of, well, almost everything a casual cyclist needs. Helmets, bike shorts and jerseys, bells, racks… It was impressive.
When I was a teenager, I went to this shop to buy my first Silca pump, my first hairnet helmet, and they even had a 50-tooth Campagnolo chainring for my sister’s bike. (I bought it to replace the 53-tooth that came with her bike.)
The store’s size has increased many-fold. I saw rows upon rows of racing bikes. Upon further inspection, all still had 700C x 23 mm tires. There were no gravel bikes. No wool clothing. It felt like I had traveled five years back in time…
Finally, in the very back of the shop, I found three cyclocross bikes. They seemed banished to the far corner, even though cyclocross season is right around the corner. Then I remembered that cyclocross isn’t popular in Germany (yet)…
I am confident that when I return in a year or two, all this will have changed. Already, as I was leaving, I saw that employees were putting a gravel bike prominently on display. And when I was interviewed by a German radio show about cycling, the interviewer asked about wide tires, 650B, Allroad bikes… Experts are aware of these trends, but they haven’t made it into mainstream bike shops yet.
In recent years, many important trends – like handbuilt bicycles, wider tires on road bikes, gravel riding, wool clothing – originated in North America, and then slowly made their way to Europe and the rest of the world. It used to be the other way around… but today, cyclists all over the world are looking to North America for inspiration. We’ll keep trying to do our part to make sure the new trends are positive and improve the enjoyment of cycling!

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Comments (34)

  • ORiordan

    I don’t know what it is like in Germany, but in the UK there has been a trend towards what I would call the “Starbucksification” of bike shops (no such word but I hope people know what I mean…)
    This means large national chains of bike shops, all very homogenous, stock is determined by central purchasing and they only stock the big well known bike brands. The expertise and knowledge of staff is highly variable as they are really shop assistants there to sell stuff on the shelf just like any other retailer. In London anyway, many don’t do repairs and servicing in store and you need to book your bike in then it is shipped to a central workshop.
    So with these types of shop, if Trek, Specialized, Giant etc. don’t do it, then it doesn’t exist as far as they are concerned as the corporate buyers aren’t really interested in anyone else.
    If you want anything a bit new, different, innovative, out of the mainstream with knowledgeable advice, you really need to seek out an independently owned bike shop that isn’t a chain.
    However I’m not as down on the national chains as it may appear as it seems the best of the independent bike shops still survive and the chains are in addition to them, rather than a replacement, so more bike shops overall is generally a good thing, I think.

    September 10, 2015 at 5:48 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The shop in Germany is locally owned and independent. I went to high school with the daughter of the owner…

      September 10, 2015 at 5:51 am
      • Brad Hawkins

        Stadler! What a fun place that is. Just think of how German cycling would be different if you had married that girl. You seem to have neglected the major direction of German cycling: electric bicycles of all shapes and sizes. Plus, Germans have been into wide tires and fenders for a long time, they just seem to prefer them as flat bar front suspension hybrids with rear racks. At least they have generator lights in common with us and we can thank our lucky rando stars that their interest in lighting has made our lives so much safer and more enjoyable. Great post!

        September 10, 2015 at 7:31 am
    • Greg

      OR, it’s worse than that, in the USA. “Concept stores.” One brand, and one brand only. Trek, or Giant, or Specialized. Virtually everything is sourced from China. If you are an existing large dealer that has multiple “Big Three” brands, often one or more of them will essentially threaten to cancel your agreement if you don’t stop stocking the others. It’s become very, very nasty, and very, very mega. IBDs (Independent Bicycle Dealers) are an endangered species now! Personally, I will not be told what to sell. Those mono-brand stores have their place, I suppose, but they are not my cup of tea. 😉

      September 10, 2015 at 8:12 am
  • Gert

    I searched a little for statistics, In Denmark about 30% of the population ride bicycles daily, almost everybody has a bicycle. I could however not find statistics on racing bikes in Denmark. But very many men between 35 and 55 own a racing bike. They watch the Tour on television and then by a bike like the Pros from 2000$ and up. They do not necessarily ride it that much, and even those who do, go for as expensive as possible bikes to be as close to the pros as possible.
    From my knowledge of Germany and cycling in Germany, it is almost the same just relatively fewer
    So You can count the weirdos on wide tires on a few hands, and of the few of those that I know, half of them come from english speaking countries.And the weirdos shop online.
    Whereas my presumption is that in North Americas only weirdos ride bikes at all 😀

    September 10, 2015 at 5:56 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Whereas my presumption is that in North Americas only weirdos ride bikes at all

      Lance Armstrong did a lot to popularize cycling in the U. S. These days, it varies more by region than anything else.

      September 10, 2015 at 6:14 am
      • Matthew J

        While I am sure LA played a major role starting the trend, I reckon the failure of government at all levels in the U.S. to address transit infrastructure for a rapidly growing and urbanizing population has strengthened the trend.

        September 10, 2015 at 8:52 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Lance has made it socially acceptable to ride bikes, without being seen as a “granola cruncher”, “hippie” or worse. The infrastructure has got more people onto bikes. As you say, the two dove-tail each other.

          September 10, 2015 at 9:59 am
      • Daniel M

        I think what Matthew J is saying is that our failure in the US to develop high quality public transportation has led many of us to ride bikes. This is certainly true in my case: I take my bike on trains in the SF Bay Area (BART, Capitol Corridor, Caltrain), to address the “last mile” issue. In so many cases these systems don’t go exactly where I’m going, and subsequently walking or taking an unreliable connecting bus from the station would take forever, whereas taking a bike on the train puts most of the Bay Area within easy reach.

        September 10, 2015 at 10:52 am
    • bob

      the ‘trekking’ scene is pretty huge there isn’t it? I think it is an interesting take at “alternative” cycling. and it pretty much fueled the trend of various fat tyres by schwalbe years ago, no? and dont forget dyno hubs

      September 10, 2015 at 9:47 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Trekking bikes are neat, but I wouldn’t call them performance bikes intended for spirited riding. It’s a totally different thing from gravel bikes, or our randonneur bikes. The same applies to Schwalbe’s wide tires, which are far removed from the supple tires we like to ride on our bikes.
        Generator hubs are great, and we are grateful to Schmidt Maschinenbau for introducing them. We are even more grateful that they were open to our suggestion of offering a model for faster riding, the Delux. (We had been running the older SON20 with 700C and 650B wheels for years, since we didn’t need as much light at low speeds as German law required.) Even better, with the new LED headlights, they even managed to get it type approved in Germany.

        September 10, 2015 at 9:51 pm
  • cat6champ

    You’re mostly right with your observation of cycling trends in Europe/Germany – I’ve yet to see any road(-style) bikes with disk brakes in the wild. But on the other hand there are at least three (if not more) frame builders in an hour’s riding distance where I live.

    September 10, 2015 at 6:12 am
  • ew742

    Maybe there is a lack of support by the “main media”. The popular magazine “Tour” had an article about the “new trend: Gravelbikes” in one of the last issues. Tyres with 25 mm on a road bike are wide tyres….

    September 10, 2015 at 6:38 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      In France, “le gravel” is also becoming popular, at least if you believe the magazines…

      September 10, 2015 at 9:53 am
      • Jeff

        I’m an American living in France, and it seems I’m the only one riding a drop bar bike on the trails. Everyone else uses mountain bikes.
        It’s true that Europe is looking to America for bike trends. I’ve noticed a few fat bikes over here in the past couple of years. I still can’t find a bike shop that sells them, though.

        September 11, 2015 at 4:06 am
  • somervillebikes

    Jan, I’m curious how well BQ subscriptions sell outside of the US. And components from Compass… do the sales distributions by country match your observation?

    September 10, 2015 at 8:31 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We have a good number of international subscribers, but compared to the U.S., they are a tiny percentage of the cycling population. Compass components sell world-wide – more and more cyclists appreciate the joys of riding bikes that offer the speed and fun of a racing bike without the compromises of narrow tires and lack of all-weather capability.

      September 10, 2015 at 9:55 am
      • Xavier

        It would be fun to have a map of where subscribers are. I’ve always wondered if there was many BQ readers around me (Lausanne, Switzerland). Maybe it could lead to a few local un-meetings.

        September 10, 2015 at 11:05 am
  • Sebastian

    When a journalist from the UK was in Berlin for a short visit, he went to the 16.000sqm shop at Prenzlauer Berg to get an idea what it would be like. They employ a handful of security people at entrance/exit who told him not to take photos of the inside by shouting “no photos!”. When he asked them why i would be forbidden to take photos of a bike shop they replied “no photos!”. Then he asked if they shout that a hundred times a day… What was your experience, Jan?

    September 10, 2015 at 8:37 am
  • Bob

    Re: distribution methods
    The big three are responding to the wishes of the market. There is room for many others in the industry.
    Also, the internet has democratized the bike industry like it has so many other industries. Even Compass would not be what it is for not the OPEN internet.
    There is no better alternative. Many have been tried.

    September 10, 2015 at 9:29 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The big issue with online-only is that it’s hard to introduce new people to our ideas. Fortunately, we have hundreds of independent bike shops all over the U.S. (and even all over the world) who stock Compass products and recommend them to their customers. Without them, it would have been hard to realize projects like our tires that require a significant investment in tooling.

      September 10, 2015 at 10:03 am
  • Conrad

    A lot has been said about the decline of the local bike shop. I would love to support my local shop more than I do, but the mainstream goods for sale are a really poor value. For example, Specialized new line of cyclocross bikes: their middle of the road “value” bike retails for over 5000 dollars. Its still poorly designed for cyclocross in my opinion. The 11 speed cassette jams with mud fairly easily, wears out quickly, and a new one will set you back several hundred dollars. It weighs over 18 pounds. Weight isn’t everything but my steel bike isn’t any heavier. Oh, if you crash it and crack the frame, racing generally isn’t covered under warranty. I could go on and on; it is the same with every large manufacturer. A hand made steel bike is a bargain by comparison. So that is what I do!

    September 10, 2015 at 9:55 am
  • Jon

    Jan, since you mention your past here, I would be interested to read about your past having grown up in Germany and now living in the US. Have you written about it before? I find histories fascinating. Thanks.

    September 10, 2015 at 10:14 am
  • Robert S

    Why not take all the trends, bigger tires and bigger wheels, to their logical conclusion?
    Your review of Jeff Jones 29er was eye opening, particularly the possibility of an even higher ceiling for the marriage of comfort and speed. So why not aim for a non suspension corrected Jeff Jones 29Plus, but built with light tubing for planing (like the Rawland Ravn), with drop bars for wrist comfort (like the Salsa Deadwood), with Compass 29×2.8″ tires in Extralight casing (tubeless on 35mm carbon rims)? Wouldn’t that completely redefine comfort in a spirited, fast bicycle!

    September 10, 2015 at 1:44 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Why not take all the trends, bigger tires and bigger wheels, to their logical conclusion?

      Everything has a sweet spot – bigger isn’t always better. The Jones was great, but only for certain purposes. Our test was designed to bring out the best in that bike – as we try to do with all our tests. Riding the Jones in a paceline was eye-opening, because it didn’t do that very well. The bike you propose would have a few issues. One, a tire that wide with the Extralight casing may bounce too much on undulating roads. Two, the big 29er wheels make the bike less nimble. Three, for tires that wide, you need mountain bike cranks, which gives you a very wide tread (Q factor).
      I loved the Jones, but it was best at what it was designed for: bike-packing on very rough terrain.

      September 10, 2015 at 1:55 pm
      • David Morgan

        Wow! thanks for your responses! They have lead me to reading past your initial article. I admire your honesty in telling potential customers that they cannot “have it all”.

        September 13, 2015 at 10:07 pm
      • Robert S

        “One, a tire that wide with the Extralight casing may bounce too much on undulating roads.”
        It would be fantastic to determine the inflection point in the ‘tire volume’ curve where it goes from increasing tire volume leading to lower suspension losses in the riders body (subjectively, this is obvious to me when going from say, a 28mm 700 tire to a 54mm 26″ tire) … to the point where increasing tire volume starts to cause tire bounce, which would then increase suspension losses in the riders body. Where is the sweet spot in tire volume? at what diameter wheel?
        I personally would love to try a 29×2.8″ tire in one of your Compass casings, and compare it comfort/efficiency wise to a 26″ Rat Trap Pass.
        How would you design an experiment to determine the inflection point for comfort/efficiency, and minimizing the suspension losses in the riders body?

        September 15, 2015 at 9:43 am
  • Francesco

    Hi Jan! This is my first time in your blog. I’m from Italy, north east Italy, hometown of many cycles factory. Most shoes, clothing and accesories for cycling have their head quarter here. But… mostly racing road cycling, 25mm it’s not wide, it’s huge! Gravel bikes are the new come and all are from US brands.
    Here it’s really hard to find real gravel roads and the only future I can see for gravel bikes is randonnee and cycletourism.

    September 11, 2015 at 10:34 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      There are probably more gravel roads in Italy than most “road” cyclists realize. We took decades to find them around here. I heard the same in France, and yet there are many gravel roads if you know where to look…
      When I was on 25 mm tires, I didn’t even see the small roads that veer off the highway. Like advertising signs, they were not important to how I perceived the landscape.

      racing road cycling, 25mm it’s not wide, it’s huge!

      Most professional racers use 25 mm tires these days, and I don’t think they consider them huge. Things have changed a lot in recent years!

      September 12, 2015 at 11:34 am
      • David Morgan

        I am fortunate that I have old Bridgestones that eagerly take 28s! Grant Peterson was way ahead of his time!

        September 13, 2015 at 10:14 pm
  • Tony Hunt

    I found my way to BQ through the ‘transportation and style’ end of things over here. Blogs like Lovely Bicycle and companies like Rivendell, Public, Linus, and hell even Surly (I ended up with an All City Space Horse), but perhaps especially Velo Orange. I’m still not a racer per se but I throw some gravel races, long rides, and tours into my year and even for those I’ve found your tires perfect and your advice has shaped the direction of any future bicycle purchases (having a custom fork built for an XO-2 to fit fenders over my Rat Trap Passes!)
    You regularly feature on The Radavist now, and little BQE companies seem vaguely inclined to your style of bikes. To your continued influence!

    September 12, 2015 at 9:17 am
  • Bob

    “… handbuilt bicycles, wider tires on road bikes, gravel riding, wool clothing-” Add wine and women and we have heaven on earth. Thanks for blogging, Jan!

    September 12, 2015 at 9:46 am
  • David Morgan

    Thanks for the innovations and information. I am adding gravel options to my road routes and am eager to wear out my Panaracers so I can try some of your tires! And thanks for supporting the 26″ tires-my wife’s 42 cm X0-1 will benefit from sportier tires; and the 2″ will be great on my MB-5 with child carrier for path biking.

    September 13, 2015 at 9:56 pm

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