Lance Armstrong once said “If you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on”, which is precisely why I haven’t bought a bike in my adult life.
The last bike I owned was a purple and yellow Huffy. At the time, I thought it was pretty professional. It had gears, along with those cool handles that stick up at each end. (I now know that they’re called bullhorn handlebars). It was 2000 and my bike was my pride a joy. While the other ten year olds were grinding their skateboards on their makeshift skatepark at the bowl of our Court, I was cautiously exploring the 100 metres of road.
I was a paranoid kid. My bike had a security system, which included a rear wheel sensor, a speaker, and pin code unit that sat at the handlebar. When I set the alarm, any movement of the wheel without entering the pin code would set off a loud siren, followed by a recorded voice which announced “stolen bike!”. My bike had never been stolen until I got that alarm. The next door neighbours and my brothers would get a real kick out of seeing me run out to the side door and chase them around the court with my “STOLEN BIKE”.
Maybe all of these experiences made me a little bit bike-shy in my adult life, or it could be all of the horror stories of what Warnie has done to cyclists on Beach Road.
Either way, today was the day. I was buying a bike. I enlisted my German friend Till to help me with the purchase. Till is an avid cyclist and has a strong appetite for designer clothes, organic food and anything German or expensive. He also doesn’t shy away from giving his opinions. Even if they’re a little bit unpopular (he thinks Chin-Chin, the Melbourne restaurant, is shit).
When I told him I was going to buy a $400 bike, he paused. I’m sure he probably did a bit of vomit in his mouth. He explained the economics of bikes and how it’d be impossible to buy a bike that he’d feel safe riding on the road for that price. That being said, a $400 bike undermines his $300 pedals for his $4,000 bike, which he described as ’midrange’.
I know Till had my best interests at heart and did a lot of the talking at the three bike shops we visited this afternoon. “Is the frame made of steel? What type of brakes? What sizes do you have? Can Josh test one of them out?”. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was buying a bike, or if we were in the middle of the show Shark Tank, and Till was about to put in an offer.
With all of the questions answered, I felt comfortable in finally deciding on a bike that the salesperson recommended. It had been around 45 minutes at this stage, and I could feel the sense of relief from the salesperson when I was ready to do the deal. “Let me just check to make sure we have your size in stock” he said, making his way over to the store computer. Moments later, he returned looking a bit dismayed. “Sorry, we don’t have any stock left”.
It was an inexpensive single speed bike. Only $350. He suggested that I could buy the newer model which they could order in. “$599 for that one” he said. Obviously I would only do it if he could throw in a helmet. “I’m afraid I can’t do anything like that, we’re not making much on the bike” he said.
Now we played a classic game of sales-tennis, where I ask the annoying questions like “does any of your other stores have the cheaper one in stock?”
A few moments later, he checked with his manager. He couldn’t call another store (they’re all independently owned), however he’d do the better bike for $599 with a helmet. Sold! He told me that’d he’d just need a 50% deposit to order it in. While he was on the phone, I proceeded to Google the bike model. As a rule, I Google everything I buy to make sure I get the best deal.
Given it’d taken an effort to get the helmet chucked in, I knew that they were looking after me. That was until I saw the second search result: the bike advertised for $399 down the road.
With my credit card in one hand, my iPhone in the other, I had one of life’s biggest retail conundrums. Do I ask them for a better deal? Normally this answer would be easy “YES!”. However, the deal was basically a tap away from being complete. A minute of banter later and I had to try. “Hey, I’ve actually just found the bike for cheaper”, I’d just hit a volley so close to the line, we’re going to need the camera umpire for this one. I handed my iPhone to the manager. He scrolled up and down, looking at the details of the bike, where he commentated under his breath “I just don’t know how he’s doing that price. How are they making money?”
They couldn’t do any better than they’d done and I awkwardly put my card back in my wallet. “I guess I should just shop around a little bit more”. I did an awkward face, looking a little ashamed. “Thanks, guys. Your service has been fantastic”.
As I slowly stepped away from the counter, the sales guy and the manager nodded in agreement. I think even Till was a little shocked.
It felt like one of those moments where there’s a life lesson. Maybe it’s that I was never meant to buy a bike in the first place.