British Columbia·Opinion

Vancouver bike mechanics try to change industry bad attitudes

Buying or repairing a bike can be an intimidating experience, but the experience can get a lot worse when you encounter a surly or snobby bike shop worker. The CBC's Jennifer Chen discovers some bike shops are putting a specific focus on zero attitude service.
Leanne Kavanaugh is a senior mechanic at Vancouver bike shop, Our Community Bikes. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

As a cyclist, I have been to a few bike shops in Vancouver and I have found that service can be patchy. It's not so much the actual fixing of the bike (though that can be true as well), but it’s more about the attitude that bike mechanics exude as they’re dealing with your bike.

From being ignored as I stand in the shop with my bike clearly waiting for help, to being upsold on parts I probably didn't need, to being made to feel stupid because I don't know all the technical names for bike parts, I've noticed a kind of surly or snobby customer service which only worsens an already intimidating experience in the first place.

It's true you get attitude at coffee shops and high end retail shops, too. And don’t get me wrong, there are helpful and inclusive bike shops in Vancouver. But after talking to bike mechanics, I've discovered customer service has been an issue in the industry.

Steve Craig opened his own bike shop after he tired of the negative attitudes of other bike mechanics. Jennifer Chen/CBC

Tired of negative attitudes

In fact it's the reason Steve Craig started his own shop, Mac Talla Cycles. He was tired of the negative attitudes at the shop where he was working before and says hiring someone with a good demeanor is his number one priority.

Sometimes I feel like the people handling my bike don't realize I’m handing over my main mode of transport and a precious possession.

Steve agrees. He told me it’s important to treat the customer with respect, and the best shop is one where the customer hands over the bike, and it is taken care of with no fuss and no attitude.

I’m a bike commuter and a recreational cyclist, and a couple of years ago I invested in a solid touring bike to get around. I looked at several shops before deciding on the one where I felt reasonably comfortable. Then the shop changed owners and everything became unfamiliar again — so I went searching for another shop.

Steve says it’s important to find a bike shop with good customer service because you want to be able to trust them to explain what is going on. After all, it’s a place you’ll go to again and again to service your bike.

Specialized knowledge

When she first started working as a bike mechanic at Our Community Bikes, Leanne Kavanaugh said the shop had a reputation for being snobby. Now a senior mechanic, Leanne told me the store's focus is to remove barriers to give everyone access to bikes and to do it with friendly, helpful service. They have zero tolerance for bad attitudes and they offer workshops to help people feel more confident about handling their bike.

As for advice, Steve and Leanne have a few tips:

  • ask a lot of questions
  • try to familiarize yourself with the parts of your bicycle so you feel more comfortable in a bike shop.
  • make sure the shop stands behind its work.

After all, when you do find a good bike shop, it makes life a lot easier. And you never know it could develop into a lifelong relationship!

You can follow the CBC's Jennifer Chen on twitter @jyfchen.


Jennifer Chen is a journalist and digital/radio producer at CBC Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a radio producer at CBC Vancouver for 14 years.