View Full Version : New NoPo cycle shop, and my experience there

09-09-2006, 10:35 PM
Hi all,

I'm in the market for a basic commuter bike, something inexpensive and comfy for my 5 miles daily round trip between MAX and the office. My list of shops to visit includes the Bike Collective (the one with the Annex on SE Ankeny -- whatever the name), Sellwood Bike, River City, and the Community Cycling Center: stores with good reps (right?), at least one of which gives me a BTA discount on accessories.

I think biking is tons of fun; I do it as much as possible. I enthusiatically support BTA's advocacy efforts. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the machines, I'm a newbie. I couldn't fix a flat, nevermind tell ya why carbon frames are desirable. (Are they lighter?)

Late last night, on a jaunt to Alberta Street, I came across a cycle shop on the corner of Vancouver and Killingsworth. It was called The Cycling Center. The storefront was new and shiny, as were the bikes behind the window, some of which I could see were in my price range. So I dropped by this afternoon for some test riding.

My clerk was a polite young guy with glasses. He asked me if I wanted a mountain bike, road bike, touring bike, ... . I said I didn't know; whatever was good for commuting. He asked me if I wanted thicker tires for a more comfortable ride or thinner ones for more speed. I said I was going to be biking a pretty smooth roads, and I didn't know what an uncomfortable bike ride was supposed to feel like. So thinner was fine, I said.

No used bikes at this small corner store, unfortunately. But they have a good range of prices.

Among the bikes to which the clerk introduced me was a shaft drive. They had several such bikes on hand -- maybe a third of total stock. The clerk explained that these were cleaner and required almost no maintenance. Just inject more grease back there every few years, that's it.

I had never heard of a chainless bike. I was excited to try one, although at $550, I knew I wasn't going to buy the particular one the clerk brought to me. So I exchanged my credit card and driver's license for the shaft bike and a new helmet off the rack (they don't have any special test-drive helmets, and the instruction manual attached to this one wasn't too comfy), and I was off.

It was cool. Not a great ride, but it was something different.

When I got back to the shop, the conversation went like this:

Me: That was fun. I felt a bit insecure making turns with any speed, though.
Clerk: Really?
Me: Uh, yeah. It also felt like I had to work really hard to go fast.
Clerk: Oh.
Me: Umm... If there's no chain drive, why does it make that same clicking sound when I pedal backwards.
Clerk: [gives a brief, reasonable-sounding technical explanation -- I forget it]

I asked the clerk to show me something in the $300-500 range. As he showed me each bike, he gave a brief description of each. ("That frame seems pretty big," I said of one. No comment from him.) I picked a chain drive model this time. While the clerk removed it from the rack, the man behind the counter engaged me on the shaft bike:

Counter Guy: It was fun, huh?
Me: Yeah, it was fun. But it was hard to go fast.
C.G. (after a pause): But you couldn't go fast, huh?
Me: Well, I could go fast, but it took more power than usual.

By then I had gotten a yucky feeling about this store. Later on, I figured out why. First, the two workers I had interacted with were strange. The clerk was introverted, and the counter guy was a feedback loop. (That's fine, but should they really be in sales?) Second, I knew little about what I wanted, and I didn't know what questions to ask. When I cited my concerns about that shaft bike, the workers had no comment. Shouldn't they have told me that my experience was normal or not normal? Shouldn't they have told me why it was like that?

Because of my own social strangeness, I suppose, I didn't ask follow-up questions like "Should it be hard to go fast?" or "Why did I feel unsteady on turns?" or "What does an uncomfortable ride feel like?". Perhaps it's unfair to judge the workers for failing to answer questions I never asked. But should I have to ask? The people at River City overflow with knowlege; I don't have to wring it out of them. The R.C. people educated me and made me feel confident.

I researched shaft bikes tonight, and yeah, their power efficiency is less than that of chain drive bikes. I also learned that most of the cycling community views shaft drive with some disdain. What does it say about this shop that so much of its stock is shaft drive?

I learned too that the drive does sometimes need repair. When it does, it costs a lot. Someone at bikeforums.net said he couldn't get his fixed after the drive manufacturer went out of business. I doubt that's ever an issue with chains.

The cheaper, chain-drive bike was a very comfortable ride. (So I learned what a really comfortable ride feels like.) Pretty nice for $400ish. Same awkward helmet, natch.

Upon return from my second test drive, I asked if their bikes carry work warranties. I know the Collective will fix their refurbs for free within six months of purchase, and I realize that such a service may not be possible with new bikes.

Clerk: I don't know. (To another worker) What's our warranty policy?

(Here I find out they're a new shop. If their employees are all new, perhaps it's reasonable that the clerk doesn't know the warranty policy. The man he asks about it is probably the shop owner, then.)

Possible Owner: I think on a Fuji bike... [clearly explains Fuji's mfg. warranty]
Me: OK, what about a work warranty?
P.O.: Oh, you mean like where we do free work on your bike forever?
Me (thinking "yikes!"): Well, not forever, but maybe for a limited period.
P.O.: [After a month's break-in time, they do a free full tuneup for ya.]

The P.O.'s comment struck me as snarky, intoned as if my question insulted him and his work. Perhaps I misinterpreted him, though: Can you actually purchase a flat-rate lifetime work contract at some shops?

My overall impression? Mediocre attitude, not much knowledge (not much imparted, anyway), little attention to the customer. Their name is confusing; I knew that the Community Cycling Center is in the Alberta area, and at first I thought this might be their shop. Unless this store gets a lot of business by way of the CCC's good name, they're gonna have to do way better than they did today to thrive here in Bike City.

09-10-2006, 07:06 PM
I'm really sorry to hear about your bad experience. If it's the one (http://bikeportland.org/2006/07/05/new-shop-coming-to-north-portland/) that Jonathan wrote about in July, I know I had high hopes for the addition of a good commuter/transportation oriented bike shop to the area. Bummer.

09-10-2006, 07:25 PM
Well, you got an inexpensive lesson in bike shops there. I certainly haven't tried all of the shops in town, but I've found at least two that aren't condescending to me when I need some help.


I'm in the market for a basic commuter bike, something inexpensive and comfy for my 5 miles daily round trip between MAX and the office...I couldn't fix a flat, nevermind tell ya why carbon frames are desirable. (Are they lighter?)Carbon frames aren't desirable, in my opinion. At least not for commuter bikes. Maybe for a racing bike (because carbon is light), which I won't go into here, but for a commuter that takes a pounding in the streets day in and day out, I prefer steel. It's much more durable, and much less expenisve, than carbon.

And for practicality, wider tires will be far more comfortable and durable than narrow tires for commuting. The narrower tires will be faster, but potholes will not be kind to you or your bike on narrow tires. Look for a compromise between the narrowest and the widest and you should be happy with the results.

09-10-2006, 09:27 PM
Thanks for the tips, Rixtir. I'm guessing one of your two shops is Seven Corners...? Everyone seems to love them.

Yeah, donnambr, this bike shop and the one in the article are the same. The "Counter Guy" is most likely the 50-year old owner the article mentioned. If the shop is meant to serve older cyclists, then stocking all those shaft drive bikes makes sense: less maintenance, easier shifting, no grease.

I agree it would be nice to have a good commuter bike shop up here. Perhaps I'll write or call with my feedback so they have a chance to improve. Although, I don't know if I can excuse the infringing store name.

09-11-2006, 01:33 PM
Actually, the two shops I've visited have been River City and Bike Gallery. Positive experiences at both shops. Knowledgeable and helpful sales people who are nonetheless not pushy about making a sale. Never a condescending moment, unlike some of the experiences I've read on Bikeportland, or encountered in certain other shops in other cities.

09-11-2006, 03:21 PM

Sounds like your experience at the bike shop must have been traumatizing.

... what a nightmare...

09-11-2006, 08:05 PM
would have to be Seven Corners on Division. The are the friendliest guys and offer great advice without having to pull it out of them. Mostly geared toward commuting bikes and stuff. I just purchased a bike from there a month ago and have been really happy with it. Plus he seems to be willing to always look at someones bike if they just happen to drop bye with a problem. there seem to be more than enough choices between shops in town that you will eventually find one that you feel good about, and then you should give them your business. ciao