The scene: Local bike and outdoor supply shop, Nashville, Tennessee, on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. The perfect day to test ride a bicycle.
The players: Two experienced cyclists who happen to be female. One bike shop employee who happens to be male. Two Trek FX 7.2s. Le Peug.
I express interest in test-riding a Trek FX 7.2. Employee (to be called “LBS Guy” going forward) kindly takes it to the back room to top off the tires and check that everything is working properly. He leads me into the back parking lot. The conversation that follows is of course slightly paraphrased (I don’t have perfect recall) but not exaggerated.
LBS Guy: Do you know how the shifters work?
Me: [not having taken a close look at the lever setup] Well, not on this particular bike, no.
LBS Guy: What type of bike do you usually ride?
Me: [List my four bikes.]
LBS Guy: Oh. So you’re just looking for an everyday runaround, then? [Proceeds to give me not only a tutorial on how the shifters work, which was slightly different from my current setup, but also an exhaustive explanation of what the front chainrings do and how the rear cassette works despite my having told him that I rode a 10-speed here.]
Me: [after listening patiently] Is there a hill nearby where I can try this out?
LBS Guy: Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. The parking lot goes way back and you don’t have to think about cars at all.
Me: Well, I rode here on the street, so that doesn’t bother me. I’m interested in seeing how this takes a hill compared to my bikes.
At this point, Whitney comes out of the shop. I ask her if she wants to ride along with me. We make a couple of loops through the parking lot while I get a feel for the bike, and it is obvious that the saddle is too low. I stop, but the seat adjustment requires an allen wrench. I notice LBS Guy is standing in the lot watching us, so I decide to ride back and ask him to raise it slightly.
Me: Would you mind making a quick adjustment? The seat is too low.
LBS Guy: Well, you don’t want to raise it too much. It looked fine to me. If you’re see-sawing back and forth on the bike [which I was nowhere close to doing] the seat is too high. If you’d just point your toes a little when you pedal…
Me: I’d prefer to get closer to full leg extension. I’m not getting enough power.
LBS Guy: [reluctantly raising the seat about a quarter of an inch] Try that. I’ll watch your position when you ride away.
I ride away, with the seat still slightly low but not bad enough to go back and receive more patronizing advice. We get on the street and find a hill, ride up and down it, circle around for a few more minutes and return to the shop. The whole ride takes maybe 10 minutes. LBS Guy is opening the door as we start to bring the bikes back in.
LBS Guy: [somewhat aggressively] There you are! I was just about to go out looking for you. You aren’t supposed to leave my sight on a test ride. You could have just ridden off. I didn’t have anything to guarantee you were coming back.
Me: [puzzled] What do you mean? My bike is here [gesturing to Le Peug, which was parked in the store the whole time].
LBS Guy: [scornful glance at Le Peug] Well, that’s not collateral for a bike like this one. We don’t let people take bikes on the street without leaving a driver’s license or a credit card. [Neither of which he asked me for.]
Me: [a bit stunned] Well, I didn’t realize that. And I’m not sure how people can be expected to get a feel for a bike without taking it outside of a parking lot.
LBS Guy, clearly not really listening: I’ll come back and put the bike up later. I have other customers now.
He walks away. I lean the Trek against a shelf and go to get Le Peug as the insult to me and my bike registers. Another employee comes up as we are leaving the store and wishes us a good day—not sure if he heard the conversation and was trying to apologize or was just being polite. An angrily energetic ride home ensues.
I had been planning to browse for some items for the Clarksville Century ride (this shop carries a larger amount of sporty accessories than any other in town) but needless to say that didn’t—and probably won’t—happen. A certain amount of mansplaining, I can put up with (unfortunately, being short and female, I have a lot of practice doing so), but diss my bike and basically accuse me of being a thief and you’ve lost my business forever. Say what you will about Amazon.com, but that’s something you don’t have to put up with online. (Of course, they do already have my credit card number on file!)
I value the contributions to the community that local businesses can make, and try to support them when possible. But if local shops don’t deliver on customer service, I have no qualms about firing up Chrome and clicking straight to what I want, without the BS (and usually with a considerable discount).
I guess every good experience has to be balanced by a bad one. But why is it so hard for bike shops to learn how to treat female customers?