Simon O'Hagan: Evans is seen as the Tesco of bike shops, rampaging across the land, threatening smaller outfits

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The Independent Online

I just bought a bike from Evans and now one of my cycling buddies is barely speaking to me. Evans has that effect on some people. It is seen as the Tesco of bike shops, rampaging across the land, threatening small independent outfits, greedily grabbing the lion's share of the market with its enormous stock and its economies of scale.

Evans' expansion within London has certainly been very noticeable in the past couple of years. With the opening this week of a new branch in Crouch End, it now has 21 outlets across the capital, and a further 17 in other parts of the country. An 18th - at the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex - is due to open next month. And it's not stopping at retail.

It's sponsoring sportives and bike-hire schemes, and generally seizing its opportunity. For the London to Brighton ride tomorrow, the Clapham branch of Evans will be open from five in the morning.

One complaint I often hear about Evans is that the staff lack expertise. When you open so many stores so quickly, goes the argument, you're just not going to be able to get good enough people to run them. It's acknowledged that there's a real shortage of bike know-how generally (anyone worried about getting a job should train to be a bike mechanic).But is Evans any worse than any other bike shop?

I'm not sure. In my experience, you can get good or bad bike-shop service anywhere. Often the same shop will be good one week and bad the next. I had an annoying rattle in my bike recently and the problem defeated two of the shops I regularly use - one of them a high-end independent store with an excellent reputation. The third bike shop I took it to - a branch of Cycle Surgery in Kensington High Street - succeeded in working out what was wrong and fixed it. So they are my current No 1, but I won't stop using the other two shops.

Evans is the same mixture. The branch I bought my bike from didn't do a great job of putting it together. But at another branch a few months ago I was grateful when an assistant spotted something wrong with my bike and fixed it on the spot for nothing.

And when all's said and done, Evans is a bike shop. And isn't it better to have a bike shop in a high street than just another fast-food outlet?

Simon Usborne is away

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