Bob

There’s a trend in the bicycle world toward a softer sales experience: The stores show up in re-purposed factories in gentrified neighborhoods, and have lots of exposed brick and light hardwood floors. Alternative rock plays discretely from several well-placed high-end speakers, and there’s often a lounging area where you can munch on organic, high protein gluten-free snacks that are nonetheless delicious, while you watch your bicycle get worked on, often by the same attractive young individual who listened attentively to your needs and guided you to your bicycle selection a few months ago. When I was looking for my bike, I went to several places like this. They were not so much retail centers as they were lifestyle salons. They all sold very good products for very good prices, and did very good work on the bikes they sold.

Then I went to Bob’s shop. It was to those places what a farmer’s market is to a restaurant.

Bob sells bikes. Sells and services. It’s not a place you would go for retail therapy. His shop sits next to a Mexican restaurant in a dingy little strip mall on a less desirable commercial district of the least fashionable suburb in the area. The bikes are on one wall, the clothes are on another. Accessories are on a third, and repairs are in back. The only music you might hear would be during the commercial breaks on the AM Talk Radio station playing on the old Zenith radio that sits next to the hot plate in the back.

Bob’s blunt. Not mean, or disrespectful, or condescending. Just straightforward. He’ll listen to you describe what you’re looking to do, and then tell you what you need to get there.  Every other place I went wanted to sell me a bike in my price range that was a good-quality bike. And all of those bikes were beautiful–well-designed, light and responsive–just a pleasure to ride. And when I would ask them if this bike would get me up Mt Washington, they’d do a little nodding shrug and say something like “well, come in before you leave and we’ll install a special cassette with a special gear that you can use for the climb.” The installation, of course, would come with a price.

That’s not what happened with Bob. He listened to me, then immediately went to the rack and pulled out a bike from a company I never heard of. It was clunky, and heavy. “Steel frame,” Bob said. “This will ride over anything.”

“Including a mountain?” I asked. Bob smiled. “If you don’t make it, it won’t be because of this bike,” he said.

The other bikes had shifters that were integrated into the brakes. You never had to move your hands to shift gears. This one’s shifters were at the end of the drop handlebars–and only the rear shifters were notched. “You can change it to a friction shifting system with a screwdriver,” Bob said. I’m guessing this was something important to know, so I nodded knowingly. I may also have said “ahh” while nodding. Cuz that’s what people who know things do.

While the other places were offering me sports cars, Bob was selling me a tank. And I bought it. “It will get you up that mountain,” he said, “if you have the stamina to do it.”

That’s Bob in a nutshell. He was the only person in the are who not only heard what I wanted to do, but also heard “I don’t have a lot of money,” and he was the only one who presented me with a bike in my price range that came with gearing low enough to climb a mountain as standard equipment.

Bob, it turns out, is sort of the grand old man of bicycling in this area. He’s trained every elite cyclist who’s come out of the area in the past 20 years. I’m glad I didn’t find that out until later, because I probably would have been intimidated by this. Even though I spent probably the least amount of money I could at his shop and still walk away with a bicycle, he gave me hours of advice. We’ve spent a long time talking about the best way to get the most amount of power from my right leg, and I spent a very long time on a trainer in the back room while they raised and lowered, measured and adjusted, and overall fitted my bike into me. My having a prosthesis was a challenge to him, and he enjoyed figuring it out.

After he got me fitted, he let me just hang out in the back room, riding. He watched me for about 15 minutes. Then he said something shocking.

“I have no doubt you’ll make it to the top of Mount Washington,” he said. “You won’t be the first one up, but you definitely won’t be the last.”

You have no idea how many times that phrase kept me on my bike and pedalling last summer.

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1 Comment

  1. Donna Liljegren

     /  January 22, 2012

    Love, Bob. We need that kind of straight-talk from someone who has truly listened, and rarely get it.

    Reply

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