The Challenges of Creating a Bike Catalog

Like most shops, 718 Cyclery carries a host of bike brands, who in turn have multiple models.  These models are released very frequently, and often have component, frame material, size and color variations within each model.

A good example is the Santa Cruz 5010. It has 3 Frame Materials, 4 Sizes, 2 Colors and 10 Component Specs.. That works out to 80 flavors of this particular bike.
Multiply that by 15 bike companies, each with 8-14 base models. For mountain bikes alone, we have access to over 850 specific bikes.

We, along with many of our peers, struggle to depict these on our website. There is nothing that turns me off on any business website that I am visiting as a potential customer more than outdated product listings.  Although I understand the challenges at play, it broadcasts the message that the particular business isn't into staying on top of things. 

You only get one chance to make a first impression, right?  When that person hits our website, we better be ready at any moment.  This is the part that we struggled with in terms of keeping our inventory and bike listings current for potential customers to see.

The spectrum for dealing with this issue has a custom built solution on one side, versus 100% ported-in listings on the other (and we have tried both over the years).  

The disadvantage of the "custom" approach is that you need to manage those items manually when there is a change.  With many hundreds of bikes, you can see the downfall of this method.

One of a kind
On the other end of the spectrum, we have tried services that allow these items to be ported directly into our website, but the fees and lack of content/graphic control made us feel like we were looking at someone else's website.

Back when I was a functioning architect in an office, my specialty was creating workflows/pipelines that allowed tools and software to work together. Providing a great end-user experience while at the same time allowing for easy updates of the data on the backed. After years of trial and error, I think we've come up with a method that works.

Step 1: Data in Google Docs.  Admittedly, there is a bit of data entry up front.  The bright side is that researching and entering in the specs of every bike you sell gets you very familiar with these bikes. Using Google Docs gets your date into an industry-standard baseline format, and also allows for incremental updates as bike models evolve.

Step 2: Formatting in Adobe InDesign: Adobe InDesign is primarily a graphic presentation and layout tool.  It also have a great Data Merge feature, which allows it to read data from databases and spreadsheets.  Using this feature, we are able to live connect our data in Google Docs into our graphic layout tool.
Catalog template in InDesign
What you are looking at above is our catalog template in InDesign.  The text that has the << >> brackets on both sides matches the column headers in Google Docs.  The data from Google Docs comes in and populates the graphic template.

Step 3: Document Merge and Link: Basically, once set up, it's a one-button operation to run all of the data from Google Docs into InDesign.  The catalog populates with as many pages as there are entries. Here is an example of our Devinci catalog.  Once created and uploaded, we create a link from our website.

Here is an example of a typical catalog page on our website. For mountain bikes, we break it up by brand.

For other bike types (cyclocross, for example), we break the catalogs up by bike type.

The sustainable part of this format is that when there is an update to a bike model, all we have to do is update our master database in Google Docs and run it through the Data Merge process in InDesign. Elapsed time is less than 1 minute, and we ensure that we have the latest info facing our customers, ready for that 3am web search by a dude in Germany.

In addition, this format serves as a great training tool for our staff. As a matter of fact, I design all of our interfaces as if they were training materials for our staff.  The thought there is that if it's clear enough for training purposes, it will be clear to a customer.

Its important to format all material hitting our website for mobile devices, as 35% of people who visit us online do it through a mobile device or tablet (this % is up from 25% in 2015).

This process lets us control the graphic images, as well as have a pretty decent amount of automation.

Sandy Hook Shop Ride, August 20, 2016

Acting on a tip from Greg, 718 Cyclery hosted a shop ride at Hartshorne Woods, NJ, by way of the Sandy Hook Ferry on Saturday, August 20th, 2016.

View from Causway over Highlands Reach / Navasink River looking south
As with any adventure worth taking, the day dawned early at 718. The ride group met at 718 @ 7am for the 30 minute ride through Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and down to the Wall Street Ferry terminal.

I rode the 2016 Santa Cruz 5010, with 130 travel front/rear

The scene at the Wall Street Ferry (Sea Streak) was pretty crowded for an 8:15am trip, but it seems the people waiting on line were in on a good thing.
Ferry leaving Wall Street
Escape from New York
"Fatbike Disembarking!"
From the ferry, it is a roughly 5 mile ride south on the Sand Hook Spit, past National Park Beaches, Campsites and Historic Fort Hancock.

Hartshorne Woods Park is located about 1 mile from the causeway, on a climb up Portland Road. Many trails are shared by bikes and hikers.  Normally, this would be a hindrance, but the hikers and walkers using the trails we so nice, it was actually fun to encounter them as it always lead to a conversation and an insider tip on trails to check out.

There is a great loop train (blue), that gave a nice overview of the park, with black trail spurs that led to more advanced terrain and overlooks.  Many trains were stepped with wooded erosion abatement devices (I think), thant made many climbs feel like going up stairs (descents we fun)
Note "steps" on climb
Safety (Pizza) First
More Climbing

Santa Cruz 5010...probably more bike than Hartshorne required, but it made climbs so easy.
John, rode the Jones 29+
Jones 29+, all decked out
After riding the trails, we had lunch and some of us slept on the grass.  It was then time to reverse course and head north to catch the 3:35 ferry
130mm of problem on this gnarly bike path

Fort Hancock, officers housing
Getting back on the ferry
The ferry scene

This was a great trip, and had us thinking this could be a future Micro-Tour destination...camping, beaches, mountain bike trails...all just a 30 minute ferry ride away

Sign up for our nest shop ride here

Why Are You Guys Giving Away a Bike?

Why are you guys giving away a bike?

First, I must confess. This idea "came to me" while watching an episode of Diesel Brothers on the Discovery Channel. It is a pretty by-the-numbers reality show operation, but the endearing (endearing all the way to the bank) hook is that they give away one of their diesel behemoths to a customer.

They are pushing people to their online shop, where every $5 in purchases gets a chance to win in the free truck drawing.

Well, I got thinking...could the same model work for kick-ass bikes? That night in January, our Bike Giveaway was born.  In my view, there were 2 pretty cool advantages to trying this out.

The first was to drive traffic to our Online Shop.  In a world where consumers can buy parts cheaper than I can buy them at wholesale ("How Things Work Onlne"), we have always struggled with our place in the e-commerce world.  We are not the type of business that sits inside these 4 walls and bemoans how the internet is destroying us.  We are a shop that takes chances and finds our own way, fueled by our passions and interests. Its worth a try, right?

The second reason that made sense to me was that it could really allow us to focus on us doing what we are known for; building up incredible projects with our customers. In an era where it's all about quick and dirty, let's get slow and dirty.  Let's document the process, let's interview the builder, let's design the rig we wished we could afford..and lets give it away to a lucky nerd (718 nerds and theior immediate nerd families are not eligible)

I usually interject a short anecdote at this point of my description that makes my wife cringe.  It goes something like, "Hey, I have thrown money away with nothing to show for it before, lets take a chance, and at the very least get some great bike pics out of it!"

Looking beyond our first Giveaway Bike, we have though that maybe we can use this to really emphasize the kind of stuff we are into. What if the summer bike is a sweet Mountain Bike, the Fall is a tricked out Cargo Bike, and the winter yields a killer Fatbike?  Who the heck knows....but I do know that we'll never know unless we give it a try.

Anyway, here we are.  We have a great bike spec'd out, and we'll see where this all goes!

How Things Work Online

According to most American Express Small Business commercials, it's quite easy and breezy to run a small business.

Imagine you ran a business selling flower pots, in an actual store location.  You buy the pots from your supplier at $1, and sell them for $2. In the retail world, this is known as "Keystone Pricing", and represents the coveted 100% markup (50% margin) on retail items. A mark-up that allows the retail store to simply exist.
Now, imagine that same customer can buy that same flower pot for 85 cents at, 15 cents cheaper than you can buy it wholesale! Even if you sell it to your customer at your cost ($1), you are losing money.

This is how the bike industry works.  Take this (large parts manufacturer) shifter set.. This shifter set is available at Chain Reaction for $149 (listing here).  As a brick-and-mortar shop and (large parts manufacturer) retailer, (large parts manufacturer) sells them to me for $177.18 and tells me I have to sell them for an MSRP of $289, lest I lose my "right" to sell (large parts manufacturer) parts. This is an upside down market.

Chain Reaction is allowed to sell them for $140 less than I can.  And, an online customer can purchase them cheaper than I can as a retailer. Do you think (large parts manufacturer) is looking after the independent bike shop that installs their product and gives them credibility. Can you see why so much of the industry is moving to SRAM? Can you also see why companies like QBP are developing products that will replace (large parts manufacturer) parts as it becomes unfeasible for shops to sell them

How can this happen, you ask?  There are 2 factors at play.  Chain Reaction is allowed to buy in such bulk that the prices get driven down.  That's "big-boy capitalism", and I get it. However, (large parts manufacturer) also turns a blind eye to enforcing MSRP pricing on online sellers (and that's a huge blind eye).

(large parts manufacturer) is selling lots of units, yet allowing the value of their product get driven down. Who on earth will ever pay $289 for that shifter set ever again? Its the race to the bottom.

Look at Chris King, Phil Wood, Paul Components and White Industries. The value of all of these companies products are consistent and high because they don't allow themselves to be sold to the lowest bidder online.

"I found this online for $xx, do you match prices". We get the question alot, I always answer no. Go ahead, buy it online. Hey, I buy things online too, we all do. I actually know shops that use these online warehouses as their actual suppliers!

But I do tell people this.
  1. It will take the same amount of time to get here if I order it
  2. The robot that puts your part into the box doesnt care if its the right part/fit, but I do
  3. Good luck with a warranty with that offshore online warehouse.
We look to partner with vendors who understand the value of the Independent Bike Shop in the whole scheme of things. We look to partner with vendors who aren't out to undercut us any chance they get.

At 718, we are defined by who we are and what we do, not by what we sell.  I envision a world where someday everything we sell on our shelves will be available to an online shopper for cheaper than I can buy it (much less try and sell it to make a profit and keep my doors open). That's why we focus on the things that the internet can never match; our hands and our ability to create human relationships with our customers. 

October 24 2015 Shop Ride Report

Full image gallery here

On Saturday, October 24th, 718 Cyclery led a shop ride and City Slicker Classic course preview at Cunningham Park in Queens, NYC. The City Slicker Classics is NYC's Off-Road Race with 141 registrants, but that's another story.

7 Bikes on the 718 Subaru
We had 35 people signed up for the ride. As is our custom, we invite people who don't have mountain bikes to come out and give it a try. The challenge with Cunningham Park is that it is not the most accessible location using mass transit. Many people drive, and some rode their bikes.  The issue is getting people to the ride who didn't have a bike or car. Enter the Subaru shuttle!

After picking some hearty travelers at the subway station in Jamaicia, we ferried them backl to the trailhead at 210th Street and 67th Ave. By the time we made our 2nd run, a great ride group had formed.

We used our Park Tools event stand,  and felt pretty pro

The group formed up and agreed to take a easy 1st lap of the park, as we had some riders who hadn't ridden mountain bikes before

The group rode for close to 2 hours, and it seems that most everyone took some sort of spill. 

718 Cyclery provided 7 demo bikes for those who didn't have a bike, and all got used heavily.

In the end, this was a great day of new friends and old, spending time out in the closer-than-you-think wilderness

Shop Ride Report: Graham Hills NY, September 27, 2015

September 26th, 2015

Fall temperatures of 60 degrees and an overcast skies met the 718 crew as we gathered up at Graham Hills in Mt. Pleasant, NY.  Riders were split on transport method, with half arriving by car and the other half by a 45 minute train ride on The Harlem Line of The Metro North Railroad.

We had a great mix of riders, from experienced Continental Divide veterans to Mid-Atlantic shredders to beginners.

The group took off from the parking lot, determined not to get lost "this time". Within 20 minutes, we were already debating where we thought we were on the map.

The group broke into 2 groups based on interest level in certain trails.  One interesting thing that was going on was a few riders testing our bike packing set-ups in preparation for our Vermont Trip this weekend

As with other courses in Westchester County, the going was rocky and rooty.  In addition, alot of tree cover has fallen, causing the trails to be semi-obscured by leaves.

The ride started at 10am, and some riders stayed on until 6pm. The goal of this group is to introduce new-comers to mountain biking, while providing experienced riders and escape from the city.

Shop Ride Report: Blue Mountain NY, September 12, 2015

Under heavy threat of rain that never came, 718 Cyclery hosted a group ride at the Blue Mountain Preserve, in Peekskill NY. As conditions are treacherous to begin with at Blue Mountain, and as there was rain the day before, we didn't bring our carbon hardtail fleet members from Yeti and Focus

We ended up bringing some great bikes from Kona and Salsa

As is customary, riders arrived by train and car.  The train ride was just over 60 minutes on the Hudson Line of Metro North out of Grand Central Station. Riders arrived at the Peekskill Station at 9:45, and we at the trailhead by just after 10am.

Blue Mountain holds a special place in many local mountainbikers hearts are rocky and unforgiving. I still have scars on my shins from a visit a year ago. 

Blue Mountain is also notorious for getting lost at.  I have known many riders who spend alot of time at Blue, and who still complain of getting lost.  It can add to the immersion, but sometimes you just want to know where you are.

I had 2 goals on this ride. The first was to try our my new 2016 Kona Explosif . My second goal was to not get lost.

The first part, riding my new bike, went well.  The bike represented a number of firsts for me.
  • First time on 27.5" wheels
  • First real time on a modern steel mountain bike
  • First real trail time on a hardtail
Blue Mountain and its unforgiving rock piles was probably not the best place to dive right in.  I normally ride a 2014 Salsa Horsethief 1 (29'er, full suspension), so I am used to rolling over things opf a certain size.  On the Explosif, I found that I actually has to steer a bit more and not rely on the bike just rolling over everything.

As a new hardtail rider, i also found that without a rear suspension to take some of the burden, it was just left to me and the fork to absorb the blows....which at Blue Mountain can be pounding.

As far as the "not getting lost part", that didn't go so well for most of us. My plan for my ride was to do a long circuit ion the Blue trail.  I was on it as far as I was concerned, until all of the sudden I wasn't.  There is a gun range off to the south of the park, and you can actually use the sound to get bearings.

Operation Harlequin a Total Failure

We sell alot of Public Bikes, more than any shop in the country.  The most common model is $499, and we feel it is quite a nice bike at that price in terms of reliability.

We've never advertised that we carry Publics, as the company itself does a great job via social media to drive customers our way. Being the only shop in NYC to carry the brand also certainly helps.

We sell so many, that we often joke that we can hide them in the basement and we'd still sell them. Its been said that you can't not sell them.

What begins to happen is that we sell them before they even get here, so we never have any floor models for people to test ride.  From this dilemma, Project Harlequin was born.

The plan was to build up 2 Publics (one of each size) using the most mismatched colors we could find.  We fell this would ensure that no one would ever buy them, and we'd always have 2 bikes on the floor for testrides.

This program failed miserably, as people were drawn to their uniqueness.  Both sold in a heartbeat.

Shop Ride Stillwell Woods August 29, 2015

After a year of hitting the trails every Tuesday, 718 Cyclery has shifted our group rides to Saturdays. Today's ride was at Stillwell Woods in Syosset Long Island (NY).

The idea behind there rides are to get experienced mountainbikers rides out on the trails, as well as introduce new riders to the sport.

In order to show how easy it is to escape from NY, we arranged for one group to travel by train. The Long Island Rail Road has some specific rules about train travel with bikes, so we made sure everyone was up to speed. The group took 2 trains, and consisted of 12 riders and 3 718 staff members.

Arrival of the first train load

We were fortunate enough to bring some great demo bikes for our riders to test out, including bikes from Kona, Salsa, Focus and Yeti.

The group moved out from the parking lot and into the wood at about 10:30, and reminded riding until about 2pm.  We had lots of bike swapping and testing. The conditions were rather dry, leading to some sandy stretches, and also leading to a few spills.

Looking forward to our next ride on September 12th at Blue Mountain. Sign up Here

The Bakfiets Have Landed

Recently, an opportunity arose where we we able to connect with Azor, the company in the Netherlands that produces the Bakfiet line of bikes as well as many others.
The first initial challenge is arranging for acceptable shipping and custom rates.  Unless you are ordering a shipping container's worth, this formula can be a tough one. Working with some great partners, I think we'll be able to get our shipping and customs rates into the "reasonable" range.

Working with Azor directly, we were able to commission the building of a Short ("Kort") and Long ("Lang") versions of their Cargo Bikes.

Bakfiet Lang
Basically how it works is this.  The bikes get completed and paid for, and you get an email telling you that you have a number of boxes siting on a floor in a warehouse in the Netherlands that need to get picked up
"I'm ready"
Now the fun begins. Being new (at the time) to international importing and customs, we selected (Big International Freight Carrier), who charges us an arm and a leg, and the bikes got here in 4 days. We didn't need them here in 4 days (my quote to them basically asked them to put them on a slow boat). Apparently (Big International Freight Carrier) doesn't have slow boats and only operates at international hyper-speed, because we certainly paid for it.

Once landed, the bikes went together surprisingly easy. They have some great features.

Rear Rack
Bell and 7-speed twist shifter
Front Dynamo Light
Rear Wheel Lock
Room foir many
Drum Brake
Shimano Nexus 7-Speed Hub
They are a great ride, and certainly turn alot of heads.  Head in over to 718 Cyclery to testride a few

Marcus Lemonis Shoot Part 2

In February, I applied for the shop to be on the CNBC show "The Profit", starring billionaire Marcus Lemonis. The show is about Marcus going into a failing business and giving then a second chance through partnerships, experience and an equity investment.  I didn't think 718 Cyclery was failing, I just thought it might be a fun process. Our application was initially received favorably, but upon interviewing myself and my staff, we were not dysfunctional enough to make it onto TV.

marcus limonascnbc

That application did get the attention of someone at Inc Magazine, and we were asked to be part of a video segment where small business owners get 15 minutes to ask questions of Marcus.

Its not often you get to give your "elevator pitch" to a billionaire, so I jumped at the chance

I met with Marcus last March and basically bombed it.  I wasn't prepared properly for the financial questions Marcus had of me.  He did like some things about what we do at 718, and invited me back to try the interview again the next time they filmed these segments in NYC.

I got my second chance with Marcus this afternoon, and it went great.  He greeted me with such familiarity, as I think he remembered quite clearly how bad I had butchered our previous encounter. We talked mostly about our Collaborative Build process.

As you can see, I got dressed up for the occasion.  I basically left the shop in Brooklyn, went to the studio in Manhattan, and then returned to the shop

We talked about expanding our process online, about labor rates and about me understanding our numbers even better.  He even hinted he wants to visit the shop and perhaps do a Collaborative Build with us.

The Bull$&*t That is American Express's "Small Business Saturday"

We've all seen the commercials....sweet homespun music, people shopping in artisan twine shops, and the narrator telling us how American Express is rebuilding America through their support of small businesses. They then intone about their "Small Business Saturday" campaign like it's the most sacred thing a credit card company and consumer could do to "bring back Main Street".

"Small Business Saturday® is a day dedicated to celebrating the small businesses that create jobs, boost the economy, and preserve neighborhoods around the country" (American Express Web Copy)

Ever notice their Small Business event isn't on that (black) Friday?

It couldn't possibly be on that Friday as that's when they are hopeful that Americans will feed at the Big Box trough, ringing up huge purchases and exceptional credit card charges.

If American Express really cared about Small Businesses they would have their sham of an event on that Friday. And you want to know something....American Express is the card that most Small Businesses dont accept.

  • Bigger Fees (essentially 2x the fees compared to other cards)
  • The Merchants money is held onto longer that Visa or Mastercard (in some cases 1 week)
So when the commercial says "your money stays local".....some of it does, and it's going to be going away for awhile. Nothing on TV gets me more fired up....if only Yelp had TV commercials

Showrooming By One Of Our Own

I received a phone-call from a person who identified himself as a local bike mechanic. He wanted to do a a stand-over of a bike we had in stock, but that he would eventually order from his own shop. No one likes being show-roomed overtly, but this young man was up front with me and a part of our local community.

He showed up soon there-after, and stood over the bike he was interested in.  he then told me that he was going to install new Shimano 105 group-set he found online for $426 (MSRP $797...but that's an entirely different post).

He the started pumping me for info and idea about how he should set up brakes etc.  My mind just tuned off. First, I am busy with actual customers. Second, I have to endure the minor indignity of providing him with a bike to stand over, and now I have to listen while he describes his latest online conquest to me. I basically told him that purchasing things like that online hurts local shops (and his current employer and by direct relationship, his job).  He told me it was a deal he couldn't pass up.

I am not preachy about online purchases....we all buy things online. How am I supposed to "educate" customers whilst I buy pane tickets online and put local travel agents out of business.

I was just hoping one of our own would get it, I guess.

To Grow Your Business, Shut It Down

Last July, I found myself in a hotel banquet room in Utah, talking to Chris Kelly of Topanga Creek Bicycles. I was bemoaning how busy and exhausted I was in the shop. We just had too much work, and the shop was like a hurtling train.

Topanga Creek Bicycle Schedule
Chris proceeded to tell me about a magical place called Topanga Creek Bicycles...where they shut down and "UnPredict Their Wednesdays" every week.  Chris is the owner of this amazing shop that has the clarity to see that shutting down and stepping away might be the best thing for a busy shop.

Chris got into the details, but there weren't too many.  "If you shut on Wednesday and go riding, people will come back on Thursday...and if they're angry we just make them banana bread".  Basically, their Wednesday plan is to just go riding with employees, friend and families. By now, I had drank the Kool-Aid and washed down the banana bread.

When I returned back to Brooklyn, I explained the plan to my staff, and they loved it.  We have been "UnPredicting out Tuesdays" ever since (we couldn't do Wednesday because of my teaching schedule).

Closing the shop to go riding has had so many great advantages that the minor negatives have been washed away. Check out our collection of Shop Ride Films and Photos here

Creating a Narrative: Being able to talk to our customers abut rides, and them invite them along is a great way to connect. We look to connect with our customers in many more ways than retail transactions, and a shop adventure is a great way to do that.  Also, the stories told about riding this bike or that helmet upon return become more fleshed out and less sales-brochure-like.

Our customers respect that we close to go cements us as being committed to riding and our well-being.

Exercise: We could all use more exercise. Its sobering to discover that I had gotten in worse shape since diving head long into the health and fitness segment of retail. Devoting 1 day a week to exercise isn't a life-changer, but its a start.

Morale: Shop morale has always been good, but it gets downright giddy as Tuesday approaches.  Upon our return to the shop the day after, there are great laughs and stories to be had again and again. This connects us far more than a work relationship.

Taking a Break from the City: Taking a break, hitting the road with friends and seeing trees and ducks is a great thing.

Riding our products. We have great bikes and products from the best manufactures in the world. What better way to sell them than to take them out for a ride.  We get asked all the time, "what do you ride".  Building experience on many pieces of equipment in many locations makes what we do less like selling and more like giving a friend some advice.  At 718, we have no salespeople, so our ability to sell is directly derived from our experiences with these products.

Visiting other Shops. A key part of the trip is to visit other shops. This is great experience for all of us to see how other places are run.  I always ask the owner what advice they would have given themselves (essentially me) 20 years ago   Aside from most of them saying "Get out while you can!", there have been many great pieces of wisdom.  We joke that we either leave the shop feeling good about what we are doing, of leave the shop realizing how far we have to go.

Visiting Tasty Diners: Another mandatory piece of the trip is finding a diner.  Eating way to much BEFORE our ride has become another unfortunate tradition

Visiting Woodhaven, Queens:  Unless Tijon moves, we have to go to Woodhaven to pick him up

Access to key employees: The gang doesn't realize it (actually, I am sure they do), but having unfettered access to the employees who make 718 a reality is a great thing.  You cant get 2 bike shop people alone for 5 minutes without talking image 5 in a car for 90 minutes.

Sales are up: Sales are up 19% over the same point last last year since we started the rides

Creating a Market: Hidden down the list here...we are simply looking to "invent" a market for mountain-biking in NYC. Step 1 is to travel to these great venues and show our customers how easy it is to get there...step 2 involves the amazing bikes we have from Salsa, Surly, Kona and Yeti, to name a few

$$: We started these rides in early September, and are planning on going as long as we can into the winter. Everyone has put $20 in...last person riding gets it. So there's that. 

In conclusion, this approach seems so non-intuitive on paper.  Shutting down 1 day out of 7 surely wont grow a business. Surely, it does.

Somethings these endeavors become monsters, threatening to consume everything it its wake.  Shutting it down shows it who's boss.

Time away makes the heart grow fonder. Working in an ice cream store 7 days a week will cause you to hate ice cream, and no one wants that

Check out our collection of Shop Ride Films and Photos here

On Electric Bikes

On Electric Bikes

(Click to read entire post) There is no denying that there is huge industry pressure for bike shops to jump on the E-Bike bandwagon, lest we miss out of the "opportunity of a lifetime". 
The issues we face with e-bikes are as follows

  • Are they legal in NYC?
  • Are we encouraging people to get lazier?
  • Are we curmudgeons that think e-bikes are blasphemous?
  • Do we want to work on/sell these bikes?

Are They Legal in NYC?

I think so...

"...the issue is their treatment as motorcycles under New York State law, and motor scooters in New York City...
This means that in New York State, electric bicycles are generally considered unregistered motor vehicles and subject to the same laws and penalties as automobiles. In New York City, electric bicycles that do not have the ability to be operated solely by its motor (pedal-assist bicycles) are legal, but those that do have that ability (motor-assist bicycles) are subject to fines and impoundment"

"These classifications are especially problematic in light of the fact that electric bicycles are not permitted to have a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), meaning that they cannot be registered with the DMV and are thus inherently illegal for use on public roads throughout the state". (

Are We Encouraging People to Get Lazier?

One major selling point that gets put forth in the media is America's ageing population.  In addition, our growing weight as a population cannot be ignored.  This is a tough one, and I wouldn't want to sit here and claim that older and heavier people should just toughen up and ride a road bike. There are some amazing stories of people with weight issues changing their lives by riding "regular" bikes (check out the story of Ernest Gagnon). Age, however, is inevitable.  When I'm 70, will I be able to use a bike as I currently know it.  Would a bike with an electric assist keep me that much more active than sitting inside and playing checkers?

Are We Curmudgeons?

We might be...but I think bike shops in the 1920's and 30's had the same discussions about derailleurs. People like to identify with classic ideas. I think it makes them feel more "authentic" and "old school", and less likely to be dismissed as a hipster.  However, its these same hipsters that DONT use rotary dial phones and amber computer monitors for a reason.  Time marches forward. 

I don't think my personal definition of a bike should cause me to dislike variants of the machine that get more people riding.  This is about butts on bikes, right?

Do We Want To Work On/Sell E-Bikes?

I wasn't sure I wanted to work on bikes that had popcorn makers in the back, but here we are.

We have decided to test the waters working with Xtracycle and Bionx. Xtracycle is a leader in the cargo bike industry, and we figured that no one could use a little boost more than a mom climbing up Park Slope with kids.

So we have one Bionx-equipped Xtracycle Edgerunner in the shop, and its getting a good amount of attention.  There has never been a "plan"  for just continues to take us places.

Industry Magazine Question: "Are there any particular genres or styles or cycling in which you’re seeing either unusual growth or contraction?"

Our "thing" has always been custom builds, ever since I started 718 Cyclery in my backyard 5 years ago. This segment of our business is growing in that I believe more and more people are finding that a collaboratively built custom bike works best for them.  In NYC, most folks usually don't have the space or budget for the 3 or 4 bikes that will do everything they need.  Consequently, we find ourselves at this intersection, helping people design and build the bike that will be a commuter, racer and kid hauler ("oh, and can it have a basket")

Working this way is certainly harder than whipping a bike of the rack for a retail transaction, but we feel the relationships we build during our collaborative build process creates customers that last a lifetime, and are not based on us competing with our neighbors for razor-thin retail bike margins.

Industry Magazine Question: What are your margins on bike sales?

Industry Magazine Question: What are your margins on bike sales?

We sell bikes mostly through our collaborative build process. The process entails an initial consultation, a fit session as well as building up the entire bike with our customers.  We have done over 400 of these, and its how I started the business in my backyard. This process allows us to charge MSRP on all components (for the most part) as well as a labor rate for the build.  It certainly takes a bit longer than pulling a bike off the rack, but we are all about developing a deeper connection with our customers, not a retail relationship.  Margin for the build (including labor thrown into the equation) is between 50-60%...and we get a customer for life.

Assembling bikes out of boxes for a 35% percent margin, and up-selling the transaction with accessories, doesn't interest me at all. This is what differentiates us from a vast majority of the 175+ bike shops in NYC.  Its harder to work this way, but far more rewarding.

Industry Magazine Question: What’s do you think of early-season product releases? Do they have a significant effect on your business?

Generally, early-season product releases don't effect us as we are not a commodity based shop that needs to have Shiny-Thing-X before the next guy or we'll lose customers. Our primary focus is on custom builds projects and service, and working collaboratively with our solid customer base.

We joke that we have lights and lock on the wall because those are the visual cues that people need to see when they walk into a bike shop. This probably flies in the face of most retail commandments, but accessory and after market sales don't really interest me. We don't have a sales department or designated salesmen. If I was interested in selling things off a shelf, I would have opened a Hallmark store.

Industry magazine you use outside reps?

Industry magazine you use outside reps?

We are small and naive enough to believe that we can do all of our ordering on our own.  So far, so good.  We are off the beaten path, small, and overshadowed by much larger shops in the area, so we don't get many visits. Being 50 yards from the Gowanus Canal Superfund site doesn't exactly draw 'em in like it used to either. We are sort of like the Yukon outpost that gets replenished twice a year.  When reps do visit, its like a mini-holiday. Greg gets all excited as we all gather 'round to see what the jolly rep pulls out of his pouch. Mini USB lights...ooooh. yet another helmet with a GoPro mount...ahhhhhh. We have a good time with our reps; Art Pellegrino from J&B, Chris Gebhardt from QBP; Herb Hart from Hawley and Mark Silverman who reps just about everything.

Sales Tax and the Local Economy

We are on a panel that replies to questions for a Bike Trade Magazine (Bicycle Retailer and Industry News).  Here is the latest question and our reply:

If legislation passes to make online consumers pay state sales tax, what effect do you think it could have on your business?

We are just about to dip our toe in the waters of online retailing through SmartEtailing, so our projection of what online sales tax would do to our business is unclear.

Regarding the whole sales tax thing, we do get a number of folks that come in and want a discount (code word, to not pay sales tax) by paying cash. "I don't like Uncle Sam to take a cut", they say.  Oh yeah?  Do you like it when the firetruck shows up when you house catches on fire? Do you like the garbage man, cops and schools that the city provides? We all have to pay our share if we want our local communities to flourish.

We also get alot of folks who want us to match prices they saw online...I am not preachy (as I would be foolish to believe that everyone in the world should buy bike parts form me).  I politely refuse, and suggest they consider the axiom "you get what you pay for".  Hey, we all buy things online.  When i book a flight online, I find the online customer service I receive adequate for my needs.

I tell folks they can buy online and save on tax....but I also tell them that the robot that puts their part in that shipping box doesn't care of you're selected the right part, nor will it be there if/when things go wrong.  yeah, things cost a little more in a  brick-and-mortar shop, but I have 10 employees and we are actively contributing to our local economy.  

We do very well charging straight MSRP, and adding to that the best customer service around. people don't mind the slight uptick in cost if they know they will be taken care of.