Want to Work in The Bike Business? Here’s What Not to Do…
Not all 'dream jobs' in the cycling industry are quite as perfect as they seem...
What cyclist hasn’t considered a job in the bike trade? How great must it be? Working in your local bike shop, spending all day talking bikes, getting all the latest kit at amazing knockdown prices. It sounds like an absolute dream.
If only the world actually worked like that. After more than 20 years knocking about all sorts of different positions in the industry, I'm here to tell you that some jobs in the wonderful world of cycling may not be the nirvana they seem. Sorry to break the bad news...
1) The Saturday Boy
The easiest way to start working in the cycle trade, especially if you're a teenager, is to simply hang around your local shop.
Back in the days when I was in cycle retail, this was how many of the shops find their Saturday staff - asking kids that would always be in the shop staring into glass cabinets if they wanted a job. Many of them went on to become full-time staffers after they left school, too.
Of course, you'll have to put up with being told what to do by customers, colleagues and managers, and even if you tell a customer a piece of correct information, they'll probably ask someone else afterwards just to make sure it's right.
2) The Full-time Shop Worker
So you’ve been working as a Saturday staffer for a year or two and now the time has come to get a full-time job. Well the answer is obvious, isn’t it? Stay where you are but work more hours.
On the plus side, yeah, you’ll get a healthy discount on parts and because you’re there during the week you’ll get to know the reps from the distributors, which means the potential for better discounts. Then again, though, you’ll probably still be working for minimum wage, so you’ll need that discount.
Know-it-alls think they know better than you and refuse to believe what the shop-workers tell them...
You’ll also get a lot more ‘mates’ who think that because you’re shop staff you’ll do them an XTR groupset for the price on a Deore one. Oh and don’t forget you have to deal with members of the public, too.
Now, they generally fall into two types; the noobies and the know-it-alls. The former group is easy to deal with. They simply want to buy a bike or get one fixed, and they’ve come to the shop because they trust you and valued your experience.
Then there's the other type - the know-it-alls, who often happened to accompany the noobs. These guys think they know better than you do because they’ve read something in a magazine or these days on the internet.
They refuse to believe what the guys working in the shop tell them, despite the fact that you do this for a living.
3) The Corporate Cyclist
If you’re not adverse to a bit of training then you should maybe think about joining one of the multiple bike chains around.
On the downside, you’ll have to wear a uniform and let’s face it, no-one looks good in black and orange - not that dark green polo shirts are much better, either.
Who would've thought that learning to read body language could help you sell bikes?
However, if you can get past having to conform to the corporate identity, then you could take a lot from this employment. One of the best things about working for a big corporation is that they are keen on training.
Some of it can be surprisingly useful too. Who would have thought that learning to read body language could help you to sell more bicycles? Seriously though, if you think a life in retail is for you then this option offers a real chance of career progression towards management and a decent salary.
It didn’t work out for me because I failed to toe the party line and refused to get a sensible hair cut!
4) The Bicycle Mechanic
One way to escape the monotony of dealing with idiots on the shop floor is to make the move to the workshop. Once upon a time this was easy to do, if you worked in a bike shop for long enough, you just gravitated to becoming the mechanic, learning how to fix bikes as you went along.
These days, with ever more complex suspension systems, hydraulic brakes and electronic gears, you need real training if you plan on getting a job in a workshop, and then certification such as Cytech qualification to prove that you’ve done the training.
Get Cytech or similar and you can earn enough money to live on, and not just living with your parents either, but get a place of your own. The know-it-alls are worse than ever when it comes to the workshop though, and if you make the tiniest of mistakes, you'll be hearing about it in a few days time...
5) The Shop-Owner
For many years I had the urge to open my own bike shop - and what rider hasn’t.
Unfortunately for me, someone suggested that I take advantage of the knowledge I’d gained from years in the trade and combine that with the ability to reach potential customers via the internet and open an online shop.
I think I must have been drinking when I said, “That sounds like a good idea." Of course, I had to make it hard for myself and decided I’d bypass the regular suppliers and go direct to the manufacturers.
I made contact with a number of small volume bicycle manufacturers in the USA, and somehow managed to persuade them to sell me frames at trade prices. Suddenly, I had a business selling top-of-the-range, American-made bicycle frames throughout Europe. Once again, sounds like a dream job doesn’t it?
It wasn’t. I had to deal with a torrent of e-mails from potential customers asking a stream of ridiculous questions and then deciding that they didn’t want to buy anything after all. I was doing this online at the same time as holding down a regular nine-to-five job, which meant I was doing this when I should have been out riding.
Then again, being able to describe myself as an international importer gave me access to Interbike, the annual US cycle trade show that takes place in Las Vegas. That alone almost makes me nostalgic for my time running my own import/retail business.
6) The Cycle Journalist
If that wasn’t good enough, you then occasionally get companies sending you bikes and kit without even having to ask.
Easy to see then why it is so difficult to catch a break as a writer. I got lucky. I was simply in the right place at the right time. While I was still bumming around bike shops, allegedly earning a living, I started producing a mountain bike fanzine.
once you’ve been exposed to the cycle trade you can’t Just Simply escape...
This was pre-internet days, so if I was doing it now it would be a blog. I was sending copies of the ‘zine to all the cycling magazine staff I could think of when one day I got a call from magazine editor asking if I could write a couple of bike reviews at short notice.
To be honest, I had no idea at the time, but I turned the reviews around and even got paid for them. Then for the next year I was employed as a freelance writer on a cycling magazine getting paid to ride bikes. Happy days.
Okay, I say happy days now, looking back through rose tinted glasses, but the reality was that it was really badly paid. Worse than the shop work.
The dreadful pay wasn't the only thing that meant the would-be dream job wasn’t, either. Sitting at home all day staring at a computer trying to write 1,000 words on cycling socks is no fun. Also, because I was a freelancer, there was no job security. After a year, there was a change of editor and I found myself out of work.
The thing is, though, once you’ve been exposed to the cycle trade you can’t escape. Heck, here I am writing about it for goodness sake. Still, as I only write about bikes and cycling as a side-line to my regular journalistic work these days, the money is no longer an issue and I can still find time to go riding.
Happy days again it seems. Maybe it isn't so bad after all!