Walk into Peninsula Bike Works on most any day of the week, and chances are you’ll find co-owner Micah Mozal with a tool in his hand, making tweaks on a bike with a Zen-like focus. But within moments, he’ll stop what he’s doing, ask what you need, and tell it to you straight.
There is a purity in the exchange that feels too often lost in the internet age, and that purity is not by accident. It is the business model.
As nearly every sector of the consumer economy is disrupted by changes wrought by the internet – newspapers continue to downsize, countless bookstores have closed shop and once-flagship department stores like Macy’s are feeling the pinch – the bike shop industry has also been forced to adapt: One can order a part from Amazon cheaper than it can be found in a store.
“Customer service is really where we focus our energy,” Mozal says, adding that co-owner Sean Rigmaiden “will make 10 calls to get a five-dollar part.”
But it’s not just the internet that’s made times tougher for local bike shops this past year, it’s also the force of nature: Last summer’s Soberanes Fire, which filled the air with smoke for weeks, caused local riding to dip, and all across the county, this winter’s storms did so even more.
“We’ve crested that hard part of this winter, and we’re on the upswing,” Mozal says. “If that’s as bad as it’s going to get, we’re doing great.”
Other bike shops on the Peninsula are also weathering the storm, and offer similar recipes for success.
Devin Meheen, owner of Bay Bikes, which has locations in downtown Monterey, Cannery Row and The Barnyard in Carmel, says that being able to walk into a shop and get a feel for a bike – and to be able to ride it, even – is “something the internet can’t do for you.”
The internet is also not going to establish a relationship between buyer and seller, which, Mozal says, is more important with bikes than most any consumer product.
If one orders a bike online, he says, you’re not going to get nearly what you could from a shop by spending $100 more, getting customer service, and developing a relationship with a shop that can take you through ownership of the bike, which may be years.
“It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be as far as saving money,” he says.
But still, selling new bikes is no longer the model.
“Walmart doesn’t fix bikes, but we get lots of Walmart bikes [to work on],” says William Greenebaum, owner-operator of Rooster Wheels in Marina. “Somebody’s got to work on them.
“Retail is good, but retail goes up and down,” he continues. “But there are definitely more people riding bikes, and willing to take old bikes out and fix them up.”
It’s a process called “upcycling,” and Greenebaum says he’ll “take three old bicycles and make one great bicycle.”
Greenebaum doesn’t invest much in having bikes on a showroom floor – “you’re spending a lot of money that just sits there” – and neither does Mozal.
“Having a million dollars on your sales floor is a little bit of a death trap,” Mozal says. “That’s the reason why these big chain stores are shutting down.
“What’s valuable is a lifetime customer who’s coming back for accessories.”