Shopping has gotten kind of complex while I wasn’t paying attention. All the disruption by tech companies has made some parts of the process easier, but the overall process kind of a pain.. and that’s not to mention all of the ethical considerations around buying from monopolistic companies rather than the small businesses they’re eating the market share of.
Bike part shopping is one of the places where this situation is the most painful to me. I don’t quite do it often enough to keep up on what store or company is the best buy, and I am an unrelenting cheap ass when it comes to bike parts. Maybe that’s due to my time working in a bike shop and knowing what actual cost is on these things, or maybe it’s that garage sale mentality I got growing up. Either way, it’s tough for me to just go make a purchase without research and price comparison.
I got hooked on Amazon. I don’t like it, but they know what they are doing and they make it easy. A big part of that is a huge selection that can all be bought from one cart, but low prices and fast shipping also come into play. I have an amazon credit card that’s completely integrated with my account, and that makes it easy too.
Even though it’s one of the first places I usually look when shopping, I’m usually actively trying to avoid giving them my business. The company is monopolistic, doesn’t treat their warehouse workers great, and in recent times gotten kind of untrustworthy in terms of product reviews and overseas vendors. Plus, for bike parts, they just don’t have a lot.
I buy on the secondary market a lot. It can be a gamble, but the savings can be quite large. There have traditionally been a lot of options for used purchases, but I feel like they are all slipping.
eBay – maybe the original online brokered sale? I’ve been using this since ’98, but it’s getting kind of sketchy. The platform itself is showing it’s age with stuff tacked onto old stuff. There seems to be an active push from the company to drive the market of people who sell mass quantities of import junk. This makes it hard to find listings of the things you’re actually looking for. (go search for “bass drum” and see how many listings for janky import bass drum heads come up.. dozens of pages.. I just wanted a bass drum. Same with auto parts and anything else where you’re looking for a genuine article and people are trying to sell replacement parts for it) eBay also doesn’t seem to do much to stop scammy sellers, so there seem to be more and more of them. (wish I could change a setting to not show me any auction from a person with 0 feedback) And finally, their support is terrible. Up until recently there was no human support at all. you could send an email to a black hole and you might get something. Now there is phone support, but it’s pretty useless. In light of all these things, eBay seems to be having it’s lunch eaten by more niche auction sites like Reverb, who aren’t operating at the same scale and can address some of the problems listed above.
Craigslist – This used to be great for local deals. Now it seems to be scam city. I don’t even know if I’d try to use it now.
Facebook marketplace – I’ll be honest, I don’t fully understand this one. It seems like it should cover those local transactions, and it doesn’t seem like it has as many scammers as craigslist, but I’ve found it really difficult to actually make a deal happen through this. Most frequently, the item is already sold. Often people just don’t get back to you.. and for non-local transactions, I’ve been ghosted every single time. Also, facebook is another monopoly and I try to use their stuff as little as possible. I will say though that connecting with sellers on topic specific groups has been pretty good – I got a great fork for a good price from the Single Speed Or Death Facebook group.
Where’s that leave me? Retail shops. They really suck for bike parts. My local shops, who I’d like to support, rarely have anything I use in stock. And if I buy from them, I’m paying more, and still waiting a week+ for them to order it in. For online retail, the big problem is that no one has ALL of the parts I want. There’s also the whole thing of comparison shopping and trying to figure out whose shipping is actually the cheapest.
So here’s my most recent adventure.. I was trying to freshen up the brakes on my mountain bike. I have two sets of wheels I use, so rotors all around, new brake pads, a brake mount to run a larger rotor on the front and a couple sets of titanium rotor bolts. Everything except the rotor bolts are the same brand (Hope Tech) so I figured those would at least all come from the same place… wrong. For the stuff I needed, I ended up having to order from 3 different retailers. All of them ones I’d used before, but it was interesting to place the orders all at the same time and compare shipping times.
Chain Reaction Cycles – The only place that had pads in stock for my Hope Tech X2 brakes. They’re fancy, but not really uncommon. Standard shipping for two sets of brake pads was $16. Ouch. Shipping was through FedEx which is usually a bad sign, and took 9 business days.
Universal Cycles – Had the most of any of the retailers of the parts I wanted. Hope rotors came from them, but they didn’t have the floating rotors in the sizes I wanted so I had to settle for the standard ones. Shipping was $6.70 for USPS and arrived in 3 business days.
Jenson USA – They had the Hope brake mount I needed and were the cheapest source of the titanium rotor bolts. Shipping was free, USPS, and arrived in 3 business days.
For what it’s worth, I did have questions on a couple of the products and reached out to the sellers for help. Universal Cycles and Jenson have easy ways to access tech support staff, but neither of them ended up having the answers I needed. I ended up emailing Hope directly and they got back to me in less than 12 hours with answers.
What’s the takeaway here?
For many projects, I guess we just have to hit several stores.
FedEx is expensive and slow