Interview with Philadelphia Bikesmith

Philadelphia Bikesmith is a bike shop in the Fairmount neighborhood, they not only sell but service all types of bikes. I talked with both owners, Max and Lucas separately. I asked both the same questions but neither heard the other’s answers. It was interesting to see both similarities and differences but it was clear that the two and their staff work as a great team.

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Max

How was the shop started and what was your motivation?

I think that we always wanted to be entrepreneurs, the whole concept of being your own boss is very appealing to most people I think. We didn’t really understand what that meant in the beginning, as I think most people that start businesses do.You’re always prone to make classic mistakes in the beginning and learn from them. It’s probably one of the best educations I’ve ever had, learning how to run a business. It’s not something I would ever regret because I love it but if I knew what it took to do it well when I started, I don’t know if I would have done it. I definitely had big aspirations in the beginning, didn’t really know how much work it was going to take. I grew up in bike shops, I worked in bike shops since I was 14 so it was kind of that next step for me personally. I worked as a race mechanic and did a few different things. A lot of people in this industry, after being in the shop for 10 years or so, either open a bike shop or get corporate jobs, or become professional race mechanics.

I think that there’s a real stigma in bike shops, this concept of the grumpy bike mechanic. I think that’s something that we’re really trying to change and make people feel comfortable to come in and ask and talk about bikes. We weren’t born experts, it took a long time and we’re not afraid to share our knowledge with people. We try to make it welcoming, regardless of it you’re the racer buying a $10,000 bike or someone that bought a Walmart bike but needs someone to make it safe, we’re not above it. I think that a lot of people are afraid to go into a bike shop for that reason.

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If somebody is looking for a good bike, what are the general guidelines?

It’s really dependent on what people are trying to do, like picking the right tool for the job. I would say that any good, reputable bike shop will have real quality bikes. The things that Target and Walmart sells are really cheap for a reason. They’re perfectly fine for people living in cul-de-sacs that only pull them out a couple times in the summer. But when it comes to city riding, whether they’re doing it for fun, racing or using it as a vehicle, which in Philly is a big thing, it really takes a certain quality, a certain price point to get something real that’s not going to break on you. Knowing that it’s professionally assembled is a big thing too, a lot of those Walmart type bikes are kind of slapped together.

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Lucas

How was the shop started and what was your motivation?

I met a lot of great people as a cyclist and felt like there was a lot of momentum in the city towards cycling. There was a lot of bike shop space and a lot of room to do it better. It definitely was not a quick decision, there was a lot of preparation and planning and site selection and business planning. Then at some point it came time to decide and we decided to do it.

In many ways I think I was ready to start practicing entrepreneurship and cycling was a passion and the bike shop seemed like an opportunity. We’re incredibly happy in this neighborhood, it’s the best part of the city to run this kind of business. A bike shop should always be here, probably more than one. We definitely have a focus on service and a high service level, whether that’s people inquiring about new bike or fixing bikes or just getting from point A to point B. If someone says that it’s just their city bike, no bike is just a bike. That’s something that we felt was most missing from the bike shop community. It’s a reasonable criticism of an industry with a history of walls as opposed to windows. We look for a lot of transparency in the business, whether that’s with our own teams, making sure that everyone really understands the mission and values or making it really clear to our clients what our goals are.

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If somebody is looking for a good bike, what are the general guidelines?

One that fits their needs. There’s a lot of different bikes because people use bikes really differently. Some people aren’t looking for one bike, they’re looking for three. We generally recommend that people choose bikes that do mostly what they want to do most of the time. If you’re 90% commuting and every now and then you want to hit the trail, you don’t need full suspension. You maybe just need a bike that has some big tires so you can let some air out and be a little more cushioned and comfortable and have some more traction riding on dirt or gravel. That’s our job, we are experts in the product and ideally we lend that expertise to help people find what they’re looking for. Frankly, bike shops have hopefully really long tenures of clients that come back a lot. I think the other part for us is just bikes as machines are not purchased and used and never seen again. They’re used but the nature of those vehicles is that they need some level of care and maintenance. We have lots of different types of customers; we have people who bring us their bikes once a year, we have customers that bring us their bikes every one to two weeks, we have customers that bring us their bike for everything. I think about people who race their bikes and even if they got a tune-up a couple weeks ago, make sure we check it over, they don’t want to have any kind of mechanical failures on the race. This really important part of our work is having a really judgement-free zone. We just want to be here to help, no matter how people want to be helped. The diversity of clientele I think speaks to our mission, which is to help cyclist and fix and sell bikes and bike stuff. It’s not overly complex, we don’t make our roles complex.

Visit them online at http://www.philadelphiabikesmith.com

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